- Who Has the Epistemological Advantage?:A Reply to R. Aída Hernández Castillo
dra. aída hernández castillo has scholars a reason to worry in her Coss Dialogue lecture "Against Discursive Colonialism: Intercultural Dialogues as a Path to Decolonizing Feminist Anthropology." My response philosophically feels around for—and happily fails to find—any boundaries enclosing Hernández Castillo's self-described aim to "decolonize" her feminism (Multiple InJustices 27). It begins with a story.
In an interview with Krista Tippett, Bishop Desmond Tutu recounted an experience that perfectly illustrated a colonized mind. While onboard a flight from Lagos to Jos in Nigeria, Tutu proudly noticed that both of the pilots were black. But as soon as the plane hit turbulence, his years of internalized anti-black racism made him wonder: "[T]here's no white men in that cockpit. Are those blacks going to be able to make it?" In a moment of doubt, Bishop Tutu returned to the story he'd grown up with. The world is full of accounts like this, which reveal a sliver of a colonized mind. In Latin America, Marxists, liberation theologians, and feminists have worked hard to re-educate people out of their colonization. They have attempted to decolonize internally racist minds. But after years of working to decolonize other people's minds, Hernández Castillo realized that her own mind needed work.
As an "unofficial chronicler of indigenous women's movements," Hernández Castillo's work acts as a window into several worlds: women's prisons, the female arm of the Zapatistas, and Indigenous Guatemaltecas (Multiple InJustices 44–45). She began her anthropological study, perhaps as many young anthropologists, having gotten a good Marxist education that hinged on the concept of false consciousness. You just don't understand your situation, mijita (little daughter); we are here to rescue your colonized mind from your racist and sexist beliefs about religion, reproduction, and ritual. Hernández Castillo describes the process of awakening from this and similar types of ideology [End Page 91] throughout her career. As scholars daring enough to risk it learn, living with other human beings usually complicates one's theories. Since 1990, Hernández Castillo has focused on transforming herself and her scholarship through what she calls "critical anthropology" in Guatemala and Mexico. The goal of her work since then has been to "analyze indigenous women's appropriation of discourses on rights, the development of their own conceptualizations in relation to a dignified life, and how spaces are used within state and community justice in their struggle against violence" (Multiple InJustices 28).
Hernández Castillo came to find the old model of anthropology (and perhaps also theology and philosophy) "paternalistic" because it assumed a false consciousness on the part of Indigenous people—the idea that the Indigenous need to be awakened, and that non-Indigenous intellectuals could awaken them ("Against Discursive Colonialism" 65). Conscientización, which has been a major concept in Latin America, was called into question by Hernández Castillo in her 2016 book, Multiple InJustices: Indigenous Women, Law, and Political Struggle in Latin America (37–38). This concept, conscientización, was made famous by Paulo Freire in the 1970s and is somewhat analogous to consciousness-raising by US feminists. It is a facilitated but group-led, supposedly horizontal process by which oppressed people come to see the ropes that bind them. It is an awakening to injustice, a loosening of the master's narrative over the slave. Today, maybe it is the equivalent of "getting #woke." New theories supplant old ones: the Indigenous are not lazy, they are oppressed; they are not criminals, they are criminalized; they are in prison disproportionately because they are brown, not because they commit a disproportionate number of crimes. A new consciousness is something for which the oppressed often become willing to fight, like the Zapatistas in Chiapas. Never again, they promise, will they believe the racist thoughts in their heads. But, like Desmond Tutu, it might take years to unlearn their self-distrust, which has become instinctual.
Marx's historical materialism went out of fashion decades ago, to be replaced by a new "infallible" theory, says Hernández Castillo...