Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Power of Judgement

I never realized how much the words of a teacher, particularly at a young age, could have on a student until I started thinking about this blog entry. Being a minority, it was interesting to think of a time when I had felt, either directly or indirectly, subjugated or humiliated by someone from “the West”. One such occasion occurred in fifth grade, and it is an instance that I don’t think I will ever forget, given that the memory has yet to have lost any vitality in my mind. Although I don’t remember exactly what we were discussing, for some reason this teacher mentioned that “we don’t use our hands to eat, because it is barbaric”. Now, at the time, I felt an extreme sense of shame; my family ate with our hands whenever we had Indian food from home because that’s how it was meant to be eaten, so now I was a barbarian? I didn’t mention anything in class, shy little ten year-old that I was, and I also didn’t mention anything to my parents for fear that there would be some big commotion made of the comment. It was only in my older years, when I would casually reflect back on it, that I realized what a tactless comment that was. It also made me embarrassed, as I grew older, to think that I let that comment make me eat dinner with a fork for a week or so after hearing it.

I think this life experience relates directly to what Albert Wendt is talking about in “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body”. While I understand now that my teacher made this comment simply in ignorance that it would affect anyone in the class and the people Wendt talked about were generally humiliating foreigners in order to subjugate them, I still believe that this comparison is valid. When I eat traditional Indian cuisine with my hands, it is one of the few times that I feel a connection to my ancestors or other Indians, because in general I do not associate with other Indians and rarely go back to India to visit. As Wendt writes, they “made us ashamed” of something intricately related to our identity (Wendt 400). Even further, this story relates to Hau’ofa and his writing about “Our Sea of Islands”. He introduces the idea of inflicting “lasting damage on people’s images of themselves and on their ability to act with relative autonomy in their endeavors” (Hau’ofa 28). While my example is on a small scale, Hau’ofa explains the danger of this type of distancing, negative stereotyping, and general humiliation of traditional views being denigrated by Western views. The “belittlement, in whatever guise, if internalized for long and transmitted across generations, may lead to moral paralysis…or to apathy” and it is this danger that comes when someone like myself, takes this type of renegade comment to heart and it spirals into an inward self-consciousness (Hau’ofa 30).

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