Gil Scott-Heron on Colonialists
I came across this cunning poem by Gil Scott-Heron which I think echoes the current political narrative in the light of the Black Lives Matter movement. He performs the poem as spoken word in the track Black History/The World. The poem satirically discusses European colonialist reasoning in Africa.
The poem is called Black History and is nicely embedded in the overall dynamics of the song. The funky instrumentals of the song accompany it smoothly. IIt's amazing how Gil Scott-Heron's voice has this warm and soulful, yet provocative tone.
Read the poem, have a think and listen to the track while reading it in your mind when Gil performs it.
Starting after a minute or so into the song it goes like this:
I was wondering about our yesterdays
And starting digging through the rubble
And to say, at least somebody went
Through a hell of a lot of trouble
To make sure that when we looked things up
We wouldn't fair too well
And that we would come up with totally unreliable
Portraits of ourselves
But I compiled what few facts I could
I mean, such as they are
To see if we could shed a little bit of light
And this is what I got so far:
First, white folks discovered Africa
And they claimed it fair and square
Cecil Rhodes couldn't have been robbing nobody
Cause he said there was nobody there
White folks brought all the civilization
Since there wasn't none around
They said 'how could these folks be civilized
When you never see nobody writing nothing down?'
And just to prove all their suspicions
It didn't take too long
They found out there were whole groups of people, in plain sight
Running around with no clothes on. That's right!
The women, the men, the young and old
Righteous white folks covered their eyes
So no time was spent considering the environment
Hell no! This here, this just wasn't civilized!
And another piece of information they had
Or at least this how we were taught
Is that 'unlike the very civilized people of Europe'
These tribal units actually fought!
And yes, there was some rather crude implements
And yes, there was primitive art
And yes they were masters of hunting and fishing
And courtesy came from the heart
And yes there was medicine, love and religion
Intertribal communication by drum
But no paper and pencils and other utensils
And hell, these folks never even heard of a gun
And this is why the colonies came
To stabilize the land
Because the Dark Continent had copper and gold
And the discoverers had themselves a plan
They would discover all the places with promise
You didn't need no titles or deeds
You could just appoint people to make everything legal
To sanction the trickery and greed
And back in the jungle when the natives got restless
They would call that 'guerrilla attack'
And they would never describe that the folks finally got wise
And decided they would fight back
And still we are victims of word games
Semantics is always a bitch:
Places once referred to as under-developed
Are now called 'mineral rich.'
And the game goes on eternally
Unity kept just beyond reach
Egypt and Libya used to be in Africa
They've been moved to the Middle East
There are examples galore I assure you
But if interpreting were left up to me
I'd be sure every time folks knew this version wasn't mine
Which is why it is called 'His story'
By the way, I highly recommend the Album Bridges, which emerged as part of his collaboration with the Jazz and Funk artist Brian Jackson.