TAKE A look at this picture. Do you know who it is?
Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name, you should get as sick in your stomach as when you read about Mussolini or Hitler or see one of their pictures. You see, he killed over 10 million people in the Congo.
His name is King Leopold II of Belgium. He “owned” the Congo during his reign as the constitutional monarch of Belgium. After several failed colonial attempts in Asia and Africa, he settled on the Congo. He “bought” it and enslaved its people, turning the entire country into his own personal slave plantation.
He disguised his business transactions as “philanthropic” and “scientific” efforts under the banner of the International African Society. He used their enslaved labor to extract Congolese resources and services. His reign was enforced through work camps, body mutilations, torture, executions and his own private army.
Most of us aren’t taught about him in school. We don’t hear about him in the media. He’s not part of the widely repeated narrative of oppression (which includes things like the Holocaust during the Second World War).
He’s part of a long history of colonialism, imperialism, slavery and genocide in Africa that would clash with the social construction of a white supremacist narrative in our schools. It doesn’t fit neatly into school curriculums in a capitalist society.
Making overtly racist remarks is (sometimes) frowned upon in “polite” society, but it’s quite fine not to talk about genocide in Africa perpetrated by European capitalist monarchs.
Mark Twain wrote a satire about Leopold called King Leopold’s Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule, where he mocked the King’s defense of his reign of terror, largely through Leopold’s own words.
It’s an easy read at 49 pages, and Mark Twain is a popular author in American public schools. But like most political authors, we will often read some of their least political writings or read them without learning why the author wrote them in the first place. Orwell’s Animal Farm, for example, serves to reinforce American anti-socialist propaganda about how egalitarian societies are doomed to turn into their dystopian opposites.
But Orwell was an anti-capitalist revolutionary of a different kind—a supporter of working-class democracy from below—and that is never pointed out. We can read aboutHuck Finn and Tom Sawyer, but King Leopold’s Soliloquy isn’t on the reading list.
This isn’t by accident. Reading lists are created by boards of education in order to prepare students to follow orders and endure boredom. From the point of view of the Department of Education, Africans have no history.