Brexit and Trump: a Western postcolonial backlash

The West –whatever that might mean—entered long ago in an economic and moral crisis. And it has proven unable to cope with the postcolonial order of things in which the color of the passports recedes giving way to the color of the wallet.

The wealth of pre-WWII, nurtured with colonial resources and brown labor, was privatized at end of decolonization and enjoyed by the very few. The great majority, with an eye on their own scarcity and the other on putative imperial greatness, handed their hopes to preachers of the Golden Past.

Both Brexit and Donald Trump are symptoms of the exhaustion of the meager Western ‘democracy’ stroke by an economic recession. ‘Take Control’, ‘Make America Great Again’, or ‘Regain Independence’ are the slogans of the massive hangover of colonialism which has left a strong sense of white privilege, now filled with nationalist pride and borderline racism.

 

Post-colonial West

Colonialism was not only a process of conquest and domination. It was a system of power relations highly sensitive to cultural transformation that impacted both ends: the colonized and the colonizing. The historical age that started with decolonization –whatever that might mean—is not different. The contemporary interdependent world is characterized by its cultural hybridity and the multipolar global economic struggle that superseded the administrative.

Postcolonial hybridity has only been searched in techno-house clubs in Beirut or international primary schools in Hong Kong. However, postcolonialism dwells as well in the Buddhist substratum of animal rights movement in US West Coast or in the black African roots of soul and jazz music. Not only because of its globalized flavor, but because this cultural processes are deeply politicized and exhibit and unveil structures of domination.

Hence, understanding the postcolonial West is not only about curry in London and yoga in California. It is about questioning why Nike’s factories are in Bangladesh or how many Arabic words can speak the sizable community of Brits in Dubai. Postcolonial West is also about the global campign of PACBI; about the number of newspaper’ pages dedicated to Zika or whichever epidemic is on fashion at the moment; about the massive industry of international development and its whitewashing; or about in the incorporation of Sharia law in The Netherlands.

Limiting the analytical frameworks of postcoloniality to the former colony fails to recognize the massive cultural, political and economic impact that the loss of empire had over the metropolis. In fact, postcolonialism and globalization are two sides of a single coin. Dismissing postcolonial West not only reinforces the conceptual segregation of the West and the Rest, but reproduces the disciplinary hierarchy in which one belongs to the other but not vice versa. To avoid the opposition of Western fluid modernity versus Westernized Orient we should pay attention to two specific dynamics.

First, in the decades following WWII, military and administrative domination was replaced by a new system of economic world dependency, namely neo-liberalism. Second, identity politics continue to instill and nourish the self-abrogated feeling of leader of the world in a society that no longer has much to say. The result combines the privatization of wealth –both colonially inherited and newly produced— with the infatuation of an impoverished society, who believes the wealth of private companies are somehow connected to them.

 

Brave neo-world

After the brutal empowerment of brutal dictatorships, the financial system and the global flows of capital have proven to be even more effective instruments of domination. The Washington Consensus and its acolyte international institutions enshrined the neoliberal orthodoxy and underpinned a neocolonial order.

But the recipient institutions are not state structures anymore. They turned into private multinational cluster-corporations that expand their tentacles regardless of skin colors. They are owned by nameless legal personalities from the entire world “who” reside in Cayman Islands or Seychelles. Hence in this neo(liberal)colonialism there is no metropolitan rebate. The extracted wealth goes directly to individual pockets in fiscal paradises instead of enlarging Western grandeur.

The conflation of neo-liberalism with neo-colonialism may help us to understand the diminished role of nation-states in contemporary global politics as public interest has been replaced by economic fluctuation in favor of macro-corporations. The little interest that there is to regulate this strategies allowed this neoliberal orthodoxy to undermine areas of the world were human and labor rights were more or less protected.

In short the precariousness brought by this economic-cum-political postcolonial world order has cut loose the working class in the West pushing them to xenophobic populism that cry wolf against rapist, terrorist, and black beasts. The masquerade begins when we realize that these xenophobic leaders are the same corporate owners who drop their jobs for a more profitable neocolonial setting like China or Bangladesh.

 

Brexit and Trump

Despite the clear ever-increasing gap between elites and the people since the 80s, identity politics –read nationalism or sectarianism—still functions as the carrot on the stick in either side of the colonial divide. The difference is that Western working classes cling to a colonial nostalgia when they, despite of their poverty, felt superior to those ‘uncivilized’ peoples. There is a whole generation of white Westerners who were promised a world of privilege yielding the benefits of the past glories, be it the vintage British Empire, the European ‘mission civilizatrice’, or the Pax Americana.

This feeling of superiority –read white privilege—is so ingrained in Western societies that they naturalized the worsening of their economic life by voting neoliberal conservatives into office during recession. Ignorant of the largely global re-balance of world economy, Western societies weakened the state while preaching patriotic values. The easiest solution was, of course, blaming the migrants.

But blaming migration is not only a scapegoating strategy on the rampant crisis of the West; it is the very materialization of its inability to come to terms with its postcolonial self. The physical presence of social diversity has been paradoxically conceptualized as both the embodiment of its crisis and the illustration of its wealth. In other words: “we must be rich because they come to steal from us.”

 

The centrality of the periphery

Migration has undergone a series of attacks from all over the political spectrum. The financial pyramid hypocritically strikes against foreigners while benefitting from the salary cuts. Rightwingers ignore how culture works and psychotically holds to inexistent “pure” cultural values –they just don’t know better. And the left –if we can call it such—takes a bow to reactionary rhetoric and “regrets” their inability to “control” migration.

Guess what? Migration is here to stay and is something to cherish!

No Wilders, Trumps, Farages or LePens will stop migration with their hate ranting. In fact, understanding the postcolonial world –western or otherwise—starts by valuing migration and not surgically detaching immigration from emigration. The increasing interdependency, embodied in the global flow of people, capitals and ideas, is likely to continue normalizing diasporic settlements and intensifying the deterritorialization of culture.

The ‘solution’ to the rise of xenophobic reactionarianism in the West is not necessarily ‘Bregret’ or ‘Dump Trump’, but the acceptance of the new postcolonial world in which the West has to come to terms with its past and loss of world domination.

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