Imperialism Checklist

I’m going to be meeting with Paul tomorrow to work on our Imperialism workshop for 2012 TWTP. I’d like to share a bit of our workshop with you.
Please raise your hand/take a step into the circle/bold/color red if the statement applies to you.
  1. There have been times when I have felt embarrassed by aspects of my culture.
  2. My name has been changed or Anglicized so that English speakers can use it.
  3. I can trace my ancestry back to country that has received economic assistance by another country.
  4. My country has colonized another country/ peoples.
  5. I can trace my ancestry back to a nation that has been/is being physically occupied by another country.
  6. My family came to this country for economic opportunities not available in their home country.
  7. My family/ is from a country that is or has been colonized by another country of color.
  8. My family and/or community finds it favorable to marry someone of lighter skin
  9. My family and/or community would not like me to marry someone from another country.
  10. My family came to this country to leave war in their home country.
  11. I have family living in another country.
  12. My family sends money to relatives in another country.
  13. I am a first generation college student.
  14. I believe that Western medicine is more effective than other forms of medicine such as meditation, shamanism, or voodoo.
  15. I have travelled outside the United States.
  16. When I travel to other countries, I mostly stay in tourist centered areas.
  17. When I travel other countries, I typically do not speak the local language
  18. When I have travelled to other countries, I have been frustrated or upset with people that did not speak English.
  19. When abroad, I have taken pictures of the people I see without permission.
  20. I have wanted to change the shape of my nose, the structure of my eyelids, the texture of my hair, or any other body part to look “more white” so that I could be considered beautiful.
  21. People abroad should learn English to better their chances at success in business.
  22. If U.S. intervention in another country will bring it democracy, it is justified.
  23. If U.S. intervention in another country will maintain the U.S.’ status as a world power, it is justified.

How many of these statements apply to you? What are the implications of each of these statements? Which provoked the most thought? Which statement was outside your initial scope of “imperialism”?

For more on my Imperialism rantings, check out Upside Down Right Side Up or Imperialism in Mulan.


I Studied Abroad in Africa


You go to one of those fabulously elitist schools where everyone talks about privilege, classism, racism, sexism, etc. as if they don’t practice it in real life. But in order to really see the world, they decide to go somewhere where they can understand what their privilege looks like. So they choose AFRICA! Yay! A whole continent dedicated to helping white people understand what it means to be poor and undeveloped.

This is for all you fabulous biddies who decided that Africa was the right place for you. There’s nothing like good ‘ole exotification to fill up your time while basking in the hot Saharan sun, wearing your “traditional” African clothes, eating “weird” foods and taking as many photos of black children as possible. You go, Gurl with lots of privilege! This is dedicated to you.

– From I Studied Abroad in Africa! Blog

This is basically what goes through my head when I hear someone is going to an African country (and don’t live there) or when I see Facebook albums filled with photos from “Africa” — wherever that is. Not Uganda, not Sengal, not Kenya — AFRICA. I usually call people out on things like this. Africa is a continent. It would be like referring to the United States as North America. Oh. Okay.

Source: I Studied Abroad in Africa

But I don’t really know what I find so uncomfortable about these “white girl with many black school children” photos. When I cringe at their photos — I have no legitimate reason to back it up. It just feels wrong. It feels like their motivations for going to that country and interacting with their people may have been well-intentioned but misplaced. Plus most of their pictures seem like they’re more focused on posing for the camera then the actual children. The girl in the photo above reminds me of a “savior” Jesus pose — which has many implications. The girl below with her sunglasses looks like she’s holding an accessory item, not a child. Something just feels off to me.

There are a lot of assumptions being made on my part, but it also may be that these pictures remind me of 6.25 War stories that my grandfather used to tell (better known as the Korean War in America). He told me about how when he was little, he would sometimes feel the earth shake — and that’s when he would run outside because he knew the American soldiers were coming in their tanks. The soldiers would occasionally stop to pet them on the head and throw out candy. He still bitterly remembers how a kid in his town knew how to say “Number 1!” in English. The soldiers would give a deep-throated laugh at the kid’s broken English and throw out extra candy for him.

My grandfather told me that story without any particular animosity towards American soldiers, but for some reason, he still very strongly associates power with America and one’s ability to speak English. He’s the main reason my father came to the States for his doctorate and also why my mother was coerced to leave again in 2005. “Do it for the children,” my grandfather told her. The idea has been engrained in him since the war. The American soldiers were there in their regal uniforms, untouched by the poverty and hunger that he himself was drowning in. They had come to “save” Korea. But they also had the option of leaving Korea — and return to their clean and plentiful Garden of Eden called America. All this power and greatness were attributed to them being Americans. At least, that’s what it seemed like to my grandfather when he was crawling on all fours to grab at the tootsie rolls off the gravel road as the tanks drove off, kicking up dust in their wake.

I don’t know. Maybe that story has nothing to do with the white girls in Africa. But then I again, I think it kind of does.

Linguistic Imperialism

When I asked Andrew of his plans after graduation, he told me that he wanted to teach English in Russia for a gap year.

Umm… something didn’t feel quite right. I have never felt comfortable with well-off, white American college students going to a developing country to teach students English. Logically, nothing is wrong. There is a demand in the global market for native English speakers. The students are merely providing the supply to meet the demand. In fact, Andrew was better qualified than most of the other students; he was fluent in Russian and understood Russian culture.

But I still kept telling him that I didn’t feel comfortable with it. I called it linguistic imperialism. I didn’t like that he was just breezily spending a year in Russia. I didn’t like that he wasn’t certified as a teacher. I didn’t like that he would be going in to Russia, already privileged as an American, versus the local Russian English teachers. I didn’t like that teaching would be a side job for him. I didn’t like that “teaching English in a developing country” was something exotic and exciting to do for a gap year — to “discover himself.” I didn’t like that teaching English was thought of as saving these kids from the poverty in their country and helping them become more competitive in the global market.

Most of these concerns are unfounded. I don’t know what his motivations were. I don’t know what Russia’s demand for English teachers is like. There are also numerous federal programs that promote the teaching of the English language abroad (ex: Fulbright English Teaching Assistanceship). But regardless of intentions, the act of teaching English in Russia  could be so easily be tainted with the idea of being a savior for these children and succumbing to the white man’s burden. Plus with all this talk of Americans teaching English to other countries, my mind immediately jumped to a despicable Uncle Sam cartoon from the late 1890s.



This image is a 1899 cartoon of Uncle Sam “teaching” the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Cuba. A black man washes the window. The Native American sit at the steps, reading. A Chinese boy stands in the doorway.

The blackboard in the back of the room reads:

“Now, children, you’ve got to learn these lessons whether you want to or not…The consent of the governed is a good thing in theory, but very rare in fact…England has governed her colonies whether they consented or not. By not waiting for their consent she has greatly advanced the world’s civilization…The U.S. must govern its new territories with or without the consent of the governed until they can govern themselves.”

I know that imperialism in the form of colonies or governmental control seems like a far jump from teaching English in Russia, but in a way, the students are just part of the imperialistic endeavors of America. Regardless of intention, their actions perpetuate ideas of American superiority and dominance.

There is very little evidence out there to back me up on this linguistic imperialism idea. Like I said, it’s just a gut feeling. But if you’re interested, read up on the BBC article, BBC article “Linguistic Imperialism Alive and Kicking” — they have some neat little links there as well.