It’s Still Bad

That is a sentiment that comes up a lot when studying late colonialism that needs to be defended constantly. Certain actions taken under liberal imperialism– imperialism supposedly guided by liberal Enlightenment thinking– of the British raj, which I study a lot, necessitate it. The sentiment is dredged up when thinking about those historical instances in the colonial encounter when the imperialist state attempts to ‘reform’ social practices of its subjects, but it’s directed in multiple directions. An oppressive state can play a role in legislating and enforcing the restriction on certain indigenous social practices that most people would deem reprehensible, like child marriage. Yet that doesn’t mean the colonial state is good. “It’s still bad.” Digging deeper into the history often reveals that the state is usually not invested in the plight of the vulnerable out of empathy or humanitarianism devoid of ulterior motives. Embedded in acts of liberal imperialism are justifications of the continuance of colonial rule over ‘backward’ ‘primitive’ ‘disgusting’ natives. Usually, the real motivation for the legal action taken (or pretended to be taken, crucially) is precisely this justification. The vulnerable become instruments in perpetuating their own oppression, in the name of being saved.

But this is not an easily defensible position to assume at times because others may think you’re defending the reprehensible practices purely for the sake of being anti-imperialist, rather than critiquing the notion that a colonial state is ever truly sympathetic to the suffering of its subjects. That is not the case, please. We don’t defend the practice. “It’s still bad.” We defend the right to claim our forwardness, that it’s not an ahistorical us that is wrong but an us within history, an us that is being yoked by the neck by those who benefit from our staying in the past, that we are and have been in-process, just like any other society, even the ones that claim legitimate rule over us due to their own enlightenment.

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