'Mixed Up, but in a good way...' A conversation about 'Decolonizing'

As the first group of UCL IOE Art, Design & Museology students to kick off the series, we want to acknowledge that we don’t claim to deal with the subject of decolonization with expert knowledge. Many of the claims we make here stem from a variety of positions: from personal anecdotes, and on to different readings we may make, or conversations we may have on the subject. We think this informality is perhaps a more interesting way to deal with the feeling of being ‘mixed-up’, and thus to open the conversation in ways that we don’t always expect when it comes to the subject, and hopefully that interests the readers here to begin having the same expansive dialogue on the subject as well.

In that spirit, we want to open the conversation we want to have over the next few weeks with, well, a conversation. Hopefully, through this we’re able to show some of the nuances of the subject as well as highlight our own uncertainties; that we may or may not go on to resolve over the next few weeks. 

The following conversation is contributed to by our group, which is made up of international students studying in the U.K.

Hong (South Korea)

JJ (Singapore)

Lanyi (China)

Cheong (Hong Kong)

Pilar (U.S.A)

Here are some of the excerpts from our first conversation as a group:

(0:50) Hong: I think there can be many kinds of colonization, so in my researchI have tried to discover some words relating to them. I am not sure if they are okay to use or not though. Out there at the moment, there is: self-colonization and re-colonization/ new-colonization. And also there is: un-intended-colonization, soft-colonization and renewed-colonization which seems to be the same as de-colonization, I guess.

We sometimes say that we have to re-write our history and I think that de-colonization can be a process for re-newing our history. I think we can think about some related words like these as a starting point.

(1:40) Pilar: There is a writer/philosopher/psychiatrist called Frantz Fanon, from the French colony of Martinique, are you guys familiar with him? He is really interesting on the cycle of the oppression that colonized places get sucked into: the colonizer comes in, they oppress and de-humanize people but then, what happens is that from that oppression comes assimilation, so, in the end, ironically, people forcefully try to assimilate into their dominant culture, yeah?

Cheong: Well to us in Hong Kong, decolonization is pretty violent, because Hong Kong… technically the Chinese government never actually paid attention to Hong Kong before British take over this place. The local culture in Hong Kong is based on British culture. Now, when the Chinese government try to give us their version of a new kind of authority or control over Hong Kong (governmental, educational, social services, etc.), we found that it is so different from us, from our own background. The Chinese claim that’s decolonization, but to us it’s more like colonization.

Lanyi: When Hong Kong talks about colonization, do they talk about decolonizing British culture? So are you thinking that British culture is already part of it? I think when we talk about decolonization, we should consider the original.. like.. when we talk about the Indian culture they were trying to take the British part off to go back to (before) when they were colonized. So does Hong Kong ever think 'about ‘going back’ to the culture that was established before the British rule?.

JJ: the British involvement in Hong Kong has undeniably accounted for some form of additional culture or cultural identity. I think It’s not so much like not going back to what it was like before, but also It’s more like giving it a chance to develop itself in a way. And of course that’s hard to do because you can never run away from your past, and there is always going to form a sense of who and what you are as an individual, a nation, etc. The thing is, we want choice and autonomy, the right as citizens to decide our cultural identity.

(9:45)

Lanyi: I think that’s the point. Because I think what residents of Hong Kong are concerned about is that they never have had a right to decide what the direction is that they’re going in, whether that’s under British or Chinese government control. Maybe they want to have their own culture, whatever that might mean!

JJ: I think there is a counter point there, quite interesting as well. Because for Singapore, we wanted get out from under British rule but the first prime minister was a product of the British education system. He studied Law at Cambridge so he was a product of the British education system. It’s really interesting because these traces still exist in Singapore. They have statues of Sir Stamford Raffles, there celebrating the founding of our civilization, in a sense. The whole narrative is: we were a quiet fishing village before colonization. I think this is funny because when we talk about ‘development’, it’s like the discussions about all these colonies is first and foremost economic, especially at this time. A lot of things happening are economically motivated, like neoliberalism and capitalized system and that they are effecting neo-colonialism.

(16:24)

JJ: Switching topics, it’s quite important to think of the different mentality of different colonial powers, right? For example, the British taught people in the colonies English right? Whereas, the Dutch were like ‘No, our language is reserved for the learned, we will never teach these savages (in Indonesia for instance) our languages’. It’s interesting to consider language as a form of leverage against dialogue between two cultures, right?

Lanyi: I remember last term, when we talked about the case of South Africa, and its efforts to deal with its colonial-era statues. Some statues have provoked protest because the figure was a hero in the colonial age, but in our post-colonizatial times, with calls for de-colonising, the ways these statues resonate has obviously changed. Is it still valuable to’ preserve’ objects and artefacts from the colonial era to remind us, daily, of its injustices?

(19:38)

Cheong: So we’re speaking about an attitude that we might take towards colonial history? Our conversation has definitely thrown up more questions than answers! Perhaps our individual posts over the next few days with raise these questions again, in new ways, and help us work towards ways of offering possible answers, however provisional.