This week is the International Week for blogging against Racism. And I’m joining the long tradition of speaking truth to power.
Living with labels makes you feel their histories each time you interact with someone. Indian, Black, Muslim, woman… So to put it really simply, this is my identification with all people of colour. The reason we all need to stand up against Racism (read the Angry Black Woman’s post here).
“The US and the USSR are the most powerful countries in the world
But only 1/8th of the world’s population
African people are also 1/8th of the world’s population
Of that 1/4 th is Nigerian,
½ the world’s population is Asian,
½ of that is Chinese
There are 22 nations in the Middle East.
Most people in the world are Yellow, Black, Poor, Female, Non-Christian and do not speak English.
By the year 2000 the 20 largest cities in the world will have one thing in common.
None of them will be in Europe, none in the United States.”
Audre Lorde(January1st 1989), as quoted in the book ‘Feminism Without Borders’ by Chandra Talpade Mohanty.
To understand one’s place in the world right now it is very important to understand and break white privilege. Both personally, and politically.
Working with bodies and the body, I encounter and try to deal with the affects of oppression and violence on people. And post-colonial women share with Black women the history of being oppressed doubly, by male power both at home and in the public domain by the coloniser. For post-colonial minority women, power acted at the level of the public domain by a majority ruler, and at the domestic level by a minority male.* (This isn’t to simplify either of our histories, but to cite a common ground for coming together and drawing from each other’s struggles.)
So to form a contemporary consciousness that is independent and capable of forming agency within itself, an individual who is a post-colonial minority woman would need to overcome and redefine herself as independent of oppression at the domestic, local, national and global level. That means overcoming patriarchal and majority consciousness, and transcribing a self that draws from a painful historical legacy but is not bound by it. Being Muslim this is a very complicated and interesting place to be.
Getting at the root of one’s oppression means training your body to recover from its binding memories. Being a part of a community that has been looked at as other, whose history has been carved out of violence and genocide, and has been written largely by a dominantly different consciousness, the individual wakes up to find herself cast in moulds even before she knows them, or perceives choices. And these moulds are reinforced at the level of the home, at the level of the local milieu by being in a minority and at the global level by being a post-colonial (or sub-altern).Close your eyes and imagine what it could be like to black and woman in America, or, to be Muslim and Indian in India.
Recovering from one’s history therefore would mean, lets say for a Muslim woman in Gujarat, at the immediate level of survival threatened by a majority hegemonic state government, from sexual violence engendered by majority male violence, from sexual and domestic violence at home brought about by an oppressed male, and from a historical and political denial, unacknowledgement and indifference by the (democratic post-colonial) nation state. In their everyday this means countering prejudice, objectification, poverty, and lack of opportunity among other gruesome and perhaps unnamed ills.
Recovering from one’s physical and psychological oppression is paramount to envisaging a future. And the processes that bring this about can be multiple. In Lars Von Triers’s Manderlay, a young white American finds herself in an all Black Southern village, which has just lost the White Family that owned it and its people. She takes over the responsibility of setting things right and when she goes to the wisest man in Manderlay she finds that he , for the lack of creative and better alternatives for being advocates a return to the order of the older days. He also shows her a book of classification which the masters used to configure the slaves. Everyone was put under a neat bracket, like ‘pleasing n*****’, or thinking n*****’ and these were stereotypes created in conjunction with behavior patterns that the slaves had adopted in order to cope or deal with the oppression.
While working with structure is difficult for an emancipatory politics that seeks to liberate and not stultify, such a politics should devise itself based on internal peace, radical substitutes and personalised means of coping. There are no easy answers. Social Change is slow, but in driving it, initiators and catalysts need to be both sensitive and critical of individual strengths and resistances, being aware of all the forces that s/he is dealing with.
It is easy to white-wash differences under an evasive frame-work of emancipation, and we must be wary of the variations of force that tug at the lives of young people, and women. Race, class, religion, nationality, disability, indigenousness… are real and plausible differences that contain powerful histories of struggle within themselves. To be blind about difference is like living from hand to mouth, expecting an emancipation that is out of tune with the past and out of place in an individual’s context, and hard to live by in the everyday. We need a small steady, constant battering and reconstruction of structure within and outside ourselves, and we must never stop thinking big.
And very necessary in this process is participation in debates about issues that affect our lives, be they climate change or abortion or the decisions that our countries are taking in the nuclear weapons race. All of us need to stand up and take charge of our foreign policies from within our governments, giving democracy its due as a diverse and united people, Blacks, Muslims, all coloured people, women, people with disabilities…Only participation in the larger public sphere can lead to a responsible emancipation.
Let’s hold hands across the globe and stand up for honesty, peace, and demand for responsible, true, transparent and non-hypocritical democracies.
*or a more detailed account of the post-colonial woman’s history as a body, see Martha Nussbaum’s paper called ‘Body of the Nation’.
Icon by rilina