Decolonize: A Biographic Sketch

Decolonize. From where do you want to approach? Do you want to tackle it straight on? Or do you want to bide your time, stalking it from the rear? If you face it squarely, are you sure you can stand your ground?

It’s one word, with a legion of embittered foot soldiers. A masthead, claimed by guerrilla fighters.

The word decolonise ambushes even the most vigilant. It is most effective on rugged, contested terrain, pockmarked by craters and littered with civilian casualties. Almost anyone could wield it, this machinery of thought.

Bani Amor wields the idea like a hammer, sometimes thunderously profound and other times as a brisk judgement. This hammer is crafted with a simple message — decolonise travel. Raise the idea, and let gravity do the rest. Strike. Strike again. Hammer the point home.

The idea to decolonise travel puts a crack on our realities. It takes a swing at the environmentally concerned, vegan, yogis who have just recently Konmaried their homes before getting on a plane for a retreat. The cracks shed light on the dark recesses of our modernity, on the ideas of “self-care” and travel to “broaden our horizons”. By merely travelling, we who can afford to travel are reinforcing the colonial power structures that gave rise to our current world order. The idea strikes at the integrity of that most human of virtues: curiosity. Perhaps our curiosity is self-indulgent, especially when we use it as justification for travel. Our “authentic” backpacking, eco-tours, and month-long projects to build houses with people from impoverished communities are inflicting further injustices. We colonise the global poor with our dollar. We think our money can improve their lives, without acknowledging the price they had paid already, with their lost languages, robbed time with loved ones, and polluted rivers and beaches. Does the weight of this fall on deaf ears?

None of this is actually “decolonising”. Decolonise is like a chameleon that slipped away when I was surveying the terrain of colonialism. It continues to elude as long as I stay fixated on cataloguing — calling out all the systemic inequities of travel, injustices of cultural appropriation and racism, or whatever ammunition I pick up from the woke social justice arsenal. In the complexity of navigating debates, dodging bullets, parrying assaults in the war zone where the “enemy” and the freedom fighters are hard to tell apart, we forget what decolonise actually means.

So I will stop trying to wrestle with the idea, stop meeting it with the same violence that gave birth to it. Maybe the idea needn’t be a weapon. Decolonisation may have emerged as a retaliation to oppression and violence, but perhaps it does not need to be made of it. Perhaps holding decolonisation does not necessitate wielding it.

Perhaps decolonisation could be a map, figuratively traced, to navigate the world. Navigating to what, I am not sure. But it is a thing that I can hold, and hold on to, and handle. I could take it places.

I pack up the idea and retreat from the main intellectual battlefields. I wander. One day, I wander into a random corner of Twitter, where a woman asks for a small miracle: for any Asian female science-fiction and fantasy writers. She may as well be asking for a unicorn.

But when I stop to look, I see not one unicorn, but a gathering. In the Twitter thread, I find the names of people who could be doctors, engineers, accountants — Asian names, names of people who should have been taught to keep their heads down, avoid conflict, work hard, and build a safe life. Yet, these women had kept their heads in the clouds, chased their fantastical dreams, forged new careers, and conjured alternate universes through the solitary power of their pens.

Decolonise is a word, a word with a lot of potential. It has the power to get your blood boiling, to inspire fury, to destroy colonisation. Decolonise is also just a word, summoned into existence by wordsmiths.

Beside the wasteland that colonisation has left institutional troops and decolonising guerrilla fighters to battle for, Asian female wordsmiths were writing alternative realities into existence.

When I first sat down with the word, it was because of the weight. The longer I sat, the lighter the idea became, until it took flight into the sky above. Then, it landed softly once more. Decolonise — it is just an invitation to imagine.

Thinking about the intersection of social justice and tech, with a LGBTQ and POC lense.

Thinking about the intersection of social justice and tech, with a LGBTQ and POC lense.