Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Overcoming Ethnocentrism as a Prerequisite for Decolonization

To add to my last post about refocusing our attention to dis-embedding; removing ourselves from the system as much as we possibly can, there's also another very important pre-requisite to implementing pre-colonial/healthier ancestral cultural practices into our present lives as a form of decolonization.

firstly, we have to learn and understand the lifestyles, innovations, mentalities, and overall cultures of indigenous/ pre-colonial/ pre-industrial peoples of the world. secondly (or perhaps simultaneously), we have to learn to see these practices and lifestyles as, at the least, equal to if not superior than our current practices and overall system.

the ways in which we often learn about pre-industrial practices is within an atmosphere of pre-supposed superiority. we don't learn about migrations and movements that took place; we don't learn about the ingenuity of certain practices; we don't learn about the interconnectedness of spirituality with culture with governing (or lack thereof). we assume that all the best, most ingenious, better, healthier, safer, and humane practices have taken place after colonialism and industrialism. this is known as ethnocentrism, as has to be done away with. in anthropology, it was sired into my brain, almost ad nauseum. the reoccurring thread throughout all of my anthro courses was: there are no superior cultures in the world, only different ones. and personally (although ironically/contradictingly), what i took away from most of those classes was the understanding that almost everything in western cultures has a better pre-industrial/pre-colonial alternative that doesn't require capitalism, racism, colonialism, slavery, globalization, or mass exploitation. and the things they did not have were things that were better not to have.

take for example, medicine (the term used in anthropology for Western medicine is 'biomedicine', so that's the term i'll use for distinction). there is an assumption in the West, and probably worldwide, that biomedicine is the best, most superior form of medicinal worldviews; better than whatever you get when you go to a shaman or traditional healer or herbalist. the average American, and even many non-westerners who grew up going to traditional healers, see traditional healers as archaic in comparison to biomedical doctors. taking a pill is seen as better than drinking a bitter tea or tonic. an ob/gyn has become more acceptable, more prestigious than a midwife. and why? on what grounds are biomedical doctors superior to all others? what makes the present state of medicinal technology and practices superior to the medicinal technologies of our ancestors?? what skills do biomedical officials have without electricity and modern technologies??
biomedical doctors to me, are analogous to Rihanna or any modern pop singer - without a producer, choreographer, beat-mater, lyricist, stylist, a record company with billions of dollars to back her up, and personal trainers, she's just a pretty chick from Barbados who can't dance and can barely hold a note. but with all this stuff; all these people around her, everyone thinks she's the shit. but when you get down to the skills - there are none. a Peruvian bonesetter that gets paid in chickens and guinea pigs, who probably doesn't speak the major language, who has never stepped foot in a classroom and may not be literate, who can set a bone better and faster than anyone else is where the skill is. THIS is where the respect and reverence and praise is due.

if you look at anything - be that statistics, mathematical averages, patient treatment/care, or sustainability - non-western medicine wins on almost everything. statistically, traditional bone-setters know much more about the skeletal system than do biomedical ones. they reset broken or fractured bones much more efficiently and straighter than biomedical ones, and they do it with a much faster recovery period. on average, the patient satisfaction is much higher and the care encompasses not only the broken bone but also the mental/emotional/spiritual being of the person with the broken bone. factoring in sustainability, one simply needs a cold of hot compress, basic motor skills, and knowledge passed down from generations to generations on the human body and healing methods to fix these issues. contrast this with an x-ray machine which took thousands of dollars to make and purchase, made up of minerals and elements probably minded in Africa by someone risking their life, getting paid crumbs once every three months if they're lucky, which also is probably contributing on some level to deforestation, culture loss and erasure, and economic instability in these nations where these minerals are obtained. in other words, something as simple as a x-ray machine is NOT sustainable - not ethically or economically or environmentally. and all that for a bone that isn't going to be set as well as with a traditional bonesetter! not to mention having to pay a couple hundred to the doctor for even seeing you. not to mention those that don't even have medical insurance to help with the payment. and even then, what happens if there is no electricity? when there is something wrong with the machine? so i ask again, on what grounds are these methods and practices superior? because i'm not seeing them.
yet we have come to see everything in this system as better, but it is clearly not. anything from diet to lifestyles practices to animal husbandry to birthing practices are all better on multiple levels than the methods and practices we have in this system.

and if you look around to the rich, to the knowledgeable, to the people who spend years researching these types of subjects, you'll notice that many of them are returning to traditional methods. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is making a killing in the US and has been for some time. Ayurvedic medicine is a close second. and presently, within anthropology, Native American practices and beliefs from Central and South America are beginning to gain much respect. almost all of these alternatives to biomedicine have been turned to by Westerners because they have cured issues that biomedicine has not. people with neurological diseases or ailments are going to get acupuncture and tonics from TCM specialists. organ and blood and skin issues that biomedical doctors know nothing about and cannot even name are being healed with Ayurvedic combinations of herbs and subscriptions for exercise. mental illnesses which biomedical doctors have been prescribing pills for that turn people into zombies are being cured by Peruvian and Mexican and Columbian shamans. to me, this says a lot.

after we know and understand these methods, especially those of our respective ancestors, then we can compare and contrast them to that of biomedicine. only then can we implement these practices into our present lives.
in communities focused on removing themselves from the western system, we have to bring back the traditional healers, the herbalists, the mid-wives, the star-gazers, and the general innovators. all of these aspects of our ancestral cultures have to be brought back. furthermore, they have to be truly revered. with as much pressure there is in this system to give into Western practices, one can and will only choose otherwise when they know enough to make that choice; when they know the pros and cons of both; when they genuinely respect their ancestral practices. only then can we return to these practices with vigor and respect; not with anguish feeling as though we have lost something or that something good is being taken away from us. this type of mentality is necessary for any decolonization methods and for removing ourselves from this system.

comment. think. criticize.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Don't Fight for Your Rights; Dis-embed from the System

i've been involved a lot recently in some Southern Texas organizations and unions, which my best friend is involved in. one of the events i attended recently was a rally in Florida, hosted by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to encourage Publix to pay a living wage to the farm workers that pick their fresh produce. oftentimes, farm workers are in modern-day slavery situations and can barely feed themselves with the minuscule wage they're paid for strenuous labor.
Tonight, i attended a documentary screening that focused on the United Farm Workers (UFW) group that does similar work as the CIW. something that stuck out to me in the documentary was the never-ending struggle to get something; demand something from the system. either the fight is getting short hoes banned from the crops (because they contribute to back issues of farm workers), or getting restrooms in the fields, or allowing farm workers to claim something for their families or taxes or work benefits or minimum wage.

what i'm most interested in firstly, is firstly, the removal from and breaking down of the system. and secondly, the cultural implementation of our respective ancestral societies; gaining cultural knowledge and implementing it into our lives as a form of decolonization, as an alternative.

on the first point, i believe there are a multitude of ways in which one can dis-embed themselves or their communities from the system, but i question to what degree we seek dismantle completely this system. there is no half-way with breaking down the Western, industrial/post-industrial, globalization, capitalistic system whose foundation is sustained by a permanently exploited underclass. one has to go all the way or not at all. there is no...working within the system to change it; there is no "reform". the things of this system cannot be had without exploitation. this country could not have been built and thrived for as long as it has without the enslavement of Africans, the dehumanization of Native Americans, and more currently, globalization. so this idea that we can fight and fight and protest for fair wages and humane treatment until this system is livable for the majority of its people is impossible. this will never happen because of the foundation and basis of this system. at its core, it is exploitation, slavery, dehumanization, and ruthlessly capitalistic. there is nothing to salvage. there is only a complete breakdown and rebuilding from the ground up.

to illustrate my point, let's look at the issue of farm workers being treated like animals and being paid damn near nothing. as opposed to fighting for one thing after the other...forever, i think the focus needs to shift to the concept of the grocery store - without which, there would be no need for such high rates of fresh produce, thereby eliminating even the possibility of exploitative farm worker practices. the super market is something many of us have grown up with and see as completely normal and even necessary. however, historically is all cultures, prior to the industrial/colonial ages, the market or one's family garden is where one got their food from. the modern grocery store in which one can purchase food from 20 different states and 3 different continents, all for fairly affordable prices cannot happen without some level of exploitation. furthermore, grocery stores are not necessary for human life. our ancestors lived without them for most of human history, so why do we sustain the idea that it is vital to human life?

the fight should be in encouraging people to stop shopping at grocery stores, teaching gardening, moving to areas in which land is fertile, abundant, and affordable where we can grow our own food - healthy, fresh, ethical, and off the system. this aids in the breaking down the system.
within anthropology, it is known that, contrary to popular belief, industrial/ post-industrial societies in which there are large portions of land devoted solely to the production of food in high quantities have the highest rates of starvation. western societies actually produce more food and have higher numbers of starvation than any other type of food subsistence societies (e.g., agricultural, pastoral, and hunter/gatherers). in other words, the grocery store and the strenuous labor that goes into picking fresh produce everyday is largely unnecessary. grocery stores and high food production are not needed to feed America - they are needed to make profits.

the refusal to use the grocery store is simply one of the examples that i'm using to show that the focus of our struggles should be shifted. fighting within the system further embeds us within it because now we feel as though we'd be taking it for granted since we fought for it. this is the same type of argument i heard from people when i said i was not voting. "but our people fought for the right to vote! you're disrespecting them!". yes, thy fought for it because that was their focus at the time and i appreciate that i have that right. many of them had the belief that the system simply is broken and needs fixing. i have the belief that the system is not broken, it was built that way and will stay that way no matter how many sit-ins, protests, parades, rallies, or fasts we do. i don't want to change the system. i want to dismantle it completely.

to my second point, the dis-embedding/de-colonization from the system has to take place simultaneously with education of what our ancestors were doing, in their respective areas. certain foods and lifestyles for arid areas such as in the south west corner of the country and parts of Mexico have been developed by the Native Americans that lived here - those in this area have to tap into that, especially those whose ancestors populated these areas. as an African, my departure point for dis-embedding myself from the system and finding alternative ways to those i was taught lies largely in West Africa. medicine, diet, child-birthing and pregnancy practices, spirituality, farming and food subsistence knowledge, astronomy, familial relations, educational practices, and other beliefs are all critical for dis-embedding oneself from the system. without that knowledge, we have no tried and tested alternatives for societies. we should return to the ways of our ancestors (for the most part) not only because they were tried, tested, and were viable for for much of human history (in other words, they worked and functioned largely without mass enslavement and exploitation), but because they are also best suited for us, given our respective ancestral origins. for example, the diet that is probably best for me is one from West African pre-colonial societies. were it not for food fortified (produced from post-industrial food productions, again) with vitamin C in northern US and European areas, Black folks could not even survive in cold climates such as those in those areas (see rickets). it is important for us to know and our ancestral lifestyles in order to know what is best for us as we transition and remove ourselves from this type of system. what type of environment were our bodies acclimatized to? what types of foods were our bodies used to? what types of spiritual practices and beliefs did our ancestors have? what were their healing methods? - all of these questions we have to ask ourselves and find out when dis-embedding ourselves from the system and building viable ones for our communities.

for Black Americans, there always seems to have been some type of push to know and become acquainted with Africa. but right now, and what i feel has been missing from the larger collective, is the knowledge to be able to live outside of this system. as opposed to fighting that we be treated like human beings and not guinea pigs within the medical industry, we need to be learning traditional bone-setting techniques, herbal knowledge, West African birthing practices and belief, spiritual links with mental illnesses, understanding issues from a holistic perspective - as almost all of our ancestors did. the often-heard narrative is: "we need our own enterprises and industries! we gotta own our own hospitals and banks!" right, so we can do the same thing white folks are doing with it? no, we need our own communities to implement much more healthier, self-sustaining, and communal practices and leave white folks shit to white folks (although, even they have a much healthier and ethical past they need to reconnect with). we (Black folks) didn't have banks in West Africa (and most societies in Africa) because one's family is who one goes to when they need a loan or a favor. there was never a need for a bank. and if we know and understand this, and start implementing stronger familial ties, or use of banks will also diminish. can we see how these two things are tied to one another?

while i applaud any POC who fights for what they want within whatever system or situation they may be in, in whatever way they see fit, i think that we have to understand the limitations of this system. we cannot all want grocery stores fully stocked with 50 different types of fresh produce for affordable prices and ethical treatment of everyone involved in that process. unfortunately, within this system, there is only either/or. the struggle, as i see it, is no longer in protests in the streets and city court houses and the white house or the voting booths - it is in the minds of our people, and getting those minds and spirits aligned with our healthier ancestors whose societies didn't thrive slave labor and poverty.

comment. think. criticize. learn. grow. sustain.

and as a side for Black Americans, note that i've been saying 'West Africa' as opposed to simply 'Africa'. many of us tend to look to all of Africa, especially East Africa, for lifestyle adjustments. which is fine, but when we talk about ancestors, that means specifically West Africa because we did not descend from ancient Egyptian or Ethiopian societies. we descend from peoples as far up as Senegal, and as far south as Angola with some estimates also showing heavy cultural influence from Bantu-speaking peoples and other central African cultures. these are the societies we have to focus on as cultural blueprints.