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the desperate scramble for africa

jo's picture

My favorite part of the Shonibare exibit was the piece Scramble for Africa, the one with the big wooden table with men seated all around it. I felt so strongly the emotions felt by all the headless men in the room, the desparation of delegates from different European countries (and America). I could almost empathize with their feelings of need for control of the colonies of Africa. I was reminded of how I felt as a child, dividing up toys between me and my friend, and so strongly wanting my fair share, wanting justice. Except of course that in this situation, justice is impossible, and this debate which feels so real to those men, and to viewers of the piece, fails to make real the millions of people it concerns. So many lives swung in the balance of this argument, and yet those men in power felt none of them, only their own needs. It would be easy to call them greedy, to call all powerful white men greedy, and perhaps many are. But Shonibare's piece gave an interesting perspective, one that in my anger over privilege and oppression it is easy for me to overlook. This doesn't mean that these men (and the countries/societies they represent) can be forgiven for claiming control of lands and people that they had absolutely no right to, but it is helpful for me in thinking about motivations behind oppression.