Shakti Perspectives: Maneka
What is the function of narrative and the way in which we teach it? As an educator, beginning to answer this question holistically is impossible without looking at it through the lens of power, identity and thus self-actualisation.
All my students are children of the diaspora. Within them, exists a complex interplay between dual identities that they juggle and modify subconsciously given the demands and expectations of a particular context. However, the curriculum that they are to learn only presents a single narrative, a single truth; one through which they are rarely represented or considered beyond the projection of the white imagination.
What are the implications of this?
It means that my students rarely write creative stories with protagonists that look like them. It means when I ask them to write about their motherland, they often only write about war or violence; as though a postcolonial stereotype is the only version of themselves that they have to offer. It means that when they adopt a credible persona for an oral presentation, the imagined expert or person of power is a “John Smith” or a “Sue Brown”, never a name that sounds like theirs. But how could it be? They only project and replicate what they see; a limited and inaccurate view of the human experience.
It means that they are more willing to sacrifice aspects of their cultural identities within a system that doesn’t necessarily find much value in it, and thus more likely to reinforce these ideas towards other people of colour.
So when we talk about “decolonising” the curriculum, we don’t just mean adding in texts about slavery, oppression and navigating poverty. We mean adding in perspectives that reflect the history and knowledge that came before that. If we are to attribute Pythagorus to his theorem, why do we not credit Brahmagupta to the quadratic equations used in schools every day? Students should not just learn about the white men of the Enlightenment era, they should also learn of the black voices that prompted it. We should not just teach students about Greek philosophy without considering the Egyptian influences that allowed for it. We cannot teach Australian history without the inception; the custodians of this land who are arguably the earth’s oldest living civilisation.
Learning a more diverse history makes us understand our present world a lot better. It allows us to consider how we got here, the mistakes that we have made and varying trajectories we can imagine for the future.
And for my students, it means they are able to imagine themselves as the protagonists of their own stories. It means that they do not subconsciously equate whiteness with prestige. That they do not figuratively shrug their shoulders when their names are mispronounced. It means they can consider their culture as not just an elective, but a necessary component of their education. It means they consider themselves not part of a minority, but part of a vast history that stretches far beyond the last 500 years of modern history.
It means that they can consider themselves powerful even if they do not sacrifice or compromise their identity for white approval. That they see themselves as necessary, important and imperative, just as they are.