Cultural imperialism and Youth Identity

In political and economic terms, imperialism refers, loosely speaking, to a phenomenon where a country exports so much capital to other countries that such capital begins to have political and social consequences in the capital-receiving countries.

The said consequences might include the desire by the imperialist country to influence the political processes in the capital-receiving country in order to protect its investments, which in some cases had involved the buying of politicians and their parties, or the killing of those perceived to be enemies or potential enemies of their investments.

This is an extremely serious matter that has happened in many countries in the world, especially in South America which the biggest imperialist state on the globe, namely the US, considers its own backyard. Countries were invaded by the US, their leaders killed, or the CIA  had recruited agents to murder leaders deemed inimical to the interests of the imperial power.

The Arab world, with its vast oil resources, has not escaped this deadly attention. A recent example that comes to mind is the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent killing of Saddam Hussein by the Americans and their allies.

Saddam was considered an enemy of western countries and a real or potential threat to their continued access to oil in his country and its neighbours. Reasons for the invasion of his country had to be manufactured for that to happen, and they were indeed manufactured.

One of the most prominent cases on the African continent is that of Patrice Lumumba, who, on the basis of his perceived radical African nationalism, was abducted and murdered by forces representing imperialist interests in the Congo, now called the DRC. At the time, he had just been elected Prime Minister of his country. His body has never been found. It is rumoured that he was chopped up and dissolved in a drum of acid, leaving absolutely no trace of his remains.

Imperial powers almost always seek to impose their religion, language, music, education, culture, food and values on their victims. This they do as part of their overall strategy to completely dominate their victims.

This is their preferred and most effective method of oppression and exploitation of their victims because it turns their victims into willing slaves. The victims become admirers of the people who exploit their countries and people, and in some cases, even welcome such exploitation. If you like, it is more like seduction, as opposed to rape. However, the final result is the same.

The imperial power seduces the people in the victim country to adopt their language in one way or the other; exposes them to their dress code and fashion; exposes them to their literature, film, music and other forms of artistic expression; induces them to acquire a taste for their food and drinks; lures them into their educational system through the provision of scholarships that see them going to the imperial country for study or through the provision of teachers and books in the victim country.

In this way, the victims come to love, admire, worship and crave everything that the imperial country stands for. Once this worshiping takes root, the victims would not be opposed to their exploitation; they would instead welcome it and even pray for its intensification.

This is what you might call cultural imperialism and in South Africa we are literally swimming in it. Everywhere you look you are bombarded by western cultural exports that overwhelm the local cultural expression.

The music in our shops, TV and radio stations; the fast foods outlets; the movies in our cinemas and on TV; the clothing fashion trends, especially among the youth and the books in our bookshops and university libraries, are mostly from western countries, especially the US.

Nobody forces us to buy these things at gun point or through any other method of coercion. The point is that we have come to love America. We are seduced. And anybody that tries to interfere with your enjoyment of these American imports would suffer your wrath.

The imperialist country benefits a lot from our seduction. From the music we listen to on radio, every CD we buy, every burger you buy from their fast-foods outlet, every book you buy, royalties and profits are exported back to the imperialist country.

In the majority of cases we imbibe these foreign cultural traits at the expense of our own. More often than not, some of us come to despise our own culture, and by extension our own people, and begin to wish that we were American or any other such imperialist beings.

But you can’t despise your people without despising yourself. And people who walk around hating themselves are at best worthless to their country and at worst, dangerous.

The point is that you cannot assimilate the culture of others without diluting your own. It stands to reason that the youth in any country that models itself after, say, American youth, cannot at the same time retain their own genuine identity.

The tragedy is that it does not matter how much you try to be American, you can never be an American young person. You will always remain a South African young person. The sooner you reconcile yourself to that, the better for you and your health.

You need to be firmly rooted in your people, their culture, mores and values. And Black Consciousness is a philosophy that would help you to anchor yourself firmly in your people and all that they stand for.

You will seek to define yourself in authentic terms, and not to define yourself in the image of others. You will not be swayed by any breeze that comes along. You will be able to co-exist with the culture of others without losing your own identity.

Mosibudi Mangena

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