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Is Decolonizing the New Black? — July 12, 2018

Is Decolonizing the New Black?

We begin this critique by invoking our foremothers: Audre Lorde, bell hooks, June Jordan, Angela Davis, Maya Angelou, Frida Kahlo, Yayoi Kusama, Jayaben Desai, Hortense Spillers, Gloria Anzaldua, Grace Lee Boggs, Gabriela Silang, and our grandmothers. We recognise and consciously continue their tradition of resisting colonising forces and speaking truth to power from the margins, and doing so, as they did, from a perspective of fullness and abundance rather than scarcity and lack. Their work laid the foundation for the radical intersectional politics that informs the powerful and formidable anti-oppression activist movements of our day, and  shapes our enquiries and analysis here. In this vein, we wish to pose a question that, while painful in its vulnerability, is necessary in order to preserve the revolutionary aims at the heart of the decolonising movement, at a time when its radical politics are both under attack and gaining legitimacy: Is Decolonising the new black?

Within UK Higher Education, the call to decolonise, alongside other agendas that seek to address inequalities (e.g. Athena Swan and the Race Equality Charter Mark), is becoming a familiar demand heard by institutional actors.While Charter Marks serve Universities as mechanisms for gaining access to funding, we interrogate the acceptability of decolonising rhetoric as a sign that is it becoming co-opted by capital. Decolonising has entered consumers’ imaginations, and with it, a new kind of consumer has emerged: one that is politically astute and critical of Whiteness, but also firmly entrenched in conservative market forces that reproduce value through competitive means. In parallel, the ever increasingly marketised realm of British Academia is discovering (many would say in painful ways) that it is no different to consumer markets.

Whereas newer ranking systems such as the Teaching Excellence Framework have recently commoditized learning, the Research Excellence Framework has been creating competitive markets in academia for over a decade. The now acceptable notion of REFability points to the normalised attribution of financial value to knowledge, and its subsequent outcomes: job security, opportunities for promotion and mobility to other institutions. As a result, the motivation of publishers and authors has become mediated by the production of market value while the ancient University sector’s elitist, male, white, straight networks of power are reproduced. In this configuration, the possibility for political action through academic work has been muzzled; in a sector where one is no longer asked to publish or perish, but to publish in 4* academic journals or perish, other kinds of knowledge work recede due to their lack of marketable value (niche research is not the same as unmarketable research).

The financial and White structures that permeate British academic publishing should make us suspicious. Whiteness pervades and structures the socio-political context within which Universities operate and does so by articulating, promoting and sustaining practices that privilege neoliberal dynamics of exclusion and inclusion. In this respect, we should be especially vigilant when a journal title, academic conference or publisher associates a paper, sub-stream or book with the words ‘Decolonizing’ or ‘Black’ in their title with delivering some kind of value-added. This is not only concerning because of the mainstreaming and normalisation of oppression it suggests, but also because we are aware of how hard it is to do the work whilst fighting forces that continually pull towards assimilation into White capitalist structures of power, privilege and patronage. Here, we must state that we are not against decolonising work being embraced and used to overturn structures of power, nor are we against decolonising academics being valued and promoted. We are, however, critical of the accelerated circulation and consumption of decolonising within an archaic and elitist institution.

In asking whether decolonising is the new black, we mean: is decolonising becoming familiar to power structures in ways that its consumption, circulation and reproduction in the academy is diluting its radical politics? We question whether the rapid uptake of decolonising as the new buzzword of critique has become a new form of academic production that adds value to one’s reputation as a critical scholar while also opening a pathway to profit through making the histories, bodies, and experiences of Black people and people of colour consumable and marketable, transforming them into a viable subject for the entrepreneurial academic agenda. We identify a new form of appropriation, where it seems that decolonising is becoming factionalised along a political spectrum so that only parts of it are easily absorbed by Universities (and the people who govern them). This in turn supports the legitimation of HEIs as inclusive spaces without demanding that they engage in the painful process of self-accountability.

We welcome critique that leads to talking openly about and taking action against racism, imperialist ideologies, and colonial violence. However, when this critique is primarily rhetorical, and the accounts and histories of Blackness and its systematic structural oppression are denied presence and scrutiny in institutional narratives, as well as in everyday engagements between White management and academics and students of colour; then the critique is false, and as such must be called out and challenged.

We recognise false critiques all around us, which seem to emerge in the form of new practices and strategies of appropriation. These practices and strategies see the jubilant uplift of the privileged in taking elements of the Other away from the Other, re-configuring them in ways that no longer allow the Other to experience them as benefits, whilst simultaneously creating a branded image of ‘the oppressed’ that erases the possibilities for a resistant subjectivity. This process is one of recolonising in classical capitalist colonial form: Othering and claiming that which is the Other, seeking to assimilate it, exploiting and profiting from it all the while.

In other ways, this configuration materialises in the consumption of Blackness that simultaneously silences critiques of Whiteness. For example, we notice how when writing about people, dynamics and experiences in/of the Global South, White decolonial scholars have failed to reflect on their own privilege in and power over knowledge production. Whiteness thus remains the transparent structure that needs no naming, and with which critical engagement is impossible. When these issues are raised and addressed, whether in critical firsthand accounts of marginality, isolation and racist oppression or theorised in rigorous scholarly ways, they are often responded to with either hand-wringing and pearl-clutching by well-meaning White folks, or anger, aggression and victim-blaming by others. In this way, White fragility and anger are used as material strategies to diffuse responsibility in the articulation and perpetuation of dominant structures of oppression (i.e. if I didn’t care, this wouldn’t affect me so deeply). As a consequence, oppressive practices are rendered as isolated, individualised incidents, not taken for the structural issues manifesting in everyday occurrences and microaggressions that they are.

Given the political nature of academic production, we must also ask: who is doing this work, and for what reasons? As we noted, a number of White scholars are using decolonizing frameworks in their work without interrogating their own Whiteness/White-passing and their complicity in upholding White structures. In tandem, we note the consistency of this type of superficial engagement, and the surprising rate at which decolonizing work is being produced and circulated. The increasing use of the term alongside a lack of self-accountability potentially undermines the more radical politics of doing the work, in which the worker makes themselves vulnerable in situations where they encounter resistance. This is inherent to the experiences of those who engage in practices to dismantle power structures, but it is not evident in the way White scholars produce great value from adopting the term.

Further, it appears that academics with little evidence of anti-racist politics in previous scholarship and practice are emerging as leaders in these debates. This move should not only be questioned in terms of how it is impacting their positionality in their own institutions and amongst ‘critical’ scholarship communities, but also more fundamentally, in terms of the effects they seek (or do not seek) to bring about through their work. If the work they circulate is producing value for them in ways that multiply their privilege in the system, then it cannot be so easily claimed that their work is overturning the power structures within which it is being produced. Decolonising is radical because it identifies the current structures as inherently violent towards people of colour. Producing value in this system therefore strengthens it rather than dismantles it.

However, these discussions should not be seen as emerging exclusively from the academic domain. This work is facilitated by the present historical context, where there is a global anti-migrant and anti-refugee consensus, a re-emergence of fascism in Europe and the Anglo-American empire, and the overall systematic dumbing down of Western public discourse and popular education. A key feature of the current landscape is a lack of inclusive histories stacked up against the dismantling of democratic political processes in the Global South and the Global North, which has led to citizens being denied structural routes to influence decision-making, hardening their political positions and encouraging polarisation. These developments are not entirely new and have deep historical roots in colonialism and Cold War politics, but are certainly framed as such in the gestured surprise and confusion White Europe and Global North media outlets proclaim. This element of surprise correlates with how decolonising is being framed as a ‘novel’ or ‘new’ critique in academic circles so that it can be attributed some intellectual value (new ideas always get the most ticks and clicks!).

Nevertheless, despite the danger of superficial engagement with decoloniality multiplying, the need, importance and urgency of collective political work that democratises structures and creates inclusive platforms cannot be understated. In that respect, we recognise that opportunities are being created, spaces are being claimed and moments are being seized by different actors, where we see a breach opening up in the power structures of Whiteness, which is being enacted in ways that are politically radical and ethically nuanced. The fresh, radical and militant voices of Black and Brown young people worldwide continuing the unfinished antiracist and decolonising work of the 1960-70s have brought about this historical moment. Global youth of colour are challenging long-standing white supremacist institutions to grapple with their historical legacies of active participation and complicity in oppression. In the UK, student movements like #whyismycurriculumwhite, #whyisntmyprofessorblack and #rhodesmustfall have injected a vitality to Black liberation politics that has not been witnessed in decades in British Universities. Doing decolonising work in this context is powerful and brings a real possibility of becoming collective and transformative.

Decolonising is an incisive methodology countering the hard-right’s myopia, individualization, and competitive obsession. Decolonising work sets out to destabilise epistemic understandings, building consensus among the marginalized about a critical understanding of the White capitalist structures that continually de-value them. As such, its aims are always collective, collaborative and anti-competitive. Thus, the decolonising academic cannot seek to gain legitimacy in existing violent structures; doing so would only serve to reproduce these structures and deliver individual benefits. We argue that rather than measure and value the success of decolonising work through normative means e.g. number of publications, grant money accrued, and conferences attended, academics should measure the effectiveness of the work in its own terms, through serious engagement with the following:

  • Engaging with Whiteness with a sense of responsibility and self-accountability while acknowledging that for centuries people of colour have been denied their role in producing and shaping intellectual ideas and knowledge, even about themselves. One way is reading and citing what people of colour have written, and engaging with their ideas from a perspective that recognises the role of Whiteness in their struggles as well as the role of White complicity in reproducing oppressive structures. Another way is to engage critically with the global reach of Whiteness, making it central to discussions of pedagogy, anti-racism and decolonizing.

  • Re-narrating institutional histories so that narratives of racism and imperialism are not forgotten and are instead used in ongoing work that looks to reform universities, in ways that significantly make them anti-racist, anti-imperialist spaces. It is important to go beyond symbolic efforts that increase the brand value of universities (e.g. celebrating Black History Month) and engage with activities and practices that make universities vulnerable to external and internal critique.

  • Developing, applying and regularly reviewing organizing principles as a way of translating anti-racist and decolonizing ethics into applied and measurable methodologies. For this, it is central to actively work with students and staff of colour to seek to de-centre Whiteness in the curriculum, in classroom dynamics, in supervision relations, in staff promotion policies, in any disciplinary or grievance procedures, in mentoring and support relations, in knowledge production practices, and in administrative practices.

  • Working against intersectional racist structures so young people of colour can step into positions of power. This means addressing elitist, racist and sexist institutional structures and cultures, challenging and training those in power instead of demanding change from the most marginalised, and working to roll back the neoliberal university practices that result in the marketization of knowledge, because of which students of colour and poor students suffer, Black students in particular. Understanding and addressing these racial and class-based disparities is essential to decolonial work.

  • Organising within their own institutions to challenge racist practices and processes, including stepping back and giving up privileges, earned or unearned, as well as not continuing to hurt, violate or reduce the participation of people of colour in institutional spaces and processes (e.g. through admissions policies, IELTS policies, funding support, visa restrictions, and closing the attainment gap). The effectiveness of this organising relies on the involvement and leadership of students and staff of colour, whose voices and perspectives are central to understanding the impact of these processes.

  • Making oneself vulnerable in the act of political struggle with White capitalist patriarchy. Decolonising ethics involve a consistent de-centering of the self as well as encountering Whiteness in structures, arrangements and relationships, where personal desire, intentions and underlying assumptions should be brought under sustained scrutiny. This does not equate to using reflexivity as a way of legitimising what one is involved in and how one thinks about it. Decolonising work is a form of agitation; it is dangerous and powerful. If you are not putting your intentions under scrutiny, on your own and by those deemed Other, then you are not doing the work. If you are not upsetting Whiteness by doing the work, you are not doing the work.

  • Embracing solidarity as a radical act of self-effacement, where the Other determines the strength and quality of a relation. Respecting the autonomy of the Other is fundamental to wrestling with power dynamics that we co-construct when doing research that seeks to produce knowledge about the Other.

We believe that it is by focusing instead on these and similar priorities that genuine decolonising work is done. Anything less is simply recolonising.

This piece is a collaboration among Sisters of Resistance, Left of Brown, and Jenny Rodriguez.

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Non Sequitur — July 25, 2017

Non Sequitur

We have a big problem –
big, big, big. I have complete
power. 1.6 billion to build

a wall. Nobody can build a wall
like me. Part of the beauty of me
is I’m very rich. It doesn’t matter

what the media write as long as you’re rich
and you’ve got a young and beautiful
piece of ass you can grab by the pussy.

Just locker room talk. Fake news. The truth is

we need the nukes. North Korea is bored,
nothing to fear. He didn’t do the shot.
I did the shot. Don Jr is innocent –
Ivanka is hot. I’d date her

if I wasn’t her dad. Sad! American might
is second to none. China should make
a move. Let Obamacare fail. My company
is extremely successful.

The Russians don’t meddle. Comey, Sessions,
and Mueller – all traitors. I have no mafia ties.
A media witch hunt. Extremely unfair. Investigate me?
You’re fired! I know the bad people. Believe me,

do I know bad people. I know a lot.
Nothing changes. The White House is functioning
perfectly. I guarantee you there’s no problem.
I guarantee.


Originally posted by FeminismTips at Medium.com

Brexit: The Aftermath — June 26, 2016

Brexit: The Aftermath

Yesterday morning we woke up to confirmation of a new reality. Half of the British public had announced their isolationist views, fuelled by a deep-seated hatred for immigrants and their fear of a brown planet. Elderly white British people voted against their children and grandchildren’s interests, refusing them the opportunity to live, love and work in 27 other countries, for the sole purpose of ideologically ‘taking their country back’, although who exactly had taken it from them was a question that went unanswered. Fascist, sexist skinheads emerged from their lairs wearing Vote Leave t-shirts, carrying St George’s flags, well chuffed with what they saw as a victory for their own. The EU referendum  results have given them the encouragement and ego boost they needed to posture and crow more than ever before in recent memory. This is supported by the approval they have received from the extreme right across Europe, from the Greek Golden Dawn to the Dutch Party for Freedom and French National Front calling for similar referenda for their own countries. The tension produced by this energy is leading to even more harassment and negative actions against already marginalised people, which are being well documented on social media (see below). And yet, it is very unlikely that any of those who voted to Leave would have known to point to neoliberalism as the true source of their woes, nor would they have seen the irony in the country that colonised half of the world cannibalizing itself due to fears of immigration.

We at Sisters of Resistance are opposed to ignorance in all its forms, yet we call attention to the fact that it is not always the ignorant who are fully to blame for the states of affairs that they may unwittingly enact. We note that from the Brexiters’ perspective, a vote to leave the EU must seem a rational response to the lies, Islamophobic hatred, and purposeful misinformation spread by the Leave campaign, combined with the general untrustworthiness of the elitist Tory government with David Cameron at the helm, and the City, banks and big business urging people to Remain. We also note that the many lies told fell on fertile ground because of the conditions of social inequality wracked by decades of neoliberalism and a half decade of austerity. Moreover, we call attention to the similarities between the social conditions of the populist movements in the US that are buoying Donald Trump and those in England which set the groundwork for the tragedy that is Brexit.

Like the rest of the world, we do not know what will happen next. We hold our breath in anxious and fearful anticipation of a domino effect that has the power to undo the past 70 years of peace in Europe and cause lasting chaos in the global economy. But unlike half of Britain, we are willing to learn from history to avoid at all costs the onset of fascist ideals that creep into mainstream society stealthily, in the guise of nationalist pride. There is no room for nationalism in a global society. In the face of socio-economic, environmental, and political crises like those never before seen, we need each other more than ever, now.

US Government Shutdown Hurts Communities of Color — October 2, 2013

US Government Shutdown Hurts Communities of Color

While we at Sisters of Resistance have been contemplating the US government shutdown as indicative of the imminent collapse of an empire, the incisive Imara Jones over at the excellent news site Colorlines.com has written this important and practical piece about how the shutdown will disproportionately affect communities of color, poor communities, and women and children who rely on the government for employment and services.

He writes:

What’s particularly distressing about the shuttering of the government is that it comes at a time when unemployment remains in the double digits for blacks and Latinos. As the Center for American Progress points out, federal, state and local governments since 2008 have eliminated 750,000 public sector jobs. Given unionization and strong anti-discriminatory hiring practices, people of color are more likely to have jobs in the public sector. This is particularly true for African-Americans, and it’s why joblessness remains so stubborn in communities of color.

The truth is that people of color represent a larger proportion of the federal workforce than the workforce overall. According to the Washington Post, 35 percent of federal workers are non-White versus 30 percent of all workers.  This means that a shutdown will only add to the economic woes and employment worries in communities of color.

Read the whole thing here.

We leave you with a brief but critical message to those in government who created this mess:

You Better Work!

London 2012 Olympics: Unwrapped — August 27, 2012

London 2012 Olympics: Unwrapped

In the wake of the 2012 London Olympics, we are cross-posting Ashok Kumar‘s radical analysis of the elite-serving “tradition”/distraction of the masses that is the Olympic Games. You can read the complete article at Ceasefire Magazine.

We close with links to a number of articles from various sources who don’t all agree with our stance on the Olympics, but provide critical insight into the ways women athletes of color are scrutinized rather than celebrated for their accomplishments, a particularly ignominious trend in light of such overwhelming successes this year.

**********

Hosting the Olympics is often presented to us as an ideologically neutral opportunity to boost tourism and sports. In a thought-provoking piece Ceasefire Magazine’s Ashok Kumar outlines a clear and consistent, yet barely noticed, pattern of the Games being used to fundamentally restructure the host City to the purposeful exclusion of its working class and ethnic minority residents.

As London prepares to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, startlingly little critique has surfaced in the mainstream press. With the exception of the trivial issue of ticket prices, most of the city remains transfixed, internalising the dominant narrative. This process precedes each Olympic games, one that is written and distributed by and for the real Olympic profiteers; a nexus of powerful interests that sees both short and long term gains in each host city.

This highly profitable, publicly subsidised, sporting event always attracts the major, and wannabe major, cities of the world, using any and all methods to entice an unaccountable Olympic committee, each flexing their political muscle to ensure theirs is the next chosen location. The Olympics take billions of pounds, yen, dollars of their host countries’ tax revenue to build magnificent stadiums and housing facilities, militarise the city, trample civil liberties and construct elaborate installations with shelf lives of a few weeks.

Read the rest of Ashok Kumar’s article at Ceasefire Magazine.

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Haters Need to Shut the Hell Up About Gabby Douglas’ Hair [Jezebel]

The Gabby Douglas Hair Controversy…Unwrapped [Sporty Afros]

Caster Semenya and athletic excellence: a critique of Olympic sex-testing [Somatosphere]

UK weightlifter Zoe Smith responds to criticism of women’s weightlifting as “unfeminine” [Zoe Smith’s Blog]

Racist/sexist/ageist disbelief  of Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen’s world record [The Guardian]

Racism and prejudice against Serena Williams’ celebratory dance [The Guardian]

**********

And to anyone seeking to belittle the great feats of athleticism these women have achieved, we got one thing for you:

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