Monday, 14 January 2013

Recovering From The Colonial Hangover

Today, this French professor guy came to college and talked to us about Comparative Literature - and how he thought Indian literature was an excellent starting-point and viewing-glass to look at world literature, and how the Euro-centric approach to literature was a failed one.

Two hours later, my Indian lecturer in class commented with a snide smirk, that it was funny how 'those who colonized us and told us their books were superior to ours were now coming back to tell us how great our own literature is'. I immediately told her that that sounded ridiculously racist. She replied with a laugh and said she was only returning the favour. We all laughed it off and the lesson began.

But this really got me wondering about the continued modern repercussions of our old colonial rulers. Will we ever get over it? Must we? How did we manage to get over something as magnanimous as the enslaving of an entire nation, of an entire culture, of the great big colonial bully pissing on his new found land to mark his territory? - did anybody from the British or Spanish governments ever really apologize for it? But even if they did, what good does an apology do after what's done is done? The English Queen's lovely crown still has jewels stolen 'procured' from colonial conquests all over the Indian subcontinent - but then again, what does it matter today?

What's done is done and what matters is we are colonized no more, right? Every now and then though, you see some remnant of the old days having seeped its way into today, some modern interpretation of the White Colonial Master's supremacy lodged in the brain of his Asian subject who after centuries of being told so, has now himself started believing that his Master is indeed superior.

"Welcome to WHITE Ceylon", says the caption beneath. "We are proud to present an innovative new day spa focusing on luxuriously skin whitening rituals to pamper guests from head to toe." 

I did a double-take when I saw this, because it's so goddamn in your face that it's almost funny. WHITE Ceylon, because Brown Ceylon is too bourgeois. It's not just this place that I point the finger at, but countless, countless others - in Sri Lanka and predominantly in India. Every day, there is a new advertisement on TV here in Delhi, informing men and women of some new amazing product can make them look whiter - and therefore - more successful, and awesomer in general. And why are they getting away with selling racism in little pink tubes at the supermarket? Because that's exactly what the masses want. Being dark skinned is bad, in India and in Sri Lanka; you can hear the tone of disapproval in an aunty's voice when she goes 'oh you have grown dark...' or the compliment in someone's voice when they say 'you've become fairer!' 

It's such a sordid affair. I remember telling a friend once that Colombo sometimes reminds me of this properly fucked up rape victim, who after having been assaulted by her colonial abuser day after day and year after year, and being told again and again that she is worthless and he is better than her, begins to believe it. Later she grows up but you don't get over that kind of trauma easily, so instead she starts dressing like him and behaving like him, because the years of standardized abuse has ingrained in her the idea that the person she truly is - is not worth being, and like a child who associates 'parent' with 'protection' at an early age, she associates power and success with her colonial abuser because those are the things he projected in her presence for centuries. The woman's got a serious identity crisis, you see. 

Anyway, my weirdass allegories aside - I think this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed ASAP. Because we need to get over that shit. It's all connected - our love for fair skin, with our love for emulating Western clothing, a Western lifestyle, a Western accent (like someone cleverly commented under an album of a premier event by Spa Ceylon's WHITE offer: "oh look, it's a bunch of brown people who want to look white!") . And I don't think we can just throw it all away, and suddenly wear reddha-hatas and everyone burn all their English books - that's just silly, and globalization has even made some of our Western universality relevant - but there needs to be discussion about it, campaigns, forums. Because as long as a Sri Lankan man looks up in awe at the white man who has come visiting from England (and believe me, I have seen these looks of worship not just among the working class but even and especially in the faces of the upper middle class as they are greeting some foreigner to their gala with their lips puckered to kiss his white posterior) - national 'Independence' may as well have never happened at all. 


  1. White Ceylon is alright. I have seen an Indian commercial for a vagina fairness cream. Beat that!

  2. Not a lot more to add to what you just said...