I still have some notes from our class that I would like to share here – I’ll do so by commenting on a potential contradiction that I noticed in my paper (of course only after submitting it 🙂 ).
So here is my potential problem: In one moment of the paper I refer to [political, cultural, linguistic…] diversity as a hindrance to imperial domination. I proposed this generalization when analyzing a letter by Christopher Columbus. He writes:
“In all those islands, I saw not much diversity in the looks of the people, nor in their manners and language; but they all understand each other, which is a thing of singular advantage for what I hope their Highness will decide upon for converting them to our holy faith, unto which they are very well disposed.”
Under a same language and a same culture, it is easier to propagate the ideology of the ruling class. No wonder, then, that imperial powers throughout history seek to linguistically homogenize the peoples under their control. The language to be spoken is the language of the colonizer.
But then, in another part of the paper, I make reference to the strategy of separating families and tribes brought as slaves from Africa to the Americas in order to difficult their rebellion through ties of friendship and a shared language.
I did not address the potential contradiction, however, that, in this case, diversity seems to rather operate in favor of colonial domination.
The dilemma may help give support to Gabriel’s claim that difference is not be taken as a value in itself. It is clear that both difference and identity can be instrumentalized by colonial powers. Nevertheless, I think there is a qualification I can make that would allow me to still hold that, overall, diversity is more likely to offer resistance rather than support to the perpetuation of a centralized, imperial political power. This is the case as long as diversity is not fragmented. Stagnant diversity – with no creative exchanges, with no communication – is even less likely than homogeneity to develop forms of organized resistance.
That capitalism operates as a homogenizing force in the world is in itself a reason for affirming the value of local languages, local products, local art forms… Having to include pepper, avocado, olives and guarana soda in the menu is something that McDonalds can gladly do as long as those items are largely available and consumed in the newly occupied space. This is diversity put into use. More determinant than that, however, is the homogeneity of a fast-food consuming public on the basis of which ‘”the McDonaldization of society” (George Ritzer) operates. This is homogeneity being simultaneously used and produced.
The colonial, economic and political occupation of spaces and peoples also operates under the principle of fragmentation (and hierarchization, cf. Lefebvre). Occupied space is divided between rich and poor, between private and public services, between black and white, between the Tutsi and the Hutu, between Dalits and those subdivided within the Caste system, between Palestinians and Israelis, between the settlers’ town and the town belonging to the colonized people. Occupied space is a “world divided into compartments” (Fanon). As the Latin saying goes, Divide et impera!
Let us rather join forces in saying: Stop the wall!
Check out the http://www.stopthewall.org website
And the video bellow! 🙂
So, we have homogenization and fragmentation. The opposite of that is not the mere existence of diversity – at least not a fragmented diversity – but diversity that interacts, that is able to emerge as some form of unity under shared concerns and aspirations, a diversity able to affirm the very right for diversity. I think this is why many of the authors we read in class bring attention to the interconnectedness of different existing struggles as well as the interconnectedness of different forms of oppression in a call for joint resistance. Just to recall a few examples of texts we read:
Luxemburg underlines the equal status that men and women share as proletarians. She does so in the attempt to gain the support of the Social Democratic Party in the struggle for women’s voting rights: “The proletarian woman needs political rights because she exercises the same economic function, slaves away for capital in the same way, maintains the state in the same way, and is bled dry and suppressed by it in the same way as the male proletarian.”
Panafricanism makes the claim that Africa – a continent with so much diversity, with thousand of different languages and ethnic groups – is, in fact, one. “Africa is one,” as Carmichael and many other write, because it stands under the same burdens of colonialism and neo-colonialism; Africa is a unity with a shared history: “the African for the last five hundred years has known neither peace nor justice. His wealth and his labor have built Western Europe and America” (Carmichael); Africa is one in the struggle for liberation of all of her people.
CLR James identifies the shared French language that the slaves in San Domingo had at their disposal as an important element that allowed the revolution. The homogeneity created by colonization was turned into a weapon for resistance and liberation. I think this highlights the importance of shared ideals and communication. Sure, it could also be said to affirm the political power of homogeneity, but then we run into the kinds of problems that Foucault in his analysis of the Iranian Revolution does, which I don’t think I need to go over here again.
One last example: Being interviewed by C. Zetkin, Lenin seemed at first rather intimidated by the thought that questions of sex and marriage could be discussed from the point of view of historical materialism, and that the different struggles at stake could be related under a same, Marxist framework. More towards the end, however, he recognizes that, because the proletarian dictatorship means “complete equality,” all “old uncommunist psychology” must be destroyed. And this requires embracing “a great deal of educational work among men” having as goal to “root out the old ‘master’ idea to its last and smallest root.” In other words, no complete equality is possible without feminism.
So, to go back to the potential contradiction to be found in my paper, I will say that fragmentation is beneficial to the colonial enterprise, but not unity that arises from a vivid diversity, from a diversity that is able to address similar concerns and projects of justice and equality. For how long did the strategy of separating people from different families and tribes from Africa work anyway? Different forms of communication, unity and resistance were found despite of the obstacles. And so they continue to be found!
In my home State in Brazil, Espírito Santo, you find this interesting variation of the reco-reco and the güiro. The “casaca,” as it is called, has African and American indigenous origins. It is a percussion instrument with a human, totemic form, that was played by the slaves in many of their ceremonies and celebrations. The sound is generated by the symbolic infliction of pain against the ribs of the body that the casaca represents.
People, it was great to take this course with y’all! Sorry about the long post. Hope to see you soon again!