My Connection to Colonialism: Student Guest Blog Post
Updated: Feb 1, 2021
Written by: Crystal Amah
Note from Shanti Chu: During the semester my students write a blog post on our unit pertaining to oppression. The blog post is meant to connect what we read/discussed in class to contemporary issues in society. Crystal decided to write about her personal connection to colonialism, oppression, and how it applies to double-consciousness. This is an incredible example of how philosophy, more specifically ethics, can be applied to real world issues and social justice. Reading this was incredibly inspiring to me as an educator who focuses on social justice pedagogy. I am amazed with Crystal's brilliance and thoughtfulness.
One of the most violent, widespread and historically significant forms of oppression the world has ever seen has been in the form of colonialism; and in the context of race relations in the United States (along with the forms of oppression American communities of color experience), colonialism was the catalyst for European world domination and slavery. Colonialism, as defined by Jamila Osman, is the "control by one power over a dependent area or people.” In other words, colonialism is control bred from the presumptuous notion of superiority directed over a group of people (historically, people of color). I think the mentality of inherent supremacy of oneself, one's race, or one's lifestyle is, and has historically proven itself to be, destructive. Colonialism has had a large effect upon my world in very tangible ways; my late grandmother, who, along with both of my parents, was born and raised in Nigeria — specifically, a pre-independent Nigeria (Nigeria attained independence from Britain in October 1960). Nigeria's origin as a country literally began as a business deal for the sole purpose of resource exploitation that advanced British colonial efforts.
While I do not know the specifics of my grandmother's story, I do know that she lived through the ending of a colonial Nigeria and the formation of an independent Nigeria; she also lived through the abolition period of slavery in Nigeria and reared 11 children during this time, as well. More so, my grandmother was mixed race (likely with Portuguese or Caucasian): a direct and inter-generational result of Portuguese and British colonization that not only affected her community, but also her socio-economic status, her family structure and her world view. Because of this, my grandmother had light-skin during a time where such a feature relegated one to the life of a social pariah (or ironically created a warped sense of superiority of oneself) simply because of what fair skin represented: the violent and oppressive mix of two worlds, one deemed "inferior" and the other, "superior". History books have called this time the second wave of colonial expansion; my grandmother called it childhood.
Today, as a Black woman living in a nation that also has a violent past of colonialism (also known as the first wave of colonial expansion), the remnant effects of the transatlantic slave trade upon my bloodline and my lived reality causes me to feel displaced in many ways. On the one hand, I'm very in touch with my history and my heritage (I had the opportunity to live in Nigeria for 6 months last year to learn about my culture and reconnect with family members & lost traditions); on the other hand, I oftentimes feel like a stranger in the very land I was born in. Ironically, I felt more accepted and affirmed in Nigeria than I ever have in America, my birth and home country. W.E.B. Du Bois coined a term for this sensation of displacement, this feeling of always seeing oneself through the eyes of others, as “double-consciousness”; and George Yancy’s “Dear White America” letter confronts both the remnants and blatant displays of white supremacy today in 2020 — the ways in which the modern manifestations of this colonialist spirit still oppresses others.
His approach might seem combative, but it’s refreshing to be alarmed sometimes; better yet, to be disarmed by truth — a truth so poignant it startles, causing us to stand stupefied in the squalor of the illusion we’ve been living in; “after all, it’s painful to let go of your ‘white innocence,’ to use this letter as a mirror, one that refuses to show you what you want to see, one that demands you to look at the lies you tell yourself so you don’t feel the weight of responsibility for those who live under the yoke of whiteness, your whiteness” (Yancy 510). From the days of my grandmother to now, besides the blood that connects us and the similar features we share, it’s sad to say that the oppressive colonialism she experienced has cycled throughout generations — I can only hope the same won’t be true for my future children; and while racial oppression and colonialism may not be as violent as it was in the days of chattel slavery and European world domination, the effects they’ve left are as unambiguous as Black and White.