Behind every legend, myth, and story; every book, poem, or newspaper article, there’s a reason for it’s particular existence. These reasons can be determined by a multitude of factors, and ultimately decide whose story is told. Perhaps the most influential factor is setting, which impacts perspectives immensely. Time, location, and culture all contribute to how society shapes its opinions, and ultimately, whose story matters. The stories that are often forgotten are the ones that held little importance in that country or time period. General perspectives and opinions are closely connected to the settings around us, and alter not only whose story is told, but also in what way that story is depicted. If we flip back to an early page in history, we would notice a significant difference in attitude towards African Americans, women, and other minorities, compared to present day opinions. But as time progressed, equality became a larger part of the American dream. However some of these opinions of inequality still linger in some parts of the world, which shows that time isn’t the only thing that can affect us. Location and culture are what create the customs, traditions and ideals within society. For example, in many parts of the Middle East, women are still regarded as inferior to men. Consequently, women’s stories are much less important there than they are here. These differences in mindsets are primarily caused by the contrasting settings.


With each passing year, the world changes in huge ways; technology grows to be more expansive, communication becomes more plausible, and new discoveries are made. These waves of expansions and opportunities force the public to consider, reconsider, think, and finally, formulate new opinions. As the world matures, so do we. There’s no denying that people in the 1800s would think and act significantly differently from people now. That said, we can also assume the people in the 1800s would view the colonization of Africa in a completely different light than most people today. In the early stages of the British colonization of Africa, many accepted, if not favored the British seizing the natives’ land. Although many claimed that by forcing their own systems and religion on the Africans, they were helping them, in reality, the true motivation was the abundance of resources there, and the money and power that came with it. Many colonizers and officials in Africa even believed that things like medicine and disease-control for the natives were irrelevant and unnecessary. In the 21st century, that kind of treatment of other human beings is considered barbaric, which is ironically the kind of behavior the colonizers thought they were preventing.
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Arguments about the colonization of Africa, and the portrayal of it continue today. In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, he describes many parts of the African setting, as well as the colonization that was taking place. In one passage, the narrator, Marlow, describes his feelings after a native helmsman died.
“I missed my late helmsman awfully—I missed him even while his body was still lying in the pilot-house. Perhaps you will think it strange this regret for a savage who was no more account than a grain of sand in a black Sahara. Well, don’t you see, he had done something…”
This explanation of his regret for having lost a friend, or at least someone he had worked along side of for a few months would be considered horribly heartless now, especially since he made a point of explaining how worthless the man was. This short afterthought of a man’s death would be considered insulting, and also extremely pompous. However, during the time of its publication, a passage like this could serve as evidence that Conrad was sympathetic and understanding to the natives. Many others probably wouldn’t have thought about his death twice, but Conrad made an attempt to display some sort of disappointment.
In his essay, “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’”, Chinua Achebe states that he firmly believes that Conrad was constantly trying to portray the natives as unequal to the white colonizers.
“The point of my observations should be quite clear by now, namely that Joseph Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist. That this simple truth is glossed over in criticism of his work due to the fact that white racism against Africa is such a normal way of thinking that its manifestations go completely unremarked.” Achebe maintains that Conrad’s portrayal of the Africans deliberately establishes them as the opposite of Europeans, and therefore the opposite of any kind of civilization. However, many people have defended Conrad and his Heart of Darkness. Cedric Watts, a professor at Cambridge University said,
“By the standards of its time it [Heart of Darkness] offers a valuably skeptical account of Imperialism.” Meaning, Conrad could perhaps be considered immoral for having written this kind of representation of Africa now, but he wrote it back when most people favored the British colonization of Africa. These two contrasting opinions demonstrate how time impacts our perspectives, and how that then impacts whose story is told, and told accurately.

During the early 19th century Europeans came to Africa. Soon Europeans began to see Africa as a new destination for profit. Thus the famed “Scramble For Africa” was born, in which Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, and the Ottoman Turks laid down a map of Africa and claimed the land each country wanted. This brought a whole new way of life to Africa, and thus began to bring forth a new culture, a culture in which Africans were degraded, abused, and viewed simply as lower beings as opposed to the overall simple, rural, and spiritual culture that was found in most of Africa. The colonizing white Europeans detached themselves from the Africans, resulting in a detached and distorted image of how Africans really were. Images of savagery were presented by colonizing Europeans to their home countries. For example Rosemary Traoré who wrote Implementing Afrocentricity: Connecting Students of African Descent to Their Cultural Heritage writes about Victorian philosophers who created a "human stages" chart that they believed gave reasons why Africans were different from them. She wrote that “human development took place in three stages: savagery, marked by hunting and gathering; barbarism accompanied by the beginning of settled agriculture and civilization, which required the development of commerce. European scientists believed that Africa were stuck in the stage of barbarism.” Rather than barbarism, they were observing what was simply a different culture, language, and way of life.

Because of this view of Africans and the more developed means of communication on the part of Europeans, the story of Africa has been told from a European Lens. One famous example of this is seen in Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, which presents Africa as a primitive and primal world. Conrad writes “Going up that river [Congo] was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world.” This was one way to present Africa as the antithesis of the highly technologically evolved Europe, where the main narrator Marlow is from and who is arriving in the early stages of Africans Colonization. It is clear that the color of skin is a key point of separation when Conrad repeatedly has Marlow say things like “…a black and incomprehensible frenzy. The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us-who could tell?” There is a clear detachment seen in the use of "who could tell" which further separates the reader from the Africans and shows that, simply because of the language difference, Marlow and most other Europeans saw them as simply a mass of black things that were dumb and in the way of Europeans. Because of this lens we loose any real chance to see the African struggle and pain, and that story was not fully told or acknowledged for centuries.

Now jump forward about 150 years, and skip across the pond known as the Atlantic Ocean and a very different culture can be found. One with cars, booming sky rise cities, and an industrialized lifestyle, but in which one characteristic has been almost frozen in time from the 19th century. That characteristic is the same mind set that “whites are superior” and one which still accepts the cruel treatment of blacks. This is most prominently seen prior to, and during the early stags of, the civil rights movement in the 1950-60s - when segregation, suppression, and cruel racism was accepted. This acceptance of racism went hand in hand, once again, with detachment - the detachment stemming from seeing blacks as fully human. During this time, signs reading “Whites Only” and the presence of segregated schools allowed the idea of white superiority to mesh into everyone's culture.

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This idea is portrayed in the song “The Whites Only Party” by ‘The Dears.’ Even though this is a modern day song, it still tells the story of how life was, prior to the civil rights movement. The video begins showing white students in a classroom and then going to a luxurious dance. It contrasts these scenes with images showing blacks standing outside, backed by lyrics saying "you waltzed right past the door while we struggled here at the gates and can't get through." It conveys the idea of how easy life was if you were white, while the blacks struggle is shown in stark contrast.

In addition to songs, children's cartoons were no help in fighting the racist image of blacks. Instead they were used to implement the view of blacks as being lower than whites. The black characters speak slowly and with a clear "negro accent." They are often drawn with monkey-like faces which again shows the savage primal view as spoken about in Heart of Darkness. This time, however, they are far from Africa and although almost 150 years have passed, the same white lens is used to show the blacks story.

Amos n' Andy is another example of how prominent racism was and the idea that blacks were still slower then whites, they have a clear accent and as shown in this clip they don't even allow black actors but rather paint white actors faces in the well known "Black Face".
This began to change however as the Civil Rights movement began to spread and become more widely televised and printed in the media. One such example was when the boiling point of the civil rights movement arrived, with the March On Washington, which was very positively televised, and from this clip it is clear that there is respect and empathy with the newsreel. This shows that by this point much of America was widely accepting the movement and black and whites were uniting and coming above segregation.

Opinions and outlooks have changed a great deal, even since the 1970s. The majority of Americans believe that everyone is equal, regardless of origin, race, or gender. This is greatly in part because of the time period we’re living in, the country where we’re located, and the culture that we’re used to. In this setting of improved equality, positions are heard, and stories are told, often representing those who had been oppressed ages ago, or in other cultures. We have learned that society’s old taboos and faux pas can become today’s norm, or even today’s inspiration. Cultures and locations sharply contrast, leaving other’s ideas of customs and traditions to clash with those from the other side of the world. Even those who grew up immersed in one culture found that it was in opposition with what they believed. African Americans in the United States found that, because of the culture they lived in, tell their individual stories and struggles. Although, often times it can be disregarded as an insignificant background, setting provides a set of beliefs, principles, and systems that guide us. In the end, many don’t have much control over whether their story is told or not, we can just cross our fingers, and hope that we’re in the right place, at the right time.

Work Cited

Boddy-Evans, FirsAlistair. "What Caused the Scramble for Africa? Why was Africa so rapidly colonized?." About., 2010. Web.9
Dec 2010. <>.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. England: McClure, Philips Inc., 1903 (USA).

Mifflin, Houghton. "AFRICA, 1941 -2000 ." Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth Edition (2001): n. pag. History Study Center. Web. 9 Dec 2010. < Name=reference&fromPage=studyunit&ItemID=hmhs7.9&fromPage=studyunit& resource=ref>.

"Nigeria: British Colonization to 1914." Encyclopedia of African History. London: Taylor and Francis Ltd., 2005. History Study Center. ProQuest LLC. 9 Dec. 2010 <>.

Sambourne, Edward Linley. The Rhodes Colossus. Punch.

Traoré, Rosemary. "Implementing Afrocentricity: Connecting Students of African Descent to Their Cultural Heritage." JpanAfrican. The Journal of Pan African Studies, November 2007. Web. 9 Dec 2010.

Watts, Cedric. The Cambridge Comparison to Joseph Conrad. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.