thoughts on decolonization, diaspora, and home
Thoughts about this have been bubbling around in my head for a while. Nudged by the recent discussion I saw from Filipinos in the PH talking about how some of them perceive the usage of ‘filipinx’ as a type of neo-colonialism. I’m also seeing a discussion (not about pilipinx) about how… 'decolonization’ discourse is or can be alienating to people born in the homeland for various (valid) reasons.
It’s also causing me to reflect on how… 'decolonization’ isn’t really something I actually talk about all that much anymore. The word (and concept) used to be a lot more central in my thought and how I approached things. I don’t want to say that not using the term or refering to the idea as much means that it no longer has a prominent place… but rather, I think its pretty clear to me that my orientation has changed a great deal.
I think the beginning of the end of my personal engagement with decolonization discourse started around the time when I realized that one of the foundational thinkers, Franz Fanon, was Black and was talking about Black natives in his books. But seeing that this very important detail was often (always) omitted by non-Black ppl using his thought to advance our own (often anti-Black) theories of decolonization. It’s a strange kind of 'decolonization’ that primarily involves profiting from Black intellectual labour while erasing them from their own discourse.
The other thing that caused a conceptual break is how most/all non-Black discussions on 'decolonization’ have about zero room for the 'problem’ of the Black diaspora. I’m sure a lot of ppl first think of Black americans when I say this, but in a very general sense I’m really referring to all the descendents of enslaved Africans.
By and large, any given non-Black person’s conception of decolonization generally involves invoking some…. criterion of what ~true decolonization~ is that is fundamentally impossible for many people in the Black diaspora. A lot will talk about speaking ancestral tongues… which for a lot of Black people is something unknowable and inaccessible. A lot of them use a notion of Indigeniety that essentially asserts that because Black people were enslaved, they have no reasonable claim to indigeniety. Many of them tend to look towards the past, calling ideas of history, tradition, whatever that fundamentally devalue the centuries of 'modern’ Black resistance to colonization. And pretty much all of them will essentialize one of these aspects or some other aspect which makes it impossible for many (if not all) people in the Black diaspora to ever be 'decolonized’.
Which… is an interesting act of anti-Blackness. And I’m not sure how to engage a discourse which, for the most part, seems to assert that the more severe and complete the colonial violence your people experienced, the less able you are to ever entirely free yourself from that.
And this seems to be a central problem in the discourse that many people seem entirely unwilling to actually address. The implicit notion that there is a point of no return for colonization. That if it is violent enough. If it has gone on long enough. That’s it. You are Colonized. Decolonization is no longer an option. No matter how much you resist. No matter what you do. You are and always will be Colonized. In terms of the descendents of enslaved Africans, this is really a statement that this act of enslavement not only stripped the freedom of the enslaved people themselves, but also the freedom of every single one of their descendents until the end of time.
Honestly? This isn’t something I find acceptable. At all. And yet… my experiences working within decolonization discourse, this appears to be what many non-Black people appear to have concluded. While, at the same time, using Black intellectual labour that created the discourse in the first place. Fun, eh?
Of course, the Black diaspora is the most extreme example of this. Not the only, but the most extreme (I’m sure its a coincidence that in most non-Black ppl’s conception of decolonization Black people can never be free and their labour is always available for exploitation).
But the question remains: Where is the point of no return? How much violence is necessary? How long does it take? And what do you do if your people have passed this point?
Another way to put this, especially as regards the ongoing tensions between diaspora and home, is what happens when you no longer have a home to return to? What does it mean to be part of a diapora with no home? How long does it take before returning becomes an impossiblity? How does a diaspora with no home relate to the home they can no longer return to? What is the relationship between the two?
This latter bit gets to the disjunct between pilipinx and filipinos mentioned above.
I don’t often see many people who talk about decolonization really dig into this. I remember reading Global Divas and seeing the discussion about how many people in the PH look towards america as this… aspirational place. It is a place of greater opportunity and, yes, perhaps freedom. And then we contrast it with people in the diaspora who are looking back…
And so across the pacific ocean, people at home are looking 'forward’ and people in the diaspora are looking 'backward’1. A great deal of the tension that exists between the two seems to come from this. It’s also an aspect of decolonization discourse that I don’t really see adequately addressed. And too few people really try to explore ways to reconcile these two (generalized) positions. Which is a shame because I don’t think 'decolonization’ has much use or meaning if our theories about it take on hegemonic force and become coercive processes (ie, telling people 'back home’ what ~real~ decolonization is, regardless of whether not it is actually coherent in their lived, material lives).
These two problems (which are clearly related, btw) are the primary reasons that 'decolonization’ has somewhat faded from my vocabulary and philosophy. It isn’t that I no longer desire it or, at least, the freedom it promises but rather that I don’t see it as real possibility within many of the discussions I see about it.
Perhaps, in another way, I think the problem (as is usual for me) is that much of the current discourse leaves no room for pluralities. Because to speak of 'decolonization’ like it is a 'one size fits all’ type of thing seems to miss something very important about it (which is also why the generalization and coopting of Fanon’s work is a big conceptual problem for me). We don’t seem to have a lot of room to speaking about decolonizations.
Why should decolonization for me, as a trans pinay in the diaspora, look exactly the same as a trans fillipina in the PH? This is part of what I mean about theories of decolonization taking on hegemonic force. Yes. Sure. I might think there is some utility in using 'pilipinx’ instead of 'filipino’. But I don’t think this is any more right (or wrong) than people in the PH saying that 'filipino’ is more meaningful.
But even moving beyond this, why should decolonization for me look the same as decolonization for Black americans? And so on and so forth.
And yet… many people absolutely do articulate theories of decolonization with hegemonic force and intent. Creating, unfortunately, an environment of dogmatism and, thus, inspiring battles over what the One True Path™ is.
All of this is why 'decolonization’ isn’t really a regular part of my vocabulary anymore. Also why I don’t bother engaging most of the discussions I see about it. I’m tired of reading an article, post, or whatever that is allegedly talking about decolonization but devoted all of zero space to these types of conceptual problems. Particularly the 'problem’ of the Black diaspora. In my experience, pretty much any and all non-Black articulations of decolonization can be dismissed after you ask the question, “how do Black americans fit into this?” because the answer usually is “they don’t”.
I just don’t see the point anymore.
It is part of modern white myth making that america is 'advanced’. Or more 'modern’. That it represents 'progress’. These spatial relations are structured by white supremacy. ↩