My journey to postcolonial theory began in Sweden

Last fall I joined a webinar series organized by Leon Moosavi, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology at the University of Liverpool and Director of the University of Liverpool in Singapore. It was an impressive list of speakers and one of the lectures I enjoyed the most was the one given by Walter Mignolo. In his talk, Mignolo shared how he had become interested in decolonial theory. As an immigrant in France, and later on in the United States, Mignolo became aware he was perceived as a “third-world” stereotype: an epistemologically-deficient and ontologically-behind “other.” These experiences unleashed a migrant consciousness that also triggered an awareness of the insights that can be discovered through the body (what he would later understand as geo-body politics). Dwelling in metaphoric borders creates “power differentials” that become embodied in us. Mignolo suggested we reflect on where we sense coloniality in our bodies. Our own embodied experiences can be a powerful tool to approach decolonial theory as long as these do not come from a place of ego, but from a sense of shared history (that is to say, with an awareness that whatever has happened to you, has also happened to others).

Mignolo’s story resonated strongly and made me think about my own journey towards postcolonial theory and anticolonial concerns. I became aware of the geo-body politics surrounding my body when I came to Sweden as an immigrant. I have never experienced explicit in-your-face racism while living here (for example, being called derogatory terms or hearing racial slurs), but the polite under-the-table racism has always been there. Echoing part of Mignolo’s account, I have also felt being treated as an epistemologically-deficient and ontologically-behind “other”: a homogenous and third-world uneducated woman; a stereotypical “Latina” that is one of those migrants or brown faces. Under the white gaze of this context, I became aware my body denied me the decency to be perceived as an individual instead of a Latin American “other” endowed with the prejudices attached to the local social construction of the region. Put in my place as a brown woman because of what my body projects, I started to become aware of different “power differentials” I had not encountered before in my country of birth, Mexico (not because there is no racism in Mexico but because I was shielded by being part of the majority Spanish-speaking mestizo group). The unpleasant experiences in Sweden added to the awareness of imperialism I already perceived in the Mexico-US relation and once I began to read postcolonial and decolonial authors something clicked. Lived experience can have a powerful impact in our understanding of the effects of coloniality or colonial forces and echoes in the present.

So, for the ones interested in anticolonial concerns but do not find that postcolonial or decolonial theory resonates with them, follow Mignolo’s advice and reflect: where do you sense coloniality in your body? (If you do not sense it, could it be there is a form of privilege providing you the luxury of ignorance?)

Interested to know more about coloniality and the body? Some reading tips from Mignolo’s lecture: Gloria Anzaldúa, Franz Fanon, María Lugones and Nelson Maldonado Torres.

Featured image: “foundation skate park quarter pipe peeling paint abstract world” by zen is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0