Making Meaning of “Decolonising”
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

Thank you very sincerely and very deeply for this.

I only stumbled into wrestling with my “white obliviousness” a couple of years ago hence my comprehending (both emotional and cognitive) is (necessarily, I suspect) shallow, flawed, sporadic and generally pretty crummy.

That doesn’t mean I’ve learned nothing though, and…in that disgustingly painful and dismaying journey I’ve noticed one thing (I’ve notice others too, this one noticing seems relevant here) about this U.S. “dominant culture” that seems to be remarkably prevalent. That is the “commodification” (for want of a better term) of potentially disrupting and transforming epistemological practices by that dominant culture.

By “commodification” I mean the defanging and trivializing of those practices and their re-introduction to aspiring “good white liberals” (Note: I’m not addressing here the nefarious harmful reworkings more active white supremacist ‘conservatives’ sometimes attach to once positively meaningful notions (“coloblind” for instance).) as buzzwords and badges for them to bandy about (without their doing the necessarily deep and painful work required to be partially transformed by those ways of knowing/comprehending).

Commodification very much seems to be a process of substituting the word for the deed and grabbing onto the notion that talking the talk can stand in for walking the walk. The desperate appeal of “white innocence” is profoundly seductive and our dominant culture works diligently to serve up deceptive masks for those who seek that innocence to wear so that they can/will not engage in the necessary movement toward transformation required before genuine disruption of this culture of oppression can/will occur.

The insidious and diligent effectiveness of the resilience of structures of oppression would be praiseworthy and impressive if it weren’t that that resilience is working to maintain horror, destruction and death both for the victims of those structures and for mother Earth herself...not to mention the harm they do by diminishing the humanity of those who uphold and perpetrate them. Everyone is harmed by this crap, but the harms are dramatically different depending on your positoning.

You made mention of “diversity” and of “intersectionality”…those are two more serious components of potential comprehension/transformation that have been subjected to this dominant cultural ‘jujitsu magic’ that works to retain the words but to divest the concepts of their inherently destabilizing effects on that same dominant culture.

I have a theory that once some such destabilizing practice/concept/buzzword gets to the point that white people are offering (most especially if they get paid for it) workshops (heck, maybe even when they write books about it and don’t devote a portion of any profit to decolonization efforts) about it then commodification of that practice is well advanced and any genuine learning that occurs in such a venue will likely be accidental and probably thoroughly frowned upon. That’s not to say that some might not be prompted to begin to engage in real effort because of something they encounter in such a workshop…but…I suspect that will be mostly fortuitous and random. (capitalism isn’t much interested in sustaining/promoting/rewarding anything that might genuinely subvert colonization or the ‘white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’ (credit to bell hooks for that last phrase))

It’s maybe akin to the difference between reading some popular self-help book by the guru du jour versus doing the incredibly demanding task of engaging in a years long course of painful and terrifying psychotherapy with a competent and compassionate therapist. Yep, you can acquire the lingo from both sources….but…they’re so very much not the same thing.

Our culture of oppression is committed to promoting the notion that reading the book is all that’s needed (especially if you’re “well intentioned) to achieve the same sort of growth/change that potentially occurs in that second undertaking. It just not true that books and workshops are going to get it done…individual and societal transformation doesn’t happen that way, it’s much much more difficult than that, as you well know.

An African American friend of mine once said he had been told something to the effect that “racism is smarter than any one person”. What little comprehending I’ve achieved (it comes and goes) makes me aware that “colonization is smarter than any one person too” and that struggling to engage in the depth and breadth of any genuine “de-colonization” effort is, via necessity, a life long and unending project that will probably necessitate spanning generations if it is to achieve some sort of firm grounding in the consciousness of most folks (very most especially in the consciousness of us white folks).

I take heart from knowing that you’re out there Dr. Chandra Prescod-Weinstein. You’ve written an excellent and insightful and useful article here that is greatly appreciated by someone (me) who is/was in the coma of whiteness for decades (and mostly still is) but is floundering and flailing, sometimes more diligently than other times, to decrease its deadening toxicity. Thank you.

We all have much work to do (especially we white folks) and that work is greatly helped by your efforts.

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