Decolonising The Mind: Are We Internalising Western Norms Of Existence?

Posted on January 10, 2011 in Specials

By Ipshita Mitra:

A recent viewing of Romila Thapar’s interview with David M. Malone (International Development Research Centre (IDRC) President) on YouTube transported me to those days of my graduation when English Literature classes would mean deconstructing and critically analysing Western conception of the history of the sub-continents and its questionable representation of the “subaltern” identity in terms of historical interpretation. Romila Thapar in her interview discussed various aspects about the Indian History which were rather shaped and given a concrete form by thoughts of Western epistemology and then considered to be fundamental to our acceptance of history. Another pertinent point that she raised in her conversation was the fact that the Indians or let us say the “Third-World” countries (a term coined by the West) are always eager and curious to know about the theoretical position of the West on the newly emerged civilizations of their colonial subjects. Never have the West been interested a zilch to take an equally zealous enthusiasm about the theoretical and historical position of the sub-continents.

It is always a momentous recognition to be awarded with an Oscar but an individual conferred upon with the prestigious National Award is never given a relevance of a magnitude bestowed upon the reception of an Oscar. Have we as a nation contributed in the construction of the West as the ultimate emblem of superiority which is infallible in its assessment of the LCD’s, i.e. (Lower Developed Countries)? The need to imitate the West in every form is increasing day by day which is proving threatening to the concept of originality and independence. Even the reality shows that are aired on television these days happen to be an exact replica of the Western counterparts. Are we so dependent that we find it necessary to be constantly located on the derivative realm of the western spectrum?

Emulation and internalization are two very different forms of manifesting our regard for a specific “cultural” conscience. To emulate does not mean closing all doors of innovation and experimentation but internalizing the same means pushing all the possibilities of perception to the background while hailing a fixed set of standards as the only existing “Truth.”

This is what occurred in chronicling the historical reality of the subcontinents like the countries of Latin America and Africa where the portrayal of slavery was fore grounded by the western vocabulary which completely distorted the lived reality of the victims of institutionalised form of exploitation and oppression. Iconic authors like Toni Morrison tried to recuperate the history of the marginalised from the white perception and rendered it with an authentic voice. It became important to correct what had been documented as “official” truth and fact. The perspective therefore needs to be attributed with that section of society that has been silenced by the dominance of Western influence. Her “Beloved” therefore created a revolution; for the literary piece strove towards representing the African-American reality from an experienced perspective of the slave and not the vantage point of the “white.”

It is true that we have gained independence from colonial rule of authority and oppression but sadly continue to be chained within the confines of what the West defines and perceives about the erstwhile colonial subjects. Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s “Decolonising the Mind” holds true in the present day as well where we have failed to carve out our own subjectivity that would be perfectly divested of the Western thought of conduct and behaviour. It is important to de-colonise the mind before de-colonising the body; if the mind continues to be trapped within the walls of colonial interpretations then the freedom of the physical anatomy would be rendered futile.

The compulsive need to be recognised and acknowledged by the parameters of western standards have to be shrugged away so that individuality and subjectivity can mature in full clarity and adequate visibility.