Postcards are a common purchase while on vacation—a small snapshot of where you visited to send greetings home. But did you know the postcard was once used as a form of European colonial propaganda?
As MessyNessyChic.com reports, postcards were invented around 1860, when European countries were focusing efforts on colonization. The site points out how these cards are “shocking reminders of how Europeans viewed the world and the colonial ‘other’ during the final decades of European colonialism—and they are riddled with ethnic and cultural stereotypes.”
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines colonialism as “a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another.” Colonizers to this country adopted the “kill the Indian and save the man” mentality, a phrase coined by Richard H. Pratt, an Army officer who started Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.
Colonizers saw themselves as superior, needing to educate the Indigenous Peoples whose land they wanted. Some of the postcards presented by MessyNessyChic are strangely childish, drawing on the supposed parent/child relationship the colonizers felt they had with Indigenous Peoples.
Colonizers saw themselves as superior, which led to a parent/child relationship that was often shown in the propaganda postcards.
The propaganda postcards were also used to show national power, a way of bragging about colonies “owned” by European countries. Some had images of scenery, people, and maps of the colony.
To show power, some postcards bragged about colonies “owned” by European countries by showing scenery, people and maps of the colony.
A number of the postcards show battle scenes, which was a way the Europeans showed how prosperous a conquest was. As MessyNessyChic points out, they also often illustrated the “savage” nature of Indigenous Peoples they “bravely” fought against.
This German postcard titled “Herero-rebellion in German-Southwest-Africa” depicts a scene during a genocidal war against the Herero and Nama people of what is now Namibia. The postcards wouldn’t show that somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 Natives were killed, but they depicted the Herero as looters and the German’s as heroes, taking down the unruly Natives.
Other postcards were simply photographs of indigenous people, which satisfied a European fascination with foreign lifeways. The images were often posed, but supposed to look natural, as MessyNessyChic points out.
East-African women are seen here doing each other’s hair, in a good example of photography used as postcards.
Eugen Klein “Young folk” from Dutch Suriname are seen here “naturally” posing with some bananas and pots on their heads.
Many postcards of indigenous women were sexualized, allowing colonial men to ogle their exotic beauty. These images were also used as propaganda to lure European men to the colonies to work, or to enlist in the Navy or Army.
Ponijem Thomassen—Dutch postcard of a Javanese beauty
While many of the postcards of indigenous women were nude, images such as this one were also circulated. It even says “Native Beauty” on it.
To see more of these racist colonial postcards, visit MessyNessyChic.com.