My engagement with cultural issues through writing arises not simply because I’m a writer and poet who works in the cultural sector, but because African culture was a particular focus of attack by colonial powers. Über-missionary David Livingstone was of the belief that the most effective way to bring Christianity to Africans was first to destroy their culture, then introduce commerce, then religion. He understood that culture underpinned everything. Africans were prohibited from speaking their languages, practising their religions, playing their music. Even today something that should be commonplace—the grooming and styling of hair, a fundamental aspect of any culture—generates a raft of responses, from acceptance through prohibitions and rejection on the part of non-Africans to great anxiety among Black women. We’ve been told, as I was in high school in Trinidad, that we, Africans and African-descended people, unlike everyone else, had no culture or history, even as Europe, after having stolen the continent’s peoples, not to mention its land and mineral deposits, appropriated and stole both its cultural artifacts and approaches to visual art that would lend new life to Western art. The erasure of the violent, exploitative relationship between colonizer and colonized has been woven into the ensuing relationships. And in all this, Europe remains as if untouched, ever innocent of its tremendous crimes against the peoples of Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Middle East.

M. NourbeSe Philip