England (1920)

England (1920)

I was reared in an atmosphere of admiration—almost of veneration—for England. The New England of my birth and day was English in its soul: its speech was more English than American; its history was an extension of English history; its law was English tradition; its town government was of English ancestry. Our reverence for England was increased rather than diminished by distance and lack of actual contact and also, I regret to remember, by the then current dislike of the Irish.

Since those days I have visited England four times and met and known many Englishmen. With all the world, I have admired the Englishman of birth and breeding and felt the strange might and attraction of Empire on which the sun never sets.

But—and that “but” did not come from the coldness of the English manner, for I had been prepared for that by our own New England unemotional standards—but I remember once in Glasgow, seeing a young, beautiful woman lying in the gutter and a policeman kicking her. For a moment, I felt like murder. She was just a drunken prostitute, but——

Of course, Glasgow is not England and the East End is not London; but from that day a certain doubt of England found a place in my consciousness. Then I was in Paris at the time of the Peace Conference. There was no doubt but what England was getting more out of the Peace than anyone else and the reason was clear: She had better trained statesmen and they knew what they wanted and got it. But there was in their methods a sort of calm, grim power that I feared.

I have always looked on England as the best administrator of colored peoples and laid her success to her system of Justice. But here, again, I am beginning to waver. I have talked to Indians, to Egyptians, to West and South Africans, and they have left a great, dull doubt in my mind—a feeling of world apprehension.

Finally, there comes to me from English sources this terrible tale of theft, murder, and outrage done by Englishmen to Negroes, unrebuked by English government and unprotested for a generation.

English missionaries long ago entered the land of the Matabele and Mashona peoples, in the Zambese basin. An English company in 1889 was allowed to enter, on the express condition that it regard native law and land rights. Yet today 800,000 Negroes of this country, now called Rhodesia, have absolutely no title to 90 million acres of their own land! As Englishmen themselves write: “The land rights of the natives have been appropriated simply: by fraud and theft—that is the beginning and end of the whole sordid story.”

If we turn from Africa to Asia, what do we see? The World Tomorrow tells us:

India contains some 300,000,000 people. The average per capita income is $10 per annum. On the basis of prices at the end of 1916, rice sufficient for one meal a day would cost $10.95 per annum. Taxes on the basis of the new budget average about $1.40 per capita. Is it any wonder that large sections of the population are living under famine conditions, that between 5,000,000 and 7,000,000 of these undernourished people died of influenza, and that 75,000,000 are receiving barely one square meal in two days? This starving people contributes to Imperial Britain in drain of one sort or another for the benefits of administration and interest on capital an amount estimated at from $100,000,000 to $200,000,000. Her new budget calls for the expenditure of more than $200,000,000 on the military—about 48 per cent. of the total budget.

Need we add Ireland, Egypt, West Africa, and the West Indies to this tale? No.

England has sinned against dependent and backward people to an unbelievable extent. Tory England sinned, Liberal England sinned, and Labor England may easily continue the story.

There are but two paths out: Ireland, India, and Egypt must become independent, self-governing states. Home rule must be granted to the West Indians and civilized West Africa. The natives of South Africa must be delivered from the Union of South Africa. Either this, or the world must gird itself anew to meet a tyranny which looms as portentous as the God-defying dreams of Germany and which portends even greater bitterness, because it involves the up-striving and embittered darker races of the whole earth.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1920. “England.” The Crisis. 19(3):107–108.