Response to “Racial Hierarchies in Colonial Africa”

I thought that the contradiction between the pre-fascist Italian colonizers being “friendly” but also observing a kind of “natural” segregation was really thought-provoking. I liked that the article examined how image might have developed from an historical perspective.

What I thought was most interesting was the bit towards the beginning of the reading about the kinds of Italians who initially inhabited the African colonies. According to the reading, “Among the Italians in Eritrea were many more workmen, craftsmen, and masons than landowners” (85). I think it’s really important that the Italians did not come in and immediately take over the means of production, but instead they came as workers and did not claim the land for themselves.

Perspecitive on Identity and its impact on opportunity

I found the contradicting ideologies behind categorization to be most fascinating. In particular, the contradiction in how “mixed race” children were considered both degenerate and still entitled to assimilation into Italian society. Paternity being regarded as a racial determinant serves as the source of these contradicting ideologies, especially when combined with the ideologies of inferiority and superiority. Such complex ideologies would not doubt lead to contradicting political agendas. Furthermore, these ideologies also determined self-value and self-categorization of Italo-Eritreans. Identity of self relied on paternal lineage. The various possibilities of parental lineage obviously lead to various types of categorization and the establishment of varied identities, which inherently take on the concepts of inferiority and superiority that created them.

Another issue, the one regarding the relationship between child abandonment and opportunity interested me. Obviously, those whose Italian fathers acknowledged them had a greater opportunity for success (as they had more support for education and standard of living), which is evidenced by the fact that these children were generally more economically successful. Then again, you can’t have your children be “mixed race” AND unsuccessful, can you?

This relationship between child abandonment and opportunity, however, seemed to be a side-note in comparison to the role of government and its impact on opportunity. By legitimatizing some interracial children while refusing to acknowledge others, the government would predetermine an individual’s involvement in society as it would inherently categorize one as either a colonizer or colonized.

The role of the mothers in all of this is even more complicated than the categorization of their children. Perhaps not more complicated, as pure dismissal is pretty simple. On a personal tangent regarding this fact, how sad is it that these Italian men who acknowledged their “mixed race” children also encouraged them to abandon their “lesser-half” heritage? How sad that even some mothers, the Tigrinya women in particular, committed themselves to raising their children as Italians? It’s as if they had no choice if they wanted their children to also have a chance at the opportunity that the children whose parents acknowledged them had.

On a final note, the acknowledgement and exploration of the violence towards the mothers of these “mixed-race” children was an interesting way to end the article. I appreciated the introduction to studied regarding the colonized women. As more information presents itself, or more sources found and documented, it would be interesting to better understand a colonized woman’s perspective on the inherent contradictions in the ideologies surrounding their children and themselves. Especially, to further elaborate on why some would choose to raise their children as Italians but they themselves would not abandon their Eritrean traditions and identity.

Racial Hierarchies in Colonial Eritrea

Giulia Barrera outlines the racial and social hierarchy in the Italian colonies of Eritrea. I deduced that the hierarchy was as follows: Italian government, Italian colonizers, the colonized. The government “ruled their own [Italian] citizens ‘with an iron fist’,” (97) and the colonizers, obviously, were superior over the colonized both by, nature (as Maria suggests) and through power.

Barrera does not fail to mention Italian pitfalls such as begging from concubines, sometimes stealing from the Eritreans, and abusing the locals: all things that were non-prestigious and therefore considered not a good representation of “European prestige”. In discussing European prestige I found Barrera’s account of the Austrian biting an Eritrean to be nothing short of amusing in an ironic way.Barrera states on page 92,

“Without seeing the irony in talking about “European prestige” when Europeans went around biting Africans…”

I found this particularly ironic because Governer Baratieri claimed that the Eritreans had “‘lower moral standards’ (sentimento morale inferiore)” (91), which is apparently untrue.

Response to “Racial Hierarchies”

I liked this article solely based on the examples given to help clarify and strengthen the arguments that were being made. The most interesting section of the reading was on how the Italian colonists needed to “strengthen and underline European superiority” while they were in Eritrea. This is actually what I am looking at covering and writing about for my final paper for the class.

In many of the articles that we have read, the Italians were worried that by allowing the lower class Italians to settle in the colonies, it would undermine the “sense of superiority” that was their duty to implement in the colonies. This was actually a big concern, and was a part of the reading that I presented in class the other day, within Ethiopia as well. It seems contradictory, as I am sure it is too many others, that the Italians would truly believe that they, as Europeans, were superior and yet they were embarrassed by those Italians who were not “superior.” Having such a contradiction would indeed make it difficult to rule over a colony.  It was also interesting to read that the Italian government tried to stem the flow of those who wanted to migrate to the colonies who were also unemployed or “unqualified” which goes against their whole point of using the colonies (or one of the points) which was to help and provide Italians with a place to migrate to.

Many other factors were covered such as power positions for the colonized, schooling, and racial segregation and each of these were also found as “answers” to establishing European superiority in other colonies as well. I look forward to perhaps writing about this further.

Racial Hierarchies

This I think is the most interesting essay we have read so far. So many facets of Italian colonialism were discussed in concise and interesting way. It also gives many insights by relating real stories of real people. The defeat at Adwa set the stage for colonization in Eritrea. Italians had to redefine their ambitions. It was crucial for the Italians to avoid rebellion and subsequent war (it meant that Ethiopia would attack). But the catch 22 was that the government was having to deal with the settlers demands also. The “southern problem” of Italy rears its head again. Barrera states that the settlers were aliens in a hostile land (p.87). The Eritreans were not seen as a threat but this didn’t always mean respect and friendship with them. Some exploited a privileged position in a political system much like the government was doing with them. Unqualified and unemployed workers were discouraged from emigrating to the colony and during the same period 9 million Italians emigrated to the USA. I found it amusing (although actually quite sad) that one concessionaire in complaining about not being able to exploit the native labor stated “Why did we sacrifice so many lives and so much money if the Italian has to come here to work? If one wants to work, one goes to America” (p.99). Racial hierarchies in my opinion always evolve when one group is being exploited by another. I think that in the colonies both settlers and locals were being exploited.  Under these circumstances racism comes to signify trying to survive. As always in life, nothing is all black or all white. There was not just one “Italian behavior and the personal accounts in the essay confirm this.