Written by Zeba Kazi
“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change…I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.”
― Audre Lorde
Decolonisaton is divesting the colonised world of colonial imposition in all its manifestations and returning to what is authentic. It is the process of understanding how the imperial powers have dominated and shaped the colonised world and then undoing and resisting those dominations. Colonialism is not merely the relationship between a weaker and a stronger culture. It is violence and extreme violation. It deliberately undervalues the customs, religions, history, literature, and the culture of the colonised while consciously elevating the language and the culture of the colonisers. The domination of the coloniser’s language is crucial for the mental domination of the colonised. Decolonisation is simply undoing colonialism. Like Fanon mentioned, “decolonisation is always a violent phenomenon”. It is blood and fire, it can’t simply be theories on paper. If it doesn’t deal with the question of power and domination, it is a waste of ink and paper. (I am aware of the irony that I am speaking of decolonisation in the coloniser’s language)
Appearances are subjected to hegemonic standards. Beauty standards today are reminiscent of the colonial era where white was superior. Eurocentric views of beauty are glorified. People are conditioned to believe that their worth depends on the western beauty ideals. Fanon in Wretched of the Earth mentions that colonisation isn’t merely territorial, it has a significant psychological impact on the colonised. Edward Said also mentions in Orientalism that the West sees the East as primitive, hence sees it as its duty to ‘humanise’ the Other. We can see the imposition of colonial beauty standards in skin-lightening products, straightening of hair, and so on. Black women who wear their natural hair are often seen as unprofessional and ghetto (a Kim Kadarshian on the other hand will be applauded for wearing cornrows). In Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie mentions, “hair is the perfect metaphor for race in America”. It represents how the American society appropriates part of black culture for itself while continuing to oppress black people. Ifemelu, the protagonist, is under cultural pressure to straighten her hair, and make it look more like a white woman’s hair. Deconstructing beauty calls for psychological untangling of oppressive constructions of beauty. Decolonisation demands different awareness and the need to unlearn years of conditioned devaluations and misconceptions. Today there is a need for decolonised definitions of beauty without any hierarchies.
Decolonisation is not a give-and-take process where clear demarcations exist between good and bad. Oftentimes, the colonised persons have to struggle with themselves to achieve a semblance of it. Decolonisation is not merely a political event that ends at a certain point in history. It is a taxing act that exists as a process in personal and socio-cultural spheres without having a fixed predictable end. As the reclamation of power plays the driving role, decolonisation takes many forms in the areas of gender, race, religion, language, et al. Each of these play a crucial role in shaping the history, the present, and the future of a colonised people and need to be recognised and acknowledged as such.
Zeba Kazi is currently doing her diploma in Gender culture and development while waiting for her PhD in literature to start. She’s an avid reader and an occasional writer.