Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Decolonization isn’t left or right, it’s human

Decolonization seems to be a universal human endeavour
Daily Collegian (2011)

Through the last few years of American politics, we’ve seen a decided shift on the part of the American left toward what one could term aesthetic decolonization.” By this, I mean the push for renaming schools, buildings and even holidaysand the tearing down of statues glorifying historical figures from our colonial past – all of which deal with the symbolic and potentially damaging psychological effects of colonization.  

It makes perfect sense in our context that a push for decolonization and a reckoning with the sins of the past comes from the political left, and resistance toward such a change from the right. Speaking as someone who is quite clearly on the left politically, it also fits our notsomodest image of ourselves as the virtuous saviours of the oppressed, and leaders of the fight for equality.  

But this isn’t really true – decolonization is not married to a political ideology, despite how blatantly apparent the connection might seem to us in America.  

Leftism, as a nature of the philosophy, fights for change of the society arguably for its betterment and in some sense is always a fight for the rights of the oppressedConservatism fights either for the maintenance of the status quo or a reversion to a preferred historical period, when all societal ills were apparently non-existent and everybody led happy, fulfilled lives. In both cases though, conservatism is largely a philosophy in favour of those relatively well-off in society.   

For decolonization, this begs the question: Are formerly colonized people always the oppressed in the context of national politics?  

No matter what the reflexively defensive leftist in you might say, no, they are not. In the U.S., we think of Indigenous people as an oppressed group. This is fair, as the kind of brutality imposed by European settlers was considered extreme even in the 16th century. But the story of Native Americans is not the story of all Indigenous populations; in many Asian and African nations, the native population eventually regained their homeland as the result of a freedom struggle.  

Take the example of India, a country where the natives took back their land. There’s been a recent push to start referring to the country by its original name, Bharat (from the native language Hindi). At the same time, the government recently redesigned the parliament, doing away with the architecture that was a holdover from colonial times.  

Both of these decolonial activities were undertaken by a right-wing government that despises social leftism. The Modi government is a Hindu nationalist government of a Hindu majority country; they’re in driver’s seat and they’re engaging in decolonization? This doesn’t make sense if one looks at it from the myopic American left-wing view of oppressed natives and colonizing Whites. But it makes perfect sense if you consider something we don’t really think about in America: what happens if the colonizers lose?  

In India, the British were eventually thrown out as the result of a decades long freedom movement. In Nigeria, the same story repeated itself with the British. In Morocco, the French played the role of eventually defeated colonizer. All three of these nations have a shared history and due to that, a shared politics. Their history is one of colonial oppression eventually overthrown, and their modern politics is one of right-wing decolonization and anti-Western sentiment and left-wing resistance to it.  

The fact that the left in some nations is resisting decolonization may rattle the sensibilities of many in the U.S. But this is a reality of international politics – progressives all over the globe tend to look at the West as a model to learn from, if not emulate. Many of our cherished ideals in the West are exactly that, ideals in the West – they need to be argued for in other places.  

Progressives in the developing world arguing in favor of civil liberties like freedom of speech, or political philosophies like secularism, face strong opposition from the right due to the Western origins of these ideas. By resisting the efforts of national right-wingers to move away from Western ideals in politics, progressives impede the project of decolonization in some ways.  

So far, we’ve only dealt with the overtly political aspects of decolonization. But colonization and its effects go much deeper. It has psychological effects, so decolonization must have psychological remedies. A seemingly strange and uncomfortable but important example may be of Dr. Umar Johnson, a Black public speaker who argues against interracial marriages due to historical existence of biased beauty standards feeding into sexual choice in the modern day – and while this topic feels uncomfortable to discuss, it’s nothing if not attempted decolonization.   

Another particularly prevalent example of the psychological effect of colonization is the glorification of the culture and the language of the colonizer, which we see quite often in the developing world. So, when I, as an Indian (born and raised) refuse to speak to my Indian friends in anything but Hindi (the native tongue for my part of the country), that’s decolonization. Within many Indian social circles, this has led to a perception of me as a chest-thumping traditionalist rube from the home country. Within political circles in the U.S. though, this has created the opposite perception; I’m an extreme decolonialist and either need to be emulated or stopped.  

Neither of which are true, because decolonization isn’t left or right, it’s human. When dealing with decolonization in a symbolic sense, we must realise we’re primarily talking about the decolonization of the mind. This is a fight against the conscious and subconscious feelings of inferiority that can be produced by growing up in a world after colonization. These are terrible feelings, and regardless of your politics, I hope it is evident that allowing members of formerly oppressed communities to be able to grow up and exist in our world with a sense of pride in themselves and their communities is a worthwhile, and fundamentally human endeavour.  

The desire to be proud of your culture is not political; it is human, regardless of where we’re from or what we look like.  

The fact that decolonization is sometimes undertaken by both left and right should not be a cause for concern and should not be a reason to stop efforts towards it. In both cases, it is simply an attempt to address the alltoonormal feelings of inferiority that have been created in many minorities. This doesn’t mean that ‘decolonization’ can never have excesses. Rejecting the concept of human rights because of some vague notion of Western chauvinism, or renaming schools named for Abraham Lincoln are ideas that may fall under decolonization’s umbrella, but are, at the very least, questionable.  

Decolonization isn’t always correct, but the emotions behind it are always valid and seem to be universal. The nonpartisan nature of decolonization should instead lead to the realization of a simple fact: decolonization is needed, but not because it is left or right, because it is human.  

Manas Pandit can be reached at [email protected] 

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