Armed with a privileged education, these assimilados were faced with a dilemma; either to struggle for their self-advancement in the framework of colonial society or to arm themselves culturally to challenge and destroy the system of domination. In other words, it was a matter of choosing between two views of life: either individual ascent by accepting the system’s rules, or total rejection, in effect breaking away in order to open the way to freedom for the strata most oppressed by colonialism.
—Mário de Andrade1
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What Equality Means in a System Rooted In Oppression
So what does “equal rights” get you in a system that bases itself on oppression? After being thoroughly dehumanized, exactly what is it that you are striving to be equal to? Again, I point to the example given by Cabral. It is important to note that the colonial oppression Africans experienced in the Portuguese colonies is not unique to the Portuguese. While the different practitioners of colonialism may have their very own idiosyncrasies, colonialism basically works the same way. It ain’t that creative! Here’s what Cabral said about how an African in the former Portuguese colonies obtained those “equal rights:”
Of the African population of Angola, Guiné and Mozambique, 99-7 percent are classified as ‘uncivilized’ by Portuguese colonial laws, and 0-3 percent are considered to be ‘assimilated’ (assimilados).
For an ‘uncivilized’ person to attain the status of assimilado, he has to prove his economic stability and a standard of living higher than that enjoyed by a large majority of the population of Portugal. He must live in the ‘European manner’, have paid all his taxes, have done his military service and know how to read and write Portuguese correctly. If the Portuguese people themselves were asked to fulfill these conditions, well over fifty percent of the population would not have the necessary requirements for becoming ‘civilized’ or assimilados.2
This immediately brings to mind growing up as a child constantly being bombarded by elders saying, “Son if you want to make something of yourself, you gotta work harder than white folks, just to get half of what they got.” And growing up I always wondered why “our lot in life”—Black (African) folks—is to work from a deficit and still remain in a deficit in terms of a material payoff. Now I know! It was not because of some metaphysical being in the sky that favored white people; it was/is fucking colonialism! And yes, including the U.S.A.! As Cabral points out, “well over fifty percent of the population” of Portugal did not live in the supposed “European manner”; as mentioned earlier, they must construct the superior/inferior dynamic. Also, let me point out that when Cabral was alive, Portugal was under the Estado Novo regime, an unbridled fascist regime. And these were the people—mind you they were exploiting the shit out of their own people—that bestowed the title of “civilized” on Africans! Shiiiit!
So if you are an “assimilado”, you are no longer an African, you are an AFRICAN-AMERICAN damn it! Oops! Sorry about that, we were talking about how Portuguese colonialism manifested itself, but that was not as much of a Freudian slip as you might think. Back to Cabral, so what type of treatment do you think these assimilados received? Cabral deconstructs the myth of “assimilado” status in day to day life:
Portuguese ‘multi-racialism’ is a myth.
It really means complete racial segregation, except for contact through work, where it furthers the interests of colonialism. With very few exceptions- such as can also be found in South Africa- there is no social contact between Africans and European families. It is only in the schools and other places outside the family environment that European children come into direct contact with the few assimilado children who attend schools. The children mix together in innocence, but these relationships also contain prejudices and complexes. Cinemas, cafes, bars, restaurants and so on are almost exclusively frequented by Europeans. Any African bold enough to enter one of these places must be prepared to face humiliation.3
That’s right Cabral, “American diversity”, “post-racialism”, or whatever they’re calling it, is a myth. OOPS! Another one of those Freudian slips.
So this is “equality”, a chance for the bullied to imitate the bully. So this is “equality”, a chance for the colonized to imitate the colonizers. So this is “equality”, expanded opportunities for all through the military service to engage in colonial wars of plunder. So this is “equality”, a chance for a Black man in a WHITE HOUSE to fortify imperialism. Well if “equality” can only be defined within this oppressive system, then fuck equality! And the next time somebody runs your way talking about the “first Black this”, or “First Asian that”, refer them fools back to Samson. I’m thinking about his song featuring Remson called “Still Don’t Give A Shit!”