Some Thoughts On Decolonizing Life
So I'm a 40+ year old white dude trying to figure out life. This is especially true after a pretty massive reset as we (I'm married with kids) spent the past 13 years living in a couple of different countries in Africa (Kenya & South Africa) and we visited a number of other countries across the globe. We initially moved as optimistic & hopeful white folks thinking we'd change the world. What we discovered is that we had a lot of good ol' colonization vibes & a definite white savior complex in us that needed to be divested of as quickly as possible. It wasn't what we expected to find by any means but it was necessary to deal with (and forever changed us).
To say it another way, we moved thinking we had lots of answers with our bachelor degrees and all the experiences of American life but what we learned was that all of that was rubbish wrapped up in pride in our own (American? White?) abilities over and against "them". Degrees and expertise and the like have their place but we didn't have the lock on solutions and empowerment that we thought we did.
We learned there was a world and wealth of possibility that our white systems naturally desired to colonize and squash. The reality though was that those other ways and systems and cultures were full of amazing possibility and had the answers the people there needed. We didn't. Here are a few brief examples of what I'm talking about:
Consider nonprofit structures. Boards, organizational charts, middle management and fancy titles are colonized structures rooted in notions of right & wrong, predominantly. Many of the indigenous spaces I've been in leaned heavily towards polycentric teams, more decentralized structures and mutuality rooted in honor/shame dynamics.
Or what of "licensing" which may look (very) different in decolonized spaces? Does operating authority come from a piece of paper, a long degree and governing board? or does it come from a body of experience lived out in a community or some direct community appointing?
Or how about how conflict is dealt with? Do we let important figures sit with us and work through things or initiate legal responses and follow typical organizational impression management routines that squash problems and problem people?
Or how about education? Is it Eurocentric? Does it happen in isolation of community and activities that have impact or is it prioritizing indigenous perspectives and partnering with communities?
These are just a few of the examples. As we began to reckon with them, our posture began to change and we sought to decolonize and divest. We were able to build some deep relationships and learn from people we'd come to help. We stopped trying to lead from the front and instead strived to empower others. That gave way to coming alongside them, which eventually gave way to celebrating and encouraging from behind local voices and people. "Do this" became "how can I help." Quizzing questions that judged solutions became (hopefully) powerful questions that sought to draw out local solutions instead. It wasn't always easy (and in fact pushing for this sort of change in colonized organizational spaces is part of the reason we are back in our country of birth) but it is always worth it.
Now, back in my home country, my challenge as a white dude, personally, is to figure out how to open and let my colonized world be transformed into a welcoming/inclusive decolonized space, as much as possible. Personally I find this decolonization work to be really, really critical (and definitely not easy). It's worth it though.
I'll add that only so much can be done if individuals seek to decolonize but the organizations and spaces they belong to stay the same. As we individually change we need to let our organizations and structures change as well. I'll also add an important note on conflict: one or the other doesn't naturally protect from harmful leaders. Power is power and the tendencies to misuse use it exists everywhere power exists and people cling to it. Decolonization in this sense isn't a panacea (although personally I think it's individually helped me divest of unhealthy reslationships with power).