I’ve seen so much bad faith discourse today that could easily be solved by everyone acknowledging that multiple things can be true at once because the world is actually really complex.
Still stewing about this. Like… everybody wants there to be some sort of definitive Maslow’s Hierarchy of Oppression for all situations instead of accepting that different power dynamics can simultaneously exist on multiple axes. And I’m sorry but it just doesn’t work that way.
Let’s look at my grandfather as an example:
He was an Indian man born under colonial British rule who supported the Indian National Army, an armed force formed by Indian nationalists and Imperial Japan in 1942 in Southeast Asia during World War II. He was studying and working in the US during the war and wasn’t able to return to India in order to fight with them, but I know he wanted to. And on one hand, fighting to end British colonial rule in India was 100% a noble goal. I’m fully down with giving a hearty “fuck you” to British imperialism.
But on the other hand… the Japanese were an Axis power with their own history of imperialism, and were endeavouring to establish even greater dominion over China and Korea (the latter of which had already been annexed by Japan in 1910). And on top of that, they were allied with, y’know, the Nazis, which… as a Jewish person, I have to just say: Not great, Bob!
I mean, you had this Indian military force that was fighting against British colonialism, but they were doing it by aligning with another imperialist power, who in turn were aligned with the fucking Nazis, who the British were trying stop. In fact, Subhas Chandra Bose, the leader of the INA, actually lived in Berlin from 1941-1943 during the height of the final solution, and had even met with Hitler and other Nazi officials about forming alliances to defeat Britain, until he finally came to the conclusion that “the new nationalism of Germany is not only narrow and selfish but arrogant.” And yeah, it was definitely fucked up that Bose spent time working on an Indian alliance with Hitler to the point where he was living in Nazi Germany for two fucking years, but on the other hand, he was mostly there because the British threw him in jail for leading mass protests against their own imperialism, and the Germans strategically gave him asylum with the goal of turning British Indian POW against the Allied Powers (they totally would have invaded India later if given the chance but I digress). And meanwhile, Churchill, while fighting off the Nazis—which, again: good—was also enacting policies that contributed to (or at least exacerbated) a major famine in Bengal that killed 3 million people, which didn’t bother him at all because he was a massive anti-Indian racist who said doing anything to help was pointless because we (Indian people) “breed like rabbits.”
So anyway, back to my grandfather. He was an Indian man who wanted to end the centuries-long occupation of his country by the British by any means necessary, to the point where he considered fighting for an anti-British army that was aligned with the Axis powers. And yet… he was also madly in love with his Jewish wife, and the proud father of a Jewish-Indian son, and he hated the Nazis, because, y’know, people tend not to like regimes who want to murder their family.
So what do you take from all that?
I feel like so many of you just want to see things in black and white, and decide if somebody is stanned or cancelled. But there are so many situations where you can’t do that—where things are grey or dualities exist at the same time.
The whole thing with the INA and the Japanese and the Nazis and British – it’s like a snake eating itself. I can’t fault my grandfather’s desire to join the INA as a way of overthrowing the British, and I also can’t wholly support it. It’s not quite wrong and not quite right, and I’m saying that as somebody with 80 years of history in the rearview mirror, which means at that particular moment in time, it was probably even more unclear and confusing.
And sure, there are plenty of things in history that are more clear cut. In If you look at the fight between the Brits and Nazis in microcosm, obviously the Brits are in the right, because fucking Nazis. And if you look at the fight between Brits and the people of India, obviously the Brits are the wankers, because fuck colonialism. But a lot of things are much greyer or amorphous than that, and sometimes we either need to accept that we’ve been presented with a Gordian knot or agree that there are situations where multiple things are true at once.
We can hold indentured labourers in the 1800s accountable for their role in colonialism and also empathise with the systemic powerlessness they sang about in work songs, and neither cancel nor absolve them, but instead learn about history and also look at parallels between then and now, where disenfranchised people in the West often benefit from sweat shop labour abuses abroad without necessarily being able to immediately do anything to stop it.
We can be honest about the fact that American soldiers of all races in the Korean and Vietnam wars aided in unleashing extreme imperialist violence against the people of those nations, but also empathise with the fact that many of them, especially Black soldiers, were only there because of systemic racism at home—and we can also acknowledge that even in spite of all this, many Asians are still horribly anti-Black/contribute to the systemic oppression of Black people, instead of having useless fights over whether a fictional Black soldier in the Korean war should be the protagonist of a show or not.
And we can acknowledge that sometime two disabled people will have competing needs that can’t necessarily be reconciled, instead of declaring that one of them is being ableist against the other.
Sometimes nobody is the hero and nobody is the villain, and sometimes we’re both all at once, and the sooner everybody recognises that, the sooner I can stop banging my head against a fucking wall.
hey. this is a good post.