Ever wondered what “decolonizing” means?

In social justice work and even daily life, decolonizing has definitely become a buzzwork, e.g. “decolonizing the syllabus” and “decolonizing reading lists.” Here’s a primer on what decolonization means and how it affects your life. 

At its core, decolonization frameworks ask us to think deeply about why certain standards, items and belief systems are more valued in our society than others. As we might have experienced, many Asian cultural practices when transplanted in the United States become “superstitions” or “traditions,” such as not opening umbrellas in the house. Yet similar rituals and practices emerging from Western societies are not given the same labels, and moreover, they are uplifted as celebrations and rites of passage that all should take part in in order to truly be accepted.

Asian American Justice + Innovation Lab gives us a few more points to think about when considering a decolonizing framework: 

Where did the ideas our current society is built on come from? How can we question where we currently are today? These questions are meant to provide decolonial frameworks, in which we can understand our individual positionalities as well as our collective histories in this country.

Decolonization can be seen as an active resistance to and dismantling of colonial practices, traditions and institutions. The typical definition of colonization refers to the first settlement of Europeans that denied Indigenous culture’s presence and destroyed their population through genocide and disease — but that is not the full picture of colonization’s impacts. 

While colonization is often contextualized as something that happened in the past, there are ways in which we are still complicit in the participation and enactment of colonial violence. In Deborah Barndt’s “Decolonizing Art, Education, and Research in the VIVA Project,” she explains that decolonization is a process that involves unlearning “habits, attitudes and behaviors that continue to perpetuate colonialism; and challenging and transforming institutional manifestations of colonialism.”

As aforementioned, in the United States, settler colonialism has perpetuated the genocide and erasure of Indigenous peoples and cultures. Settler colonialism also included the practice of chattel slavery, where processes of colonization extended to the control, dehumanization and exploitation of Black people. This legacy has manifested itself through settler colonial assimilation practices, environmental degradation, political suppression, police brutality and much more.

By understanding the ways in which we still perpetuate and normalize colonial ways of thinking, we can start to reimagine what our society can look like. Decolonial perspectives shift our understandings of our world by recognizing and honoring Indigenous practices and dismantling anti-Blackness and white supremacy.

For those of you who are just starting your journey of decolonizing: Practice by thinking about common beliefs that hold power over you and identify where they came from, i.e. are these beliefs aiding the continuation of hegemony (dominance by a more powerful group)?

If you are continuing on your path towards decolonizing: Take 5 minutes every day to question your habits and your go-to actions — Who writes the news articles you read? Who creates the films/TV that you watch, not only in terms of the company but also the race/ethnicity/background of the creators? Why do we value their work over others?

The Asian American Justice + Innovation Lab is a community racial justice incubator. At its core, AAJIL (pronounced “agile”) offers general racial justice education for all that employs a decolonial framework and intentionally integrates Asian American histories and experiences. Learn more at https://www.aajil.org/

AAJIL offers free community education through their People’s School for Justice virtual workshop series on Wednesdays at 5:00 p.m. PST / 8:00 p.m. EST. There’s something for everyone with sessions on poetry; microaggressions; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and even American sports. Check out their full calendar of events at https://www.aajil.org/psfj

This article is part of Mochi’s Amplify, Align, Activate initiative. At Mochi, we are partnering with local and national nonprofits that serve our community of AAPI women and non-binary individuals to uplift and promote causes that matter to us and affect our everyday lives. For more information, see the Amplify, Align, Activate homepage. If you are interested in partnering with us, please email Giannina Ong (Activism Editor) at gianninaong@mochimag.com. 

Photo credit: Dulcey Lima//Unsplash

Authors

  • Giannina Ong is completing her master's in women's and gender studies at University of Toronto. She is a nerd: she loves reading, writing, and being in the classroom. At Mochi magazine, she serves as activism editor and co-editor of Black Allyship @ Mochi, in addition to writing and copyediting.

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  • Jean Park is AAJIL's Community Engagement Director and a member of the Artists Lab, Lotus Art Collective. She is a Community Engagement Coordinator at API Forward Movement, a nonprofit working to cultivate healthy and active API communities through grassroots organizing. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Jean is inspired by advocacy organizations and coalitions fighting to end homelessness and is actively involved with Chinatown Community for Equitable Development (CCED).