Not in my lifetime

By: Óscar Cejudo Corbalán

The idea of decolonizing opens so many new thoughts (and headaches.) Since I have been exposed to the theoretical field of social justice I have been learning about and from many concepts. It is interesting to see how a new term (for me) can easily supersede the old one. Diversity (the representation, the numbers, the “tangible”) is not enough without inclusion (the interactions, the behaviors and attitudes, the “rules” that allow an equitable relationship to take place in a diverse setting.) Now it seems that inclusion is not enough if it is not achieve through decolonization.

It now feels that inclusion is a way to allow people outside the center (the unprivileged, the oppressed, the marginalized) to interact with the rules imposed by this center – to include them in that center. I know it is not the case, and that the idea of inclusiveness includes challenging the power dynamics. But the question is: can we be inclusive enough if we do not engage in decolonizing our minds and structures?

This decolonization can be explained using Galtung’s model of center-periphery. If we can expand the center to include more types of thoughts we will be disrupting the established systems of knowledge. And it was important for me to rethink that expanding the center does not mean perpetuating the same structures with more identity or status groups enjoying the privileges of being in this center. It does not mean either to revert the structures, interchanging social status and putting in the center those who used to be in the periphery and leaving in the side the ones who used to be the privileged. It means a completely rethinking of what we understand by knowledge (who, how and why is produced, disseminated and received.)  Once my first misconception of this idea was overcome, the question is how?

I see the theory and practice quite clear in some cases. I can highlight two from this week: ghosts and peace education. Early in the week, Kathryn Poethig came to talk about the importance of taking into consideration the dead people in the process of trauma healing and reconciliation. I was completely astonished about this idea and my complete ignorance on the topic (as with many other topics.) It will clearly depend on the needs of the local people in the post-conflict environment, but once the idea was presented to me, how can I deny the relevance of this issues in conflict resolution or even transformation? The field is so centered on the livings (the material realm) that these types of knowledge and approaches are left out.

More recently, Qamar Houda brought another decolonizing approach (unless that is how I see it) when talking about Peace Education and peace curriculums. Specifically talking about history curriculums and textbooks which are usually coming from a very biased (and intentional) perspective, Houda maintains that the only way to break this faulty and incomplete history is by including many other voices.

I understand that in an ideally decolonized world, dialogues with ghosts and curriculums that include many perspectives in (let’s say) the common history of a region/state, are at the same level as any other knowledge or understanding of the world. However, I am facing a wall in my colonized mind (one of many in this decolonizing headache process.) Can we accept knowledge from every single source? Can we draw a line? How can everything be accepted? No, how can anything be rejected? And why? (Argh!)

Even deeper than that (and thicker, if I continue talking about this as if they were walls in my colonized mind), is there an escape from this concept? It seems to be an irrefutable truth because it explains itself and it defends itself, perfectly protected (interestingly enough, even better self-protected than the structures of privilege that it wants to eliminate.) By questioning the process of decolonizing we are reaffirming the colonized mind we have, and the need to decolonize it. Once you have started to think about it there is no way out! (ARGH!)

As many things in the field it is a process and a constant learning. We can only plant the seeds of the decolonization and hope that someone will eventually collect the fruits. As everything in the field it starts in oneself but without being oneself the ultimate goal or protagonist. However, and this is the ultimate difference with many other aspects in the field: Decolonizing my mind sometimes seems way harder than decolonizing the superior structures.

I am convinced that I have to decolonize my mind, I completely embrace the idea (as I said, there is no way to escape it anyways), but I have the feeling that it is not going to happen in my lifetime.

Sites DOT MIISThe Middlebury Institute site network.