My White cis women friends who do not wish to marry nor have children do not experience the same societal torment or communal pressure as I do. I am not saying that they are entirely immune to it but the nature of our struggles are different. They are less likely to bump into the mother-in-law of their third cousin at a wedding and even if they do, the older woman might not feel entitled to ask them why they are not married, throw unprovoked harsh judgements or offer them unsolicited advice.
In my conversations with these White cis women friends, I found myself being a woman who feels more shame, more fear of repercussions, more self-blame and more societal judgment. I wondered if I did not recognize my agency as fiercely as they did. For a long time I believed that I come from a family, community and country that’s just backwards.
However, while researching the origin of Kerala’s patriarchy, I discovered that I had fallen for the lie of Orientalist fantasy—what White supremacy had successfully indoctrinated me to believe—women of my community need saving. Colonial neoliberalism continues to enable Whiteness to climb high up the Maslow’s pyramid, on the shoulders of the blood and sweat of the colonized—women of my line who continue to breed cheap labour, allowing the current generation of White people to inherit the sunbathing spots of self-actualization on the top of the pyramid. They have the opportunity to find themselves, reflect on the sickness of White supremacy and become capable of loving without dominating. However, unfortunately, they direct their angst for self-actualization and existential crisis to do volunteer tourism in the global South, turn their living room walls and social media timeline into a redeemer White fantasy grid of voyeuristic images with themselves playing The Heroes temporarily lost in ‘savage lands’, helping the ‘needy’—making us the ‘White Man’s Burden’.
It is not by mistake that our history textbooks did not teach us that the arranged marriage system and dowry system were adopted from our colonisers – the Aryans and the British. We adopted the Victorian morals of the concept of the ‘providing husband’, the ideal of a dutiful self-sacrificing educated housewife and patrilocality or the practice of a wife living with her husband’s family. Lord Macaulay set up the mass schooling system and advertised it as a way to domesticate girls into becoming supportive housewives for the men who are indoctrinated into becoming obedient clerks and loyal minions for the British administration. We climbed the ladder of society by imitating our oppressor, adopting the Victorian practice of appointing custodians for women’s property for the sake of survival.
Political independence in 1947 doesn’t mark the end of colonialism because as Franz Fanon and Ashis Nandy wrote, we got too intimate with our enemy that the enemy now lives within ourselves. White supremacy and Brahmanism are responsible for the intergenerational trauma of Kerala that manifests as depression amongst women, alcoholism amongst men, the average of 20 Kerala women who die every year due to dowry disputes and the way our systems of domination window dressed the mask of caste reformation and high literacy while doubling down on gender violence.
‘Since white women’s bodies embody the sexist racist fantasy of real womanness, they must not sully themselves by claiming a political voice within public discourse about race.’ – bell hooks
My White friends show solidarity to my struggles as a non-White woman by acknowledging their White privilege, by doing anti-racist work, by engaging in the uncomfortable self-reflection of their White fragility, by unlearning White saviour complex and taking accountability for their past of cultural appropriation. White privilege would not exist if it was not for the colonization of our wombs.
The above image was a comment made by a White woman under the Chavara Matrimony Ad that reeked of misogyny. Every word that this person wrote makes absolute sense. However, words come from a place, a person, a situation and at a time in history. The situated-ness of the words make them what they are: transformative or oppressive, emancipatory or dehumanising. These words are kind and empowering until the situated-ness of the person from whom the words originated is revealed.
With everything that we watch on TV and read in textbooks, we internalise White supremacy and racism before even seeing White people. As understandable as it is for Kerala to be grateful for the White tourists who contribute to our revenue, the colonial mentality that we project as immense admiration for White people continues to chain us down. Our ethos taught us to be kind to our guests but we took it up a notch and lied down on the floor with gratitude for cultural appropriation.
This is a time in history when we are still suffering with a colonized psyche that believes in the inferiority of dark skin, when our economy bears the brunt of neoliberalism that exploits our gendered bodies, when our education system continues to be centered on Eurocentric knowledge production that ‘others’ us, stirring in us self-hatred and self-sabotaging behaviors. This person is situated with the racial identity of Whiteness that automatically comes with White privilege and in addition, this is a person who seems to be entitled to appropriate our culture in the name of personal relationships, avails social capital from her knowledge of our language and surpasses our boundaries to consume our history, clothing, accessories, art forms, hairstyles, ceremonies, beliefs, practices and social behaviors. The silent joy in being seen as an authoritative outsider amongst marginalized groups could be irresistibly tempting. White supremacy has historically assumed the role of our rescuer, considering themselves the source of wisdom for our freedom. We allowed it hundreds of years ago, we will allow it in 2022.
As blatant as the misogyny of the ad is, a White woman speaking up about this ad becomes our White savior as long as she doesn’t acknowledge her White privilege nor the coloniality of her cultural appropriation. The violation no longer looks violent because it doesn’t need to. Since the late 18th century, our psyche has been prepped to hate ourselves while ogling at Whiteness with admiration. Orientalism made sure that we view ourselves through the double consciousness of our oppressor and trained us to be thirsty for their approval or feigned interest.
There is no feminism for Kerala without decolonising our psyche. The Conservatives and the Left in Kerala together sing a chorus that Feminism is ‘Western’ and to be a feminist is to betray our culture and traditions but our patriarchy is what is truly Western. White supremacy keeps reaffirming the narrative that we need to adapt Western feminism while this patriarchy is what Westerners did to us. Colonialism no longer looks like Christian missionaries. The new form of colonialism is disguised as charitable curiosity. It’s the White women who wear sarees, the White men who write Kerala’s history, the White volunteers who come to rescue us, the White people adopting our children etc. Whiteness has historically benefitted from non-White women’s bodies ‘breeding’ cheap labour. When the colonizers continue to over-identify with the oppressed, the colonised have no space to grieve and heal. After once violently invading our lands, bodies and cultures, Whiteness has a tendency to use personal intimacy with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, (and) People of Colour) to justify this charitable curiosity. It is still White Privilege being implicitly coercive because we have, by this point, become so vulnerable and even grateful for that coercion. They feel entitled to our insider cultural knowledge, languages, ways of knowing and being, history, clothing, accessories, art forms, hairstyles, ceremonies, beliefs, practices, social behaviors and traditions.
Our internalised White Supremacy that makes us love White people who appropriate our culture will not save us from patriarchy. Our Stockholm syndrome doesn’t let us hold our abuser accountable. Pleasing our White masters will not free us.
Featured image source: Shreya Tingal/Feminism In India