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Group of hydrangeas WV

Decolonization

Deborah Stollery

I am trying, amidst all the swirling around me, all the noise, the chaos and the uncertainty, to remember my commitment to trying to become an anti-racist.  Like many of you with all kinds of personal commitments, I am finding this a bit of a struggle.  I am using one strategy to help me stay in this hard work and that is to deliberately look for and listen to people who are well on their way in this journey and who are reaching back, to help me along.  I am finding those people in surprising places like the Global Leadership Summit, like Berrett-Koehler Publishers’ online leadership summit “Leadership for a Changing World”, like Commonweal Magazine and like Devorah Spilman’s InStory Show.  My anti-racism focus is helping me listen to artists, poets, thought leaders, leadership experts, entrepreneurs and fellow human beings, and now it seems as if these people are all around me!  The difference now?  I am looking for them.  I’ve been given eyes to see and ears to hear.

Today I would like to introduce to you Edgar Villanueva, author, activist and founder of the Decolonizing Wealth Project.  I listened to him as part of the online summit “Leadership for a Changing World” where he gave a talk entitled “The Future of Leadership is Decolonized: Why we Must Confront White Supremacy in Leadership.”  He introduced me to a perspective that I now have to think hard about…one not new to generations of peoples around the world.  But, it’s new to me.  Decolonization.

OK…I have always known that history is written by the victors.  What I’ve not thought about until very recently is how that history legitimized practices that have generationally oppressed people.  I am increasingly understanding how a white version of history painted slavery very differently from the story told by slaves themselves.  I am increasingly understanding all the people, places and things about which I learned nothing because my history books and my history teachers favored the story of the rise of the colonists…who were white.  White history told by white writers, taught by white people to sometimes integrated classrooms.  What must it feel like, even now, to not hear of the oppression, resilience, innovation, and grit of your people?  Mr. Villanueva even talked of what it’s like to be literally brainwashed out of his indigenous worldview and into a white worldview.

Villanueva began his talk by helping us understand what colonization is: the dominant system or group takes over and exploits and extracts from the land and its native people, demanding adherence to the dominator’s values, systems and worldviews.  It takes place all over the world, even now through such practices as stealing land, raping women, taking slaves, breaking of bodies and destruction of family units through fighting, labor, imprisonment and genocide; stealing children, enforcement of religion and the attempts (some successful…some not) to destroy spiritual ways of life.[i]  That’s what happens when colonization happens.  I know for sure that when I learned about the first 13 colonies and the white men who founded them, this was not part of the story…or if it was mentioned it was portrayed as “the way this must happen in order for it to be successful.”  The white man’s version of history is the story of colonization.

Colonization: it’s this notion that one group of people has a “right, inevitable and necessary” way that must be imposed on others for there to be progress, freedom, hope and wealth from which we all must be set free.  Villanueva said, as an indigenous person who has been successful in the white man’s system, he came to realize that he needed decolonized…something that I’d never really thought about.  It’s like a double dose of colonization:  first it’s done to you, then you take the worldview into yourself and so there’s need of the second liberation.  I’d never thought about that.  Oppressed twice.  Robbed twice. 

I need to be liberated from colonized histories, colonized mindsets, colonized preferences .  But here’s the challenge from Mr. Villanueva:  I am so infused with them that I need lots of confrontation.  Lots of it.  It’s the way I think…the way I’ve been taught is the “right” way to see all of this.  I have to unlearn and I’ve learned as an adult educator that unlearning is way harder than learning. 

Because this will take a LOT of confrontation, over a long time…because I will have to do this and do this and do this again…it seems daunting.  But I also know that I am not in this alone…that many of you are accompanying me.  But I also know that this is what God intends for his beloved creation:  to give up domination in favor of collaboration, to give up domination in favor of learning, to give up domination in favor of stewardship…to give up colonization in favor of the Beloved Community.  Join me?

[i] Tine Curie-Allen.  “What Decolonization is, and What it Means to Me.”  Teen Vogue.  March 4, 2018. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/what-decolonization-is-and-what-it-means-to-me  Accessed 9-17-2020.

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