(Book Excerpt) Wild Politics by Susan Hawthorne

WP Colour 300 6cmUnderstanding diversity involves imagining oneself differently. It means learning to unpack the assumptions we pick up through our life experiences. Taking a similar stance to Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999), Fantu Cheru points to the process of decolonising “the imagination” (2000: 123). Cheru goes on to argue that global change relies on the recognition that “poor people’s knowledge about their own reality . . . counts most, even when that local perspective appears on the surface to be inconsistent with (or less relevant than) the analysis and wishes coming from the North” (2000: 130).

Vandana Shiva argues that because many Third World women, “tribals” and peasants have been left out of the colonising process of “development”, they have escaped the mental colonisation and, as a result “are in a privileged position to make the invisible visible” (1989: 46). The poor also challenge the western notion of poverty; indigenous Australians and indigenous Mexicans (Coburn 2000: 13) argue for the significance of cultural and spiritual richness as an integral part of material wealth. This is not to suggest that material poverty is acceptable, but many indigenous groups are fighting for their immaterial welfare which they refuse to give up in exchange for material wealth. Ashis Nandy argues that the slave’s standpoint is the one we must choose because the slave “represents a higher order cognition which perforce includes the master as human, whereas the master’s cognition has to exclude the slave except as a ‘thing’” (Shiva 1989: 53).The difficulty the dominant group has in seeing the knowledge of the marginalised is what I call Dominant Culture Stupidities (Hawthorne 1996a, 1997). This syndrome is widespread among people who belong to several dominant cultures: white, male, able-bodied, heterosexual, rich and mobile are some of the groups most prone to the syndrome. It comes about as a result of not having to think about the consequences of one’s actions. Examples are easy to find: the many men who do not take account of or responsibility for the consequences of sexual activity with women; the rich who can ignore the cost of petrol or milk or rent in a way that the poor cannot; the able-bodied who do not notice steps which are entirely inaccessible to those using wheelchairs. Similarly, whiteness is a prevailing norm in western European-based societies, and lack of knowledge about the contribution to history of non-Europeans remains the norm; lesbians and gays often “pass” for straight, and heterosexuals who accept the dominant culture ideology create other relationships such as mother/daughter or sister/sister to account for close relationships between two women.Membership of the dominant culture goes hand-in-hand with political ideology. There is nothing essential or necessary about the connection. Nor is membership of the diversity matrix any guarantee of increased awareness. It is an advantage which is available to those whose life experience gives them access to multiple views of the world.All these sensitivities can result in two strategies for survival among members of the diversity matrix: either they recognise across cultures and communities the systematised oppressions they face and develop solidarity; or they become fragmented, alienated and despise other dispossessed peoples. The first contributes to collective survival; the second will sometimes promote the survival of an individual or small group at the expense of everyone else. pp. 46-47.

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