System change is not only about policy and infrastructure change. It is also about changing how people think, what they identify with, how they feel and what are the accepted social norms, narratives, etc.

– Kera Sherwood O’Reagan

 

According to Kera Sherwood O’Regan[1], decolonizing (as a social and political collective process) implies transforming all of our relationships: another way of being in the world. Reflecting on our (personal and collective) relationships with the world can reveal undisclosed colonial assumptions. Let us look at some of the relationships we can question:

The other. Perhaps the most obvious relationship is with the other. The European/Western notions of universal human rights, democracy and development aim to consider all fellow human beings as equal despite their features, languages and customs. In reality, the modern institutions behind such notions perpetuate the prejudices of superiority of some (white and male) and inferiority of the many (generally non-white and non-male, but not only). These notions are used for domination and oppression. Decolonizing the other means recognizing and respecting our common humanity in its diversity. Treating fellow humans and the larger “other” of living and non-living beings not as products, objects or resources to be exploited, but as subjects with whom we coexist.

 

The larger space. It refers to our relationship with the world around us. It involves our acknowledgment and understanding of the larger dynamics of the systems in which we are immersed. We are deeply and inevitably embedded in the local geography and society into which we are born and the experiences we have (and yet we are also part of the larger Earth family). Decolonizing space is recognizing that humans are not separate, detached or independent from the smaller, medium or larger world. All life depends on a fragile and fine balance that seems invisible, as invisible as the air we breathe (and without which we cannot survive more than 7 minutes).

 

Time. The colonial relationship with time is that of a linear evolution towards progress defined by the domination of the “enlightened” over everything. It involves the search for eternal growth and eternal youth. To decolonize time means to slow down, to take time to grieve, to mourn and to use our senses and feelings, to attend to one’s wounds and shortcomings. It also involves accepting death as part of life.

 

Science, history, and other disciplines. Western science, history and other disciplines are understood as Universal Knowledge. Nevertheless, they inevitably remain a social construction (from language and history to physics and medicine) and carry the patterns and structures of the colonial powers. The idea of the neutrality of Western knowledge hides the biases, assumptions and interests of the society that created them. To decolonize this relationship is to question them, not with the purpose of rejecting them completely, but to acknowledge their limitations and biases and to allow other forms of understanding of the world to coexist without being invalidated.

 

The call to decolonize inevitably raises questions:

  • Who is behind this? Who created it? Who owns it?
  • When and how was it created?
  • What is and what was the point of it?
  • What is the main priority?
  • Who is affected by it?
  • Whose voices are not being heard?
  • Who benefits from it?
  • What can you do with this?

The call to decolonize is so far-reaching that it requires us to analyze every simple, everyday action and recognize its consequences beyond our immediate personal pleasure. In other words, the whole call to decolonize requires a redefinition of personal identity, but do not be mistaken, it is not meant to be a lonely, individual mental quest. We are immersed in colonial institutions, dynamics and values that reinforce and perpetuate (neo)colonial power structures and patterns.

To decolonize is to acknowledge that every action is political. It requires assuming our personal and collective responsibility (from our positions of privilege and/or oppression within our communities) in “world-making” and the “will of community” (Achille Mbembe). It implies political, economic and social collective action. This is how it emerged, as the collective struggle for self-determination and autonomy of Indigenous peoples who continue to resist today.

The task is paramount at this critical point of time. To truly decolonize is to center ourselves beyond “one race, color or ethnos” (Achille Mbembe), and even beyond “the destiny of humankind” (Dubois, 1919). It requires to center ourselves humbly as part of a larger life.

 

“Oh my body, make of me a man who always questions!”
― Frantz Fanon, Black Skin,
White Masks

 


Footnotes:

[1] (Kera Sherwood O’Reagan, Maori activist from New Zealand.

Sources:

On decolonality, relationships and the quote: Presentation “Introduction to Decoloniality” by Kera Sherwood-O’Regan at the 2022 Festival of Ideas of Climate Action Network International, 14.03.2022.

On questions to ask: Conference “Decolonize music education” by Nate Holder, 22.06.2022 in Echternach, Luxembourg, within the project Klang Keller by Finkapé.

On science, history and other disciplines: Linda Tuhiwai Smith: decolonizing methodologies, questions that communities and indigenous activists often ask in a variety of ways regarding research.