Submission: The Colonization of Academia of Colors’ Intellect

Guest writer Genie P. Wungsukit discusses the implicit effects of colonialism in academia and how it appears at UC San Diego.

People of color history and cultures are “critically” approached through the white perspectives and retold or, as the university calls it, “taught” through the white narratives. We are to be “discovered,” “studied,” and “research” by white academia.

White academia are the knowers, the authority, while the knowledge of different cultures is to be known, to be discovered. White academia and white institution are the “academics,” and every other culture and people of color intellects are to be studied. By the word “studied,” I mean approached by the white lens and picked apart through the white westerner norms.

The colonization of intellects appears everywhere in academia but is even more prominent in areas of study such as history which are heavily biased.

I came into the University of California, San Diego, as an undergraduate in Behavioural Neuroscience with a passion for reading and history. I have always been passionate about history because I genuinely believe we can only create a better future once we learned from our past mistakes.

I am a woman, an Asian woman. More specifically, I am half-Thai and half-Chinese. My grandparents were immigrants from China to Thailand. I was born in Thailand, where I spent most of my life until I moved to Oakland, California for high school. I am a first-generation immigrant to the United States. I am a first-generation college student. I am from a low socioeconomic background. I am a person of color. It is quite safe to say I don’t have many privileges going for me, yet throughout my life, it has always been my dream to pursue higher education because I truly believe in the power of knowledge. I believe in intellectualism and curiosity. I believed that academia was a place I can learn, be curious, and ask questions.

I enrolled in a class titled “East Asia & The West: 1279-1911”. A 10 weeks course, covering 632 years of history in China, Japan, and Korea. The textbook was written by 3 white women, taught by an endowed, white men professor who graduated from Harvard and taught at Oxford (Two very traditionally old, white, and wealthy institutions) with the teaching assistant who also happens to be a white man.

When people of color histories are “studied” only through the white lens and further research in academia only cites the white intellects, disregarding the primary source, the authority, and diversity of that culture; we are yet again — colonized. But this time, it is our intellects that are colonized.

I am in no way saying that a white person is not allowed to have an interest or pursue a study of another culture, but they should not be given the authority to tell the narrative of another culture. Anyone could be an “expert” on a subject they so choose to study, and I will not doubt their knowledge with the credentials, but they should not be allowed to colonized people of color intellects and retold our history as if their own. White academia should not be the default of academics in the age where we preach diversity in higher education. 

How can I, as an Asian woman scholar, sit in a lecture hall, and listen to a white man talk about my history like he owns it?

The exclusivity and unacknowledged embedded institutional racism, which are deeply rooted in academic culture have made me skeptical of the value we give higher education.

As the next generation of scholars and a woman of color who wishes to pursue a career in academia, I still hope that we will put in the effort to decolonize intellects. I hope we diversify higher institutions. Hire more qualified academia of color, publish more academia of color, cite more academia of colour, tenure more academia of color, and honor the intellect that academia of color has at the same level of any white academia.

To the white academia, I hope that you will be able to recognize that you are not the authority figure of history and academics. I hope that you will know you do not own our history and our narrative. I hope that you will be able to realize that and step down for academia of color. I hope that you acknowledge that we all need to start decolonizing the intellects.

It could be naiveté, or it could be the hopeless optimism I still have in humanity, but I still believe that we can decolonize the intellects in every field of study. I hope this piece of writing can be the starting point to a larger conversation in how the narratives being used by predominantly white educational institutions are perpetuating the hegemonic white default of humanity.

Genie P. Wungsukit is a Cognitive and Behavioural Neuroscience undergraduate minoring in Ethnic Studies with the focus on Asian American Studies at the University of California, San Diego.

Graphic Courtesy of the Benicial Historical Museum

3 thoughts on “Submission: The Colonization of Academia of Colors’ Intellect

  1. The author is absolutely right, but this sort of idea is not going to gain any traction amongst white academics. It’s not even entirely about race or gender or class. Western institutions of higher learning are essentially jokes at this point—run by and for a group of self-anointed experts who stroke each other’s egos. It’s all one giant farce marketed as some sort of noble pursuit of the ‘life of the mind.’ In actuality, there is very little curiosity amongst academics and very little actual learning going on in these places. Gramsci discusses a lot of this in his works. The people who go into academia were the aberrancies, the ones who were too afraid or too inept to embrace the world and thus have very little insight into the human condition. Have you ever wondered why the culture in academia is so lame, the output of academics so derivative and uninspired? It’s a group of milquetoast rejects who didn’t know how to be human, so they went to grad school where they could all engage in a bit of intellectual masturbation as a way of coping with their earlier social failures. Take them outside of academia and the delusion quickly dissipates. I wouldn’t get too worked up about this. The world is a big place with some incredibly smart people from all walks of life who aren’t a part of this silly system. It’s only when you buy into the illusions of academia that you lose sight of this reality.

  2. Although the author makes some interesting points, I disagree with the overall conclusion. Barring people from positions and areas of study because of their race or cultural background is detrimental to the communication of ideas and knowledge. Making sweeping statements such as, “I hope that you will be able to realize [you do not own our history and our narrative] and step down for academia of color” encourages a segregation of ideas where only certain groups of people have authority over intellectual matter. These implications are on a slippery slope where ethnicity and cultural upbringing can create stark divisions such that the human experience cannot be shared in its entirety to everyone. Overall, the author makes strong arguments that viewing history solely through the white lens is harmful to gaining a multifaceted view. I strongly agree that universities should have highly diverse faculty to facilitate strong intellectual discourse, but stating that white people are inherently inferior to certain topics of discussion is the wrong solution.

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