A couple sat next to my table in the midsts of a conversation. They were clearly English tourists. I tried not to eavesdrop but a few words caught my attention. “Would you ever go to Africa?” asked a girl, wearing a straw sun hat and a floral dress clearly bought from Lily Pulitzer.
Her friend shook her head. “Too much work. It’s also dangerous.”
“What about for volunteering?”
“Nah, I’m good. But it’s sad how much of a shithole it is there.”
Africa, the country. It must be heartbreaking being too dangerous for good-hearted, colonial saviors to come and provide their immense contribution to the country of Africa. No, really; I’m crying — it’s a travesty.
I would never pass the blame the sins of a select group of Europeans in the past on current Europeans now. That’s absurd. But, I do feel as if it is irresponsible to discuss topics pertaining to development without understanding Europe’s role of colonialism in modern developmental economics and politics. Because colonialism, to me, represents much more than an example of abuse of human rights in the past. The effects of colonialism still linger to this day; colonialism, itself, is still a widely accepted form of foreign policy to this day. Back when the church had dictated virtually the entirety of foreign and domestic politics, colonialism had been justified under the guise of spreading the word of the gospel. Violently. Nowadays, neo-colonial policies are disguised as a form of economic nationalism and cultural imperialism.
Prioritizing natural resources over respecting national sovereignty is an example of neo-colonialism. Stationing military bases around the world to secure continued natural resources extraction is an example of neo-colonialism. Supporting dictators that support resource exportation at the expense of oppressing domestic populations is an example of neo-colonialism. Giving out high-interest infrastructure loans to countries with no expectation to pay off the loans is an example of neo-colonialism. Indoctrinating foreign populations with a non-indigenous language is an example of neo-colonialism.
Sometimes the locals say something along the lines of excuse me before they brush past me. Sometimes, they just shoulder check me. At first, I thought it was rude. I’ve been bumped quite a bit in crowded areas, such as the Beijing subway during rush hour, but I have never been shoulder checked with as much frequency in open spaces as I have here in Italy. I suppose it could be a cultural dissimilarity; America does have many cultural differences from the rest of the world, such as the need to smile at strangers, tipping in restaurants, and legacy applicants in college admission. But, within my double consciousness as an Asian tourist, I could not help but wonder if these people had been less likely to move aside because they thought I would.
Italian food is composed mostly of pizza and pasta, from what I have observed. There doesn’t seem to be that big of a discrepancy between the Italian food sold in the United States and the Italian food sold in Italy. I don’t think I could say the same thing with Chinese food. Because, unlike foods by western cultures, there seems to exist tiers of authenticity for Chinese food. And it’s not because General Tso’s chicken, arguably the most famous Chinese dish in America, is not tasty or anything; it’s just that most Chinese people who live in China probably have never heard of General Tso’s chicken.
But it seems that Italian culture had never been subject to western cultural hegemony to assimilate into mainstream American culture. I could find much of the same foods in Italian restaurants in the United States. Only sometimes can I say the same with Chinese restaurants. Because, although I despise concepts of elitism — especially among minority cultures — I cannot help but wonder to what extent am I willing to accept cultural conformity in order to appeal to a broader western audience. Is it worth losing cultural identity in order to even merely be accepted into a culture that is allegedly superior?
Because, while I have developed a distaste for post-colonial culture from my education in reading about minority narratives and developmental political economy, I wonder what I would say for those individuals who haven’t. My dad, who has only taken business classes his entire life, and my mom, who has only taken STEM classes, would not have exposure to how the inherent differences between cultures have historical contexts that cause individuals to perceive them accordingly. Without an education in a humanities field, how I would be able to articulate
It reminds me of my teachings from my introduction to Buddhism class. Even the mere concept of mindfulness had not been popular until Soyen Shaku brought it over from Japan in the form of Zen Buddhism. Before then, Buddhism had still been considered a religion of the primitive and uncivilized, similar to how we understand Greek and Roman mythology as well as other tribal religions in pre-industrial portions of the world. Before he reframed Buddhism through the lens of western-styled empiricism, Buddhism had not been a religion taken seriously. At the same time, because Shaku explained aspects of Buddhism through western thought (e.g. the Alaya-vijñana through Carl Jung’s collective unconscious), there exists a sharp discrepancy between his understanding of Buddhism and the western adoption of Buddhism.