Racism can’t be erased with a stimulus package: the case for decoloniality

(A working definition of decoloniality = a political program that is based, non-negotiably, on the eradication of domination and oppression across ethnic and/or religious grounds)

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Recap: I wrote a post a couple of months ago about the take-home lessons from a summer school I went to on how to ‘decolonize’ the Muslim subject. The lessons to learn here, however, aren’t so particularist and actually provide the building blocks for how to construct a decolonized world for all of us. I’ll get to the rest of those lessons next week.

But, there’s still a crucial question to pose though, about why anyone should buy into a decolonial program. Suppose, hypothetically, the top 1% in the UK spontaneously favored a redistribution of income of a scale that would solve all the gaps in public services, would rehouse the homeless, would fund domestic violence services and would provide enough jobs for all, even those seeking asylum. What case is there then for decoloniality beyond the sentimental takes to ‘stamp out prejudice’ for stamping-out sake? After all, most think recalibrating the economy takes care of all that nasty stuff.

The thought experiment is a good measure of how much you reckon economic stimulus erases racial prejudice, and whether that is a zero-sum game.

Learning about de-coloniality almost absolutely turns this view on its head. When Britain voted to leave the EU, I knew then that most were willing to give up economic privilege if it meant erasing immigrant presence in the UK. I’m aware that most voted under the entirely vague opinion that erasing immigrants would conversely bring back jobs, I take this to be intellectually-disingenuous on part of said voter. There’s good reason to buy into this view, it’s why there was an incalculable surge of google-searches following the lines of: ‘What does the EU actually do?’ after the vote had already taken place.

There are countries today, Japan and Germany, that are industrial, infrastructural and tech powerhouses, their economies are in healthy surplus, the level of inequality between the highest and lowest of incomes is impressively narrow – and yet, they are bitterly unpleasant places for migrants and refugees. Their social housing is regularly set on fire, many suffer the indignity of not being granted permission to work, and the possibility of violence follows them everywhere.

What does this have to do with decoloniality, you might ask? It means, I think, the following: that racism cannot be erased with a stimulus package. After all, colonial powers were in more than healthy economic shape when the states’ main trades were based on slave-ownership. It’s why they decided to reimburse the slave-owning class of Britain’s elite at the time of abolition.

Strictly anti-capitalist programs do not have the machinery to handle racialized poverty, the racialized pay gap, sexual violence in undocumented labour, and neo-colonial economic structures.

I do not mean to suggest that a decolonial program wouldn’t also lend itself to anti-capitalist values. But rather, any ‘socialism-lites’ that appear to be gaining ground shouldn’t see dabbling in affirmative action as a serious remedy to racism (though it can’t hurt).

Here’s another reason why nothing other than decoloniality will do: it’s an excellent way of understanding the biggest of geopolitical fuck-ups, both today and in the last few centuries.

It opens up, and lead to questions about the asymmetry of modern powers (the EU and everywhere else), the debt market, the arms and war industries, Islamic capitalism (bismillAhdam Smith – a mere subset of the tentacled activity of the big daddy banks), and yet more regime changes – we share these with our colonised neighbours: South-east Asia, and all/most of Latin and Central America. The struggle to build robust democratic structures when faced with an onslaught of 2723621 coup d’etat(es?) – don’t quote me on that number – should be the first reason we look to when wondering about the instability of said regions. Instead, it is apparently easier to believe that some are constitutionally incapable of political organizing.

So decoloniality is intrinsically linked to the most pressing of geopolitical problems today. It is a constant, difficult effort, to place and locate cause and effect seriously into some of the biggest political crises we see on the news. It is the rejection of lazily resorting to discourses which imply that some just aren’t capable of proper politics.

Next week I’m gonna write about decolonizing intimacy and desire, orientalism, why decoloniality needs to be about more than nostalgia, and also how men ruin everything. Join me, next week.

ALSO, WATCH THIS SPACE FOR A SPECIAL POST ON WHY FLAMENCO IS FUN BUT ALSO DECOLONIAL AND FEMINISM.

 

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Part One: lessons from a summer school on decoloniality

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Earlier this month I was lucky enough to attend a summer school on ‘Decoloniality and Critical Muslim Studies’. Over 40 academics, activists, and community organisers came together in Granada, Spain (the centre of old Muslim Spain) to essentially chat about how we can decolonise the Muslim subject in the context of a very clear and rampant project of global Islamophobia. 

Some of the central questions explored were theoretical, practical, but mostly asked *for the sake of* practical change. What kind of change? Decoloniality is of course an ambitious political project, but by the same token it is highly abstract. Few people can seriously envision what a decolonised world would look like i.e. a world without coloniality. So the undoing of the legacies of empire requires not just ambition, but also a serious commitment to creativity and imagination.

I can’t relay the content of the seminars in this post. But I can tell you some of the most interesting tidbits that stayed with me. So in no particular order:

  1. Racism requires epistemic racism. Epistemic racism entails the inferiorising (and erasure) of all knowledge production from communities that are on the losing end of white supremacy. This might occur through ridiculing, blocking access to marginal voices being heard, or by delegitimising marginal voices altogether (characterising them as violent, bitter, irrational, and so forth). Note, this might be done explicitly, implicitly, intentionally or unintentionally. The result is much the same – we’re left with dominant (white) knowledge systems without much opposition. We see this in the academic canon where few groups other than white men from about 5 countries are seriously represented in dominant knowledge structures. Why is this political? After all curriculums are just what uni students learn and forget about after they graduate right? Nope. This phenomena bodes far beyond what is taught at Oxford PPE (though that too can often be telling). By knowledge systems I mean hegemonic discourses and paradigms of thinking that both explicitly and implicitly see non-white subjects as in need of ‘civilising’. Systems of racial subordination require these paradigms to offer rationale for socio-economic systems based on violence against people of colour. Racialised poverty, the prison-industrial complex, labour market discrimination and exploitation of undocumented peoples are just a few vignettes from this miserable reality. They also make-up a particularly lucrative business model for some. As such, they require myths to justify the presence of said violence. Our paradigms of thinking are historically geared to doing this very job. Epistemic racism is a concept that is beyond necessary because it brings to light the intimate link between knowledge and violence to justify the presence of violence. It frames particular knowledge systems as politically necessary for the violence of racism. So in short, epistemic racism seeks to discredit sources that might question justifications of violence against people of colour, and by doing so, act as system-justifying.

2. There is a crucial difference between the post-colonial and the decolonial. This difference is evident in the politics of citation. Post-colonial thinkers like Spivak tend to base their works on mainly eurocentric thinkers like Marx, Gramsci and Derida. But decolonial critical thought requires and demands a space (at the forefront) for critical scholars of the global south. Not just as a nod to hollow tokenism, but for the sake of a crucial decolonial goal: that we carve out a space to articulate colonial subjectivities from the standpoint of those very subjectivities. Sure, Marx or Foucault might be better than say, Rawls, in giving a name to particular inequalities, but these all fall short in being able to articulate what it means to navigate the world as someone that has been colonised. Marx only gets us so far. In fact, we probably need to decolonise Marx himself otherwise we reproduce the very epistemic racism we seek to undo as thinkers that can’t milk anything from whiteness. To put it crisply, a colonised subject is best suited to articulate on what it means to be a colonised subject.

3. Conflicts need to be ‘domesticated’. Liberals tend to ignore history. That’s (one of) their big problems. Liberal principles of justice claim that you can determine what is fair and right between two or more parties in a conflict by looking to some abstract principles like equality to determine the good. They’re essentially anti-historical. Critical theorists on the other hand are about domesticating conflicts – about understanding that each issue is local and particular. Equality in one respect (financial resources), can’t speak to equality in other respects (amount of opportunities available to agents). A white woman and a black woman cannot seriously be said to have the same opportunities even though both have 10,000 pounds to their name. That is the very premise of racism. Liberal solutions to problems attempt to ask that we imagine ourselves as in some hypothetical position of being non-raced and distribute accordingly. Critical theorists are about disentangling all the numerable ways we are raced at some particular place (at some particular time) and working from there. This needn’t mean we get rid of discourses like equality, but rather we change the direction from which we analyse equality. Instead we don’t ask what equality might be by imagining hypotheticals, but by looking to the world and theorising about what counts as a commodity (income, epistemic credibility, opportunity, collective autonomy etc etc)

4. The point of decolonising history isn’t to find a middle eastern Byron or Thomas Hardy. You might think Rumi is better than Shakespeare. But the game is a bit more complicated than that. Instead it is about questioning why you look for a brown Hardy in the first place, why we take Hardy/Byron as the benchmark and for what reasons. And telling that meta-story is a far more long winded and historical one, requiring some domesticating – some academics think this goes back to the burning of libraries and destruction of Al-Andalus in 1492. I’ll leave you to do the domesticating on your own terms.

In part two I’ll be talking about decolonising intimacy, social relations and daily life; why decoloniality seems overly nostalgic (and hence uncreative), emotional dimensions of decoloniality, and and much more.

 

 

The importance of Bollywood/ rly uncool beautiful music for brown ppl

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Whenever I feel nostalgic about my childhood I return to a few things. They are: Mary J Blige’s album ‘Be Without You’ where all the songs are about one thing and sound extremely similar but it just really spoke to my erratic emotional range as a nine year old; those creepy but equally tasty potato smiley faces you oven cook, and 90s Bollywood.

Nothing can make me cry like the following footage. Note, they all pretty much cater to the brown and oriental white male gaze, and are mad sexy depictions of very white skinned and slim indian ladies.

So the list goes like

  1. Jiya Jale – from Dil Se, when Preity Zinta thought she had Shahrukh whipped but little did she know he had the hots for whatsherface who wanted to blow up their city cus she was q unhinged n mysterious, none of the film made sense tbh. But just check the aesthetics. It is impossible to not be sexy when you’re dancing in and constantly emerging from waterfalls.

2. Literally the best remix of this song ever from the 90s house group ‘Orbital’ done by DJ Dosa (lol)

3. Chaiyya Chaiyya, also from Dil Se. Literally this woman had nothing to do with the movie they just put her in there for the aesthetics – one way to spice up a boring train ride I suppose. Honestly it worked cus this is probably the most iconic music video in all of Bollywood history. It’s also the most male gazey, but also tbh I don’t even care. Let us have something lol

4. The title song from Dil Se, exhibit A: whipped. Plus I kinda love how you couldn’t directly reference sexual activity in 90s Bollywood but also just LOOK AT THE SEXUAL TENSION HERE. Nothing will top it. Hugely important for all pubescent brown kids of the Dil Se era, big up to u all.

5. Ishq Bina, from the film Taal which was hugely underrated tbh. Cus early Aishwariya ???? Also v beautiful lyrics if you listen carefully, warning as prob the cheesiest of all

6. Ramta Jogi, also from Taal. EXTREMELY CRINGE moment that prob parallels Sandy from Grease when she spices it up to be with Danny Zucko. Previously prude Aishwarya comes to the dance school to do what looks like a dance-off with brown Peter Pan.

7. Sorry but this isn’t even bad or corny. Dil Chahta Hai is just a rly good film lol, its just a feature abt 3 guys who r in a quarter life crisis n work through their dumb masculinity together in so many words.

the best gift i ever got

This is what i got given by my brother for my eighteenth birthday (absolutely all credit for this amazing scrapbook goes to him), it will probably always be relevant – in fact I hope it will be. Its title: ’18 things I wish I knew before I was 18′. I’m sharing it because although it is personal, it is in equal parts universally applicable (I think….maybe don’t hold me to that). But most people I show it to want to cry in a good way for some reason and urge me to share it with others. Anyway, below is the best gift I ever got:

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a thing i said once about cultural appropriation

Title: But how can my bindhi be hurting anyone?

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“There are two fundamental questions to answer when it comes to cultural appropriation.

1) When do I know when I’m appropriating?

2) Why is it bad if I do?

I’m gonna do my best to answer the second.

I’d like to thank Nandini for inviting me to speak. I wouldn’t say I’m some sort of authority on this issue in so far as; I’ve done no “empirical research” or official theorizing about this. But I can attest to the fact that the issue of race, aesthetics & cultural appropriation – as Nandini so kindly briefed us on – does in fact keep me awake at night. So I suppose I’m here to sort of here to share some of those thoughts with you with regard to the appropriation of desi, brown, south-asian identity and symbols by white people.

Before I share my thoughts I’d firstly like to preface what I’m about to say by saying that this is the first time I’ve made audible sounds let alone words to this many human beings in a room before so if I mumble or get nervous – you’ll know why.

Secondly, just before I go on to kind of build up my ‘thesis’ if you will, I’d like to also say that about a year and a half ago in freshers I had actually urged a white girlfriend of mine to wear a bindhi on a night out, I had even gone as far as saying that getting a few canerows on the side of another friend’s scalp would look “sik”. I was young. I was unpoliticised. I was mistaken, and even as a woman of colour, I did not know.

So to make the criticism of cultural appropriation is not to make a criticism about a character fault at all – but to actually shed light on the skewed unjust treatment, representation, authority, status and valuation (call it what you will) of minority ethnic communities (globally). An under-valuation, an injustice, a racism which fundamentally has its roots in colonialism – a past with which we are only beginning to reckon with. Cultural appropriation is simply the tip of a very big and neo-colonial iceberg – a lens through which the disparity of treatment between the dominant, and the underrepresented – becomes evident.

I’ll get to why wearing a bindhi as a white person is ultimately painful (in a very significant way) in a bit, but in order to get there I need to give you a glimpse of the reality in which people of colour live in daily.

This is a reality that is indeed neo-colonial in nature – where the history of colonial terror is fundamentally linked to the structural inequality PoC communities encounter everyday. This ranges from dire representation in political spaces, even more dire representation on every public screen (where even the slim representation that exists is an amalgamation of often demeaning stereotypes, and nothing more), where the pay gape is ever wider for people of colour (especially women), where mental health is often turbulent in PoC communities, where we see people who look just like us, (but unfortunately aren’t able to migrate to more politically stable countries) hyper-sexualised, sub-humanized, criminalized in the press, and beyond all – are witness to the daily news of the decimation of brown bodies by drones, a phenomenon legitimized under those ever divisive words: “national security”.

These are all the things we as a multi-cultural community have inherited from the fundamental mistake of the western colonial project.

All of what I’m saying might seem tangential to this connection that I’ve flagged up between bindhis and pain and browness and whiteness, but in fact structural inequality, or hey let’s call it by its real name, racism, is what gives cultural appropriation the sheer weight of its pain.

The taking of the bindhi does not exist in isolation, but within the history of other ‘takings’.

And this is what makes cultural appropriation an “appropriation” and not an “exchange” – because an exchange means that something is being swapped. That a fair transaction has been made between two parties that are on equal terms, with equal opportunity and resources, and the like. This is quite clearly not the case. I’m not really interested in proving that premise because I think as well as being enough evidence out there in the world to suggest that structural inequality exists, there’s a certain violence in having to experience the daily strife of inequality in a post-colonial world, and then prove that that is indeed the case. Further, I have a deep sense of trust in this room that all those here tonight affirm that fact.

So now it’s time to tie in the bindhi to this whole rant.

I’m gonna now try and pin down how this picture of racism permeates our aesthetic values, beauty standards, fashion and the lot. Now that I’ve sort of given a broader picture of a kind of inter-generational pain that exists for people of colour, hopefully the bindhi thing will make a bit more sense given that contextual frame.

Well actually I hate to use the word ‘context’ because context makes it sound faintly circumstantial and infrequently occurring when this is in fact a systematic reality that is reoccurring over and over again, and globally for that matter.

With regard to the bindhi, it’s important to understand this issue is in equal parts both a gendered and racial one. It is gendered in so far as, to be a woman is to feel pressure to be desirable in the public space, or face the consequences of scrutiny and harassment that will follow if you reject desirability; and to be brown is to not be able to fit in to the category of the desirable because the standard of beauty couldn’t get more Eurocentric if you tried. Brown women are excluded from Eurocentric beauty by their very physical constitution. It is a concept built to exclude our bodies. Type beautiful in to google and all you will see is pictures of white women. A number of studies done on rates of responses on tinder were significantly lower for women of colour. The few brown women who get on to the big screens have unsurprisingly the lightest of complexions. Friends constantly and myself included have had the trouble of bearing micro-aggressions such as “he must be in to Asian girls” when dating white men.

Once one is able to engage with and understand this daily lived experience, it becomes obvious why seeing white girls at festivals using what is indeed a deeply spiritual expression of south Asian identity, namely the bindhi, commodified in to an aesthetic accessory.

To put this in to perspective, I, or any hindhu friend of mine could never dream to enter a public space in this country whilst wearing my bindhi and my shalwar kameez without feeling vulnerable. Forget beauty, safety becomes out of reach. The history of brown women wearing bindhis in this country is one fraught with not simply an emotional violence but a physical one too. Where white supremacist groups would attack newly immigrated south Asian women for being ‘dotheads’. To this day, the thought of going out in shalwar kameez in my hometown is scary.

The disparity between my safety and the commodification of those ancient, special, unifying and beautiful symbols for the use of bolstering ones own personal aesthetic at festivals (festivals which are admittedly far too expensive for many many working-class brown and black teens to attend) in the first place is a sickening one.

Especially when I have only just learned how to love those things. I grew up in this country not only not wanting to wear brown things but also wanting to assimilate because expressing those facets of my identity were stigmatized. So the sudden surge of instagram accounts such as ‘whitegirlsdobindhisbetter’ is not only painful, but ultimately: a pisstake.

I hope I’ve done okay to give you a sense of why the pain exists for women of colour when it comes to the appropriation of aesthetic symbols. But if anyone has any further questions I’ll be happy to do my best to answer.”

 

late summer throback things

What is better than a think piece? Most things. But also playlists. Playlists are great. Wanky ones with super eclectic song choices that very few people have heard of are kinda nice cus the few people who will have heard your vinyl or your discog or your B-side or F-side or ur looney tune will be a like-minded individual – an exercise in reaching in to the void to talk to a really specific individual who also likes looney tunes. This isn’t that though, this is me picking out the least embarrassing, but still a bit embarrassing, songs from my early teens, because its a Tuesday at 7pm and what else am I gonna do.

I like so much that The Killers are a kind of universal staple to all former teen millennials everywhere. A shared public embarrassment is the best kind of embarrassment. I still maintain this was one of the best albums of 2004 (out of the 8 albums I did listen to in 2004). Still, Believe Me Natalie is a b a n g e r.

Solid music video. Still entices me, a brown lady, to want to walk in to a Texan barn (are those real?), pick up a drumstick and start line dancing.

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I now look back at this with extreme second hand embarrassment at Gwen Stefani, definitely squeezing out afro-latinx vibes inappropriately, nonetheless this album was huge for me – after all, “bubble pop e-lec-tric who’s gunna get it?” profound stuff rly

I was not cool enough to know this tune at 13 but a lil obsessed right now

I dig this so much because rly buying in to the whole evil woman aesthetic thing atm, makes me feel like the adam’s family mum morticia without the gross husband that always leechin on her – sarah vaughn gets it. A deep, clever, aged voice that is wise wise wise and makes me feel like i’m a 50 year old kajillionaire with an corporate empire that made its money off of feminist memes.