It is important for us to understand that the phenomena of superiority and inferiority complex have existed in all human societies through the ages.
Today, no matter where you go, you will find that society is broadly divided into two main groups: those that think they are superior to others and those who have been relegated, forced, or brainwashed to believe that they are inferior.
We may be splitting hairs to get to the intricacies of these phenomena, but each society has different ways of classifying who is superior and who is inferior. In some cases, the amount of money and material possessions you have define your position. In other countries, the social class or caste in which somebody is born determines if they are considered inferior or superior. Whatever arbitrary criteria are used to divide people into these two broad categories is not based on any facts that can be substantiated.
All humans are equal because when all the external and material trappings are stripped, the human spirit is the same. Our true essence is our spirit, and it is a distraction when we focus solely on the body.
This is why using skin color to determine somebody’s worth is so inhumane, degrading, insulting, and demeaning. It is also why many people are completely opposed to any form of racism, and rightfully so because it takes away human dignity and reduces people to something they were not created to be.
All were created equal and endowed with equal rights that should not be usurped by anybody, government, or political ideology.
Now, let us take a look at the history and some of the drivers of superiority and inferiority complexes. We will start with a broad look at the interaction of Europeans with other people, not because Europeans are the worst offenders. When you look throughout human history, from Egypt, the cradle of civilization, through the Babylonians, Persians, Roman, Byzantine, Mayan, Aztecs, and modern history, you will see some similarities between the conquered and their conquerors.
We are not trying to classify who did the most evil here or committed the most egregious crimes against humanity. The purpose of highlighting this interplay of superiority and inferiority complexes is to show that it is a common human problem that has occurred throughout all human history and is still alive and well today. Therefore, we should be careful not to pin it on a single group of people. The temptation to do so is extremely strong because what the Europeans did during the last few centuries of human history is still fresh in our minds. We are living with some of the realities today, and it is going to take a while to resolve some of these issues.
Take the case of Africa. In 1884, Europeans gathered in Berlin and not only portioned the continent between themselves, each European power grabbing whatever chunk of Africa they considered juicy enough for their attention. They cared little about the impact these arbitrary lines were going to have on the continent. They also did not have any regard for all the different independent countries that were already existing within these carved-out territories.
Some of their arbitrary lines divided different ethnic groups and placed them under different countries where different languages were imposed on them. In some cases, a part of the same Kingdom was placed under French rule and the other under English rule.
When these territories were colonized and arbitrarily declared nations, they had the mistaken assumption that separate independent kingdoms made up of different ethnicities will just get along. You do not impose a nation on people who are not ready or willing to be part of a nation.
The colonizers had a nonchalant attitude towards these “primitive natives”: they had to do was toe the line and do what their “masters” demanded.
After all, the Europeans knew better than the Africans and could impose on them whatever they deemed necessary. To effectively administer these artificially created countries, the colonizers used intimidation, propaganda, subjugation, and distortion of information to strip the colonized of their sense of dignity, self-worth, and purpose.
It is worth noting that colonization was not an act of charity because it was driven by some of the issues of the heart I have already mentioned.
At this particular point in history, most of the European powers colonized other countries driven partly by the industrial revolution that started in Britain. They needed raw materials for their industries and they need markets to sell their finished goods. These European powers were not only interested in trading with these countries, but they want to subjugate, occupy, and rule over them.
We are talking about independent countries that were taking good care of their affairs without any outside intervention. My ethnic group, which I will call the Bamumbu people, was an independent kingdom ruled by my great-great-grandparents. The kingdom of Bamumbu was independent and free from any outside interference. It had warriors that defined the kingdom from any outside influences. Our encounter with the Europeans destroyed the kingdom, and what is left now is nothing compared to what it was. We still have a king, but his powers have been curtailed, and his influence has been reduced tremendously.
You may be wondering how the Europeans succeeded in subduing other countries. Each country used different tactics. The English specialized in indirect rule, while the French mastered direct rule. The common thread is that the Europeans figured out a way to present themselves as superior to the other people that they met. This behavior, as I already stated, is not unique to the Europeans. The Romans are guilty of it; the Arabs and all the major powers that conquered and ruled over other people did it, too.
The process of subjugating other people starts with devaluing them and creating a false image about them, to the point that they believe it and start perpetuating it.
The people had to be distracted from what they had for it to be taken away from them or bought at extremely poor prices. For example, when you visit many European countries, you see much artwork and artifacts that were looted from all over the world. The natives were made to understand that their art was primitive, demonic, and should be discarded. These people happily gave them away, among many other things, to embrace this new, superior, and more sophisticated way of doing things. The Spaniards looted and pillaged South America as well. The Indian subcontinent was not spared from British dominance and exploitation for over 300 years.
Before the British occupied India and French large areas of Africa, we know that the Arabs had had their own share of occupying other lands, making the people of these lands their subjects, and exploiting them. Many people know about the transatlantic slave trade, but very little is said about the trans-Sahara slave trade that was perpetuated by the Arabs. The Africans that were taken across the Sahara desert to the Middle East ended up working under deplorable conditions. Some of them were castrated to become eunuchs that serve their kings.
I am opening a can of cankerworms here, and rightfully so, because it is important for us to understand that source of the lingering sense of superiority and inferiority complexes that exist in the world right now. I am not in any way trying to get into the blame game here because that is a dead end and no good will come out of it. Africa, India, South America, and all the other countries that were occupied in recent history are not the first to experience conquest.
Human history is filled with examples of conquest, occupation, enslavement, and dominance of one group of people over the other.
Any attempt to try and used today’s understanding to judge the past without placing everything within the context of past circumstances are doing a disservice and will be causing more harm than good.
We are looking at the past so that we can understand the lingering feeling of superiority that some have, while others feel that they are inferior because of the disinformation that has been fed to them for a long time.
Again, this visit to the past is not intended for analysis paralysis and to play the blame game.
We have already established that no one is good, and all have the propensity to take advantage of others if the conditions are ripe. This is not an attempt to minimize or downplay the ills of the past because it affected real people and we are still leaving with some of the consequences today. That said, this book is about hope and the way forward. If we keep looking at what is behind us, we will miss what is before us and we will never get out of the present sense of hurt and hopelessness.
We look at the past so that we can have a better grasp of what is happening right now. Some of the legacies of the past superiority complex are still being manifested today. For example, somebody in the United States of America asked me if we have houses in Cameroon. I could not help but wonder if they thought I was living on some tree. What about the US embassy in Cameroon? Is the embassy on some tree as well? I had just moved to the United States as an international student, and somebody asked me this question, and it was more than a shock. If somebody thinks that people from Africa are living on trees, then they have a lot of learning to do. Instead of taking offense, I pitied this particular individual for being misinformed and for believing a lie.