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Antiracist Praxis

Decolonization of the Self by Sarah Trembath

Antiracist scholars in the decolonial and anti-imperial traditions often refer to false consciousness, double consciousness, identity masks, and colonized minds to describe the adaptive psychology of many colonized people. Many people daily experiencing colonial oppression end up “adopting the colonizer’s ideology, even with regard to their own values and their own lives” according to French/Tunisian writer Albert Memmi (6). Why? “To refuse means either withdrawing physically from those conditions or remaining to fight and change them. … It is not easy to escape mentally from a concrete situation, to refuse its ideology while continuing to live with its actual relationships.... Rejection of self and love of another are common to all candidates for assimilation. … Love of the colonizer is subtended by a complex of feelings ranging from shame to self-hate” (Memmi 19, 121). In the famous metaphor constructed by Martinician psychiatrist and decolonial revolutionary Frantz Fanon, this disturbing psychological state is like a White mask worn over Black Skin.

But there is a space between the mask and skin: a slight one or “interstitial,” according to postcolonial feminist scholar Chela Sandoval. And it is here, in this extended metaphor, where the true self can begin to express itself (84-85). This is the goal of liberatory educational processes, according to Brazilian pedagogue Paolo Freire: “The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly.” Only then can healthy self-love and mental liberation begin.

For more reading on this, please see the introductory chapters in Kenyan playwright Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s classic Decolonising the Mind.

Works Cited

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Translated by Charles Lam Markmann. Grove Press, 1967.

 

Memmi, Albert. The Colonizer and the Colonized. Beacon, 1991.

 

Sandoval, Chela. Methodology of the Oppressed. University of Minnesota Press, 2000.