Colonial mentality

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A colonial mentality is the internalized attitude of ethnic or cultural inferiority felt by people as a result of colonization, i.e. them being colonized by another group.[1] It corresponds with the belief that the cultural values of the colonizer are inherently superior to one's own.[2] The term has been used by postcolonial scholars to discuss the transgenerational effects of colonialism present in former colonies following decolonization.[3][4] It is commonly used as an operational concept for framing ideological domination in historical colonial experiences.[5][6] In psychology colonial mentality has been used to explain instances of collective depression, anxiety, and other widespread mental health issues in populations that have experienced colonization.[7][8]

Notable Marxist influences on the postcolonial concept of colonial mentality include Frantz Fanon's works on the fracturing of the colonial psyche through Western cultural domination,[9] as well as the concept of cultural hegemony developed by Italian Communist Party Founder Antonio Gramsci.[10]

Influences from Marxism[edit]

Frantz Fanon[edit]

Frantz Fanon's Marxist writings on imperialism, racism, and decolonizing struggles have influenced post-colonial discussions about the internalization of colonial prejudice. Fanon first tackled the problem of, what he called, the "colonial alienation of the person"[11] as a mental health issue through psychiatric analysis.[12]

In The Wretched of the Earth (French: Les Damnés de la Terre), published in 1961, Fanon used psychiatry to analyze how French colonization and the carnage of the Algerian War had mentally affected Algerians' self-identity and mental health.[13] The book argues that during the period of colonization there was a subtle and constant mental pathology that developed within the colonial psyche.[14] Fanon argued that the colonial psyche is fractured by the lack of mental and material homogeneity as a result of the colonial power's Western culture being pressured onto the colonized population despite the existing material differences between them.[15]

Here Fanon expands traditional Marxist understandings of historical materialism to explore how the dissonance between material existence and culture functions to transform the colonized people through the mold of the Western bourgeoisie.[16] This meant that the native Algerian came to view their own traditional culture and identity through the lens of colonial prejudice. Fanon observed that average Algerians internalized and then openly repeated remarks that were in line with the institutionalized racist culture of the French colonizers; dismissing their own culture as backward due to the internalization of Western colonial ideologies.[17]

According to Fanon this results in a destabilizing existential conflict within the colonized culture:

"In the West, the family circle, the effects of education, and the relatively high standard of living of the working class provide a more or less efficient protection against the harmful action of these pastimes. But in an African country, where mental development is uneven, where the violent collision of two worlds has considerably shaken old traditions and thrown the universe of the perceptions out of focus, the impressionability and sensibility of the Young African are at the mercy of the various assaults made upon them by the very Nature of Western Culture."[18]

British India[edit]

Territorial extent of British India.

During the period of the British Raj, proponents of British Imperialism typically regarded native Indian culture with disdain and supported European colonization as a beneficial "civilizing mission".[19] Colonization was largely framed as an act of charity aimed at uplifting the "uncivilized" Indian, rather than an act of direct exploitation and domination; which targeted native cultural practices deemed to be "barbaric" by colonial administrators.[20]

For example, the colonial policies barring the self-immolating practice of sati,[21] and the influence of British missionaries in discouraging perceived acts of idolatry,[22] the latter of which has been noted by some scholars to have played a large role in the developments of the modern definition of Hinduism.[23][24] These claims base their assumptions on the lack of a unified Hindu identity prior to the colonial period,[25] and modern Hinduism's unprecedented outward focus on a monotheistic Vedanta worldview.[24][26] These developments have been read as the result of colonial prejudices which discouraged aspects of Indian religions which differed too greatly from the template of Christianity.[27] It has been noted that the prominence of the Bhagavad Gita as a primary religious text in Hindu discourse was a historical response to colonial criticisms of Indian culture.[26] Europeans found that the Gita had more in common with their own Christian Bible, leading to the denouncement of Hindu practices more distantly related to monotheistic world views; with native subjects continually characterizing their faith as the equal of Christianity in belief (more clear monotheism) and structure (providing an equivalent primary sacred text).[28]

Hindu nationalism developed in the 19th century as an internalization of European ideological domination; with local elites aiming to make themselves and Indian society modern by "emulating the West".[29] This led to the emergence of what some have called 'neo-Hinduism':[30] consisting of reformist rhetoric transforming Hindu tradition from above, disguised as a revivalist call to return to the untainted origins of the faith.[29] Reflecting the same arguments made by Christian missionaries, who argued that the more superstitious elements of Hindu practice were responsible for corrupting the potential rational philosophy of the faith (i.e. the more Christian-like sentiments).[31] Moving the definitions of Hindu practice away from more overt idol worshiping, reemphasizing the concept of Brahman as a monotheistic divinity, and focusing more on the figure of Krishna in Vaishnavism due to his role as a messianic type figure (more inline with European beliefs) which makes him a suitable alternative to the Christian figure of Jesus Christ.[26][29][30][32]

BJP supporters march in Kerala.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India's current ruling party, follows this tradition of nationalistic Hinduism (Hindutva), and promotes an Indian national identity infused with neo-Vedantic thought influenced by this historical colonial mentality.[33][34]

Critics have claimed that British writer Rudyard Kipling's portrayals of Indian characters in his works generally supported the colonialist view that colonized people were incapable of surviving without the help of Europeans, describing these portrayals as racist.[35] In his famous poem "The White Man's Burden", Kipling directly makes this point by romanticizing British colonialism in India and elsewhere in the world.[36][37] Kipling's poem idolizes Western culture as entirely rational and civilized, while treating non-white cultures as 'childlike' and 'demonic'.[38] Similar sentiments have been interpreted in Kipling's other works. Notably defending the Second Anglo-Boer War as a "white man's war";[39] presenting 'whiteness' as a morally and culturally superior trait of the West, and using it as a legitimizing for British colonial expansion and rule.[40] His portrayal of Indians in his Jungle Book stories have also been criticized as examples of the chauvinistic infantilization of colonized peoples in popular culture.[41] Generally, fiction, such as Kipling's works, have contributed towards colonial mentality in the ways that the colonized people in these fictional narratives are made submissive to and dependent on white colonizers.[42][43]

Individuals of Indian ancestry who adopt European culture, internalizing these colonial prejudices, have sometimes been labeled "Macaulay's Children". The term is usually used in a derogatory fashion, connoting disloyalty to India. It derives from 19th century British historian, politician, and colonial administrator Thomas Macaulay, who regarded British culture as superior to Indian culture and who famously argued in favor of replacing Indian languages/dialects with English as the medium of instruction in educational institutions.[44][45] The consequences of this development can still be felt in contemporary India, where the use of English, as opposed to Hindi, still carries with it a level of superiority.[46] Nationalist politicians have campaigned and pushed forward policy changes to promote Hindi official use in education and media over English which ironically was protested against in the south as Hindi imposition in the vein of colonialism.[47]

Spanish Empire[edit]

In the overseas territories administered by the Spanish Empire, racial mixing between Spaniard settlers and the indigenous peoples resulted in a prosperous union later called Mestizo. There were limitations in the racial classes only to people from African descent, this mainly for being descendants of slaves under a current state of slavery. Unlike Mestizo, castizos or indigenous people who were protected by the Leyes de las Indias "to be treated like equals, as citizens of the Spanish Empire". It was completely forbidden to enslave the indígenas under the death penalty charge.

Spanish Empire, 1824

Mestizos and other mixed raced combinations were categorized into different castas by viceroyalty administrators. This system was applied to Spanish territories in the Americas and the Philippines, where large populations of mixed raced individuals made up the increasing majority of the viceroyalty population (until the present day).[48][49]

Casta painting showing couples of different races arranged hierarchically, and the resulting racial status of their children.

These racial categories punished those with Black African or Afro-Latin. With those of European descent given privilege over these other mixtures. As a result of this system, people of African descent struggled to downplay their indigenous heritage and cultural trappings, in order to appear superficially more Spanish or natives.[50][51] With these internalized prejudices individuals' choices of clothes, occupations, and forms of religious expression.[51][52] Those of mixed racial identities who wanted to receive the institutional benefits of being Spanish (such as higher educational institutions and career opportunities), could do so by suppressing their own cultures and acting with "Spanishness".[53] This mentality lead to commonplace racial forgery in Latin America, often accompanied by legitimizing oral accounts of a Spanish ancestor and a Spanish surname. Most mixed-white and white people in Latin America have Spanish surnames inherited from Spanish ancestors, while most other Latin Americans who have Spanish names and surnames acquired them through the Christianization and Hispanicization of the indigenous and African slave populations by Spanish friars.[54][55][56]

However, most initial attempts at this were only partially successful, as Amerindian groups simply blended Catholicism with their traditional beliefs.[57] Syncretism between native beliefs and Christianity is still largely prevalent in Indian and Mestizo communities in Latin America.[58] On the other hand, the Spaniards did not impose their language to the degree they did their religion, and the Roman Catholic Church even evangelized in Quechua, Nahuatl, Guarani, etc., contributing to the expansion of these Amerindian languages and equipping them with writing systems.[59]


Prior to the arrival by the Spaniards (1565-1898), the Sulu Archipelago (located in southern Philippines) was a colony of the Majapahit Empire (1293–1527) based in Indonesia. The Americans were the last country to colonize the Philippines (1898–1946) and nationalists claim that it continues to act as a neo-colony of the US despite its formal independence in 1946.[60][61] In the Philippines colonial mentality is most evident in the preference for Filipino mestizos (primarily those of mixed native Filipino and white ancestry, but also mixed indigenous Filipinos and Chinese, and other ethnic groups) in the entertainment industry and mass media, in which they have received extensive exposure despite constituting a small fraction of the population.[62][63][64]

The Cádiz Constitution of 1812 automatically gave Spanish citizenship to all Filipinos regardless of race.[60] The census of 1870 stated that at least one-third of the population of Luzon had partial Hispanic ancestry (from varying points of origin and ranging from Latin America to Spain).[65]

The combined number of all types of white mestizos or Eurasians is 3.6%, according to a genetic study by Stanford University.[66] This is contradicted by another genetic study done by California University which stated that Filipinos possess moderate amounts of European admixture.[67]

Evidence suggests that fair skin was a characteristic of the cloistered ladies called binukot, who were often kept indoors from a very early age. In historical epics of the Philippines their fair skin was presented as a standard of beauty among the upper class.[68] Some cite this as proof that desire for light-colored skin predates overseas influences. One of the more adverse physical consequences in the idealization and acceptance of colonial mentality can be seen in the high rate of consumer demand for skin bleaching products used by some indigenous women and a smaller percentage of indigenous men and dark-skinned mestizas and mestizos, in the Philippines.[62][69] Demand in the Philippines and in some other tropical countries continue to be widespread.[70]

See also[edit]


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