Reflections on Colonialism

I once joked with a reflection

How I am colonized fool with colonial tendencies

Who wishes to become Free from

This colonizer-colonized dichotomy

Somehow I armed myself with the colonial weapons:

The White Man’s language

And the White Man’s camera

Then I charge into the post-colonial world

Shoot around

In an attempt to de-colonize the world

Is that even possible?

Hahaha

Maybe

Yes?

No?

I don’t know…

But while doing so I should poke some fun at all of this…

*

Once upon a time, a Chinese-American who lived most of his life in Portugal known as “Charlie Chinaman” in America exerted his economic privilege by purchasing a white man’s camera and decided to apply his privileged education in the white man’s language of English in order to examine his reality from the perspective of the colonizer-colonized contradiction. As he walked through the streets of Lisbon, the former capital of the powerful Portuguese maritime empire, “Charlie” met three characters standing at the door of the Museu do Oriente. This is a museum about the ‘Orient’, the Eurocentric concept linked to the ‘mystical’ and ‘exotic’ regions lying East of Europe that fueled the imagination of ‘Western’ explorers and colonizers for centuries. According to Edward Said in his book Orientalism (1978), “Orientalism was ultimately a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between the familiar (Europe, West, “us”) and the strange (the Orient, the East, “them”).” At the entrance of the museum, “Charlie” saw an eccentrically dressed group of people so he decided to take some photographs (perhaps a reflection of his innate colonial tendency). As he tried to photograph these three characters, he overheard a conversation between the two people of colour who seemed to be like the servant and the squire of a colonial white man.

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Squire: Brother why are you holding the umbrella for the white man?

Servant: Since you ask me this, why are you holding the shield for the white man?

Squire: I hold it because he has brought me up since I was a child and I am afraid of him…

Servant: But you see where is he leading us to?

Squire: Where?

Servant: Up the donkey’s ass!

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“Charlie” laughed a whole lot before set on his journey with his camera. He went on to the downtown area, a street called Rua Augusta, where tourists and locals gather for some coffee, tea, shopping and some street entertainment.

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“Like a foolish clown walking away from colonial history, don’t you see the racist depiction of the Chinaman with a cup of tea and the Black man with a cup of coffee…”

“Charlie” took a picture and continued walking while pondering about the effects of colonialism during present days… The consumption of tea and coffee in the ‘West’ is linked to European colonialism and present neo-colonialism. From the fifteenth century onwards, wealthy Europeans acquired a taste for ‘luxury’ goods such as tea, porcelain and silk. Coffee is said to have reached Europe around the sixteenth century after contacts with Muslim traders in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire. Coffee drinking became a popular trend amongst the European high-end society… During present times, drinking of coffee and tea continues to be a popular trend in the ‘West’ and it has spread to different social strata. Not only the upper classes enjoy these drinks but also the middle and lower classes have economic access to these. Coffee and tea have become global commodities and the majority of trade for coffee and tea fall under a volatile single price tag operating under so called “forces of supply and demand” which in order words could named as ‘rationalized human exploitation’. Under this volatile single commodity price, farmers all around the world have to violently subject their bodies and minds to it while being slowly starved to death. Why is it the fact that most of the farmers around the world are poor and highly indebted? These farmers have become enslaved by this neo-colonial system in which all of us are part of… It is not ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ but ‘All’ of us in this together…connected somehow…Next time you drink a cup of coffee, think about the ‘Muslims’ (subject to such epistemological violence nowadays championed by the U.S. and European media) who actually shared the art of coffee drinking with the Europeans and think about the starving farmers subjected to the violence of international trade. And if you prefer tea, think about the British colonizers who consciously manufactured and sold opium to China in exchange for goods like tea… Yea drug those chinamen, let me them have their fill of opium, make them addicted so they demand for it and voilá it is simple economics and ‘fair’ trade…

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As “Charlie” continued his journey, he saw another of his reflection.

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What? This man is supposed to be a depiction one of my people? A Chinaman? His beard consists of two strings of hair coming out of his nose making him look like a cockroach type of being with his pair of searching antennas … This was part of a tile art piece painted on the wall of a company that specialized in trade of luxury oriental goods such as porcelain located in the area of Intendente.

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And this the end of this section of a personal journey exploring the colonizer-colonized contradiction through photography and writing. I’m done with 2016. Let’s hope for more intellectual and spiritual growth in the upcoming year of 2017! I shall end this post with one of Edward Said’s quotes on Orientalism:

“…Orientalism, a way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient’s special place in European Western Experience. The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the place of Europe’s greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the Other. In addition, the Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience. Yet none of this Orient is merely imaginative. The Orient is an integral part of European material civilization and culture. Orientalism expresses and represents that part culturally and even ideologically as a a mode of discourse with supporting institutions, vocabulary, scholarship, imagery, doctrines, even colonial bureaucracies and colonial styles. . . .”

Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978.

 

Ode to Proletarian Worker

In the sea of unknown faces

Rain drops jazz

With New York lights

And puddles

The wealthy and the busy

Tap their echoing shoes

Lost somewhere in this Dream

It seems like the only one who still knows the way

Is the proletarian worker

Grounded by the hardships of this city life

As he sees the homeless brothers and sisters

He asks,

“Are you guys doing alright?”

“Do you have any garbage I can take for you?”

Oh the Universe explodes in joy – yes that is what I searched all along!

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