At the Intersections: A Postcolonialist Woman of Color Considers Western Feminism. (Women's of the World)

By Asher, Nina | Social Education, January-February 2003 | Go to article overview

At the Intersections: A Postcolonialist Woman of Color Considers Western Feminism. (Women's of the World)


Asher, Nina, Social Education


"Do you speak Spanish?" Do you speak English?" "But you speak perfect English. "You have a British accent" Huh? I was bewildered when, as a newcomer to the United States, I first encountered such questions and comments. I do not speak Spanish, I had always spoken English (along with other languages spoken in India such as Kutchchi, Marathi, Hindi, and Gujarati), and my accent is Indian not British. Such encounters, over a decade ago, as I was a beginning doctoral student in New York City, created new layers of identity for me. I began recognizing that, here in the United States, based only on my appearance, I may be variously construed as a Latina, an immigrant, or a non-English speaker. And so, in New York City, I began identifying myself as a "person of color" and a "South Asian woman," identities I had not needed in India. Thus, I began recognizing the context-specific negotiation of my own new identities.

Prior to coming to the United States to pursue doctoral studies, I had worked on educational research and intervention projects focused on certain marginalized groups in India. My interest in working with underrepresented peoples, combined with my emerging identification in the United States with the Asian American population, led me to write a dissertation in the area of Asian American education. As my scholarship evolved, I found myself expanding my horizons, drawing on critical, theoretical perspectives to write about identity, culture, representation, and multiculturalism in education. The most recent layer of my "scholarship identity" is reflected in my writings, which bring postcolonial and feminist perspectives to education. (1) Indeed, my identification as a "postcolonialist" is also personal. I was born in "postcolonial" India, and yet the language I learned to think in, speak, read, and write with the greatest ease was English. Yes, it is ironic and it reflects the fact that processes of decolonization are complicated by contradictions. Born and raised in the "East," I now teach and write in the "West: My scholarly critique of issues related to race, class, gender, identity, culture and so on is informed by my knowledge and synthesis of both contexts.

I begin my article for this special issue of Social Education dedicated to "Teaching about the Women of the World" with the brief sketch of the evolution of my racial/ethnic and professional identity in the United States for two main reasons. First, I believe that by situating myself at the outset, I offer the reader the opportunity to get to know the writer-even if only slightly--behind the text. And second, I wish to convey my experience of various "intersections"--such as race, marginality, and geographic context, as well as intellectual and scholarly endeavors--which I believe are significant considerations in teaching, learning, and writing about the "women of the [postcolonial] world" In the rest of the article, I "unpack" issues related to "Western feminism" as seen through a postcolonial, feminist lens by drawing on literature to discuss key theoretical issues related to curriculum and teaching, translating theory into practice via my teaching of multiculturalism here, in the "Deep South," and considering implications for practice at the K-12 level.

At the Intersections: Women of Color Speak to Feminism

Movements and historical turning points--such as the Indian independence movement, which led to the end of British colonial role in India in 1947, and the U.S. civil rights movement, which brought issues of race and equity to the forefront of national consciousness--are powerful signifiers of collective efforts to end particular forms of oppression. And although such movements are associated with specific historical periods, the efforts to address colonization, racial discrimination, and so on continued and evolved in the decades that followed. Early feminist straggles, which emerged in the United States in the wake of the civil rights movement, focused on equal rights for women as compared to men and, later, on consciousness-raising. …

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