Presenting the Cultural Imperialism Bingo Card

- 20 comments

And… here’s the unveiling ceremony of the project that’s been keeping a bunch of us busy, aka the Cultural Imperialism Bingo Card. With many thanks to everyone involved, who were quite willing to jump through a lot of hoops (some of them last minute!).


If you think colonialism is dead… think again. Globalisation has indeed made the world smaller–furthering the dominance of the West over the developing world, shrinking and devaluing local cultures, and uniformising everything to Western values and Western ways of life. This is a pernicious, omnipresent state of things that leads to the same unfounded things being said, over and over, to people from developing countries and/or on developing countries.

It’s time for this to stop. Time for the hoary, horrid misrepresentation clichés to be pointed out and examined; and for genuine, non-dismissive conversations to start.

Accordingly, here’s a handy bingo card for Western Cultural Imperialism–and we wish we could say we’ve made it all up, but unfortunately every single comment on this card was seen on the Internet.

Card designed by Aliette de Bodard, Joyce Chng, Kate Elliott, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, @requireshate, Charles Tan, @automathic and @mizHalle. Launch orchestrated with the help of Zen Cho and Ekaterina Sedia in addition to above authors (and an army of willing signal boosters whom we wish to thank very much!)

Would very much appreciate signal boosting of any kinds (reposts, links, RTs, …). Thanks in advance!

20 comments

  1. Could you maybe do a follow-up post explaining, in words of one syllable, why each of these is silly/patronising/wrong?

    a) It would be a useful resource to point cultural imperialists to when they wonder why you just shouted “bingo”!

    b) In some cultures, saying someone is being daft without explaining why is considered impolite :P

    c) There are a couple where I can’t quite put my finger on what’s wrong, and I’d like to know for future reference.

  2. Corkscrew > they basically all boil down to either:
    I know your culture better than you do;
    Western ideas are empirically ‘right’ or inherent parts of human nature; and
    Your culture is here to serve ours like a tourist attraction.

    Going through all 25 one by one is a hell of a job!

  3. Corkscrew, yup, what Dylan said (also about the 25 explanations being a hell of a job :) ). If you tell me which ones are problematic for you specifically, I can try and explain, but I certainly won’t do the 25!

  4. In the “Only US POCs are qualified…” one, are you saying “only United States POCs” or you saying one POC saying to another, “Only us POCs are qualified…”?

  5. No, I mean United States POCs. The card has been proofed, and I don’t think there are any typos in it (knock on wood…)

  6. As Corkscrew asked, I’d appreciate an explanation of why appreciating other peoples/cultures (not in a touristy sense) is considered Colonialism: ‘poor’ (material judgment, I get that)…but ‘happy,’ ‘genuine,’ ‘welcome us like family’…I have that same regard for Westerners I meet who respond/react/live in that manner.

    Thanks -

  7. Because I have time, am totally amused and believe any avenue for mocking is appropriate: here is my take on the meanings. There are a few I couldn’t say though.

    Left to right, top to bottom.
    One: We are not equipped to judge whether or not someone else is authentic.
    Two: Assuming that the majority race in any country will have the upper hand. Allow me to introduce you to South Africa and Guatemala.
    Three: Assuming that the West lives in a true democracy, assuming that the democracy we have will be good for everyone (because I feel awesome right now, do you?)
    Four: YOUR INDI-GEN-OUS WIS-DOM HAS HELPED ME BIG MUCH TIME. *Bad ‘sign’ language* I totally had enough time to understand the finer points in my eight week vacation. I can go back and spread the word now.
    Five: I don’t understand how you guys value money.
    Six: You’re too cultured and intelligent to be from ‘over there’.
    Seven: … What do you mean racist?! YOU’RE THE ONE THAT DECIDED TO IDENTIFY YOURSELF AS POC ON THE INTERNET. Why do you need to feel DIFFERENT?! Now whose being racist?!
    Eight: Hey there South America, how’ve you been enjoying all the ‘help’ from the United States over the past 50 years, oh wait. They funded coups and ensured the people’s democratic choices were overthrown? Oh, well… um… lets just go talk to Afghanistan, Vietnam and most of Africa… er. Perhaps not.
    Nine: You see, I took a first year Anthropology class and damned if I would have gotten a better grade if my professor could just shut up about whatever those ‘ethnocentric glasses’ were. God that was annoying. Got in the way of my brilliance.
    Ten: Your simple minded acceptance has given me peace, but alas, I must return to Westernlandia where our cunning fiendishness would dupe you suckers so fast… Stay here. Where you’re safe! Stay innocent!
    Eleven: Di-a-lec-t? I only know ‘Lan-gua-ges’ and you’re not speaking mine. Cockney wasn’t English either, neither is Yorkshire or Canadian or American English.
    Twelve: Ugh, we’re talking about WESTERN racism here. It’s different and better than your racist experiences IF you even have any, part of the majority race as I assume you are in your ‘home country’.
    Thirteen: HAHA, your life chances are significantly deteriorated from what they would have been, and mine are significantly better because my country trod all over yours? Wellllll that’s all in the past then eh? Pip pip cheerio!
    Fourteen: (I say this shamefacedly as I’m basically quoting my fourteen year old self, this is just one example) KAWAIIIIIIII, Watashi wa Nihongo ga daisuki desu!, Everything there is sugoi! I’ve learned about their culture and their history and wear a hello kitty backpack, I am the authority on Japan.
    Fifteen: You know, there are too many options for me to pick the best one for this. I would assume it be about Westerners assuming they’ve been welcomed like family and then acting like family.
    Sixteen: Also not something I’ve studied or experienced. Too many to say.
    Seventeen: OH trust me. If you’re not feeling oppressed now. you WILL. *sage nods* What do you mean you experienced it differently, oh poor foreigner, you just think you did.
    Eighteen: What about… OUR FREEEEEEEDOMMMMMMMMMM??!?!?!?!!
    Nineteen: Well the first thing here is to get these ladies some FREEDOM and get them out of those robes. In FACT. Because we’re certain they just don’t know the joy of feeling the gaze of men on their hineys, lets just ban the offending fabric and make anyone who wears one pay a fine. That’ll work.
    Twenty: They.. .they don’t have money? But where are their dollars?! How can they be happy?! Indeed, this behaviour I’m seeing. It seems happy to me. How can this be?
    Twenty one: Come on. Let’s just say that these things I’ve decided are important are UNIVERSAL? Why aren’t you adhering to them. I just told you they were universal.
    Twenty two: Another thing that I’m not familiar with and couldn’t say.
    Twenty three: … this one’s just perfect as it is IMHO.
    Twenty four: Yes. This shall win me rhetorical points. I see clearly now, all I have to do is bring in my superior knowledge of this person’s culture to their own. All the winning, all for me.
    Twenty five: My perception of these people is that they are offensive to my cultural assumptions about greed and pushiness. They have made a misstep!

    And finally. Twenty six: I totally knew what you guys were thinking when you made this graph. I took an anthropology class!

  8. :) Sisi, wow, thank you for this, that’s pretty awesome. I can’t claim to speak for everyone, as the card collected a number of sayings from a variety of people, but I can certainly elucidate 22 because I put it on the card: there have been an astonishing number of people pointing out that the reason Hollywood movies sell everywhere in the world is because they’re *better* than any local production (which isn’t the main reason. The main reason is Hollywood’s pushy marketing, up to and including buying multiplexes abroad and striking aggressive deals with local distributors–combined with a serious dose of cultural imperialism aiming at making other cultures feel inferior and poorer than the mainstream US one).
    On the last column of the bingo card and why it’s offensive: can I point out to my friend Kari’s explanations, which are more eloquent than anything I could come up with on my own? http://users.livejournal.com/la_marquise_de_/337900.html?thread=3764460#t3764460

  9. Now I understand, ahh Hollywood. Thanks for the clarification. : )

  10. Also, I feel I have to correct Two, which isn’t what we meant. It’s quite possible to be both the majority and to have the “upper hand” in your own country, but all of these pale with the importance that Westerners will have over and in said countries. White expats in Asia are incredibly privileged compared to locals, and Western governments are pretty much free to swoop in any time and intervene in the name of maintaining “democracy” (see: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya…). Pretty much anywhere in the world, Westerners will be superior culturally, economically, and hold a large privilege over the locals. That was what we meant.
    Also, Twelve is subject to the same caveat that POCs in other countries can not only be racial minorities in their own countries (which is indeed a troubling assumption), but also that any POC anywhere in the developing world is deemed inferior to Westerners of whatever stripe (but mostly white people).

  11. There’s a certain Western triumphalism in the assumption of continuing Western dominance of the process of globalisation which is not justified. Whoever is dominant in twenty years time (and it may well still be the United States) will have to deal with a multipolar world in which China, India, Brazil, Nigeria, and South Africa will all play larger parts. For that matter, so will Egypt and other Arab states.

    In Africa today, the big players are the US, the EU (collectively), the Arab states (collectively), India, China, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and South Africa. That’s a new development.

    Globalisation has meant that over the past three years, the biggest investor in Portugal is the Angolan state, and the two biggest sources of migrants to Angola are Portugal and China. We are dealing with a very different world, and very different assumptions from the world in which I was a young graduate three decades ago.

    Globalisation also means that you’ll need some more bingo cards, some of which should deal with assumptions about the status of East Asians.

  12. I think I massively misread row 2 column 2, so that’s one off the list.

    There are several that IMO a) can be accurate, but b) require some serious caveats, and c) are terribly rude/patronising if used loosely, so d) are normally only used by total muppets. (This is as opposed to the ones that are bloody stupid no matter what the context is, e.g. row 1 column 1)

    For example, Row 3 column 1. I would argue that it’s technically accurate. But I accept that my standard also excludes American and Aussie English :P

    Or row 4, column 4 – again, this may be accurate in some situations, for a particular value of “we”. It’s the basis of much international charity, for example. Of course, it’s highly likely that the converse is also true – some people from a given foreign country will know how to run my country better than my country’s leaders do.

    Or the whole of column 5. Any of these may be an accurate representation of someone’s experience. Of course, they’re more likely to relate to the particular location someone visited than the entire country or ethnic group. So, for example, tourists get a pretty raw deal in Delhi but you can’t generalise from that to all Indians, or even all Delhi residents – it’s just the tourist traps.

    One I’m genuinely unsure about is row 1 column 2. For example, Malay Malaysians who move to Western countries may well get a bum deal. But there’s a touch of hypocrisy if they’re complaining about it, since they (as a group) have apparently been treating Chinese Malaysians (as a group) like shit for decades. Thoughts?

    If I’m being flagrantly daft here, please call me on it. This bingo board is the closest thing I’ve found to “How Not To Be A Cultural Imperialist 101″, so I’m keen to treat it as a learning experience!

  13. …sorry, just seen your explanations at #9 and #11 – I think my browser only loaded half the comments section before. One moment while I digest, please.

  14. @Corkscrew:
    The thing you have to keep in mind is that when Westerners comment on Mozambique’s political situation it really isn’t their business. It’s their country, not ours.

    It’s analogous to somebody saying your family would be better off if your Uncle Rory would stop drinking, and get a damn job. You might agree with them, but you ain’t gonna like hearing it. If you know that the criticizer has not done any actual work to ascertain whether Uncle Rory is actually a lazy drunkard, and is merely repeating rumors they’ve heard around town, you will probably think they’re patronizing assholes even if you agree with the thrust of their argument.

    Most Westerners who actually comment on things like the state of Mozambique haven’t done any work at all. They assume a lot of things about from the fact it’s in Deepest Africa and isn’t South Africa. They literally know nothing about the place. Yet it’s very hard to find a single Western intellectual who would answer the question “How would you fix Mozambique?” with an whole bunch of questions about what Mozambique is like; which he could then use to determine whether Mozambique actually needs fixing. I suspect that almost every Western intellectual asked would have no knowledge at all about Mozambique, but would nonetheless offer detailed policy prescriptions for the country.

    Heck even most of the guys who asked the questions about Mozambique would not be legitimately asking for information. They’d have the plan in their heads already, they just want you to talk for 10 more minutes so they can pretend they thought about it. If you’re really lucky you’ll convince them not to bring up female circumcision, radical Islam, or Joseph Kony because none of the three is relevant to Mozambique. But nine times out of ten they’ll bring up at least two of the three.

  15. @ aliette:
    It depends on how you define quality.

    If you mean in terms of script, acting, or direction you are correct. The Iranians for one are undoubtedly better then Hollywood.

    OTOH if you’re talking about cutting edge special effects the simple fact is Hollywood flicks are better because they have more money to throw at the SFX department. Which means Hollywood flicks are the best quality flicks you can watch if you just wanna see shit blow up.

  16. Just on Hollywood special effects… they’re not empiracally *better*, they just cost more. I mean, how many times in a Hollywood action movie does something get blown up, and bystanders get peppered with shards of glass, for example? I mean, it’s not like you could call them ‘realistic’, is it? Some people may call a lack of realism a flaw and prefer think something more realistic is better…

  17. This is great, Aliette. My extended family is mixed ethnically so what you and the others have put here is very dear to my heart. I’ve linked to it on my own blog and also on the Egoboo WA blog.

  18. aw, thanks, Helen!

  19. Hey Aliette,

    of course there are lots of strange comments on that card. But on the other hand I see a conflict: If you help people out you are the bad imperialist (“I know better what is good for you”) and if you do not help them (“You can do it yourself”) you are an ignorant. You cannot please everyone with your actions.

  20. Thomas > the answer is actually quite simple.
    First, you ask, ‘Do you need help?’. If they say, ‘no’, leave them alone. If they say yes, you then ask, ‘what can I do to help?’

    You risk being an Imperialist when you impose your own ideas about what people do and don’t need on others, regardless of what those others may or may not want or think about it.

Sorry. Comments are closed on this entry.