Colonialism has always been creepy


Today I learned that sexualization and racialization of tropical and otherwise unexplored lands were a feature of European imperialism from the get-go. For instance, from Agrawal and Sawyer’s “Environmental Orientalisms”, describing the picture attached (Major TW: Colonialism + passive female sexuality):

“Vespucci, the symbol of male Europe, fixes his gaze upon a personified, feminized, unexplored, and unknown (in the biblical sense) terrain. The engraving’s text reads, “Americus rediscovers America; he called her once and henceforth she was always awake.”… The sexual subtext lies scarcely veiled: Vespucci, erect, armored, and clothed, hails a very much discovered, half-reclined America. “Awakened” (or perhaps more correctly irreversibly ripped) from her past, America-both the terrain and its inhabitants – waits in passive counterpoint to the masculine agency of European penetration. The subtext speaks through an implicit, hierarchical dichotomy between Culture and Nature, historical subjects and passive objects, male and female. Vespucci stands armed, empowered by the “ideological and technological instruments of civilization” (Montrose 180). Protected by a cross, a navigator’s astrolabe, and a sword-the colonizer’s tools of religion, empirical science, and violence-Vespucci embodies the agent of history and purpose. Nakedly disempowered, America appears startled, as if caught off guard, defenseless, and incapable of intervening in her future. Vespucci’s object of knowledge and target of exploitation, America submits to his advance, apparently without struggle. America is hailed, claimed, and inserted into a European teleological order and Judeo-Christian cosmology. “Her” own history evaporates-inconsequential for European desires.”

TL;DR version: Colonialism has always been creepy.


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