Decolonization: A Two-Part Process
Updated: Jul 1, 2022
At Stone and Grace we see decolonization as a two-part process: (De)construction and (Re)construction. The reason we place the 'de' and 're' in parenthesis is because the through-line; the common denominator throughout the entire process of decolonization is you and I constructing the people, spaces, places, and world we want to be: construction.
Before we dive into the process of decolonization, let's first recap what colonization is. Colonization is the process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area. It is also the action of appropriating a place or domain for one's own use. Overall it is the assertion of one's power (control, values, and beliefs) over a group of people and/or place, and forcing every person and thing in that place to assimilate to your culture and will. In this modern era, colonization in a global context usually refers to Western European colonization, imperialism and US globalization; rooted in the concept of those descended from Western Europe or appearing to descend from Western Europe being superior. All are expected to adjust their way of being and interacting in the world to be in tune with the value of and preference for "whiteness."
The first piece of decolonization, (de)construction, is the breaking down of antiquated (old, outdated, destructive, no longer serving an effective purpose):
Systems - ways of operating, especially at the macro-level,
Structures - institutions, physical structures, and
Ways of Thinking (and acting) - people, bodies, brains, and minds.
(De)construction is not the undoing of anything. What many of us confuse is the idea that we can undo what has been done. Now language is language, and I will still say things like "untie my shoes" or "undo this knot," understanding that it just means "reverse" the action, and we can't reverse the hand of time. The unfortunate piece of grappling with the past is that we can't undo any of it. What has happened, has happened, and will always have happened, no matter how much we try to cover it up, erase it, or forget it. Grappling with the past is tough because it is solidified - that includes the ways in which we were nurtured, acculturated, and conditioned. Un-learning, un-doing, un-seeing what we've already been exposed to is impossible. When we tell people this is something that they should do, we are automatically setting them up for failure. And when we assume that de-colonizing is un-colonizing, we are conflating two things that are different in theory.
To 'de' something is to move away from it, or take it apart. To 'un' something is to erase or reverse it. We can't erase or reverse the last 580 years of Western European colonization, imperialism, and eventual US globalization, but we can move away from those creations, tactics, and concepts. When we (de)construct what has happened, or what is in existence, we don't erase it; we can't. We examine it, figure out which pieces we want to keep, and figure out which pieces we want to do away with. The latter are the pieces that we don't take into new construction (i.e. the future). When we are talking about decolonization on a mass scale, the pieces that we're evaluating are all pieces of society. For example, when I look at the United States of America I see the richest, most powerful, freest nation that has ever existed in the history of the planet. I also see a country built on the prioritization of the self-interest of one group of people over the humanity of everyone else. If we were to look at decolonizing the United States of America, we don't try to erase close to 400 years of every and any piece of it; we can't. Instead we look at those things that are antiquated (old, outdated, destructive, no longer serving an effective purpose for all to thrive) - those things such as racism - and work to (de)construct our ways of operating (structuring ourselves, doing, and thinking) that perpetuate racism. That would be step 1.
The second piece of decolonization, (re)construction, is the building back, better, anew, and creating of spaces and places that work for us all. I want to emphasize here that (re)construction is not only the building back different and better of what is already in existence, it is also the creation of new. We need established and new systems to meet all our needs now and into the future. This includes using the pieces we've extracted from (de)construction that we want to take forward and mix with new, and It includes completely new ways of operating.
Continuing with the US example, we have an actual period of (re)construction in our past: reconstructing from the institution of slavery. Reconstruction as the time-period post the US Civil War was successful at first, but it did not stick, and much of the progress made during that time period was dismantled within a decade. I argue that it was because there was no true commitment to (de)constructing the pieces of society that perpetuated the ideology that people with 1 drop of Black blood or more were inferior. You can abolish, in name, the institution of slavery, but if the work is not done to construct the most important pieces of society, the people, into socially and self aware beings - who understand why the institution of slavery is wrong, and acquire the ability to see the humanity in those who were formerly enslaved - (re)construction won't stick.
It's time to move into a period of (re)construction that does stick, but first we need to (de)construct.
In order to effectively decolonize, you must (de)construct to (re)construct.
Decolonization is a two-part process, with the through-line being you and I constructing the people, spaces, places, and world we want to be: construction.
Let's construct the world we want to be, together.
In Power & Love,
Shaunda Lewis is the Founder & Principal at Stone and Grace, and our Chief Specialist in Decolonization.