postcolonial feminism

Thus a particularly problematic effect of certain pedagogical codifications of difference is the conceptualization of race and gender in terms of personal or individual experience. Students often end up determining that they to “be more sensitive” to Third World peoples. The formulation of knowledge and politics through these individualistic, attitudinal parameters indicates an erasure of the very politics of knowledge involved in teaching and learning about difference. It also suggests an erasure of the structural and institutional parameters of what it means to understand difference in historical terms. If all conflict in the classroom is seen and understood on personal terms, it leads to a comfortable set of oppositions: people of color as the central voices and the bearers of all knowledge in class, and white people as “observers” with no responsibility to contribute and/or nothing valuable to contribute. In other words, white students are constructed as marginal observers and students of color as the real “knowers” in such a liberal or left classroom. While it may seem like people of color are thus granted voice and agency in the classroom, it is necessary to consider what particular kind of voice it is that is allowed them/us. It is a voice located in a different and separate space from the agency of white students. Thus, while it appears that in such a class the histories and cultures of marginalized peoples are now “legitimate” objects of study and discussion, the fact is that this legitimation takes places purely at an attitudinal, interpersonal level rather than in terms of a fundamental challenge to hegemonic knowledge and history. Often the culture in such a class vacillates between a high level of tension and an overwhelming desire to create harmony, acceptance of “difference,” and cordial relations in the classroom. Potentially this implicitly binary construction (Third World students vs. white students) undermines the understanding of complication that students must take seriously in order to understand “difference” as historical and relational. Coimplication refers to the idea that all of us (First and Third World) share certain histories as well as certain responsibilities: ideologies of race define both white and black peoples, just as gender ideologies define both women and men. Thus, while “experience” is an enabling focus in the classroom, unless it is explicitly understood as historical, contingent, and the result of interpretation, it can coagulate into frozen, binary, psychologistic positions. To summarize, this effective separation of white students from Third World students in such an explicitly politicized women’s studies classroom is problematic because it leads to an attitudinal engagement that bypasses the complexly situated politics of knowledge and potentially shores up a particular individual-oriented codification and commodification of race. It implicitly draws on and sustains a discourse of cultural pluralism, or what Henry Giroux calls “the pedagogy of normative pluralism” (95), a pedagogy in which we all occupy separate, different, and equally valuable places and where experience is defined not in terms of individual qua individual, but in terms of an individual as representative of a cultural group. This results in a depoliticization and dehistoricization of the idea of culture and makes possible the implicit management of race in the name of cooperation and harmony.
—  Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Race, Multiculturalism, and Pedagogies of Dissent

Next semester (Feb-June) I will hopefully be taking courses on Gender, Ethnicity and Religion, as well as Gender, Visualty and Technology. Today the book for the first course came in the mail - as you can see in the pictures above, the topics and essays are all super interesting! I’ll start reading in January and I also hope to share some of the things I learn on this blog!

~mod r

you hear the stories of our women and in your inability to understand our strength and resilience you pity us. You do not speak our languages and yet you say you are the expert on our struggles. Without ever understanding what we’ve said of ourselves you pass on our stories and like a game of telephone the distortions grow with each telling. But we will not be silenced, we will speak our truths and we will saturate this discourse with our own narratives leaving no crevice for your lies.

Intervening on Racism and Privilege: Easy as 1-2-3?

by Mauro Sifuentes

This fragment of thought was stirred to the surface by a recent piece by Mia McKenzie on the Black Girl Dangerous site, entitled “4 Ways to Push Back Against Your Privilege” - the full text can be found here: [url=]

First, allow me the opportunity to situate myself, especially for those who have not yet encountered my work. I am a student of postcolonial and feminist thought, and I draw heavily upon poststructural critiques and creativity. I spend my time engaging youth in violence prevention work and also work with diverse constituencies to advocate for queer, transgender, and immigrant people of color. Previous projects I have participated in had international foci and I push my work to refuse U.S.-centrism even as it is situated within the U.S. Personally, some of my academic and advocacy interests lie at the intersection of race, gender, resistance, and rurality in California.

Returning to postcolonial thought for a moment, I would especially like to mention the work of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, a Third World scholar and feminist, and her ideas of the problematics and possibilities of essentialism. Essentialism, for those who are unfamiliar, is the idea that people who fall under an identity label all share some kind of essence with one another, and it is this (innately held) essence that allows us to claim these identities. She believes that there are moments when essentialism has strategic uses, but also cautions heavily against relying on it as a unifying - or dividing - and critical force.

I appreciate the multiplicity of queer and of color voices that the Black Girl Dangerous collective uplifts and displays with such frequency and passion. There are not nearly enough venues for queer people of color to vent, share, self-promote, analyze, and reflect, let alone publicly. I frequent the site and have found many perspectives that carry beautiful depth, pain, hope, and a desire to shift the world and public discourse.

Additionally, I want to emphasize that providing (white) people with itemized primers for how to go about deconstructing identities and intervening on privilege is inherently fraught - ethics and accountability are unfortunately much more complicated than a list of “to-dos” or “how-tos.” I feel like this inadvertently reduces the struggle of life-long accountability to a handful of check-list behaviors and turns ethics, which is a practice of relating to self and others, into a kind of morality, which relies heavily on binaries, dogmas, and strictures. These types of lists are problematic, especially when they are directed at white people or people in other privileged positions because there is already the inherent propensity within a racist and otherwise marginalizing society to allow one voice, or a small number of voices, to become representative of incalculable diversity. While we, as people of color and members of other targeted groups, are not responsible for the irreverent ways our words and thoughts will be used, we also owe it to ourselves and our communities to be robust, particular, and to encourage complex critical thought.

McKenzie’s article mentions four suggestions for intervening on privilege. Below I have itemized my responses for clarity and hope that these thoughts contribute to a conversation she is participating in as well. It would definitely be helpful for comprehension if folks familiarized themselves with the piece before reading further:

  1. I think that constant reflection on privilege is something people don’t do enough, beyond self-labeling as an ally. I’m more interested in the act of building alliance than the identity of an ally (a sentiment shared by McKenzie in other works) – whereas the latter focuses on an individual crafting a morally righteous self, the former focuses on the acts of building communities of difference. “Relinquishing/sharing power” - it can be incredibly useful to conceive of power as a thing, and in my experience it is also useful to see it as a set of relations that we navigate, that are not stagnant, and that we have the agency to shift. It is difficult to see how power/privilege are to be relinquished or shared, because that reduces them to ‘things’, or some ideological commodity; privilege is something to be refused in moments, intervened upon in others, and questioned always, including the conditions that allow for that privileging.

  2. I fully encourage people to interrogate the spaces they feel entitled to and to reconfigure the ease with which they access those spaces; however, I don’t think the question should always come down to a “should I/shouldn’t I” opposition, but rather, a thoughtful reflection on attendance might include some of the following questions: Was this event designed for me as an audience? If not, how can my participation be respectful? Who is not present? Who is disproportionately represented? Am I in a position to donate to this event? Am I in a position to engage the event producers? If not, do I know people who are? Do I have people in my life to help me strategize respectful interventions? In fact, these are questions you might ask of yourself in any space. Sometimes you may decide it is best if you don’t attend, and sometimes you may attend hoping to practice entering a space with humility and a desire to learn.

  3. I think this item might be more forceful if framed differently. Rather than “shut up/don’t talk,” promote listening skills in people who are used to taking up space. Implore people to pay attention to who is speaking in a room. In my work with youth, I promote the Move Up/Move Back technique (which is borrowed from many of the spaces I’ve been in, including academic and community spaces), where people who usually speak more are asked to be increasingly mindful of how much conversational space they take up, and people who usually are less inclined to speak challenge themselves to use their voices to fill the space. These dynamics will shift from space to space, and sometimes you may be in a space where you need to Move Up, whereas in others, you may need to Move Back.

  4. I think that what I’m less interested in is policing which identities people claim than learning all the different reasons people claim identities. I’ve never allowed myself to be seduced into comfort by being around people who share certain identity markers with myself. I don’t find safety around most trans people, nor around queer people, nor around all people of color – and not because those people were inauthentic or 'posers.’ In my experience, the moment we begin to draw lines is the same moment we’ve drawn a circle of truth and purity around ourselves, whether or not we intend to do so.

    I have no right to tell people who/what they are – I DO have a right to ask them questions of curiosity and accountability. If a man who only dates and is attracted to women calls himself queer because of cultural proximity, I would want to understand more of what resonates for him with that label, in which spaces he claims it, what his aversion is to heteronormative spaces, and what his commitments are to queer communities who experience very intense forms of discrimination and how he differentiates his own experience of queerness. I also don’t pretend that the way a rich, college-educated queer person experiences their queerness is at all similar to how a working class or immigrant queer person experiences their queerness. The essentialism behind suggesting that only certain people have a right to identity markers assumes that we know what that marker means to each person who claims it and it demands instantaneous knowability of hugely diverse populations, and assumes forms of sameness that may not at all be present.

McKenzie repeatedly returns to her opinion that light-skinned people of color need to be careful about claiming POC status, and that some of these people claim to not experience racism. Whether or not they are aware of it, racism has informed their experience. For a person to be of POC descent and to deny that racism has informed/affected their existence via targeting of racism is a product of internalized racism – whose experiences of racism are deemed most legitimate, in a culture that is obsessed with oversignifying the visual, both to the detriment of populations of communities of color and to the benefit of those with light skin (white or of color)? Additionally, the fixation on light-skinnedness as a determining factor in experiences of racism stems from a very particular construction of race, one that is incredibly US-centric, though it does play out in many other places as a product of Euro-American colonization. We need only to look at the genocide in Rwanda and the targeting of Kashmiris in order to see that certain discursive formulations of racialization/ethnic distinction do not always privilege lighter-skinned populations, when it comes to historical and global contexts. What are we to make of indigenous communities in Scandinavia and how they are discriminated based on race/ethnicity, or the ethnic divisions in Ireland, peoples whose skin we would all automatically read as 'white’ within a U.S. setting?

Relying on the idea light-skinned privilege in order to ignore other people’s experiences of racism or ethnic discrimination, diverse as they are, is to use the Master’s tools to patch over the holes in his house while claiming to have torn it down. I’m the darkest member of my mixed-race family – yes, even darker than my 'fully’ Mexican-American mother - and it would not only be inaccurate to say my siblings have not experienced racism; it would be violent as well, as I would be denying the complexity of their experience. Perhaps it might be more useful to support light-skinned POCs in their own excavations of racism in their lives, as well as encouraging them to think about how passing privilege functions for them – as it both provide ease in certain moments, and also exposes them to grossly offensive forms of racism in the presence of white people who assume their whiteness. Additionally, reducing the degree of racism experienced to skin color is to pretend that experiences of racism are primarily and exclusively interpersonal, versus structural, historical, and institutional. A light-skinned person of color may be the child of dark-skinned, immigrant, migrant farm laborers with no college education who struggled to put food on the table – which would seriously inform and shape that light-skinned person’s life possibilities via structural racism, even if they are unable to identify the ways interpersonal racism shows up in their life. This caricature I paint is not even a rhetorical strategy, but a person who exists.

Does any one of us get to decide who is dark enough to experience 'true’ racism, globally? Identity markers are already multiple – we are using singular words to demarcate certain parts of people’s many identities in order to parse them into groups. In the end, we speak these words in English, and there is no way to purify them of history just enough to render them wholly un-problematic.

I think that horizontal alliances (alliances across communities that are targeted by an -ism, though the manifestations may be hugely different) are seriously lacking in communities of color, and while McKenzie’s perspective is easily digestible both by many progressive white (queer) people, and by some who share similar experiences of racism, it comes across as reductive, essentializing, and simply, reproductive of unquestioned ideological constructions around race and racism. I don’t think she is attempting to be as reductive and callous as she comes across, and it seems she is trying to get at the complexity of experiences of racism, but this is quickly lost. It is difficult to implore others to be mindful of their privilege when investigations of structural oppression are so one-dimensional. I would ask that she offer more specificity in lieu of universals/generalizations, as her perspective is one I value and one that warrants much more space in a world that would rather she remain silent. Rigor and depth of engagement would be a great place to start.

I agree that we all need to get on board with having more conversations, being more thoughtful about the shifting relations to privilege we carry with us as we walk through the diverse spaces we inhabit, and that many claims to identity will be fraught and problematic. What I cannot get behind is the moralistic basis for McKenzie’s suggestions, the way she flattens race into her own particular experiences of racism, and the trendy list-format-as-guidebook for people seeking to rethink their relationships to privilege and alliance. In my studies, interventions, and personal reflection, I have taken it as an ethical imperative to critique not to tear things down, but to participate in building them up. I am not one to wholly affirm things and can only hope that these contributions I offer here are taken as an extension of engagement, a desire to share and learn, and a sense of hope in everyone’s ability to reflect on the truths they hold dear.  

For comments/questions/feedback, please contact me at:

To privilege the racial body in the absence of historical context is indeed to generate an idiom that tends to waver with impressionistic haste between the abstractions of postcoloniality and the anecdotal literalism of what it means to articulate an `identity’ for a woman writer of color. Despite its proclaimed location within contemporary theoretical– not to mention post-theoretical–discourse, such an idiom poignantly illustrates the hidden and unnecessary desire to resuscitate the `self.’ What is most striking about such discursive practices is their failure to confront what may be characterized best as a great enamourment with the `real.’ Theories of postcolonial feminism eminently lend themselves to a reopening of the continued dialogue that literary and cultural studies have–and will continue to have–with the perplexing category known as realism, but at present the former discourse chooses to remain too precariously parochial to recognize the bounty that is surely its to give. Realism, however, is too dangerous a term for an idiom that seeks to raise identity to the power of theory. While both may be windmills to the quixotic urge to supply black feminism with some version of the `real,’ Trinh’s musings on this subject add a mordantly pragmatic option to my initial question: `what comes first, race or gender?’ Perhaps the query would be more finely calibrated if it were rephrased to ask, `What comes first, race, gender, or profession?’ And what, in our sorry dealings with such realisms, is the most phantasmagoric category of all? If race is to complicate the project of divergent feminisms, in other words, it cannot take recourse to biologism, nor to the incipient menace of rewriting alterity into the ambiguous shape of the exotic body.
—  Sara Suleri, Woman Skin Deep: Feminism and the Postcolonial Condition
Major work Questionnaire

Hey guys!
I am currently undertaking my major work for my final year, and i have chosen to do an in-depth study into mainstream feminism and post-colonial feminism. I was wondering if you guys could spare around 10 minutes to answer my questionnaire relating to my major. This is over 40% of my final mark and it would mean the absolute world to me if you all can participate (The more the better!) 

Just click on this link and it will open up to a new page :)

Thank you everyone for your time, God bless!

“In place of dignity I would like rather to propose a concept of disposability, which seems to acknowledge a logic of the marketplace critically and without avowing it as such. Disposability forces an understanding of how chrematistics is as much reliant on an idea of disposable income as it is on an idea of disposable people. It also is necessarily a heteronomy rather than an autonomy, acknowledging the multiple names and laws that go into the constitution of any subject, and the violations that go along with this. If I develop a chain here in this long distance between disposable income and disposable people, it is to demonstrate the formal one in which Freud is right to think of money as shit with all the rejections and pleasures that go with it.

So how, then, would there be any guarantee of the principle of equivalence in the right to justice? It is precisely through a desubjectivation. This is not only the loss of subjection through a change in the content with which the subject is filled. It is the undoing of the very process of being a subject itself. A singular signature suggesting and indeed asserting a characteristic uniqueness may nonetheless be divisible into a heteronomy. Rather than establishing sameness and consistency as being the mark of signature, personhood, humanness, autonomy, or life itself, another law may ultimately prevail differentiated from the primitive, if modern, notion of subjecthood.

The moments of dissolution and displacement are crucial in thinking not only the individuated subject, but also the group in postcoloniality - the sounds beyond the communicated, the not-human or excess of autonomous humanity that is consistently coming undone in a melancholic manifestation. Demetaphorization would be one of the symptoms of that, when the ‘as if’ disappears when dogs are stabbed and allowed to die with grace, and when the lack of consistency from disposable income to disposable people makes it impossible to relate to another humanity as if they had the same right to justice. Melancholia, as symptom and reading practice does offer a way of gauging how critical agency functions to constantly undo injustices performed in the name of justice and novelty. The impossibility of completed digestion of the past, and its calm production of novelty, manifests itself in constant critique. While melancholia may be an ‘impoverishment of the ego’ as Freud puts it, it is also a form of constant critical agency, and establishment of any notion of the subject in relation to disposability rather than dignity. Postcolonial feminism has frequently questioned the prioritization of identitarian frameworks that rest on rights based notions of injury and reparation. Justice, in this regard, would force an understanding of the radical disparities and complicities of both the ‘as if’ and an impossible relation to it that will be crucial in furthering an ethico-political realm for postcolonial feminism beyond rights based reinstatement of the liberal subject.”

“Indignity” by Ranjana Khanna


RePlug - I found the Kalki Performance Video! 

transcript / the monologue is here -

tumblr Feminists - you need to spread this to the world, for the sisters in India.

Because intersectionality counts

 ’‘For many years, feminist peace researchers have been calling attention to the links between the position of women in society and the continued tolerance of social and gender violence and the war system. They argue that these conditions are not separate phenomena. That they are interrelated, interdependent and reciprocally created’’ Betty A. Reardon

Forms of oppression, injustice and intolerance are always interlinked, and by acknowledging the concerns of disadvantaged groups, the links can be exposed.

This is why feminism needs intersectionality or it’s not feminism.

this semester has been a really strange clusterfuck of a time. the ends of classes are always strange. you grow strangely attached to the people that you’re scheduled to see every week, grow welcome to their presences, to the comfort of knowing that they’re being moved by the same texts as you. i don’t know, i don’t know. my postcolonial feminism class ended today and it was such a heavy class, but today there was laughter. marie had boughten us fruits from the nice supermarket on university place, and we laughed together, stretched outside on the floor, and went around the room talking about how much we learned and in a way it was so moving, so comforting — a release of all the pent-up inability to connect that occurred all throughout the semester because we weren’t given much time to talk about anything other than the text, to talk about ourselves. i don’t know, i don’t know. i said goodbye to my advisor, said goodbye to my therapist. goodbye goodbye goodbye! i get so caught up in finals, in writing all these papers, that i forget that this means school’s about to end and we’re all about to return to our homes or leave forever or god, fuck. i don’t know. everything is tying itself together so neatly but at the same time. it’s difficult to realize, though, that the struggles and all of the pain, the all-nighters and the friends you make, the nights you stay up crying down the streets - i guess it’s hard to realize that all of that is living. that all of that is, maybe not happiness, but what makes you human. i’m feeling stupid sentimental. i love school so much. my last poetry class tomorrow is going to kill me. 

anonymous asked:

what classes are you taking this semester?

postcoloniality, empire, & feminism 
african american history & memory 
asian american literature
advanced poetry