Decolonization Work: An Inner Journey Without End
As a white identifying ciswoman, I cannot deny that my socialization is deeply steeped in white, cisheteropatriarchal capitalism. I won’t for a minute lead anyone to believe this work is something I do not grapple to navigate and disrupt every single day. My decolonizing work has no end.
I inhabit spaces that are the ancestral home stewarded by the Potawatomi, Kiikaapoi, Myaamia and Peoria Tribal Nations. I further honor that I have a responsibility to address this history and acknowledge that Indigenous peoples are part of this nation’s and my community’s past, present, and future. I remind myself I am not only living on stolen land but that my ancestors have benefitted, and I continue to benefit, from generations of harm. I cannot turn away from this reality as I lay admiring the moon and the clouds drifting in the night sky. Laying on the dewy grass in my backyard gazing between electric wires at the full moon to calm my central nervous system managing the sometimes calm and sometimes hustled life I live one block outside of Chicago city limits. At any moment, I can feel the peaceful serenity the universe holds and yet, I can’t turn from the genocide, pain, and turmoil the universe continues to absorb.
I must sit with the fact that I didn’t leave a toxic culture and position for years because of the paycheck and benefits it offered while my soul was crushing. Capitalism tied to whiteness, colonization and heteropatriarchy has its hold on me, too.
My need to feel productive, my resistance to be still rather than flooding my conscience with guilt for not responding to an email, finishing a report, planning a workshop, or preparing for a client session is a re-imagining and way of being my habit does not resist without urges from my soul. My tendency to over-extend, over-commit and over-produce and thus, co-create a culture where others feel the pressure to do the same is just a small example of the de-colonizing work, I must intentionally engage in my day-to-day life that becomes my existence.
Actively re-wiring the fibers of my brain to undo the ingrained behaviors of checking my Google calendar and email the first thing I wake. I must remind myself that I and everyone on this earth are more than our to-do lists, our professional accomplishments, our degrees — our plight to be recognized in a colonizing society. We all deserve to be our full selves, space to relax and enjoy life and to be fully engaged with our families, friends, neighbors and lovers when in their presence rather than rushed to the next more important “thing.”
My partner and I actively engage in conversations about how we are present day colonizers — our “old condo” we rent in the city as just one example of how we are colonizers. We sit with the reality that we are part of the rising cost of living for the neighborhood and the tenants are increasing our wealth. Historically, we have “felt good” by not charging tenants the exorbitant rent in the swiftly gentrifying neighborhood but only charging what is necessary to cover the cost of the mortgage, taxes and HOA fees. Though, as we learn, grow and critique capitalism, white supremacy culture and colonization, we must also look at ourselves in the mirror. We must also hold the nuance that we are an interracial couple, and that colonizing is more than race; though, it is my belief I hold the most responsibility in decolonizing myself.
We grapple with moving to an upper middle-class community because of the “good schools” and I sit with the fact that I am teaching my multiracial boys that the “best education” is a predominantly white-washed education — their opportunity for access to a bright future. My partner and I debate the ways we sold out by leaving Chicago Public Schools to live in a “diverse”, “progressive” community with these “great schools.” I can’t turn away from the present day colonization I co-create.
These, and many other realities, are not easy to admit though I must sit with the ways I have a responsibility to continue to decolonize my thoughts, beliefs, choices, and ways of being. The work is not outside me — it is always with me. I am living the dreams of white, capitalist colonizers who claimed the Americas as land they were entitled to conquer while doing everything in their power to destroy Indigenous communities, families, cultures, and people who had been stewarding the land for centuries. This land is past, present, and future Indigenous people’s birthright. Living in white skin I am the colonizing migrant in the Americas.
This is the truth as I have grown into knowing and receiving it. I have a responsibility to reconcile my wrongs, the wrongs of my ancestors and to hold all present-day colonizers accountable for the harm we cause. The journey holds the opportunity to heal the chains of white cisheteropatriarchal capitalism that has historically and continues to colonize not only Indigenous people, all BIPOC, but also my soul housed in a white skinned body. I am not excluded from accountability and at the same time, I am not excluded from grace and healing — nor is any other soul living in a white, Black or Brown skinned body.
We can begin decolonizing this very moment by acknowledging and acting on the steps provided by Nia Eubanks-Dixon in the article, Five Things You Can Do To Decolonize:
THE FOLLOWING FIVE STEPS ARE NIA EUBANKS-DIXON’S WORDS AND WRITING:
- I am in relationship with the land and other living things.
Colonial thought dictates that land is to be taken, extracted from and/or usurped. Changing our relationship to the land and other living creatures is extremely important if we are to decolonize our future.
Together we say: “I /we belong to the land and am/are connected to all things. The land does not belong to me/us. All people have access to the land.”
2. I am in relationship with myself — decolonize our hearts.
Colonialism has disconnected us from ourselves. Because of colonialism, we have gone away from our homes for a long time. This has caused neglect, loneliness and desperation. Each day we must make an intentional commitment to “go home” to ourselves. A decolonizing framework is one of holism: an understanding of personhood, a connection to the body, mind, and soul, and an accompanying awareness of and respect for the wholeness of others.
We can say, “Today I take the path back home. I can sit with myself and accept the situation as it is. I know it is a mess in there, but I am here now to tidy it up.”
3. I am in relationship with others.
One of the manifestations of colonialism is the ideology of isolationism and individualism. Augusto Boal describes this as monologue vs. dialogue: “All human relationships should be of a dialogic nature: among men and women, races, families, groups and nations, dialogue should prevail. In reality, all dialogues have the tendency to become monologues, which creates the relationship oppressors- oppressed.”
We can say: “I am taking intentional time to be in an accountable honest relationship with others.”
4. I am manifesting and acknowledging the enoughness and assets of myself and others.
The idea of not-enoughness is spread globally by the ideology of colonialism, upholding false perceptions of scarcity and emptiness. To resist this, we must acknowledge and walk in an understanding that you and others are enough and come to the table with assets, history, culture, traditions and creativity.
We can remind ourselves by saying: “I am enough. I am light and give myself permission to walk in my light. I see the light in others and speak and act from that place. I will not spread ideas of emptiness and need but abundance and creativity.”
5. I am entering into and sustaining accountable and responsible partnerships with people and communities.
To enter into an accountable and responsible relationship, there must be a commitment to decenter whiteness and western thought. We must welcome, accept and center ideas, thoughts, history, perspectives that do not place white people and their ideologies at the forefront of conversations, decisions and laws. To do this, there is a need to be clear on our intentions when communicating the potential impacts of our actions to the communities we work with. This is especially true for people who have come to be known as white in relationship with communities of color.
We should ask ourselves: “Who holds me accountable for my actions and who am I accountable to?”
My hope is we embrace the nuance and continue our journeys of individual and collective reconciliation. Brave souls, if we live in white skin we are living in the manifested dreams of white, capitalist colonizing ancestors. The holds of white, heteropatriarchal capitalism are the ethos of the communities, organizations, and spaces we co-create. It is crucial we sit with this — the reality that we continue to reap benefits from generational and ongoing oppression and harm. Our own hearts are hurting because of colonization, too; and, it is our denial of history as well as our refusal to make things right that shapes us into present-day colonizers. We might ask ourselves, “Do we choose and have the courage to be different than we were taught?” If not, harm, oppression and colonization persist. The choice is ours to commit to de-colonization and the choice starts with de-colonizing ourselves. We can choose to start today.