Answers to Quora Questions by Yair Davidiy (26 November 2017, 8 Kislev, 5778)
Why were the Spanish, French, and Portuguese empires very cruel to their colonial subjects compared to the British and Dutch during the colonial era?
There are those who will have answered that the British and Dutch were not always that much better, if at all, and that the Spanish, French, and Portuguese were not that bad.
Nevertheless there were differences, though I am not sure on which side France should be in the equation..
The Spanish, French, and Portuguese came from a Latin culture. They could be very cruel to each other so why should they not behave the same towards the natives? Paradoxically the colonized lands were intended to ultimately become part of the Latin colony power. They intermixed but allowed human nature to take its course too much. In Mexico and elsewhere many of the males were killed or marginalized and the women taken by Spaniards. They did it because it could be done and the powers that then existed empowered them. The attitude of the Spanish rulers was that of home-country Spaniards towards descendants of fellow Spaniards who were needed but had come down a rung and could be exploited with relative impunity. These quasi-Spaniards were in turn kept quiet by letting them treat those beneath them, i.e. the unmixed natives, as inferiors to be exploited even more.
The British and Dutch in India and Ceylon at the beginning allowed intermixing with the natives in order to create an intermediate caste who would help them. This was soon considered to be mistaken. Henceforth they kept their distance relatively speaking. This actually helped inter-racial relations. No-one was treading on the turf of the other. The British attitude was more that of a business agreement. It was utilitarian rather than egalitarian: "Help me do my job and you will be remunerated. You may not get as much as me but you will be better off than otherwise. I will treat you with respect but let me rule."
The Latin attitude foreshadowed that of fascist ideology i.e. social compartmentalization in which each class has its place: When the lesser class was not pulling its weight it was demoted even further.
Another point that could be explored is the role of the colonized peoples as complementing the role of their colonizers. The Spaniards in Mexico took the place of the Aztecs. Their policies and attitudes were not different from those of the Aztecs. There was a similar mentality. In India on the other hand the British placed themselves at the top of the caste system. The British were not out to change things unduly, just to humanize them and make them work better. Likewise in Africa, the British were another tribe of warriors who were stronger and probably better than anyone else. Why risk finding out differently?