Decolonizing Yourself

This semester I’m taking a seminar about empires and imperialism. It’s something I’ve been interested in for a while, and something that the US school system does a poor job in including in curriculums

I grew up never knowing enough about my Indian and Guyanese heritage, and always wanting to learn more. Then, I went to Hungary and learned a shit ton about the Soviet Union which only increased my fascination. Natural next step: take a class on how empires work and what happens to them.

The last thing I expected from my political science seminar was painfully obvious parallels between state relationships and people relationships. Seems logical though, right? States technically are just large people interacting with each other. People run countries, so countries act as people.

I’ve been having lots of conversations about unhealthy relationships and mental health since being back at Wellesley. The Wellesley population has a lot of underlying issues that no one likes to address. We don’t always put our own wellbeing first, choosing to focus instead on grades or taking care of other people. I’m not saying those are bad things, but many of us don’t take enough time for ourselves. We like to brush things off and pretend we’re totally fine.

I was doing this for about two days until I encountered the first reading for my seminar. It talked about how empires usually exercise asymmetrical influence and power, and mentioned “Jefferson’s Rule,” which states that an empire is a “long train of abuses” that “evince a design” to make or keep a country subject to another. This implies that one being has more power over another and exercise that power in a way that potentially hurts the subjugated being.

The next reading mentioned that power is relational. It can only exist when two or more parties interact. Creating an empire and maintaining it requires power asymmetry so if the oppressed state is able to successful gain more power, an empire can be taken down.

What does this have to do with people? You can look at an empire in two ways. The first is as another person who has a negative effect on you. The second is as your own brain wreaking havoc on yourself. (I think this second part is necessary, because when talking about unhealthy relationships, often times your relationship with yourself can be left out of examples).

For now let’s focus on unhealthy relationships with another person(s). They are the empire, and you are the colonized territory that is enduring this “long train of abuses.” BUT power is relational, so as soon as you cut them off you’ve effectively eliminated any power struggle altogether. As we know from history, many colonized territories eventually had uprisings and were able to kick the colonizers out. If a friendship or a relationship with someone is starting to look like asymmetric, it’s time to kick them out.

We also discussed in class that while technically decolonization did occur, some things were still left over from the influence. Take India for example, they’re still on the British education system even though they technically haven’t been a colony for almost 70 years.

Same thing goes for people. Even if the unhealthy relationship you were part of has now ended, there could still be after-effects. It’s normal. Sometimes we don’t realize just how far our influence on each other can reach (which strays a little bit from the empire definition, since empires were pretty cognizant what they were doing), and sometimes we don’t even realize how much we have been affected until later. But, progress is always possible.

Now, your brain is slightly different since it’s technically not an outside influence and it’s hard to separate yourself from your brain. For the purposes of this analogy though your brain is quite the antagonistic outsider. It won’t let you get out of bed in the morning. It has you feeling apathetic. It makes you cry a lot. You don’t deserve that shit, obviously. You have been colonized by your negative feelings and you gotta do something to escape from this control.

We talk a lot about self-care at Wellesley, but too often I feel that it’s become a parody of itself. Practice self-care? Oh sure yeah let me go read a book for an hour when that’ll only make me more stressed because that’s one less hour I have to work on a pset. We don’t give ourselves enough credit for how much we’ve actually accomplished in our lives because we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others. The empire (aka your brain) is telling you you’re not good enough, just like some empires justified their conquests by telling the conquered that it was for their own good. It’s not. You are way better off with a healthy balance of power.

Empires and colonization are things we look back on in history and feel ashamed of. The general sentiment is “never again.” In hindsight we know there aren’t excuses for that type of behaviour. Imperialism is easy to condemn, but too often we let others and ourselves off the hook in our everyday lives, and that’s not beneficial to anyone. Putting unhealthy relationships into the lens of empires provides a zero tolerance perspective. No, I won’t let myself be socially colonized, dammit. I at least owe that much to my ancestors.

End goal? Don’t be colonized by yourself or anyone else (and don’t colonize others!). And if you get sucked in there are many ways to start a revolution and kick that empire to the curb. Yes, it’s easier said than done. India and Hungary had failed revolutions time and again but eventually prevailed. Not everything happens right away but recognizing imperialistic symptoms within your relationships is the first step.

It’s hard. Sometimes your efforts won’t immediately work, but don’t give up

As Audre Lorde wrote, “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

 

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Loneliness

It could be considered sad that my first ~official~ post is about loneliness and not about something more exciting, but I’ve been thinking about this subject lately and wanted to give it a poke.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m in DC for the summer doing the classic intern-type thing. I’ve been here almost a week – a week filled with major growing up in my opinion. For example, I always took irons for granted. I’ve always had them wherever I’ve gone, be it my home in Minnesota (RIP) or my home in Wellesley. So arriving in DC and realizing I needed to iron out my crinkled work clothes came as a slight shock. Update: still don’t have an iron. Hopefully I’ll take a trip to Target tomorrow. I have to buy that along with a frying pan because my roommate does not own one(???)

Now I’m obviously not completely “adult” because my parents are funding basically all my summer (thanks guys if you’re reading this) so I’m not even spending most of my own money. But there are things I really never learned how to do like make any food besides pasta or remember that you do in fact need your key when you leave your apartment and that you really need to lock the door behind you because this is in fact the real world and not Wellesley (a fact I remind myself of every time I walk out the door).

What I’m getting at is that, in my opinion, growing up is a little lonely. It’s lonely because you make stupid mistakes that you don’t want to admit to anyone but yourself, and it’s lonely because no one is going through it quite in the same way that you are. I feel kinda dumb that I didn’t think to bring an iron, or that I haven’t really lived in the real world on my own even though I’m 20. Humans are pack animals; we enjoy our cliques and want to be accepted. To many people acceptance means shared backgrounds and opinions, so you gotta act just right and pretend like you know what’s going on even if you had no idea how to successfully wear a blazer until a week ago.

Humans also enjoy comfort and routine, and when you take a human out of her happy(?) routine and dump her in a city (hi, hello, that’s me) she can get a little lonely. Simply put, she misses her pack. The thing is, I know big cities. I can handle big cities. I just was not expecting the isolation that comes with actually living in a big city. I see all these strangers riding the Metro back and forth and I wonder if they have friends and I very much hope they do.

I often think about the many faces at Wellesley that I don’t see too much because their mode of operation is room -> class -> room -> occasional food -> room. If they’re happy with this, awesome! But I know Wellesley can be isolating and it’s very easy to stay in your own bubble within a bubble for an entire semester and not do anything, go out, or see anyone. Now imagine this on a city-wide scale and all the lonely workers going from apartment -> work -> occasional food -> apartment. This isn’t a novel idea but I think sometimes those people disappear into the woodwork. I don’t like that, and I hope that this does not happen to me. It probably won’t but it definitely can feel like it sometimes.

I’m going to connect this to Caitlyn Jenner really quickly too. I don’t watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians and I have only occasionally stalked Kylie Jenner on Instagram, so I honestly don’t know much about Caitlyn. However, I’ve been reading the news a lot lately because that’s a large part of my intern duties, and the amount of hateful articles and comments I’ve come across regarding Caitlyn has been ridiculous. Like why do you people care in the first place?

My point though is that I can imagine she must have felt very lonely for several long decades because she wasn’t living as herself. Remember when I said humans are pack animals? We want to be accepted and we’re terrified of fucking up. This is inevitable at one point in our lives, which is why our fear of fucking up is at a constant eleven on a scale of one to ten. So anyone out there who is criticising her and being dumb about this whole thing (definition of understatement), just remember that you’ve probably been lonely at one point in your life. Take that feeling, multiply it tenfold for a couple decades, and then, after years of this soul-crushing loneliness, push yourself to finally try to make some friends with the looming idea that you might say something incredibly stupid. That takes a lot of energy and soul and that’s probably nowhere near what she’s been going through. So like, lay off a little. We’re all human and not having a shared background with someone doesn’t mean you can’t try and understand them a little bit.

Anyways, I think I’ve exhausted my madly typing hands enough so I’m going to stop there.

If you read this whole thing, congratulations you’ve passed!

P.S. Also I discovered you can write in different alphabets, so नमस्ते to you all.