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Colonialism withdrawal

2013 September 16

I’ve been reading Decolonizing Methodologies, the most astonishing and radical piece of text I’ve ever encountered. It is exposing as fictional colonial tools the very foundations of my understanding of the world, and with them the core of my identity and self-worth. I have often told myself that I love uncovering unexamined assumptions, but before when that’s happened I’ve always been able to incorporate that new knowledge and feel I can act constructively with it. Now I’ve lost my bearings.

I have been informed, and I can find no reason to disbelieve, that the West – that is, the total cultural archive of ideas that developed out of the European Enlightenment and that has been spread forcibly around the world – is a lot more insidiously arrogant and brutal than I had previously grasped. All the academic disciplines, some of which I have been cheerfully pursuing for 30 years now, are implicated in justifying and shaping everything else the West does, and all have been experienced by indigenous peoples as justifications and tools of control. Anthropology and history most obviously, but also right down to biology and math. We are obsessed with measurement, categorization, division, and assert constantly that our truth is universal, perhaps imperfect but obviously superior to the “superstition” of less evolved minds, of the perennially problematized Other. Our history and their pre-history, our knowledge and their beliefs, our progress and their deficiency. This is a fundamental tenet of the empirical scientific mindset which underlies our educational, technical and economic systems. I have increasingly sophisticated research skills, but why should I believe research helps anyone? The West says research is the path to truth and truth is the path to effective action, but indigenous people have seen research mostly used to steal and misrepresent their knowledge and lives, to sever connections, and used to justify continued Western imposition and destruction, well-meaning upper-middle-class White liberal researchers offering, I don’t know, clinical trials of purified extracts of native plants to treat depression, to prescribe the meaning of depression, to wring our hands about your persistent depression, to “do something!”, to erase your history and replace it with our own, preserve at least a few fragments of your sadly dying culture before its inevitable demise, while we help ourselves to your trees and rivers and minerals and ancestors and sacred practices. Land theft, residential schools, out-adoption, hospitalization for suicidality… because we need to eradicate—I mean civilize—I mean save—I mean help them, with “our” resources and our science, which is good for us so it’s good for you too, to kindly solve their problems which are what we say they are, just as they are who we say they are, so they can finally succeed on our terms. Their problems are due to their corruption, their genetics, their culture, their isolation, their ignorance, their helplessness, their laziness, their oversensitivity, their idealism, their unwillingness to assimilate, their living in the past. Those poor deprived people, however can we figure out more efficient ways to bring them our wisdom? Trust us, we’ve figured out the best way to use of your space and time and bodies. Oh yes, we were bad in the past, we admit it, but we stopped, so get over it please, because we never meant any harm. If you don’t like it, yes, fine, let’s settle the matter in our courts according to our laws and our rules of evidence and our economy and our worldview in our language. Why should I continue to spend my life refining my capacity to produce discourse according to the Western specifications that are implicated in all this? What has the West given the world? At best, comfort, security, and communication, at least for some; this at the expense of environmental, psychological, cultural, and spiritual destruction. We have spread more diseases than cures. The ancient wisdom of my people is wisdom about how to dominate and exploit, and about how to entertain and reassure ourselves as we do it. What is my ongoing participation in such epistemic systems but acquiescence to our ongoing claim to superiority?

Am I being unreasonable? How would I know? Even my mind, and especially some of my favourite parts of it, is one of the master’s tools. Oh Lorde, what should I do?

I have some ideas, I still have hope, but I had to get this cri de coeur out. It may not make sense to those unfamiliar with the ideas. I know there are Westerners who seem to be working as effective allies in decolonization, including using research. I thought I had a decent handle on that, but somehow it took me until yesterday to realize how deep our colonization problem goes. What to do next? How to decolonize? It’s not complicated: it starts with listening. I should probably start by reading past the first third of Decolonizing Methodologies.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 2013 September 16 14:49

    Andrew: thanks for chronicling the progress of the decolonization of your mind for us. haven’t read what you’ve been reading, exactly, but to the extent I get where you’re coming from let me take a shot at the final q. in p.3. – you should use your limited but not negligible power within the present and historically dominant ( fundamentally exploitative ) power structures in order to assist in reshaping them, in accordance with your sense of justice v. injustice, which is one thing – I hope you’ll agree – is left intact amidst the moral wreckage of our mutual upbringing as minor heirs to the empire. as for tools, well, thems that build can rebuild; keys that lock in, imprison, can open up and set free. all depends on who holds them. keep us posted. another world is possible.

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