Articles and Papers WHY HISTORY IS SO IMPORTANT

WHY HISTORY IS SO IMPORTANT

Empowerment

History is a vital form of empowerment. Studying our own history gives us a foundation for understanding who we are and where we are going.  Without knowledge of our history:

                               We are the hollow men
                               We are the stuffed men
                               Leaning together
                               Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
                                                        (from The Hollow Men by T. S. Eliot)

I quote from T.S Eliot’s poem because I am a product of colonialism.   My “headpiece” being “filled with straw” i.e., a foreign culture, makes me a hollow person. That is why I quote from an English poet, not from a poet who is part of my people’s history. I am stuffed with European culture. And not being connected to my roots, I am a hollow person. I am a disempowered person and I belong to a disempowered people. 

Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
                 (from The Hollow Men by T. S. Eliot)

Without an understanding of my history, I will always be a disempowered person. I will always act without the backing of community, never fully understanding who I am.

Colonialists (Apartheid was a form of colonialism) understood very well the value of history.  They stuffed our heads with their histories and we came to depend on their cultures for the bases on which we stand. In adopting their culture, we lost our independence and looked to the dominant cultures to give meaning to our lives. We revered their culture, hankered after it, yet at the same time, we despised it for disempowering us. That is why we call black people who act like whites, coconuts. The truth is we are all coconuts. Coconut, for me, is the same as Eliot’s hollow people.

Even though we are coconuts, we could not be fully integrated into the dominant culture, so we became aware of and accepted our inferiority. That is why it is so easy to reduce us to stereotypes.

The study of our history, even if it is a history of colonisation, will give us back our power. In encountering the reality of the ways in which we were dominated, we will overcome the external hold on our psyches and we will make real progress.

Unity
Unity is strength. 
But as colonised people, we are divided within ourselves and against ourselves. Within our psyches, there is the constant battle between the desire for human dignity and the sense of inferiority imposed by a dominant culture. And this sense of inferiority manifests in a desire to relegate others of our kind to a status of inferiority – a kind of neo-class struggle.

All our ethnic, racial, cultural, religious, political and social groupings are in competition to prove their superiority over the others. And the more we think we approximate to the dominant group, the greater the conviction of our own superiority.

We have to understand and abandon notions of superiority and inferiority which are manifestations of the divide and conquer strategies of colonialism.

The study of the history of human experience, not simply a political history, which is what most history tends to be, but all history –
cultural, social, economic and political, will help us to identify the spuriousness of our assumptions. The study of history, built on all aspects of human experience, both of ordinary as well as powerful people, will help us to discover truths about our situation and to build the respect for one another that is a necessary condition for unity in a community.

Embracing our history requires an honest search and a
willingness to recognise the humanity of all those who live in our community.

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