There has been an increase on language, articles, books and work being done on “decolonizing”, “anti-oppression” and similar social justice work, with many new concepts or the use of old concepts in different ways, such as the meaning of “white supremacy” as the root cause and underlying systemic fabric of all the oppression, discrimination and colonization in the world.
Last week, I attended a full immersion one-week workshop on “Conscious use of Power” lead by the people at “Inner Activist” in Gabriola Island. I ended the week very unsettled, drained and even physically sick, all symptoms that I was actually learning (be suspicious of the trainings and experiences you leave feeling “only” uplifted and inspired as the only outcome: they may have just confirmed your biases, fed your privilege and ego and touch on the easy things you have to do in order to change!)
While the experience showed me things in ways that touched more than my head and opened doors I didn’t know existed, I felt disempowered by two main omissions: one was the Earth and the emergency we are experiencing both as a species and as part of a bigger community of beings, the other was a deeper analysis of the root causes, systems and structures of why we are in the mess we are. I have shared this with the facilitators and many of the participants and I’m happy to say that they were very open to receive this.
One of the biggest impacts for me personally (as a result of the workshop) was the impact of true decolonizing in my work as a “facilitator” both of the Work That Reconnects and other areas I work in (such as my work with migrants and refugees, which may fall into the “inclusion” area of Leticia Nieto’s model). I was already carrying many doubts about what right do we have to come and share practices to navigate despair that may or may not have meaning to others, particularly when there is so much displacement and peoples coming with their own cultural or personal practices. I have not answer to this except coming from a deeper humility place of curiosity and clarifying intentions.
But maybe I need to pause and define terms first:
According to the dictionary, “Colonization” is:
In the context of this post and the training I attended, colonizing is the socializing we all have by the dominant culture, so insidious that comes not only from parents and schools but also from TV shows, songs lyrics, magazines, etc. and is so pervasive that we all adopt our own complex “identities” and start acting and thinking from that without much thinking, all the way believing we have some agency and awareness…until we hit a wall (or someone puts a mirror in front of us), and we realize how much we have been missing, hurting and being hurt by this process.
In both the training I attended, and the analysis being done in US (and therefore spreading to other countries as “the truth”), we see that the colonization is being equated with “white privilege”. This puts people in boxes automatically: all white (skin) people are privileged by default, all POC (people of colour) are targets. But if we look deeper, this is far from true…there are complexities within groups and the contextual time and location where these groups and individuals happen to be, be raised or move in.
It makes other assumptions and generalizations: that all the colonization or socialization inherent from the dominant culture (North, Western, US and somewhat European and “white”) has created some ways of thinking and being in the world that are “wrong” and that all the other (oppressed) cultures have an openness and ways to be in the world that are “right”.
The strategy, so far, is not only on awareness of the (short and partialized) historical recount of how things were (mostly in North American countries) and how these countries were founded on genocide (of the indigenous peoples), slavery (of African people) and empire (spreading hegemony, stealing and hoarding resources, dominating other cultures). The strategy is also based on some use of blame and shame and on some grade of revenge.
Even when many of those things are true, there is little (if anything) analysis that goes beyond 1492 (the year when Colon came to these lands we now call “the Americas”), or that looks into economic and socio-political systems, into the role of religions and into the complexity of the issues in different contexts, the dynamics that were happening and are still happening through the different immigration waves from Europe and the actions and reactions of the people involved in all those aspects.
The fact that US continues to be an empire shows even in the widespread of the above (partialized, short-sighted and incomplete) analysis of why things are like they are: if we follow Leticia’s model, we may suspect that there is an (maybe unconscious and uncheched) interest in keeping certain systems in place: name capitalism and, beyond capitalism, the main structure beyond that: that of humans on the top of “creation” and all the rest to be used and consumed or, in its less painful approach, stewarded and restored.
The results are as expected: more separation and disconnection, a way to see people as silos (by skin color, something as vague and unfair as “culture” and sometimes religious affiliations). People are supposed to go to their identity group (even when identities are highly complex, more when you add genre, class, ability, etc. to the equation) and find nourishment and support there, and anyone who looks different should go to their identity group, even if they have absolutely none in common. People get hurt and either carry a weight of shame for something they couldn’t have chosen or have no conscious participation or some type of pride and inner relief for belonging (again, not by conscious choice) to a group who is now being uplifted (after many centuries or decades of being systemically oppressed).
When I learned about Leticia Nieto agent and target skills model, I quickly saw how there is a rank where “Nature” is the target and we humans are the agent group: we can find all the spectrum from indifference to distancing to inclusion to awareness and finally allyship in our human behavious, stories and belief systems. The prevalent ones for a while have been indifference (to deforestation, the killing of other species to feed our needs and interests, pollution and so forth) and the distancing (down, like when we see other species as “less than” or see some natural processes as “dirty”, “messy” or unwelcome), distancing up (like when we idolize nature for our consumption) or just plain distancing (when we continue with our lives and ignore or detach from the suffering of other species and places). Even when we think we are being “good”, we do some “inclusion” (the superficial recycling, driving an electric car, buying “ethically” or using Nature when it is convenient for us (retreats, forest bathing, etc.), but there is really little in awareness and much less in allyship, with some inspiring exceptions…
And maybe there is the missing piece, the missing learning and changing opportunity we seem to be unable to grasp: that we are so agent-centered that we even ignore Nature when doing our “inner work” and the “outer work” of anti-oppression and decolonizing: we focus on the hurt we have done to each other (humans) and we continue using Nature to “recharge”, “inspire”, “feed” and many other consumerist ways to see her, even when we think we talk in non-colonizing and non-oppressive language: “my land, our land” and “stewards”…
We ignore we ARE Nature and that there are none, zero biological differences among us: that all the other identities are constructs and as such, they can be consciously re-shaped and re-designed: that all those are stories and that stories can be relearnes and co-created in different ways.
We have a huge emergency in front of us. We are facing extinction through the accelerating destruction of ecosystems, the abuse, killing and displacement of other species, the rapid consumption of all “resources”, including collapse of the aspects of Nature that keep us alive such as erosion of soils and pollution of waters. We are leaving a world in chaos to our children and all future generations (if they even have a chance to live!)
And what are we doing? Are we moving from deep analysis to true recognizing of our common humanity and basic needs and therefore forgiveness, compassion and the widespread of re-learning of how to live here together and without further hurting?