Hispanic Heritage Month 2018 Post Scriptum: The Colonial Mentality

While preparing one or another blog posts for Hispanic Heritage Month 2018, I blithely used the term “colonial mentality:” I assumed this term described a way of thinking that enabled people like Cecil Rhodes or King Leopold II, to cite two more chronologically recent figures, to help themselves to lands, resources, and (usually forced) labor in countries not their own. Indeed, I took it for granted that the colonial mentality was both an integral part of and a justification for the uglier depredations of capitalism.

Maybe a couple of definitions of colonialism will clarify the phenomenon of colonialism, and therefore make the real meaning of the colonial mentality even more stark and tragic than it is. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia (Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000), in its definition of colonialism, characterizes it in part thus: “The purposes of colonialism include economic exploitation of the colony’s natural resources, creation of new markets for the colonizer, and extension of the colonizer’s way of life beyond its national borders.”

The Oxford Desk Encyclopedia of World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) uses its entry on colonialism to direct the reader to the book’s entry on imperialism, which goes further than Merriam-Webster in noting that “The Industrial Revolution introduced a new form of imperialism as European countries competed throughout the world both for raw materials and for markets. In the late 19th century imperial ambitions were motivated in part by the need for commercial expansion, the desire for military glory, and diplomatic advantage. Imperialism generally assumed a racial, intellectual, and spiritual superiority on the part of the newcomers.”

Innocently, I assumed that last sentence was the description of the Colonial Mentality I sought. As it turns out, it is the result of the colonizers’ sense of superiority that forms the Colonial Mentality. The term colonial mentality defines the internalized racism and sense of inferiority among the colonized themselves, not, as I took for granted, the entitlement of the colonists and their governments.

Rather than bloviate about tragedy and manifest injustice of this, I’ll supply you with a quick list of links so you can learn about this yourself–or better yet help the students you serve understand it.

There is a broad literature on the Colonial Mentality, and a good place to start is with Brown Skin, White Minds, by a professor of psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage named E.J.R. David. Dr. David was born in the Philippines. Interestingly, a Google search of “Colonial Mentality” turns up a plethora of material on this issue in that former colony of both Spain and–however briefly–the United States. Dr. David and his colleague at New York University, Sumie Okazaki, have devised a Colonial Mentality Scale for measuring the depth of internalized colonialism. Dr. David’s article on “A Colonial Mentality Model of Depression for Filipino-Americans” goes some distance toward explaining the impact of the Colonial Mentality on the mental health of Filipino-Americans.

Nzuki Nnam at Dominican University has addressed the Colonial Mentality in Africa in a book by that name. This article from Henry Johnson LR in Medium also addresses the Colonial Mentality in Africa. This post from a blogger who identifies as Young African Pioneer, with a bit of editing and adaptation for reading level and ability, might be just the text to explain aid high school students in developing their own understanding of internalized oppression.

In India, an entire discourse has developed around the issue of the Colonial Mentality and its effect on hindering India’s overall development. A blogger named Yogesh1646 addresses the issue in this post. A writer named Anil Chawla argues that the Indian Polity has a Colonial Mindset. And there are a wide variety of unnamed bloggers (for a variety of reasons I won’t repost anonymous articles) writing on this issue–one need only search “colonial mentality in India” to arrive at a wide array of commentary–including a number of YouTube videos–on the issue of the colonial mentality on the Subcontinent.

In fact, if you search the term colonial mentality on Google, the search engine will return 4,940,000 results in 0.52 seconds. This is clearly an issue of importance to people around the globe.

So it probably ought to be an issue of importance for teachers, particularly those of us working in schools with diverse student bodies, and especially if that diversity includes recently arrived immigrants. Between the very real issue of the psychological damage colonialism inflicted, we here in the United States are dealing with a presidential administration that appears to have fostered a culture, within its offices, of belligerent racism. Calling nations from which the most recently minted United States citizens arrived “s**tholes” can only, it seems to me, exacerbate the colonial mentality.

Which doesn’t help to develop conscious and engaged citizens in a democratic republic like ours. Indeed, ridiculing new citizens who arrived from former European colonies seems to me the sine qua non of recipes for alienation. The answer to this is education.

So watch these pages for a instructional materials related to the colonial mentality and its effect. This blog post is the seed for a unit on colonialism, racism, and the individual citizen.

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