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The following is not a story about baby shoes for sale, never worn. It is about the half of humanity that cannot a afford them.

  • Feb 17 2021
  • Eugene Richardson
    MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine; Assistant Professor of Medicine

Flash fiction is a literary mode, usually under 1,000 words, which distills an odyssey. The nanotale about the baby shoes, apocryphally attributed to Hemingway, is one example. The following bildungsminiroman – not my personal biography – is another.

We begin with a white upper- middle- class male settler-colonist privilege-exerciser called Quesalid, after the famous shaman of  the Pacific Northwest (settler-colonists have no qualms naming  people or places after human groups they’ve decimated). His  childhood was typical— summers in Rangoon, luge lessons. 

He attended a private boarding school, then some Ivy for  college—a common path for mediocre children of rich families  attempting to reproduce their elite position in society. (1) It was  there that he cemented his masculine identity by participating in the ritual alcohol- poisoning of an acquaintance named Vilmer. 

After graduating— diploma in one hand and trust fund in the other— he set out to explore the world. During a two-week  stint voluntouring in some godforsaken place his country helped underdevelop, (2) Quesalid became known for his prowess at chucking bags of rice. Around that time, he was transformed by the sight  of an aged man, then a sick man, then a corpse, then an ascetic. At the expat lounge nearby, he decided to take some magic  mushrooms to process these Four Passing Sights. While tripping,  he met a man named Francis, who told him a scintillating tale: 

Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a  manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance  with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single  glittering jewel in each “eye” of the net, and since the net itself is infi nite in dimensions, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the  jewels glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to  behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection  and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface  there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number.  Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also  reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting  process occurring... (3)

Quesalid came to the next day in a pineapple field and decided to use his trust fund to scour the world for similar revelations. In Abya Yala, (i) he discovered vincularidad, (4) an “awareness of the integral relation and interdependence amongst all living organisms (in which humans are only a part) with territory or land and the cosmos.” (5) In China, he came upon the Hua-yen tradition, (6) which teaches the mutual interfusion and interconnectedness of all phenomena. In Africa, he took part in Ubuntu, that is, the universal bond that connects all humanity. (7) Last and least in Europe, he experienced radical relationality, (8) after which he underwent an identity crisis. It suddenly dawned on Quesalid that as a white male citizen of the First World, his privilege derived from a racialized, patriarchal, hierarchical, asymmetrical, imperial, heteronormative, and Euro-American centric order. (9) “You are a colonizer through and through,” he thought. “You can feel it in your bones, which have never known stunting. It courses through your veins, through which malaria never has. Every fi ber of your being has been nurtured by centuries of predatory accumulation.” (10) “This might serve as a good start to a book,” he concluded.





    (i) Abya Yala is an indigenous term used to designate what became known as the Americas (my translation of the Spanish translation of the Tule Kuna). Source: M. López-Hernández, Encuentros en los senderos de Abya Yala (Havana: Casa
    de Las Américas, 2001).

    1. P. Bourdieu, The State Nobility: Elite Schools in the Field of Power (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).

    2. W. Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (London: Bogle L’Ouverture, 1972); S. Amin, Neo-colonialism in West Africa (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973).

    3. F. Cook, Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977).

    4. F. H. Mamani, Vivir bien / buen vivir: Filosofía, políticas, estrategias y experiencias de los pueblos ancestrales (La Paz: Instituto Internacional de Integración, 2010).

    5. W. D. Mignolo and C. W. Walsh, On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018).

    6. G. C. C. Chang, The Buddhist Teaching of Totality: The Philosophy of Hwa Yen Buddhism (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1971).

    7. J. K. Ngubane, An African Explains Apartheid (London: Pall Mall Press, 1963).

    8. R. Braidotti, The Posthuman (Cambridge: Polity, 2013).

    9. A. Quijano, “Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America,” Nepantla: Views from South 1, no. 3 (2000): 533–580; K. Nkrumah, Neo-colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism (London: Thomas Nelson, 1965); W. D. Mignolo, “Introduction: Coloniality of Power and Decolonial Thinking,” Cultural Studies 21, no. 2–3 (2007): 155–167; R. Grosfoguel, “The Epistemic Decolonial Turn: Beyond Political Economy Paradigms,” Cultural Studies 21, no. 2–3 (2007): 211–223; M. Lugones, “Heterosexualism and the Colonial/Modern Gender System,” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 22, no. 1 (2007): 186–209; S. J. Ndlovu Gatsheni, Empire, Global Coloniality and African Subjectivity (New York: Berghahn, 2013).

    10. G. K. Kieh, Jr., “The Political Economy of the Ebola Epidemic in Liberia,” in Understanding West Africa’s Ebola Epidemic: Towards a Political Economy, ed. I. Abdullah and I. Rashid (London: Zed Books, 2017), 85–111.


    Excerpt from “Epidemic Illusions: On the Coloniality of Global Public Health” by Eugene Richardson.
    The MIT Press, 2020. Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England. Pp. 19-21.

    Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Fight between Carnival and Lent (1559). Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.



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