Hi, hello, greetings. My name is Iman and I know lots of things. Mostly things that are useful (the correct marmite-to-butter ratio) and fun (‘The Ketchup Song’ lyrics, phonetically), but also things that slyly yet actively hinder my personal and professional growth. Little habits like saying “sorry” all the time, or trying not to be too loud when I talk or laugh – all things that make me feel and be less than I am.
Where did I learn these habits? The usual suspects: the patriarchy, historical and media biases, the psychological repercussions of colonialism. And they’ve been around for decades, unconsciously passed down from generation to generation of women, with only a lucky few escaping unscathed. But I am here now to announce that 2019 is going to be my year of unlearning, and it should be yours too. All the damaging habits and mindsets I have been coerced into practicing are going to be identified, analyzed and removed. I am going to unlearn better and faster and permanently in order to take apart narratives and systems that push women of color to the bottom and keep us there. Join me!
At my university seminars, nearly every time a woman chimed in with a suggestion or a question, she’d start with a “sorry,” or end with one, or work one into her contribution somehow. It was the same at school. It is incredibly rare that I see a man apologizing as frequently and as unnecessarily as women do. Along with taking up space, women also tend to apologize for their appearance: “sorry my hair’s a mess” or “don’t mind my acne” or “excuse the dark circles” – all for looking like a normal human woman.
But that’s not our fault – we are raised by a society that profits off women’s insecurity. I don’t need to apologize for voicing my opinions, for taking up space in a room or in a conversation, or for my physical appearance. So I’ll be calling myself out every time I do.
Colonial mentality is best described as an internalized or subconscious inferiority complex that causes those from postcolonial nations to dismiss their own culture and values as inferior to those of the colonizer. It is one of the most common and least-discussed psychological effects of colonization, and it is one I have personally suffered from for as long as I can remember.
To this day, I find myself subconsciously dismissing Sri Lankan artists and thinkers and scientists as less than, and it is through the same lens that I view my own writing. If Sri Lankan art or academia is lacking in any way, it is because we do not enjoy the same resources and carefree freedoms that Western countries do. Instead, we create art and nurture intellectuals in spite of the economic anxieties and social tensions that followed our civil war, the roots of which are entirely traceable back to – you guessed it – colonialism.
This year, I will consume a lot of Sri Lankan, and brown, art. I’ll be decolonizing my own mindset, and giving the art and culture of my people the appreciation and legitimacy that they command. More importantly, I’ll be giving myself, my art and my ideas the validity and the cultivation that they deserve.
Any brown woman is a master at downplaying – downplaying our opinions, our intellect, our politics, our rage. It’s what we’re told to do at social gatherings so that we don’t appear too intimidating, too smart. We are asked to do it to cater to the egos of the men and older women around us. Being young, brown and female is tricky – you are equipped with a competitive education, a distinctive worldview, and being told ‘no’ so much that it now means ‘try’ – all so you can laugh timidly and change the subject every time someone brings up “girls these days.”
It is not my responsibility to make others feel secure and clever. It is my responsibility to use all the skills and resources that I have to right what I believe is wrong. And being angry and opinionated and loud is how I will be going about it. Does this read like a warning? Because it really is.
All these things, isolated, may seem a little bit inconsequential and a little bit hopeless. But collectively, they are a revolution. So please, wear a bindi under your helmet and put a screwdriver in your tiny beaded bag, because we are dismantling the system.