Decolonization is a word that appears to have resurfaced of late, in the discursive literature of anti-coloniality. This is not to say the concept of decolonization was missing from discussions. There abounds a tremendous amount of literature evoking the term. In my own writings dating back to the early 1990s, I preferred the use of ‘anti-colonial’ to ‘decolonization’. Yet, I was also aware of how Latin American scholarship used decolonization in ways that converge with African and Caribbean scholarship on anti-colonialism. When I first taught a graduate course on ‘Indigenous Knowledge and Decolonization’ at the University of Toronto in the late1990s I had an understanding of decolonization as a desired goal along the anti-colonial path or journey. I saw decolonization as an imperative for colonized bodies to rid ourselves out of the shackles of colonialism. Today the connections of race, Indigeneity and decolonization has brought deep awareness of the logics of colonialism, capitalism and White supremacy.
But decolonization is not a thing. It is not an obvious manifestation either. It is instead the end goal on a long journey to reach minds, souls, spirits and bodies as we collectively seek to transform our communities and connect both the physical and metaphysical realms of existence. As many have noted, decolonization is a process of working to bring change by foremost helping to rid ourselves of the complexes of subordination and acquiescence (see also Diop, 1974). Interestingly, while we may all talk quite a bit about decolonization we often do not do decolonization. Decolonization is action-oriented. It is a purposeful and intentional act. It derives from an awareness of the violence and genocide perpetrated under colonialism and settler colonialism. Decolonization also marks an attempt by Indigenous and colonized bodies to take control of our own thought processes and to act in concrete ways to address colonialism, patriarchy and other forms of social oppression.
I have observed in the intellectual rationalizations as to why scholars may embrace a ‘new’ area of academic enquiry, a sort of colonial thinking about “something in need of further theorization’. It is as if those who have been writing for so long on the matter have not sufficiently theorized on the phenomenon; that somehow an academic messiah has arrived on the scene to move us out of our intellectual misery or quagmire. Fortunately, I have not seen anywhere that decolonization and anti-coloniality have faced this fate. It is understood that there has been sufficient theorization of these concepts matched by political practices intended to allow for theories to live and breathe in everyday life and social practice. If we have not arrived at a decolonial future it is not because we have not understand the theoretical underpinnings of decolonial theory or anti-colonial praxis.
Colonialization (as in formal and institutional processes of governance of subjection) and coloniality (the on-going propagation of knowledge and ideas to foster and cement the interest of the dominant) are simultaneously on the playing field and we are all on it (Quijano, 2007; Mignolo, 2007, 2011; Maldonado-Torres, 2004; Grosfoguel, 2002). Decolonization is all we do around Land, places and spaces with the goal towards transformation. For us to be more effective our decolonial praxis must be about resistance to all forms of oppression given that colonialism and colonization are fundamentally about exploitation and oppressions of peoples. Anti-colonial and decoloniality are intertwined logics. Our political and discursive practices for change must be anti-colonial in outlook and orientation. This way the anti-colonial becomes the path to a decolonial future.
The search for new futurities must begin with a recognition of the power of the past, present and the future as inextricably linked. The past is embedded in the present and what we see as the present holds within it the power to transform our futures. The past offers us lessons, including the reclamation of cultures, histories, memories and spiritual ontologies as bodies of knowledge to guide our anti-colonial present and the decolonial future. Similarly, we must interrogate and challenge the present and insist on change, to arrive at a more desirable future. Colonialism has not ended. Lands are still being stolen and/or continue to be occupied. Human dignities are being trampled upon and for some people the search to regain their humanity is of utmost concern. We continue to separate the human from the plants and animals with whom we co-habit our space/ecosystem. Our cosmologies are not fully articulated to emphasize the synergies of body, mind, soul and spirit and the interdependence of culture, society and Nature are not fully understood in everyday social practice. All this are forms of colonial relations and oppressive practice that demonstrate we are still colonized in our own existence.
This volume of essays marks an important contribution to the critical discussion of anti-colonial theory and decolonization. The authors bring varied perspective and interpretations to decolonization and anti-colonialism from multiple geographies. By laying out the cartographies of both anti-colonialism and the decolonization project the book has set itself on the academic high road fleshing out the violence of colonialism, as well as the possibilities for decolonization. The book is a call for us to understand what happened and continue to happen to groups and communities from the imperial designs of colonization and what it means to create Alter paths to building sustainable anti-colonial communities and social practice. The texturing of empirical case studies with theoretical analysis is a strength that should help inform readers about what anti-colonial and decolonial praxis entails and the possibilities for new worlds with the pursuit of such politics.
We need new decolonizing thinking connecting us with our metaphysical and physical worlds. Such thinking privileges principles of relationality, interconnections, mutual interdependence, sharing, reciprocity, humility and respect. Such thinking denaturalizes power and practice. It helps to free the human mind, spirit and body, as well as our thought processes to be creative and to imagine new worlds. These Earthly teachings emphasize the link of the social and natural worlds, humans and non-humans, animals and plants with due recognition that as human we are simply caretakers of the Land for generations to come. Furthermore, that as humans we are just one of the many species and creatures who inhabit this Earth and that we have a responsibility to live in peace and humanely with all others, and not exploit and oppress others.
These are teachings fully embedded in Indigenous cultures globally but which appear to be lost. But they can be reclaimed for solution-oriented ends. Decolonial and anti-colonial education must thus recover and teach these values to ourselves and all learners. To appreciate the global nature of Indigenous teachings we must theorize our multiple Indigeneities and what it means for thinking through new futurity. In light of the wretchedness of colonization, these Earthly teachings can make us human again. Colonization has destroyed our humanity whether as oppressed or colonizers. Anti-colonial education is about reclaiming our lost humanity. But we claim our humanity coming to terms with power and privilege and the ways these have been deployed to exploit others through history. The tentacles and clutches of colonization have been far reaching and bound us together in oppressive relations among ourselves and exploitative relations with our natural environments.
Decolonization is also about embracing and pursuing everyday resistance. We embark upon such resistance as a subversion of the current social order with its myriad social injustices and oppressions. Resistance itself is costly and we may be faced with more injury or harm as we pursue resistance. But the risks and consequences, as well as the material and emotional costs of resistance must not shy us way form resistance. We reward resistance when we show care and a willingness to change our worlds for the better. Power and privilege are the greatest threats to resistance as those who benefit from the status quo may always want to punish those who push for change. This understanding demands that anti-colonial workers also pursue new forms of civic engagement that calls for collective participation of all in order to serve a higher course bigger than ourselves. Resistance is always punished and we need to appreciate resistance in order to embark upon political praxis that ushers change.
The politics of life and death as experienced within everyday colonialism offers new insights into how to engage the poetics and lyrics of decolonization. We have learned that colonialism is violent, barbaric and inhumane. Colonization allows people for privilege [i.e., dominant segments of our communities] as well as punishment [i.e., the ways those disadvantaged in society are made to feel it is all their fault and that no system nor structure holds anyone back. So for the disadvantaged, colonized and oppressed ethics reside in us [not within our institutions] to do good and be rewarded and we must continually sacrifice and endure the pain and suffering.
Finally, we must embrace the knowledge that decolonization is itself contested and can be resisted by those who benefit from power and privilege of the present. The contestations about decolonization should make us rethink how we pursue decolonial and anti-colonial politics in a way that does not insert us into the very things we are trying to contest. We cannot be seduced by power and privilege. We must always remember that there is always an oppressor within each of us. When we define colonial as anything that is imposed and dominating we can begin to see how along the lines of race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, language and religion we can become oppressors even as we are marginalized by these sites of identities and identifications. I have never met anyone who is decolonized. We are all on a life long journey to a new place. No none is under an illusion that it is a paradise. But it is a journey worth pursuing because our current world is unjust, unfair and exploitative. What must keep us going is the belief and hope that through resistance we can begin to design our own self and collective futures and create a different world than we currently inhabit.
GrosfoguelR. (2002). Colonial difference, geopolitics of knowledge, and global coloniality in the modern/colonial capitalist world-system. Review25(3) 203–224.
Maldonado-TorresN. (2004). The topology of being and the geopolitics of knowledge: Modernity, empire, coloniality. City8(1) 29–56.
MignoloW. D. (2007). Delinking: The rhetoric of modernity, the logic of coloniality and the grammar of de-coloniality. Cultural Studies21(2–3) 449–514.
MignoloW. D. (2011). Geopolitics of sensing and knowing: On (de)coloniality, border thinking and epistemic disobedience. Postcolonial Studies14(3) 273–283.
George J. Sefa Dei
Professor of Social Justice Education
OISE, University of Toronto
Fellow, Royal Society of Canada