Where is the Decolonial Lens?

The United States of America was founded on myths, lies, and theft of land and labor, which American’s perpetuate every day. The narrative must change.

The New York Times 1619 Project uses the 400 anniversary of the moment enslaved Africans began to arrive on the shores of this continent. By recounting the past 400 years from a Black perspective allows a conversation to be held that reveals the real consequences of slavery, highlights the Black freedom struggle and the countless ways Black Americans’ have contributed to American life in ways only the Black community typically manages to do.

Listening to the first two episodes of the 1619 podcast, I learned countless details about the abolition of slavery that had been previously missing for me. Episode 1 “Fighting for Democracy” revealed that Abraham Lincoln proposed to ship formerly enslaved Africans out of the United States because he believed it would be beneficial for Whites and Blacks. Rather than leave, Black abolitionist leaders rejected the proposal in order to stay in America and fight for the citizenship based on the ideals set forth with the American Experiment.

This episode continues to discuss the ways in which Black Americans have used the ideologies that founded America to frame their own fight for full citizenship, rights, and dignity — an unheard narrative in most U.S schools, regardless of level or location. In the article, “Education’s Limitations and Its Radical Possibilities,” Prudence L. Carter highlights that America’s public schooling system does not adequately contribute to the intergenerational prosperty many believe it leads to. In other words, schooling does not eliminate the social and economic barriers of racism and classism in the United States. From my perspective, this is a barrier in the fight for democracy all Americans — specifically Blacks.

Carter’s article does not provide any radical solutions, however, he accomplishes something seemingly small the 1619 Podcast did not achieve (at least in the first two episodes). He used the term settler colonialism. Although most people are familiar with colonialism and understand slavery as one of it’s deplorable and evil characteristics, most do not know the implications of living in a settler-colonial society.

Settler colonialism is a distinct form of colonialism that intends on replacing indigenous populations with a whole new society of settlers. In addition to the colonial theft of resources, a settler colonial narrative requires a myth of how land was acquired and who deserves to inhabit that land. In this process, and to the extent possible, indigenous people are eliminated. If their bodies cannot be fully eradicated from the land, their culture is destroyed and projects of assimilation are put forth — such as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania or laws that have created specific ways of being in order to exclude non-Europeans.

In the United States, the settler colonial project was made possible by enslaving countless Africans for free labor. The 1619 Project raises up this history and counters the myths put forth through media and the education system. Episode 1, “Fighting For Democracy”, highlights that Black Americans have been fighting to be included in the democratic project of the United States of America far before Lincoln “freed the slaves.” Although this history must be told to the masses, the New York Times, consistent with all corporate media, narrowly frames this history and doesn’t acknowledge the settler colonial project.

Carter’s article was accurate to suggest education is only a piece of what this country needs in order to provide more opportunities for moving marginalized people out of poverty and provide more equality. Schooling in this country was put forth as a project of nation building, which has further cemented America in the settler colonial project. This is the first and most basic structure in American history. All other structures have succeeded the settler colonial structure. In order to move forward, we must bring settler colonialism into all conversation about economic and social justice. If we do not, we are further entrenching ourselves in systems and a soceity that can only exist by harming indigenous people and their land.

The fact that settler colonialism is left out of these pieces, as well as overall public discourse, is part of the maintenance of a capitalist hegemony that represses discussion of ideologies that threatens the power of the capitalist elite ruling class. Settler colonialism is a direct challenge to capitalism because capitalism did not exist in the Americas until Europeans began to expand their capitalist markets to new continents. The ensuing discourse prevents the emergence of an economic system based on equality and cooperation, rather than competition and exploitation.

If you read this article and find it interesting, I recommend you read “Decolonization is not a Metaphor” by Tuck and Yang. This is one of the most important pieces of literature I have ever engaged with and fundamental to the conversation of progressing as a society.





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