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Leaving the cave: How decolonization is still a process

By Jen Sidorova, November 4 2021—

The University of Calgary’s Courageous Conversations Speaking Series webinar, Decolonization: Rethinking the Coloniality of Power, Knowledge, and Being, was hosted by the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. It addressed the issues of coloniality of being, the difference between decoloniality and decolonization, the power of colonial knowledge in academia and the importance of re-learning. The webinar was held on Oct. 21 over Zoom. 

Dr. Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Professor and Chair of Epistemologies at the University of Bayreuth and Dr. Isabel Altamirano-Jiménez, Professor of Political Science at the University of Alberta, were the invited speakers,. They delivered messages stating that the processes of decolonization are still ongoing.  

The panel was introduced with a powerful statement about resistance to colonialism.

“In order to speak to the power, name the challenges we face and make the systemic change, we should have courage.” said the panel facilitator, Dr. Malinda Smith, vice-provost of the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the University of Calgary, referring to Violet King and Maya Angelou. 

Talking about power structures and coloniality of being, Ndlovu-Gatsheni noted that it is crucial to reflect on the grammars of liberation critically. He stated that there is a deep connection between knowledge and identity, which is inherently political. Knowledge coproduction or the incorporation of different perspectives and knowledge systems — is entirely a question of knowledge decolonization as it brings up the perspectives of subaltern actors, for example, Indigenous communities. Knowledge coproduction involves interactions between knowledge and power. Framing this discourse of knowledge decolonization as the geopolitics of knowledge is more accurate. The cognitive empire is responsible for most of the modern world’s problems because it created patriarchy, sexism and colonialism. 

Discussing the coloniality of being, Ndlovu-Gatsheni asked an important question: “How were human beings colonized?” In the discourse of colonialism, there is an invisible social pyramid of human beings based on racial classification. Modern colonial power structure frames gender, beauty and language issues, and this is how coloniality of power is organized. 

Colonial languages in settler states, for example, are given a higher power. Knowledge production was epistemically colonized. Deracialization was a response to colonialism, but it did not change the structure of institutions. Ndlovu-Gatsheni argued that Africanization has never engaged in structural changes or institutional changes. The structures remain colonial and patriarchal. 

Altamirano-Jiménez approached the discussion from Indigenous perspectives. She asked a question — how to bring experiences of colonial community perspectives into the discourses of colonialism. Colonial projects produce structures and the context in which decolonial scholars continue to reside despite the colonization movements. Altamirano-Jiménez stated that Western civilization is still viewed as a pinnacle of progress that defines how history is understood and how knowledge is framed.

Altamirano-Jiménez put a specific emphasis on the fact that decoloniality and decolonization are not interchangeable terms. Decolonization continues to recognize the continuous struggles for liberation, even after the Second World War. Coloniality continues to affect the structures of colonized people. Indigenous peoples in the global south remain in the same conditions as they had been experiencing before decolonization. 

According to Altamirano-Jiménez, decolonization is an ongoing movement. Epistemic liberation is about acting to show necessary relationality to defend Indigenous lands as a source of knowledge. She asked: “How not to reproduce Eurocentric hierarchies when decolonial scholars create knowledge in the academic context?” Altamirano-Jiménez noted that Indigenous knowledge comes from the land — this knowledge is derived from living things. Thus, the context in which Indigenous and Local Knowledge is produced is specifically important, she noticed closer to the end of her speech. 

The scholars’ insight towards the end of the panel was simple and wise — Western-trained decolonial scholars need to re-learn what they studied while doing their degrees at universities. That means that most of the knowledge, even in academia, is still colonized and primarily represents the Western, Eurocentric school of thought. 

To myself, as an attendee of this panel, decolonization, in this regard, is like leaving Plato’s cave. While most Western-trained scholars remain in the cave and do not see the outside world, scholars from non-Western backgrounds decide to abandon the cave and see the outside world. Then, they suddenly realize who they are and their real identities.

The cave, in this illustrative example, is Western education, a structure built and developed by colonial powers and the legacy of colonialism. Decolonizing oneself means leaving the Western and colonial ways of thinking, and perceiving one’s real identity clearly and objectively. Leaving the cave is the pathway that eventually leads to seeing the truth outside of the colonial framework.

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

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