Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 50 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Colonialism, Parasites, Hosts and Hospitality

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Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 50 seconds

Hospitality…usually involves a host, right? A space that belongs to someone, the host, inviting others to make themselves at “home” in the host’s space. But then, you know, there is another word… parasite which is often used with host. In medical terms, parasites are organisms that invite/force themselves into a body, and make that body their host. An unwilling host which the parasite (always? Usually?) harms in some way.

Like colonialism. The colonizer invades a country (like a parasite) and make themselves at home and then, you know, takes what it wants, regardless of whether it’s been offered. Like colonizers now use discourses like this to refer to refugees and immigrants more generally (treat them like parasites). Immigrants and refugees from countries previously colonized, fleeing strife caused by a colonial legacy. It’s ironic.

Today in class we watched together Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Danger of a Single Story.Arguably one of the best TED Talks ever 🙂 and my favorite part is when she cites Mourid Barghouti on the power of starting a story with “secondly” and ignoring the history behind a story especially when it involves the viewpoint of the oppressed or marginalized.

I’ve always thought Derrida was interesting. That he wrote about unconditional hospitality, a theoretical construct that is practically unachievable… almost definitely undesirable…and then the context of colonialism which makes this whole hospitality thing kind of… strange. Would unconditional hospitality involve inviting a colonizer to “go ahead, make yourself right at home, take what you please, treat the host however you please”, be a parasite, basically. Take whatever you can and give nothing back? Leave whenever it suits you and don’t clean up after yourself?

I make absolutely no claims to understanding Derrida…. on any level.

But I claim to be a postcolonial person trying to understand my place in this neocolonial context I am living.

And I see a situation here where a neocolonial parasite enters, invades the host, and claims benignness… even generosity… but it is a paternalistic benignness. Can paternalism be benign? I guess that parenting can be like this with young children. Control and restriction of freedom and withholding information from a child for their own good. I guess charity is often like this, paternalistic generosity that assumes the recipient has no agency, cannot make their own decisions intelligently or wisely. And colonialism and neocolonialism and neoimperialism and foreign aid are exactly this. It is exactly this belief that the “other” is incapable of making wise decisions about their own welfare, wellbeing. Or perhaps it’s not that they actually *believe* this, but it is the story they perpetuate and make us believe. They hold this mirror to us, pat our heads and say “don’t worry your little head with this, we’ll take care of you”.

What is hospitality under pressure, under duress, where someone else holds the power and the reins and you are the unwilling host to this parasite that forces itself into your veins, so that it changes the way you look at yourself. So that you can only see yourself through the beast’s eyes and have no other way of understanding yourself but through it. Treating you as if you have no agency over your own BODY when your entire body just wants to REJECT and EJECT it.

Hosting a parasite. Hospitality towards a colonizer. And the paradoxes of hosting colonialism unwillingly, unwittingly, under the guise of benignness.

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