Colored White: Transcending the Racial Past

By David R. Roediger | Go to book overview

10
Plotting against Eurocentrism
THE 1929 SURREALIST
MAP OF THE WORLD

Eurocentrism, the dictionaries tell us, came into usage as a critical term as recently as thirty years ago. However, the struggle against the fraudulence and terror that accompany and proceed from the habit of placing the so-called white so-called West at the center of the world has a far longer and prouder history. Naming the enemy is all to the good, but it is an act of remarkable hubris—and indeed of Eurocentrism—to suppose that critiques of putting Europe at the center of everything developed recently, with academics in European and United States universities taking the lead. Such institutions have thrown, and still throw, their oppressive weight behind Eurocentric notions of the most bizarre sort. Perhaps the oddest of these fictions is the very idea that the tiny outcropping of land called Europe somehow counts as a continent, on the order of, for example, Asia or Africa.

Although they are only beginning to be explored, most searchingly in dissident publications such as the radical geography journal Antipode, the connections among imaginations of place, imperialism, and mapping remain deeply impressed on the unconscious of most of us. What Martin Lewis and Karen Wigen call “the myth of continents” is a fiction that helps to rule our world. Thus we grow up knowing that longitude begins and ends with the prime meridian. We are less encouraged to consider how it came to pass through England, the leader of the plundering nations in 1884 when an international agreement established the system. And if we read Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent

-169-

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