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How did imperialists think of the people in the countries they were taking over?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The general impression of imperialists towards their subject peoples was almost wholly negative. They were looked on as dark, unlettered savages, in desperate need of civilization by the more advanced races. Worse still, from the imperialists' perspective, they were pagans who worshipped strange gods. They weren't just savages; they were heathen savages. Indigenous culture was regarded as mysterious, strange, and dark. It's not surprising that Africa came to be known as "The Dark Continent." Although, this popular expression said a lot more about the ignorance of European imperialists than it did about the many different tribal cultures that existed in Africa before the colonial project began in earnest.

Imperialists' prejudices were further strengthened by developments in science, which purported to prove that certain races were inherently inferior. European colonialists could use the data supplied by the prevailing scientific consensus to justify their domination and exploitation. The factual, coldly logical language of science was used to lend an air of respectability to the colonial project. Whatever moral qualms certain individuals may have had about imperialism could be swept away by the combined forces of Christianity and biology. And, if imperialism had been ordained by God and science, that made it all the more difficult to resist.

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Thomas Mccord eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Imperialism is defined as the practice of extending a country's power and influence by the process of colonisation. While there are many reasons for its emergence, the imperialists were often driven by the same cultural and social motivations and beliefs. First of all, imperialists often viewed themselves as being racially and culturally superior to other races. This 'ethnocentric' view, as it is known, means that imperialists believed 'inferior' races should be conquered in order to civilise them. The 'White Man's Burden' by Rudyard Kipling, written in England in 1899, is a great example of ethnocentrism. 

Imperialists also believed that people they colonised needed to be converted to Christianity. In other words, they were 'heathens' who could only be saved by the grace of God. Christian missionaries taught the imperialists' language, and built churches and schools in an attempt to impose their beliefs and values on the conquered people. Many of these missionaries were women who believed that their work could help to improve the lives of colonised women and, especially, improve the way they were treated by local men.