Decolonising the University

Following demands - Rhodes Must Fall, Why is My Curriculum White?, #LiberateMyDegree - three editors brought together a diverse group of authors to think about what decolonising the university means (historically and pedagogically) and its experience (in universities and curricula) and reflections of those leading such efforts. Decolonising the University is edited by G. K. Bhambra, D. Gebrial and K. Nisancioglu (2018). I find most edited books challenging to review, as each chapter tells its own unique story, the book aimed to "question the epistemological authority assigned uniquely to the Western university as the privileged site of knowledge production and to contribute to the broader project of decolonising through a discussion of strategies and interventions emanating from within the imperial metropoles." (p. 3)

Dalia Gebrial (one of the editors) writes a chapter on the Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford movement, and situates it as "the university is a site of knowledge production and, most crucially, consecration; it has the power to decide which histories, knowledges and intellectual contributions are considered valuable and worthy of further critical attention and dissemination. This has knock-on effects: public discourse might seem far off from the academy's sphere of influence, but 'common sense' ideas of worthy knowledge do not come out of the blue, or removed from the context of power - and the university is a key shaping force in this discursive flux." (p. 19)

From Shauneen Pete: "When I question faculty about why they want me to do this work for them [e.g. guest lectures], they often reply, 'You are so good at it...' or 'You have the experience...' and when I press them further, then I come to understand that their lack of understanding actually makes them feel fearful of saying the wrong thing, or being perceived as racist. That settler 'move to innocence' that Tuck and Yang address has a real effect on the distribution of work in our faculty. Now that I've been here for ten years, and have served as the cultural broker for all that time, I am no longer willing to allow my colleagues to shirk the responsibility for this work. This is not my work alone. I need my colleagues to address their own learning needs and I need them to engage deeply in the process of curricular decolonisation." (p. 183-184)

Why curriculum? William Jamal Richardson suggests that as "a basic unit of the university itself, the classroom is, I argue, one of the key places that the colonial nature of universities, especially in the metropoles and settler colonies, manifests itself. Works such as The Death of White Sociology and White Logic, White Methods have highlighted how the 'imperial unconscious' of these curricula shapes how undergraduates, graduate students and academics understand and study the world. This is one of the reasons why curricula have become a popular target of marginalised students and academics seeking to decolonise the university." (p. 231) 

  73 Hits
73 Hits

An African Renaissance: Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Ngugi wa Thiong'o is one of the most important voices on language and decolonization. His works include Decolonizing the Mind (1986) and Theory and Politics of Knowing (2012). This post shares some notes on his 2009 Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance (copy appears available here).

"colonialists did not literally cut off the heads of the colonized or physically bury them alive. Rather, they dismembered the colonized from memory, turning their heads upside down and burying all the memories they carried. Wherever they went, in their voyages of land, sea, and mind, Europeans planted their own memories on whatever they contacted." (p. 7)

"In his attempt to remake the land and its peoples in his image, the conqueror acquires and asserts the right to name the land and its subjects, demanding that the subjugated accept the names and culture of the conqueror. When Japan occupied Korea in 1906, it banned Korean names and required the colonized to take on Japanese ones. But one might ask: What is in a name? It is said that a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet; however, the truth is that its identity would no longer be expressed in terms of roses but, instead, would assume that of the new name. Names have everything to do with how we identify objects, classify them, and remember them." (p. 9)

"Africans, in the diaspora and on the continent, were soon to be the recipients of this linguistic logic of conquest, with two results: linguicide in the case of the diaspora and linguistic famine, or linguifam, on the continent." (p. 17)

"In the continent as a whole, the postcolonial slumber would not be disturbed by memories of the African holocaust. Slavery and colonialism become events of shame, of guilt. Their memory is shut up in a crypt, a collective psychic tomb, which is what Oduche symbolically does when he shuts the python, a central image of his people's cosmic view, in a box." (p. 61)

"Pan-Africanism has not outlived its mission. Seen as an economic, political, cultural, and psychological re-membering vision, it should continue to guide remembering practices. Economic Pan-Africanism will translate into a network of communications—air, sea, land, telephone, Internet—that ease intracontinental movements of peoples, goods, businesses, and services. Africa becomes a power bloc able to negotiate on an equal basis with all other global economies. But this is impossible without a powerful political union, as championed by Kwame Nkrumah." (p. 88-89)

"In the year 2000, a number of African scholars and writers met in Eritrea and came up with the Asmara Declaration on African Languages and Literatures, a ten-point document that begins by calling on African languages to take on the duty, challenge, and responsibility of speaking for the continent. It then lists nine other conditions—including recognition of the vitality, equality, and diversity of African languages as a basis for the future empowerment of African peoples; the necessity of communication among African languages and their development at all levels of the schooling system; promotion of research, science, and technology in African languages; and the necessity of democracy and gender equality in the development of African languages—and it concludes by emphasizing that African languages are essential for the decolonization of African minds as well as for the African renaissance." (p. 93)

"Memory resides in language and is clarified by language. By incorporating the colonial world into the international capitalist order and relations, with itself as the center of such order and relations, the imperialist West also subjected the rest of the world to its memory through a vast naming system. It planted its memory on our landscape. Egoli became Johannesburg. The great East African Lake, known by the Luo people as Namlolwe, became Lake Victoria." (p. 113)

"We have languages, but our keepers of memory feel that they cannot store knowledge, emotions, and intellect in African languages. It is like possessing a granary but, at harvest, storing your produce in somebody else's granary." (p. 114)

"We must produce knowledge in African languages and then use translation as a means of conversation in and among African languages. We must also translate from European and Asian languages into our own, for our languages must not remain isolated from the mainstream of progressive human thought in the languages and cultures of the globe." (p. 124)

  85 Hits
85 Hits

A Dying Colonialism - Fanon (1959)

Fanon is well known for his Black Skin, White Masks (1952) and Wretched of the Earth (1961). Another of his works, A Dying Colonialism (1957), seems less spoken about (originally titled L'An Cinq, de la Revolution Algerienne). The first chapter reminded me of Said's Orientalism, which was written much later (1978). Going back to Orientalism, none of Fanon's work is cited, although Edward Said cites a work about Fanon. Fanon certainly enabled the type of work that Said did in Orientalism, but it seems he did not attribute the connection directly (although there are many direction connections in Chapter 1). Some notes from Fanon's A Dying Colonialism (1957):

"In the colonialist program, it was the woman who was given the historic mission of shaking up the Algerian man. Converting the woman, winning her over to the foreign values, wrenching her free from her status, was at the same time achieving a real power over the man and attaining a practical, effective means of destructuring Algerian culture." (p. 39)

"Every new Algerian woman unveiled announced to the occupier an Algerian society whose systems of defense were in the process of dislocation, open and breached. Every veil that fell, every body that became liberated from the traditional embrace of the haik, every face that that offered itself to the bold and impatient glance of the occupier, was a negative expression of the fact that Algeria was beginning to deny herself and was accepting the rape of the colonizer. Algerian society with every abandoned veil seemed to express its willingness to attend to the master's school and to decide to change its habits under the occupier's direction and patronage." (p. 42-43)

"Before 1954, a radio in an Algerian house was the mark of Europeanization in progress, of vulnerability. It was the conscious opening to the influence of the dominator, to his pressure. It was the decision to give voice to the occupier. Having a radio meant accepting being besieged from within by the colonizer. It meant demonstrating that one chose cohabitation within the colonial framework. It meant, beyond any doubt, surrendering to the occupier." (p. 92-93)

"The tactic adopted by French colonialism since the beginning of the Revolution has had the result of separating the people from each other, of fragmenting them, with the sole objective of making any cohesion impossible." (p. 118)

"This stay in France turned out in the end to be very profitable. It confirmed for me what I already sensed: that I was not French, that I had never been French. Language, culture - these are not enough to make you belong to a people. Something more is needed: a common life, common experiences and memories, common aims. All this I lacked in France. My stay in France showed me that I belonged to an Algerian community, showed me that I was a stranger in France." (p. 175)

  121 Hits
121 Hits

Language & Governance in the African Experience

Notes from The Power of Babel: Language & Governance in the African Experience (1998) by Ali A. Mazrui and Alamin M. Mazrui"

"One of the gross linguistic anomalies of post-colonial Africa, in fact, is that whole classes of countries are named after the imperial language they have adopted as their official language. We do constantly refer to 'Francophone Africa,' 'English-speaking Africa,' 'Lusophone Africa' and the like. Asia, too, was colonized; and yet nobody refers to 'Anglophone Asia' or 'French-speaking Asian countries.' (p. 6)

"… how much of a choice of synonyms do I have when I want to discuss blackmail? Or something sold on the black market? It is true that most of the time when we are using these words we are not connecting them with any racist tradition with associates black with evil and white with goodness. The metaphor is so much part of the English language, beautifully integrated, ready for use unconsciously in a spontaneous flow. As metaphor, black has carried repeatedly, and in a variety of contexts, decidedly negative connotations. White has ambivalent connotations but, more often than not, favourable ones. The connotations have been stabilized that users of the language are unconscious of those wider links with racist traditions. But does not the unconsciousness make the situation even worse?" (p. 25)

"What all this suggests, then, is that language as an instrument of liberation must be based, not on a reversal of values accorded to European versus African languages on the basis of a preconceived paradigm of linguistic determinism, but on disalienation that seeks to pose new terms of reference altogether. For as long as the struggle for mental liberation is defined in terms that confirm to the European ideal of humanity and civilization it will only turn out to be an upward spiral to further alienation and conceptual imprisonment." (p. 62)

"It appears, then, that democracy would develop on firmer foundations on the systemic, economic, social, and cultural planes if African nations pursued language policies that reduced dependence on Western languages, push African languages more towards the centre of the political and economic arenas, and consolidated the use and development of their local languages of wider communication." (p. 107)

"Not using indigenous African languages in the legal process is damaging not only to the rule of law but also, of course, to the indigenous languages themselves. The languages are marginalized in some of the fundamental areas of civil society – law and order, governance and civil liberties." (p. 114)

  121 Hits
121 Hits
Subscribe to receive new blog posts via email