To fallists and decolonialists in South Africa and everywhere
[T]he black pain of a post-apartheid betrayal of black people is infinitely more painful and dangerous than that of an age when no one had promised any freedom to anyone…. As the Yanks would say, “It is coloniality, stupid!” No need for a doctorate to grasp this. Blackness should be enough.”Itumeleng Mosala, Former President of AZAPO
“Decolonisation is going to be a harder struggle than anti-apartheid.”Roshila Nair, UCT, South AfricaPrivate communication on September 23, 2016. Used with the permission of Roshila Nair.
“We must build the archive of Africanism and decoloniality.”Masixole MlanduCited in Cawe 2016.
Colonization and decolonization as well as coloniality and decoloniality are increasingly becoming key terms for movements that challenge the predominant racial, sexist, homo- and trans-phobic conservative, liberal, and neoliberal politics of today. While colonization was supposed to be a matter of the past, more and more movements and independent intellectuals, artists, and activists are identifying the presence of coloniality everywhere. The reason for this is not difficult to ascertain: the globe is still going through the globalization and solidification, even amidst various crisis, of a civilization system that has coloniality as its basis. Therefore, the continued unfolding of Western modernity is also the reinforcement, through crude and vulgar repetitions as well as more or less creative adjustments, of coloniality. This is reflected in contemporary “development” policies, nation-state building practices, widespread forms of policing, surveillance, and profiling, various forms of extractivism, the increasing concentration of resources in the hands of the few, the rampant expression of hate and social phobias, and liberal initiatives of inclusion, among other forms of social, economic, and political control.
This outline of ten theses is part of an effort to offer an analytics of coloniality and decoloniality with the goal of identifying and clarifying the various layers, moments, and areas involved in the production of coloniality as well as in the consistent opposition to it. In conversation with the first demand of the Movement for Black Lives, the theses pay particular attention to the relationship between coloniality and war. The goal is to better understand the nexus of knowledge, power, and being that sustains an endless war on specific bodies, cultures, knowledges, nature, and peoples, as well as to help evade and oppose multiple forms of decadent responses to decolonization, including narrow views within decolonization movements themselves. In a context where coloniality perpetuates itself through multiple forms of deception and confusion, clarity can become a powerful weapon for decolonization. These theses aim to contribute to this kind of clarity.
Coloniality and decoloniality are concepts used by a wide range of scholars, artists, and social activists in the Americas and increasingly in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe.Some key references in coloniality and decoloniality are: Castro-Gómez and Grosfoguel 2007; Espinosa, Gómez Correal, and Ochoa Muñoz 2014; Lander 2000, 2002; Mignolo 2000 and 2011; Mignolo and Escobar 2010, Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2013, 2015; Pérez 1999; Quijano and Wallerstein 1992; Sandoval 2000; Tlostanova and Mignolo 2012; Walsh 2005; Wynter 2003; and two special issues on the decolonial turn in the online journal Transmodernity 1.2 (2011) and 1.3 (2012). This is part of a decolonial turn in theory, philosophy, and critique, as well as in other areas such as the arts and organizing (Ballestrin 2013; Maldonado-Torres 2006, 2008, 2011a, 2011b, forthcoming; Castro-Gómez and Grosfoguel 2007). My own reflections about these terms owe much to my upbringing in the colony of Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the U.S. empire, and my exposure to the racial dynamics and forms of struggle against dehumanization by various ethno-racial groups in the United States (including, African American, Afro-Caribbean, Asian American, Chicana/o, Latina/o, Native American, and Puerto Rican) and outside the United States, particularly in the Caribbean, Latin America, and South Africa.
My own work in efforts to decolonize the university and society have provided insights that I could not have possibly obtained from scholarly engagement with theories of decolonization alone. I have also learned much about theory, action, and the importance of space and time in decolonial projects from a wide arrange of activists. I want to thank student activists and scholars in Atitude Quilombola (Brazil), Minka (Bolivia), Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall (South Africa), and the Third World Liberation Front (USA). If these theses call attention to the importance of this broad body of decolonial work and activism and lead to a substantial engagement with one or more of them, I will consider them successful.
A note with regards to these movements is important here. They are all youth movements or count with youth as an important part of the membership and leadership. There is much talk in liberal societies about youth representing the future. In truth, however, this is considered the case only to the extent that youth seek to continue the same priorities and frameworks of understanding the world as the dominant voices in the current dominant generation. Under these conditions, youth are expected to aspire to bring about a future that is an extension of the present and a future that affirms and redeems the present and the past. In societies with a segregationist or colonial past and with a present of systemic inequalities, youth are expected to play a major role sanctioning the present order and continuing its existence in the future. In this context, as soon as youth—some youth, any youth—have a dissatisfaction with the present, a different perception of the past, and/or different ideas about the future they are perceived as a problem.
Since youth represent the future, their view as a problem causes a battle of temporalities to ensue, but also one of definitions of space and subjectivity, particularly if the youth in question are part of social groups whose lands have been taken and whose forms of subjectivity are vilified. Nothing less than the definition of the very basis of sociality—the self and its relation to the other in time and space—is at stake, and so also the understanding of the conditions on which people should get to explore ideas and share expressions that would help them to make and remake themselves, their space, and their sense of time. This explains why centers of learning have become such important zones of struggle: it is there that a great amount of youth and other students come together to explore those ideas and get to determine how they are going to position themselves in relation to them.
Responses to the youth “menace” typically start with rejection and indifference, but after pressure from the students it can transform into benevolent neglect disguised as “urgent action.” This is reflected in the organization of special conferences and, specially, in the creation of powerless ad hoc committees and task-teams that are meant to take as much time as possible in generating extremely minimal recommendations that hardly anyone will implement and less follow. In the most successful cases, limited measures are implemented, but then contested, sometimes for years, until administrations can successfully undermine them or eliminate them with reference to new financial crises or one-sided reviews and rankings. At times, it is faculty members hired to support the new spaces and projects that turn against them, which should not be surprising given that they were trained in the university and that they work for the university. Indeed, initiatives for diversifying the faculty sometimes turn into surreptitious efforts to find these kind of scholars, who will then “normalize” the new spaces by aligning them with the traditional standards, and who will also play a major role, from the inside, in keeping them as subordinates to other areas or in gradually making them disappear.
Typically, it only suffices for a scholar to legitimize the tendency in universities of prioritizing support for units that are already recognized in established rankings to perform the expected roles from the university establishment. The reason is that the rankings reflect the ossified criteria of excellence that the students and their allies question. Appealing to rankings is not only a form of lazy reason—since the criteria of excellence is defined beforehand—, but also a) another way of eroding the legitimacy of the calls for decolonization, and b) a rationalization for not providing support to the units that advance it. Appealing to rankings is also another way of perpetuating the endless war that the dominant criteria of excellence maintains, but in a sanitized form that does not reveal any subjective preference for some groups and the predominant methods, questions, and issues that they bring to the university to “stay in their place.”
At the same time, there are always at least some scholars and administrators who continue building on the legacy of previous decolonial struggles, forms of leadership, and scholarly work. These are the ones who continuously seek to decolonize the university and who, when the students organize, join the students in that effort. The difficulties that students face in their protests and interventions are, therefore, one part of a multi-layered and intergenerational struggle that includes at least some faculty members and administrators. The faculty members and administrators work within the constraints of their position, but this does not mean that the pressures, bad faith, and hostility that they face is any less lethal than what students find in their day-to-day encounters with epistemic and pedagogical brutality.
As those whose entry in the university represents a crucial step in their plans for a better future, and as those who have to be exposed to the widest range of lectures and services in the institution, students provide a crucial critical assessment of the university. Decolonial student movements also play an irreplaceable role in the process of decolonization and they will continue emerging until the university, if not also society, is decolonized. The result is predictable when they appear. Along with the conferences, panels, and special task forces, security forces are easily introduced on campuses in order to detain metaphysical revolt (of time, space, and subjectivity) on the basis of the liberal credo of protecting property and the individual rights of those who want to continue supporting the dominant institution, episteme, and mode of producing knowledge. What is not considered is the extent to which the movements could be raising issues of principle that cannot be simply addressed by votes and polls. The force that is mobilized against those principles does not dissimulate the brutality: security forces are brought in and violence ensues. Bodies bleed.
Youth are no longer treated as youth, but as criminals. It is convenient to portray them as puppets of infiltrators and of those who oppose government leaders. The priests of the liberal arts and sciences and neoliberal technocrats coincide in their opposition to the movements and reinforce their responses. At the end, the response by the state and private interests follow the notion that violence is doing everyone a favor. The goal is to restore the liberal temporality of slow to no change in the name of order. Decoloniality, instead, is a direct challenge to the temporal, spatial, and subjective axis of the modern/colonial world and its institutions, including the university and the state.
For the longest time, Western universities have been the province of, first, elites, and later, upper class and white middle class sectors. Civil rights and similar kind of struggles led to the formal desegregation of the university, along with various sorts of openings to migrants and non-white subjects. From the perspective of the racial state, though, formal desegregation only meant the possibility of incorporating youth to a project of continued segregation and colonization by their selective admission into the middle classes of the nation-state. Youth are supposed to buy into the promise of admission to the middle class and to value whatever exposure they can get to “civilized” and modern values in the university. In segregationist societies with Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, like South Africa, youth play an important role as they are meant to confirm the pardons given in those processes and to build on the settlements reached by them.
After civil rights and decolonization struggles in the 20th century, liberal societies have continued building on the various lines of dehumanization that were characteristic of their colonial and segregationist older versions by limiting equality to a formality that is most effectively used against groups that demand change, and by considering demands for empowerment and co-participation as calls for tolerance and inclusion. Generally speaking, liberal societies, including universities and their liberal arts and sciences, strive to create a world to the measure of ambiguous and incomplete legal changes that perpetually postpone, if not seek to completely eliminate, any serious accountability, justice, and reparations.
In contrast, students’ actions that include calls for the creation of a Third World College in the late 1960s (USA), to more recent calls for a university of color (the Netherlands) and a “free and decolonised university” (South Africa), among many of such projects, represent the attempt to complete the process of formal desegregation of higher education and to participate in a project of social, economic, and cognitive decolonization. Liberal states should have predicted this: formal desegregation was only the first step in a process that would follow with continued demands for a concrete and real desegregation and for decolonization.
Desegregation is simply incomplete without decolonization.
It is equally predictable that the struggles for a “free and decolonised education” are bound to increase when segregation returns in the guise of fee increases that seek to socialize youth into a reality where the continued patterns of exclusion are justified with reference to the zero-sum game of state costs, a heightened individualism, and neoliberal criteria. That state leaders and leaders of liberal institutions are surprised by these developments simply shows how inadequate the dominant conceptions of social and political dynamics as well as of higher learning and the hegemonic criteria of excellence are. This inadequacy is what students around the globe are trying to address with analyses that take coloniality and decoloniality seriously.
As it is clear on the basis of the case of the colony of Puerto Rico, as well as the living conditions of Black people, Native Americans, and other minoritized subjects in the U.S., South Africa, and elsewhere, liberalism is by no means the opposite of racism, racist state formations, colonialism, or apartheid. Liberalism is rather a political ideology that facilitates a transition from vulgar legal forms of discrimination to in many cases less vulgar but equally or more discriminatory practices and structures.
Liberal institutions in a modern/colonial world aim to advance modernity without realizing that doing so also entails the continuation of coloniality. Universities become centers of command and control, which make them easy to militarize when opposition rises. Many students feel choked and breathless in this context.
Breathlessness is a constant condition in the state of coloniality and perpetual war, but it increases in certain contexts. It is not difficult to identify when breathlessness is caused by a sudden attack or by a very targeted and obvious brutality, like in the tragic case of Eric Garner in the United States (Baker, Goodman, and Mueller 2015). Even in cases like this, though, perpetrators are exonerated. It should not be strange, then, that educators do not even realize the extent to which their students may find themselves breathless as they seat in their classes and listen to their lectures and the comments of their peers, as they go to libraries and find symbols that over-glorify certain bodies and societies and dehumanize others, and as they walk through campus to constantly be reminded of their place by the symbols of white power and control, now presented in liberal forms as representatives of pure excellence. It should not be a surprise if one day students rise and call for this order to fall. As fallists, youth are no longer seen as the future, but as that which must be struck down, imprisoned, and if possible left completely breathless, choked unto death. As a student poet has it:
I stand out in the midst of your power and supremacy degraded by(Masisi 2016, only abbreviated version here)
your battering and hatred for me because I am.
False lies perpetuated in classrooms and lecture rooms, to make me
feel insignificant and worthless.
Told that my story begins and ends with your supreme nature told
that being dark skinned is
An umbilical cord waiting to be cut and destroyed
Destroyed are the physical ropes and chains you tied my forefathers with.
Still strapped and chained like a slave, like a dog chained to Magogo’s gate.
Mentally enslaved is what it’s called.
Once again my mother and my father reduced to nothing but labour.
Stripped of my dignity
My integrity gone and nowhere to be seen
I CAN NO LONGER BREATHE
The poem provides an insight into the lived experience of a good number of students in universities. Yet, they are supposed to beg for admission and be thankful if they can enter the halls of academia. Then some of them revolt and everyone goes about as if they are too sensitive. Soon enough they are labeled as criminals and thugs. Academics tend to fail them as they are typically more concerned about the state of liberal institutions and about their own professional aspirations and standing than about joining an effort that they will not necessarily lead and for which they will not obtain any positive recognition from the established order or other academics. Security forces are called and students pushed to points where the inevitable mess will be used against them—as if “them,” who are not paid for what they do, “them” who are sacrificing their time and opportunities, “them” who do not have the means of communicating effectively with each other and much less count with the necessary infrastructure to convene and reach collective decisions and orchestrate their actions, yes, as if “them” form a whole that can be accountable in the same way that the government and university leadership should be accountable. Instead, the resulting mess is used as yet another reason to respond to them with brutal force, strengthening coloniality and the tautological validation of the liberal order, liberal values, and the liberal conceptions of knowledge, knowledge production, and excellence. As a consequence, the fresh air that the most intelligent and responsible students are creating in the struggle continues to disappear. They are more used to this than is anticipated, though, as breathlessness – as in closeness to death, as in a condition of permanent torture – is a key dimension of modernity/coloniality and its perpetual war. These theses aim to contribute to the fresh air that is produced in revolt.See Daly 2016 for a discussion of decolonial dimensions of air.
In this context, while some academics start or continue their struggle against colonization in dialogue and collaboration with students, others reappear in their role of critiquing the “irrational” students and sometimes the excessive state forces, as if their direct affiliation with the universities and their lack of direct and actual knowledge of student-led struggles did not challenge their presumed objectivity. The point is not that student movements are perfect. No group or individual is. The point is not that criticism does not have a place inside social movements either. Movements cannot be sustained without the production of critique and the mechanisms to address it. The point is rather that one can only criticize properly when one knows enough about what one is criticizing, and that the only way to know enough about movements that seek decolonization is not by studying them in books or looking at them from the outside.
Too many times some academics state that they agree with the principles of a struggle, but not with the practices of those advancing the struggle. They also feel that their job is to comment on the excesses that they observe. And they tend to think that if they are critical of the state or of the established order, that they need to engage in some equal opportunity criticism and target the movements as well—as if the state and the movements were in a horizontal plane. Everything takes place at the level of knowledge and with the liberal values of supposed distance and neutrality. Since there is hardly any relationship with the movements, other than seeking to lecture them, these academics speak to “civil society,” or just to their other academic readers. Everything is in line with the liberal conception of knowledge that is already inscribed in academia, missing the point that this whole conception is part of the decolonial student movements’ object of critique. The students learn quickly, however, and they start to run away from or confront anyone with these habits. They cannot stand being choked, and less when this is done with the arrogance of presumed liberal detachment and the assumption of a more refined sense of critique, as well as with apparent good consciousness.
Decolonial movements tend to approach ideas and change in ways that do not isolate knowledge from action.
They combine knowledge, practice, and creative expressions, among other areas in their efforts to change the world. For them, colonization and dehumanization demand a holistic movement that involves reaching out to others, communicating, and organizing. A new kind of knowledge and critique are produced as part of that process.
That is, decolonial knowledge production and critique are part of an entirely different paradigm of being, acting, and knowing in the world.
This outline of ten theses will aim to shed more light on this other paradigm and on the conditions for the emergence of decolonial critique. The more complete discussion will appear in the full-fledged version of the theses to appear at a later date. The goal is to contribute to the movement and thereby to increase and help circulate the air, without which movement or real change cannot exist.
The theses and diagrams presented here are introductory, subject to revision, and fundamentally incomplete. They also represent a work in progress. The final version will incorporate more interlocutors and, if successful, offer a better sense of the interrelation between all the elements presented in the theses as well as of their connection to other concepts, practices, and issues that do not appear in the theses yet. Even in their current unfinished shape, however, the theses, the diagrams, and the basic conceptual architectonic can potentially facilitate reflection on coloniality and decoloniality in more comprehensive ways than it is typically done. This is much needed in contexts where these issues are discussed with all the depth that they have while also confronting the dangers that doing so entails, instead of purely or primarily academically. In this sense, the main goal of the theses is to contribute to decolonial intellectual, artistic, and social movements in their analyses.
Finally, the theses are not meant to be closed or conclusive but generative. Part of the reason for this is not only that no set of theses can capture the totality of existing analyses about coloniality, but also that it is simply not possible to encapsulate decoloniality in any singular set of theses. There are simply too many spaces, histories, experiences, knowledge formations, and symbols, to name only a few factors, to pretend to capture final definitions of coloniality and decoloniality. But this does not mean that we cannot aspire to have ever richer and more robust analyses, and that we cannot learn from each other and from the very struggle for decolonization. It does not mean that we cannot breathe together the air that we have left and that, in the closeness of our bodies and minds in struggle, find ways to pass the air that we have to yet more of us and to other generations.
“Youth of Africa! Youth of Madagascar! Youth of the West Indies! We must, all of us together, dig the grave in which colonialism will finally be entombed!”Frantz Fanon, Toward the African Revolution
The introduction to these theses included a reflection on youth movements that seek to decolonize the university. Now that the ten theses have been presented, a few more words about these movements is in order. The movements for “free and decolonised education” are simultaneously addressing the coloniality of being, power, and knowledge. Many of their actions reflect the idea that just like the damnés cannot conform themselves with asking questions, the struggle for the decolonization of the university cannot be disconnected from the larger struggle to decolonize society. This means that the struggle to decolonize knowledge cannot be disconnected from the struggle to end the outsourcing of jobs, just like it cannot be disconnected from the struggle to change the ways in which land and resources are distributed.
At the same time, awareness of the large scope of decolonization and commitment with its various key dimensions do not mean that these movements and their allies are not aware of the incredible importance of decolonizing the university and make it free. Youth who participate in these movements tend to be acutely aware that part of the war on Black people is making it increasingly difficult for them to enter the university through raising the cost of fees. Fees are a form of reintroducing segregation through the back door as well as of socializing youth into liberal and neoliberal values of individual investment.
Youth organizers have also learned that the struggle to decolonize society becomes all the more difficult if institutions of higher learning keep performing their role of defining excellence according to Eurocentric standards and of socializing youth to think and act within the standards of a domesticated middle class within modern/colonial, capitalist, and neoliberal arrangements.
In order to decolonize education, it is vital to have as many as possible black bodies and bodies of colonized subjects in the university. This is a question of social and epistemic justice (Santos 2016). Embedded in these bodies and selves are questions that can bring fresh air to institutions that, like Césaire stated when referring to Europe, take “refuge in a hypocrisy which is all the more odious because it is less and less likely to deceive” (Césaire 2000, 31). Student movements are calling for the end to this hypocrisy. They demand more rigorous knowledge for building a qualitatively better society. They want the university to become an engine of decoloniality: facilitating creative works (including the creation and recreation of subjectivities), ideas, and projects that advance the unfinished project of decoloniality.
Earlier versions of these theses were presented at the Decolonizing Power and Knowledge Summer School in Barcelona in July 2016, and in a lecture entitled “Ten Theses on Coloniality and Decoloniality” as part of the Institute for Creative Arts’ “Great Texts/Big Questions” lecture series on August 22, 2016 in Cape Town, South Africa. The diagrams were shown for the first time at a talk entitled “What is Decolonization?” at the Steve Biko Center in King Williams’s Town, South Africa in March 26, 2016. A somewhat different and longer version of these theses will appear under the title “Decolonization” in a volume entitled Critical Transitions: Genealogies and Trajectories of Change, edited by Marc Botha and PatriciaWaugh for Bloomsbury Press, and in a monograph on Theorizing the Decolonial Turn for the series “On Decoloniality,” edited by Walter Mignolo and Catherine Walsh for Duke University Press. I am grateful to everyone who made possible a three month stay in South Africa from January to the end of March of 2016, specially to South African students and their allies involved in the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall campaigns as well as to activists and scholars in Soweto’s Blackhouse Kollective. Thanks are also due to Mireille Fanon-Mendès France and to the Frantz Fanon Foundation for giving access to this “Outline” on the Foundation’s website: This version was finished in October 23, 2016.
This article was first published on the website of the Frantz Fanon
|1.||Private communication on September 23, 2016. Used with the permission of Roshila Nair.|
|2.||Cited in Cawe 2016.|
|3.||Some key references in coloniality and decoloniality are: Castro-Gómez and Grosfoguel 2007; Espinosa, Gómez Correal, and Ochoa Muñoz 2014; Lander 2000, 2002; Mignolo 2000 and 2011; Mignolo and Escobar 2010, Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2013, 2015; Pérez 1999; Quijano and Wallerstein 1992; Sandoval 2000; Tlostanova and Mignolo 2012; Walsh 2005; Wynter 2003; and two special issues on the decolonial turn in the online journal Transmodernity 1.2 (2011) and 1.3 (2012).|
|4.||See Daly 2016 for a discussion of decolonial dimensions of air.|
|5.||The concept of decadence here is informed by Aimé Césaire’s classic statement at the opening of Discourse on Colonialism (Césaire 2000), and by Lewis Gordon’s discussion of “disciplinary decadence” in Gordon 2006. Also relevant in this context is the analysis of bad faith in Gordon 1995a.|
|6.||For other definitions of coloniality see, among others, Quijano 1991, 2000; Quijano and Wallerstein 1992, and Mignolo 2000.|
|7.||For other definitions and uses of decoloniality see, among others, Pérez 1999; Sandoval 2000; Walsh 2005, 2012, 2015.|
|8.||See also Lewis Gordon 2005, 2007, and 2015 for reflections on the meaning of the mythopoetics of hell and the zone of nonbeing in Fanon’s work. Here I am combining insights from Gordon’s Fanonian decolonial phenomenology, Latin American, Chicana/o, Latina/o, and Caribbean coloniality and decoloniality theorizing in addition to constructing new categories, including efforts at fresh readings of Fanon, at the intersections of these and other bodies of knowledge.|
|9.||The coloniality of power, being, and knowledge are concepts that emerged in what Arturo Escobar called the “Latin American modernity/coloniality research program” (Escobar 2010). Counting with several participants from the Caribbean and the United States, the “research program” was not precisely Latin Americanist, but Escobar’s article is a good introduction to the ideas that circulated in this network between the 1990’s and 2010. For early elaborations of the notion of coloniality and coloniality of power see Quijano 1991; Quijano and Wallerstein 1992; and Quijano 2000. Walter Mignolo identifies the extension of the “coloniality of power (economic and political)” to the “coloniality of knowledge and coloniality of being (gender, sexuality, subjectivity, and knowledge)” to three of four years prior to 2007 (Mignolo 2007).|