Are you Human enough?

 Are you Human enough?

On colonial myths invented to create a false hierarchy of humans

In his 1777 work “On the Different Human Races” Immanuel Kant wrote: “We now justifiably account for the different colors of plants by noting that the iron content of certain identifiably distinct plant juices varies”. Stating that the blood of humans contains iron like all animals do, this is what must account for different skin colours in humans. He identified four races and called the first one “noble blond” from Northern Europe’s “humid cold” saying that “among whites … the iron in the bodily juices has been dissolved, thereby demonstrating both the perfect mixing of these juices and the strength of this human stock in comparison to the others”. “…the Negro,” Kant stated in the same paper, “who is well-suited to his climate, namely, strong, fleshy, and agile. However, because he is so amply supplied by his motherland, he is also lazy, indolent, and dawdling”[1].

We now call Kant’s way of thinking racist with confirmation bias. Britannica defines confirmation bias as, “tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with their existing beliefs”. Kant offered his theory on races with an already existing conviction about the superiority of white race.

Colonisation happened and expanded this way, too. ‘Research’ was presented, ‘papers’ were written, ‘conferences’ were held on inferiority of colonised populations. Myths were created purposefully, to justify and deem appropriate, even necessary occupation, settlement, violence and exploitation. Colonial myths of European, as well as Russian empires were based on the concept of binaries: civilised Europe versus uncivilised other; sophisticated Europe versus naïve other; educated Europe versus primitive other; cultured Europe versus savage other etc.

The charter of Africa Steam Ship Company founded in 1852 in Liverpool, England to trade with West African ports boasted that it “may fairly be recommended to the public as one of the great civilising agents of the Benighted continent”[2].

Russian Empire believed that peoples of the soon to be occupied territories needed to be guided morally, civilised and protected. “Interference of the Russian rule on our South-Asian periphery, like everywhere else, serves the spiritual development and freedom of local masses who deserve protection and compassion”[3] wrote Russian imperial politician Vasily Velichko in 1906.

Soviet Union propagated the myth that all member states joined the Union ‘voluntarily’ which freed them from the shackles of the Russian empire, exterminated illiteracy and drastically improved their well-being. But, in reality, another, even more repressive and violent empire was built from Moscow continuing Russia’s imperial aspirations.

As historian Joy Neumeyer rightfully points out, “Russia was the only Soviet republic that did not have its own Communist Party, capital, or Academy of Sciences. These omissions contributed to the uneasy overlap of ‘Russian’ and ‘Soviet’[4]

Does the past stay in the past?

Although empires have ceased to exist, their colonial heritage formulates our present day. We are still living in a world where colonial myths of the superior and the inferior live on, expressed through political, economic and environmental racism, dehumanisation, cultural imperialism and mass internalised oppression.

Decades after the fall of the last empire – the USSR, we Azerbaijanis along with other peoples of the Caucasus region are called ‘Persons of Caucasus Nationality’ in Russia – a racially stereotyping term used mostly in criminal context depriving us of our humanity and diversity.

Continuing this colonial pattern, we often dehumanise ourselves and see our nation as a homogenous group with static unchangeable and often negative features “incapable of greatness and excellence … inherently “backward”, “lazy” and “unsophisticated”’[5].

According to political theorist Rajeev Bhargava: When a group encounters strangers, it sees them only as an undifferentiated mass through a crude stereotype, as if they are all the same, each merely instantiating the broad features shared equally by all”[6].

However, as the formerly colonised we see ourselves as that ‘undifferentiated other’ through the eyes of our former colonisers. We, especially intellectuals among us, sometimes use the word ‘masses’ to describe large portions of our population and render them uneducated, with no agency and the need to be civilised. This is because intellectuals are the most formally educated and thus the most exposed to colonial frameworks, thinking and biases.

There are instances where we, also, dehumanise other formerly colonised peoples since, sadly, we see other nations through the eyes of former colonial empires, too. Expressing racist stereotypes about Black people or using words such as Aboriginal or Mongol as slur terms to describe those believed to be anti-social or unintelligent, are some unfortunate examples. It is my thinking that these terms came into Azerbaijani language through their same derogatory usage in Russian language.

“I started writing a list of countries where the term [Mongol] has been used in a derogatory way or to mean Down’s Syndrome. I now have over 20 countries on my list” writes Mongolian author Uuganaa Ramsay[7]. She says the term originated from John Langdon Down who worked at the Royal Earlswood Asylum in England in the 1860s and started to categorise patients of what we now call Down’s Syndrome as ‘typical Mongols’. And the word stuck. In 1965 the People’s Republic of Mongolia complained to the World Health Organization that the term was derogatory towards them and it was replaced with Down’s syndrome.

Are we epistemically desperate?

Dehumanisation, many painful examples of which were covered in this article so far, deprives the colonised of their humanity and the freedom to be who they are. But, on top of that, dehumanisation takes away their right to know.

How many times have we witnessed gender-based violence survivors share their personal stories only to be met with a neutral gaze or an immediate demand to prove their experiences with ‘proper statistical analysis’.

‘Decide with logic, not emotions’ is another widely used statement in Azerbaijan.

Asking for statistical analysis on every human experience before rendering it valid, worshipping logic and devaluing emotions are products of a long colonial period starting from European Enlightenment to Modernism. We imported these ‘products’ during Russian colonial rule and post-colonial Eurocentric globalisation.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, during the so-called ‘Age of Enlightenment’ Western Europe waged war on everything traditional that according to contemporaries of the movement hindered human progress. “This was the time of new sciences, faith in reason and expanding trade”, says a plaque in the British Museum’s Enlightenment Room. “It also witnessed”, the text continues, “the aggressive global expansion of European colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade”.

‘Rationality’ and Western philosophy advanced alongside colonialism, not in parallel or independently, but interdependently. Colonialism attacked cultures, lands and peoples but also their way of being, thinking and self-expressing in the world. Reason and knowledge were monopolised and, in this monopoly, knowledge could come in one form – rationality and that was presented as the domain of the West.

The new method supplies normative conditions for what it means to be a knower … and lays the foundation for philosophical hegemony, the normative commandeering of humanity’s reasoning abilities” as political philosophy scholar Grant J Silva analyses in his article on epistemic injustice of colonisation. “In this context” he continues, “’modernity’ is a response to the need for justifying the West’s advancement and supposed superiority (again, the very same cultural milieu which is engaged in colonial violence on the other side of the hemisphere)”.[8]

Knowledge that was intuitive, emotional, historic, spiritual, personal, ancestral and oral now became non-knowledge. Millenia of human knowledge was thrown into the abyss of that which belonged to the uncivilised. Written knowledge was now the only accepted way of being civilised, but not any written text. History written in non-European languages; culture, art and knowledge created in the non-European space became invisible or even if visible, then not valuable enough.

For the colonised this meant being prevented by dominant knowledge from representing the world as one’s own and in one’s own terms”.[9]

Nomadic cultures, for example, were now seen as primitive and savage, a belief that survived all modern empires and is still alive today. In the Soviet Union thousands of nomadic peoples were forced to settle, their livestock and agricultural lands confiscated into collective farms, disrupting the way of life of millions of humans, causing famines, destruction and loss of culture.

As writer and political activist Vince Deloria Jr. says, “…the stereotype of primitive peoples anchors the whole edifice of Western social thought. We need the primitive so that we can distinguish Western civilization from it and congratulate ourselves on the progress we have made”[10].

Creating a hierarchy of humans, assuming dominance over human rationality and using this as a construct to differentiate between worthy and unworthy humans resulted in seeing the colonised “as not fully human, or not human at all”, and “enabled distance to be maintained and justified various policies of either extermination or domestication”[11].

Colonised ‘masses’ became mere ‘subjects’ and the coloniser the superior ‘object’ that explored, understood and created a world for these subjects. Subjects were seen as passive, infantile and not sophisticated enough to explore and create a world for themselves and needed object’s culture, rationality and intellect. Subject’s culture was seen as an unreliable and useless source of knowledge. They were seen as victims of their own irrational and uncivilized cultures and needed external (coloniser’s) interference to achieve ‘progress’.


We now call this process colonised people have been exposed to for centuries, ‘epistemic violence’ which is a belief “that certain people or types of people are not capable of producing adequate knowledge, or will not be able to evaluate or understand it”[12]. This leads to (especially in those who choose academic careers) epistemic despair – the pain of having to deny their own cultures and with that their own selves so they can be validated as worthy of exercising reason. Their rationality is seen as not of their own, but a capacity imported from the West. In addition, knowledge that comes in the form of their oral cultures and histories, religious or spiritual rituals of their communities, their written histories of non-European space are devalued. All of this cause the colonised to despair and as a result, they feel forced to disassociate from their cultural identities. Some of these disassociated intellectuals repeat this colonial pattern with their own people by seeing them as passive and uneducated ‘masses’, deprive them of their agency by claiming to decide on a better future for their people and victimise them by portraying them as powerless. Field research done by former colonisers in their occupied lands is not much different to some field researches done by intellectuals of the formerly colonised in their own countries, where ‘masses’ are visited and evaluated, their stories extracted and strategies for a better future formulated with no agency of those living in the ‘field’.

“…it should be noted that progressive social movements and the academy also have their share of responsibility in the phenomenon[13] researcher Moira Pérez explains when tackling the topic of epistemic violence.

Even today global media adheres to colonial duality framework of those with and without agency and for example, portrays ‘white’ women mostly in their success stories, ‘non-white’ ones as the historically oppressed and culturally victimised.

In her study of Western media’s coverage of Arab first ladies during the Arab spring, writer Elza Ibroscheva found that, “the portrayals of the First Ladies of the Arab Spring could be contextualized within the Oriental gaze, which situates the idea of an Arab and Muslim female political agency as only possible as explicitly Westernized, essentially recirculating the colonial trope of the Muslim woman as “the Other”[14]. Women who were recognised as politically active with power and agency were seen as exceptions to their oppressive cultures further reinstating Orientalist stereotypes.

‘A highly educated Azerbaijani woman, I’m surprised. Nice to meet you’ said a white male colleague to me in Baku many years ago. I was startled and my body ached with discomfort I could not understand. I was humiliated and stereotyped which my young mind was unable to decipher at the time and his belief that he complimented me confused me even more. When I started researching decolonisation years later, I went back to that conversation over and over, and realised that in his colonial mind, reason and education belonged to the ‘West’ and I was the ‘Westernised’ and thus an ‘acceptable’ version of a non-Western ‘other’.


‘With all of the treatises and discourses on the nature of human knowledge that fall within it, what is modern philosophy if not a series of apologia for the epistemic injustice of European colonization?’[15] Grant J. Silva.


How do we decolonise our minds, hearts and identities?


Decolonisation is a crucial responsibility of both parties, the formerly colonised and the colonisers. Yet, trying to decolonise using the same tools, frameworks and standards constructed by colonisation, a system which devalued us in the first place, is essentially a cognitive dead-end, but we keep hitting it.


We, the ex-colonised navigate time and again within colonial binarism of ‘civilised and uncivilised’ desperately trying to prove that we are civilised. However, a way forward to a just future without cultural imperialism is to deconstruct this binarism and debunk European historiography’s false narrative of linear progress.


Our identities have become reactions to epistemically violent standards such as knowledge founded on Western written history, and rationality that was personalised by the West. We try to find evidence of our cultural and historical exchanges with the ‘West’, of our literature, art or music that resembles modern Western literature, art or music, and look down on any philosophic or spiritual creation that is outside of the Western canon of ‘rationality’. Instead, salvation is in refusing to identify rationality with Western culture, understanding that rationality is a cognitive function of all humans, acknowledging that human knowledge, wisdom and meaning-making were accumulated for millennia before the West called itself enlightened and this knowledge can be sourced in every culture and every human community on Earth.


It is also crucial to understand that there is so much more to human reason than rationality, that knowledge comes in endless forms that are scientific, but also non-scientific (not to be mistaken with pseudo-scientific) such as emotions, values, habits, life experiences, religions, faith, spirituality etc. and that contrary to colonial myths human decision-making is almost always emotional.


We quote European and Russian philosophers and writers ignoring their writings that supported colonialism’s expansion and thus looking away from their connection to colonialism. Instead of saying ‘The past stays in the past’ or ‘That was the norm back then’, we should acknowledge the impact the past still has on the present and gather our courage and resources to heal the oppressive ways the past still lives in our systems today.


But decolonising is not just about including ‘non-white races’ in the academic field and ‘allowing’ them to produce knowledge. It is not just about who makes the meaning, but also how this meaning is made. Decolonising is about understanding and expressing the self through the self not through the other.


Hence, we must decolonise not from the perspective of the victim or reverse victim – new perpetrator (you devalued us, we will now build a new identity to devalue you back), but from a place of purification from the myths and abusive systems of thought i.e., from the ‘cognitive empire’.


It is here that discussing the role of intellectuals is necessary. As scholar Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak very well summarises in her famous article ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’: “The unrecognized contradiction within a position that valorizes the concrete experience of the oppressed, while being so uncritical about the historical role of the intellectual, is maintained by a verbal slippage”[16].


Intellectuals must decolonise their minds and hearts as they have been and are continuing to be epistemically violated by colonial academia.


In her book ‘Decolonizing Methodologies’ writer Linda Tuhiwai Smith writes passionately about

the important role of intellectuals of the formerly colonised populations in decolonisation. She distinguishes between sharing information and sharing knowledge and prefers the latter term, “…because to me the responsibility of researchers and academics is not simply to share surface information (pamphlet knowledge) but to share the theories and analyses which inform the way knowledge and information are constructed and represented. By taking this approach seriously it is possible to introduce communities and people who may have had little formal schooling to a wider world, a world which includes people who think just like them, who share in their struggles and dreams and who voice their concerns in similar sorts of ways. To assume in advance that people will not be interested in, or will not understand, the deeper issues is arrogant. The challenge always is to demystify, to decolonize”[17]. I could not agree more.

In the process, we should be patient and compassionate with ourselves, as it is much easier to create harmful biases about ourselves and ‘the other’ than to undo them. ‘Overcoming internalised bias isn’t a matter of flipping a mental switch; it is a lifelong process of constantly questioning our deeply held beliefs’[18].

I would like to end this article with the beautiful words of decolonial researcher Michelle Garcia-Olp: The storyteller must come from a place of prayer’[19]. And I dare to wish we create our works as a prayer to our authentic selves, our ancestors, our people and an equal future for all.

References and Notes

[1] “On The Different Human Races” (1777), Immanuel Kant, “Von der verschiedenen Rassen der Menschen” (1777), translated by Jon Mark Mikkelsen and published in ‘Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader’, edited by Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1997).

[2] Description plaque of the Africa Steam Ship Company Medallion, 1852, British Museum, Room 1: Enlightenment

[3] Как везде, и на южной азиатской окраине нашей, вмешательство русской власти служит делу духовнаго развития и свободы народной массы, заслуживающей попечения и сочувствия. В. Л. Величко. “Кавказ. Русское Дело и Междуплеменные Вопросы”. 1906.

V.L.Velichko. “Caucasus. Russian Affair and Inter-Tribal Questions”. 1906. p. 130.

[4] “The discontent of Russia, Lenin envisioned Soviet unity. Stalin called Russia ‘first among equals’. Yet Russian nationalism never went away”, Joy Neumeyer, 5 July 2022, Aeon,

[5] “Why do many of us struggle to love ourselves as a nation?”, Afsana Tahirova, 2 January 2023,,

[6] “Overcoming the Epistemic Injustice of Colonialism”, Rajeev Bhargava, 12 November 2013, Global Policy, Volume 4, Issue 4, November 2013, p. 413-417

[7] “The meaning of Mongol”, Uuganaa Ramsay, 23 November 2014, the BBC,

[8] “Comparative Philosophy and Decolonial Struggle: The Epistemic Injustice of Colonization and Liberation of Human Reason”, Grant J. Silva, Southern Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 57, No. S1 (September 2019): 107-134.

[9] “The End of the Cognitive Empire: The Coming of Age of Epistemologies of the

South”. Boaventura de Sousa Santos. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018, 6.

[10] Vince Deloria, Jr. “Philosophy and the Tribal Peoples,” in American Indian Thought, ed. Anne Waters (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004), 3.

[11] Decolonizing Methodologies. Research and Indigenous Peoples”. Linda Tuhiwai Smith. Third Edition, Bloomsbury Academic, 2021, p.xxvii, Decolonizing intimacies of Aloha ‘Aina, Iokepa Casumbal-Salazar, Hawai’i’

[12] “Epistemic violence: reflections between the invisible and the ignorable”, Moira Pérez, 2019. El lugar sin límites, 1 (1), p. 81-98

[13]“Epistemic violence: reflections between the invisible and the ignorable”, Moira Pérez, 2019. El lugar sin límites, 1 (1), p. 81-98

[14] “The First Ladies and the Arab Spring: A Textual Analysis of the Media Coverage of the Female Counterparts of Authoritarian Oppression in the Middle East”, Elza Ibroscheva, Feminist Media Studies, 13(5), 871–880

[15] “Comparative Philosophy and Decolonial Struggle: The Epistemic Injustice of Colonization and Liberation of Human Reason”, Grant J. Silva, Southern Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 57, No. S1 (September 2019): 107-134

[16] “Can the subaltern Speak?”. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, eds. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg. Basingstoke: Macmillan. 271–313. 1988.

[17] “Decolonizing Methodologies. Research and Indigenous Peoples”. Linda Tuhiwai Smith. Third Edition, Bloomsbury Academic, 2021, p.17

[18] “The End of Bias”, Jessica Nordell.

[19] “How Colonization Impacts Identity Through the Generations: A Closer Look at Historical Trauma and Education” (2018). Garcia-Olp, Michelle. Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1487.

Salam, biz VarYoxuq. Bizi birləşdirən bir dəyər var – incəsənət və mədəniyyətimizi fərqli rakurslardan göstərmək və inkişaf etdirmək istəyi. Biz keçmişin mədəni və incəsənət nailiyyətlərinin kölgəsində gizlənmək istəmirik, yeni uğur, yeni təşəbbüs, qısası yeni nəfəs axtarırıq.

Fəaliyyətimizin ilk 2 ilində müxtəlif şirkət və təşkilatlardan maddi dəstək alsaq da, son 1 ildir ki, özümüz özümüzü kommersial layihələrlə maliyyələşdiririk. Təəssüf ki, bu imkanlar həmişə əlçatan deyil və artıq siz sadiq izləyicilərimizə üzümüzü tutmaq məcburiyyətindəyik. İndiki məkanımız bizim üçün sadəcə iş yeri deyil. Bura həm müxtəlif tədbirlərimizi, canlı yayımlarımızı etdiyimiz studiyadır, həm də bir araya toplanmaq, müxtəlif ideyalar arasında breynstorminq etmək və nəticədə keyfiyyətli, faydalı işlər görmək üçün komandamızı birləşdirən yaradıcı məkandır. Hal-hazırda məkan xərcləri və bu kimi məsələlər üçün dəstəyinizə ehtiyacımız var. İtirsək, artıq əvvəlki kontentlər bizdən asılı olmadan zamanla ləngiyəcək və bəlkə də davam edə bilməyəcək. İnanırıq ki, siz də bizim kimi bunu istəməzsiniz. Ona görə də bizə dəstək olmaqdan çəkinməyin.

Bunlar da xoşunuza gələ bilər

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