Racial and ethnic conflicts existing in the modern United States take their origins in the colonial past of the country. In his book A Different Mirror, Ronald Takaki (2008) examines the narratives of the British settlers and their attitude toward Native Americans and Africans. The author eloquently illustrates how colonizers constructed a negative and very biased image of different races and ethnicities. In this way, they were able to invent an excuse for the cruel treatment of slaves and people whom they colonized. This paper will examine the rhetoric used by British settlers in order to lay down the ethical and rational justifications of their actions. Moreover, it is vital to speak about the resistance that Native Americans and Africans offered.
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Overall, the conquest of America often involved the dehumanization of local people who were frequently labeled as savages. In particular one can mention that Indians were often described as “cruel, barbarous and most treacherous people” (Takaki, 2008, p. 31). They were supposed to represent savagery and brutality, while colonizers symbolized civilization. Native Americans did not have complex governmental institutions and social divisions; this is one of the reasons why the English settlers viewed local people as inferiors. Furthermore, Native Americans had religious views that could not be tolerated by the settlers. They were deemed to be pagans who did not deserve redemption (Takaki, 2008, p. 41). On the whole, such labeling can be explained in different ways. First of all, this dehumanization could provide a moral justification for conquering and even slaughtering of Native Americans. The colonizers constructed their own image of the aboriginal people. They identified a set of negative traits and applied them to every individual who had different ethnic, racial, or religious origins. In this way, they tried to emphasize their alleged superiority over Native Americans. A very similar approach was adopted when English colonizers began to bring African slaves who were also denied the right to humanity. Moreover, it was even believed that slavery could help to civilize Africans. Again, such a description of other people served as a rational and moral justification of slavery, conquest, and cruelty.
It should be noted that both Native Americans and Africans attempted to resist the colonizers. In particular, one can mention that the armed resistance; for instance, in 1622 some local tribes attempted to force colonists out and killed many of them (Takaki, 2008, p. 35). These attempts frequently resulted in the total war against local villages when practically every inhabitant could be killed (Takaki, 2008, p. 35). In contrast, Africans usually tried to resist the colonizers by running away from their owners. It was difficult for them to join their forces and openly resist the English settlers. Certainly, there were some exceptions, for instance, many black people took part in the rebellion of Nathaniel Bacon (Takaki, 2008, p. 64). There was two possible response to such actions, either severe corporal punishment or slaughter of rebels.
Overall, this discussion shows that colonizers constructed a very negative image of both Native Americans and Africans. In both cases, they were considered either uncivilized or not fully humane. The narratives discussed by Ronald Takaki shows that the English settlers attempted to justify their actions on rational and moral grounds. The resistance that was offered by Native Americans or Africans only confirmed the colonists in their rectitude.
Takaki, R. (2008). A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America. New York: Little, Brown.