Decolonisation 101

Hey! This is Ian. This text is not a comprehensive introduction to the topic of decolonisation. Instead, it is a short summary of my initial questions and research about colonialism and decolonisation. I hope you enjoy :)

  1. What is colonialism?
  • Colonialism is typically understood as a practice that involves both the subjugation of one people to another and the political and economic control of a dependent territory.
  • Though it is not exclusively so, the term is strongly tied to the project of European political domination during the sixteenth century all the way until the national liberation movements in the 1960s.
  • Though we might think that colonialism is long gone as most former colonies have now gained independence, the perverse political and socioeconomic impacts of colonialism can still be felt to this day.

2. Why is colonialism bad?

  • Colonialism was originally justified as a way to bring civilization to societies that did not abide by the ‘natural law’, which are ‘principles every reasonable person would recognize and adopt’.
  • Of course, the ‘principles every reasonable person would recognize and adopt’ were thought to be only the principles of white European men.
  • Customs such as nakedness, unwillingness to work, and alleged cannibalism were quickly thought to be strong enough violations of the ‘natural law’ to justify colonisation.
  • As such, colonialism can be seen as the exportation of European ‘civilisation’ to foster the ‘improvement’ of native peoples.
  • This sentiment of ‘improvement’ and European and white superiority has persisted throughout the years and is also present today.
  • Effectively, it remains a way for white European men to speak and make decisions for marginalized people, on account of their self-imposed superiority and universality.
  • As Lea Ypi argues, the distinct wrong of colonialism is that it creates and upholds a system that denies equal terms of political association to the colonised.
  • The fact that disparities in the ability of political association between the then-colonisers and then-colonised still hold means the wrongs brought about by colonialism have still not been rectified.

3. Why should I care? Colonialism hinders ALL students

  • The preference for white male European cultural production extends to universities as well.
  • Nowadays, the perspectives of white male Europeans are seen as universal, when in fact they are merely one of many.
  • This creates biases in our education, and systematically omits ideas that are equally worthy of being discussed.
  • For example, treating white male European perspectives on justice as universal gives universities a pretence to omit other non-white, non-male, non-European perspectives on justice from academic discussion, even though both are equally valid conceptions of justice.
  • In fact, no perspective is universal, and knowing about only one of them will not give us a universal perspective.
  • So, the pool of knowledge that we can learn from in university is systematically limited by colonialism, inhibiting our efforts in search of a truth.

4. How can we decolonise King’s?

  • I don’t think we will ever be perfect, but there are some measures we can implement to try to strive for a less colonialist King’s:

a. Reform modules to include non-Western, non-white, non-cis-male, non-heterosexual, perspectives. This does not mean only including new ‘gender’ or ‘non-Western’ modules, but instead incorporating these perspectives into all modules.

b. Hire more non-white, non-male, non-European module convenors and TAs.

c. Expand reading lists to include perspectives of people of multiple demographic groups on a single topic.

d. Eliminate the awarding gap between white and ethnic-minority students.

  • However, colonialism will persist.
  • There will still be a divide between the academics who discuss these decolonised perspectives in a university and the marginalised people who have these ideas and conversations.
  • This will not change the fact that an academic discussion on Bell Hooks will be seen as superior to a conversation between poor black women on gender equality.
  • In fact, it might be that decolonising universities will give white intellectuals even more ‘justification’ in speaking for marginalised peoples.
  • Decolonising universities and other elite spaces might give us the impression that the problem of colonialism is solved, when in fact it is still very much alive.

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King’s College London students passionate about colonialism and decolonising the university

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Ian Chalfon

Ian Chalfon

PPE Student at King's College London.

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