Dear Colonialism - guest post by Ami V. Shah

I am honored to kick off the week with a powerful guest post by my colleague Ami V. Shah, Assistant Professor of Global Studies & Anthropology at Pacific Lutheran University.
We have been discussing many issues around decolonization for a while and I am thrilled that she shares her reflections here on
Aidnography! Ami also tweets as SeenFromAfar.

Dear Colonialism,

I’m writing a letter to you, because I’m not sure you’ll listen when I talk. You claim that you want to come back to my house, and that in fact, your visit will be good for me. Dear colonialism, I do not agree.

Especially since you have yet to leave my house.

When you arrived you were uninvited. I do not need to document the tragedies that unfolded under your watch. I do not need to document the painful legacies that you created. Others have done so more eloquently, devastatingly, and, indeed, empirically than I might right now in this short letter.

You might want to consult with them.

You claim that you have been ignored, cast-aside as “unpopular” even if you are “right”. You blame the voices of my supposedly biased colleagues and friends gathered around me today. You claim that you have been pushed out.

But really, Dear Colonialism, when did you ever leave?

When you first arrived you might have said that you were trading with me. That you were exploring. That this didn’t count as colonialism because you had yet to establish the structures of political control.

But Colonialism, you are not just a historical period of political rule. You have precursors and everlasting aftershocks, all which bear your name. You cannot be separated from your racialized interpretations of my people. You cannot be separated from the global hierarchies of social order you crystalized. You cannot be absolved of the racist, Eurocentric, and unequal world order you created.

In so many ways, you never left. You never left as your academic disciplines determined our schooling and categorized our knowledge as “local”, “indigenous”, and “traditional”. You never left as your languages replaced the music of our own. You never left as your economic policies dictated the rise and fall of wellbeing in our countries. You never left as you supported unpopular leaders, staged proxy wars on our land, and continued to throw up your hands and shrug “ahh, those primitive people, what can we do”.

Dear Colonialism, you can shut up and listen.

At what point does an assertion become “non-mainstream”. For how long must it be out of its mother’s loving gaze to be able to assert cast-aside status, to demand attention? To cry out, “but what about me???”

Indeed. Colonialism. What about you?

Was it not enough to conquer the Global South writ large? Was it not enough to be in full political power for decades? Was it not enough to take our land, our resources, our people?

So Colonialism, let me get this straight, your strategies dominated the Global South for centuries. Your legacy lingers in post-colonial states, neo-colonial politics and economics, and even in interviewing the offspring of former colonial rulers in the wake of this week’s coup in Zimbabwe. You are everywhere. Yet you claim that you’ve been cast aside.

Boy, please.

The assertion that there is an anti-colonial orthodoxy in academics ignores the long duree. It ignores that colonialism, its antecedents, and its legacies have dominated thought toward the Global South for centuries. It further ignores the role of academia itself in perpetuating colonial legacies. Dear Colonialism, you in fact have been the dominant trend, and still are. You are everywhere.

You are still present when my International Relations textbook imagines a world that began in Westphalia, is shaped by the United States and Europe (with the occasional nod to good ol’ China!) and suddenly mentions the Global South in its final chapter on human rights or poverty. You are still present when development specialists debate about whether people in the Global South know what really is in their best interests. You are still present when today’s young adults prepare to travel to your shores as newly anointed 21st century saviors.

And indeed, you are still present when your non-specialists publish quickly about the need for re-colonization in dedicated post-colonial journals.

So in the name of viewpoint diversity, Dear Colonialism, let me suggest a radical notion. It is time for anti-colonial and decolonial viewpoints to be heard and to be taken seriously. It is time to stop pushing these views to the side claiming that they are a new orthodoxy when your orthodoxy still clings tightly to each wall of our homes.

You have never left.

Dear Colonialism, the world will never be rid of your effects, whatever your assessment of them may be. The reality of the world you created cannot be escaped. If you are so brazen, so strong, so able, so capable as to right the wrongs you see in our lands presently, then own the wrongs that are yours.

In the meantime, Dear Colonialism, I repeat: boy, please.


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