I promised to write more on this topic. Here it is.
Last year, in honor of his 50th birthday and my 80th, Pete, my manager, and I were gifted with a seven-week boat trip on a Cunard ship. It went from Fort Lauderdale to Barbados (an island very dear to me), down the east coast of South America, around Cape Horn, up the west coast of South America, cruising by Rapa Nui (Easter Island), stopping at several ports-of-call in the South Pacific and ending up in Sydney, Australia. We had a speech and workshop/training sessions outside Sydney in the Blue Mountains. It was a great mode of transportation which included seven weeks on my beloved oceans.
Initially, it seemed like a dream come true.
I/we had sailed on the Cunard Lines on many short trips and loved their ships, especially the Queen Elizabeth II. So, when others offered to help us pay for such a trip (we paid half), we jumped at the opportunity.
Usually, even on short voyages, I stake out a big round table in some quiet corner and ocean time is writing time.
There is an old saying – “If you want to make God laugh, make plans.” That statement, combined with one of my favorite beliefs which is that if we humans were created for a purpose, it certainly must be to keep the creator laughing and entertained, has resulted in a deep trust that all my ideas about my plans and what will happen next are tentative at best. My job, as I see it, is not to carry out my plans. It is to make plans, be ready to let them go and see what I can learn from whatever is presented to me, participate, and be open for surprises. I may not always like the surprises and 80 years of life has taught me that what I need is not always what I thought I needed. So it was with this trip.
And, I did get some work done – – finishing, and polishing up two books, writing two-thirds of a new book and working with a translator/publisher to get my new book on women out in German (plus some other writings). And, my major learnings were not exactly what I anticipated (surprise!).
My major learning was a new depth of learning about how much I find almost every aspect of colonization abhorrent. I have always believed that colonization was and is a ridiculous idea and wrong. And, I have never spent seven weeks in a relatively small space with a group of people and culture that deeply believe that colonization is not just a good idea, but a necessity, the right thing and justifiable.
As they say in Australia, “I was gob-smacked,” and might I add shocked and horrified.
Somehow in my mind I had come to believe that everyone had come to believe that colonization was at best a bad idea and a detour for the human race.
Several years ago, one of my Native American friends said to me, “We never say Columbus discovered America. That is a silly idea. We were already here. We say when Columbus invaded America. This is more accurate.”
That concept certainly sounded more accurate to me. Also, even the “invaders” refused to be a colony and became a somewhat independent country.
As I have visited colonized lands around the world, Canada, Australia, Fiji, New Zealand or conquered lands like Hawaii, I have often identified with the indigenous people and the land. I have seen how the colonization/invasion was not good for the indigenous land or the people. And, at some level in my being, I have always believed that others also agreed that colonization was innately wrong, as I did.
It took this trip on a British boat, surrounded by British people, most of whom had a British mind-set, to see the reality that some/many actually still believe in the efficacy and goodness in colonization!
I was appalled with how the assumptions made by the boat, its entertainment staff and most of the other passengers were steeped with the worship of the rightness of colonization. It did not matter whether the colonizers were from England, Germany, France, Portugal, Spain – wherever they were from, whatever they had done, there was an all-pervasive attitude that colonization was a good and necessary phenomenon for the land and the original people who lived there.
There was a belief that what the colonizers brought was right and good and far superior to anything that was there before they came.
There was an absolute reverence for the belief that everything that colonizers had and brought was innately superior to anything that had been there before they came and any means of imposing these beliefs, ways of doing things, customs or ways of dealing with everything – themselves, one another, the land, and the world – were undeniably superior to anything that existed before they came to save the original people and the land from themselves.
Not only did/do the colonizers believe that they are racially superior (roots of racism?), they also believe that their beliefs are superior, their spirituality is superior, their intellect and epistemology are superior, their science is superior, their religion is superior, their approach to commerce is superior, and their beings, as a whole are superior.
With this approach, it is, of course, acceptable to use whatever means available to them to overpower and ultimately eradicate anyone or anything that differs from their way of life.
I have seen and lived with the effects of colonization all over the world. And, I was overwhelmed with my sudden awareness that large groups of people still believe in the rightness and necessity of colonization.
Somehow, I wanted to believe that even though most of the human race had become more “enlightened” and come to see that this ideal of colonization had seemed to have been true in the past, we had as a species, moved beyond these archaic beliefs and thinking.
Then, here, right before my eyes in the first quarter of the 21st Century, I was in the midst of a group of people who still believe in the rightness of colonization! They were in no way ready to abandon the beliefs and assumptions behind colonization.
They still believed their race was superior.
They still believed their way of dealing with the world was superior.
They still believed that they were not only justified but that others should be grateful that they deigned to bring their way of doing things and being to them.
There was no awareness that if they were having over-population and disease problems, they should have focused on solving them themselves.
There was no awareness that the people living on and with those lands had something very valuable to teach the colonizers.
There was no awareness that differences were not only not a threat, they could be enlightening.
There was no awareness that since they were hurting from their exploiting the land and the resources in their own land, that it might not be a good idea to repeat the same behavior in a new land.
There was no awareness that they were guests and should act accordingly with gratitude and humility.
There was not even a glimmer of awareness that these ancient cultures they were colonizing might have better ideas about being with themselves and their land.
I was appalled by the arrogance and ignorance of the invaders and their lack of awareness of both.
I had learned so much living with indigenous people in many parts of the world and could not believe others might not stand back to see that Westerners have not done such a great job of living with themselves, one another and their planet and might be ready to approach other possibilities with a bit of humility, reverence and respect.
For example, on my beloved Hawaii where my over-fatigued soul was taken in by and healed by the land and people there, there is no real belief that colonialism is good. And even after the federal government of the United States has agreed that it illegally overthrew the sovereign government of Hawaii, the U.S. has not returned Hawaii’s sovereignty. In fact, on one of its most sacred places where all Hawaiian souls depart for the afterlife, the U.S. has built a missile base. And, still, there is no real discussion about colonialism’s misguided view among the invaders. .
And, certainly, it seemed that no one on our boat even entertained the idea to question colonization.
What I heard was all about judgmentalism, invasion, and eradicating the “other” and their ways.
Although this was a very difficult and painful experience, I was also filled with a feeling of gratitude in that most of the people with whom I now spend my time do not think or behave unconsciously as colonizers or, at least, most know that there is probably something very wrong with this attitude and they should be working to change these beliefs in themselves.
As I sat with my shock and horror of this plunge into a colonial mind-set, I was acutely aware of how our white ancestors have not only colonized the lands and the peoples, but also sought to colonize the minds and beliefs of others with our science and religions. I began to see the far-reaching implications of the beliefs of the rightness of colonization and how America, against its early principles of freedom and democracy, has joined with its founding fathers (mothers have not had much input in this issue although we have helped it happen) to perpetuate colonization of the mind throughout the world.
We have much to undo and much to change. My Cherokee ancestors, for example, believed that differences are not to be feared, or controlled or overpowered, differences are a gift. We can learn from those who are different and differences are welcomed.
Those who are different have a knowledge and awareness we do not and cannot have. These differences are all pathways to our deeper knowings and we need them.
When I came to realize later in my life that I am a little over half-Cherokee, I could see how I was raised in a way different from the dominant culture. A major way was not to think or believe like a colonizer and to see differences as a possibility for growth. This, I believe, is why my ancestors allowed them to stay.
Yet, colonizing the people and their land, abhorrent as it was, was easier to accept than attempting to colonize a people’s mind and their spirit.
We have to draw the line somewhere.
And, colonization, from my perspective, is a belief and idea that is not only not useful (if it ever was), it is a belief/mind-set that needs no longer to have a place on this beautiful planet.
When our ideas and beliefs change, we have the possibility to grow and change.
We hear about ideas whose time has come – colonization is an idea whose time has gone!
When I became aware of my heritage, I assumed it would not only be an asset to me, it would be an asset to all those around me.
Imagine my surprise when others did not see the new me that way. I found that when before I had been the “darling” of my publishing house and they could not print enough of my books, they suddenly were not as interested in what I had to say.
Then, I realized that not only did the dominant culture want to “absorb” the native people, they seemed to want to annihilate us. I have been confused for years about this and still see this phenomenon happening in the U.S. and other places.
I wonder if it is based on the ideas, beliefs and agreements with colonization?
I know I have a lot more to learn from this exploration into colonization. Thank you Cunard for raising my consciousness on this important issue!
If you’re interested, I now have a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Anne-Wilson-Schaef/139859576205903?ref=hl