White Man's Burden: Babamukuru and Nervous Conditions

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White Man’s Burden and Nervous Conditions
The “white man’s burden” was a narrative created by Europeans as a part of a civilizing mission (lecture, 3/4). Above all it meant education and Christianity. These two things were brought to the African continent under the assumption that they would bring wellbeing for Africans. Yet that was not always the case. In many instances, these assumptions were contested by the real life experiences of many Africans and manifested in nervous conditions. We see examples of this in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s work. The various relationships Babamukuru has with different characters throughout Nervous Conditions are emblematic of the multi-faceted and complex relationships colonizers had with Africans especially when analyzed in the context of the ‘white man’s burden’ as related to education, Christianity, and control.

Many Africans were convinced of the “white man’s” promise that a Western education was key to breaking the cycle of poverty and a means to a better life. Babamukuru is a shining example of this, especially the ways in which he uses his education in relation to others. The first case this is present is in his decision to bring Nyasha and Chido to England for his own education because he did not want them to experience the “hardship that he had experienced as a young child” on the homestead (14). This choice suggests that he viewed his education as a way for his children to indirectly benefit and promote their wellbeing. A more direct example is Babamukuru’s vested interest in the wellbeing of his extended family. He declares, “we need to ensure that at least one member form each family is educated” (44). Babamukuru feels that it is his duty, as an African educated in the West, to provide opportunities of education for his family. This feeling of obligation—or burden—to provide is rooted in his own education as it relates to his colonial experience. This is not to pass judgment on his offer, rather, further...
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