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A decolonial approach to color

 

Sandew Hira, July 22, 2017

 

The best way to develop decolonial theory is through discussing its application in real life situations.

Take the following situation from a Summer School. The Summer School attracts activists and academic across the world. The participants are from all part of the world: Europe, USA, Latin America, the Caribbean, India, South Africa etc.

There are white people and people of color, academics and activists.

Obviously in such a space you will have a reproduction of debates and approaches that exists in social movements across the world.

The purpose of the Summer School to exchange knowledge and engage in critical discussion on decolonial theory and practice.

A professor of color who is an expert on Frantz Fanon and his contribution to decolonial teaching invited participants to make a contribution based on their knowledge, experiences and expression. They could sing, recite a poems or share a story. One day a black South African participant shared her story. The next day a white South African participant shared her story. A black participant from the USA objected to her sharing her story because she was white and her story was an example of white saviour. The space of the Summer School should be limited to people of color. The white South African should have been silenced because there white saviour should not be tolerated.

I will use this incident to discuss to questions:

  • How do we deal with racism and color from a theoretical perspective.
  • How to we deal with racism and color from the perspective building social movements in the struggle against racism?

Racism, color and theory

In the lecture on a DTM (Decolonizing The Mind) theory of racism I explained our concept of racism. It is based on four propositions:

  1. Racism is institutional, not individual. It is based on institutions (economic, political, social, cultural, technological) that operate on a global scale and that shape individual experiences.
  2. Racism organizes human relations through these institutions along the lines of inferiority and superiority of communities, not of individuals.
  3. Historically the markers for organizing these relation have been and are religion (theological racism), race (biological racism) and culture (cultural racism). Islamophobia is a form of cultural racism.
  4. Racism was established and is maintained though various mechanisms in the different dimensions (division of labour in economics, violence and intimidation in politics). The colonizing of the mind of the colonizer and the colonized are important mechanisms in the cultural dimension.

 

So color is one of the different instruments in organizing communities along the lines of inferiority and superiority. Furthermore, the colonization of the mind means two things:

  • It shapes knowledge, attitude and skills of both the colonizer and the colonized.
  • It detaches the content of the markers of racism from its form (religion, skin color, culture). So on an individual level a black person can be colonized in his or her mind and a white person can be decolonized in his or her mind. The colonization of the mind means that (s)he reproduces the colonial knowledge.

So if a white South African women speaks in the Summer School we see her as part of a community that has institutionalized racism in South Africa, but on an individual level we still have to judge her in relation to her contribution to or struggle against these institutions. We don’t judge her on the basis of the color of her skin, but on the content of her arguments and her actions.

On these theoretical grounds I object to silencing her from sharing her experiences.

An argument for shutting her down is based on the theory of white privilege. This theory was invented by white liberals and has gained ground in activists of color. I have provided a decolonial critique of the concept of white privilege here: https://www.din.today/the-theory-of-white-privilege-why-racism-is-not-a-privilege/.

The argument for shutting her down is that white people are privileged and that they should listen rather than talk. I argue that racism is not an individual privilege, but an institutional injustice. So I judge the white individual on the basis of his or her contribution to or struggle against these institutional injustice, that is why she should not be shut down, but encourage to speak out so we can make this judgment rather that accepting that she can not make a contribution by definition.

In conclusion: from a decolonial perspective we judge a person not by definition, by but practice, not by belonging to an oppressive community by definition, but by judging their contribution to or struggle against this oppression.

The theory of white privilege can not deal with these questions.

Racism, color and social movements

There are practical and political reasons why I object to excluding the white South African participants for sharing her experiences in the Summer School.

We all come from social movements that are engaged in daily struggles against racism and the global colonial institutions. In these movements we help create different spaces with different purposes.

For example, we argue in Europe that we need organizations of people of color whose main purpose is to organize and empower the communities of color. We urge sympathetic white activists not to join our movement, but to go and engage in white organizations and bring the anti-racist struggle there. There is no place in our organizations for white people in organizing people of color. There is another space we create outside our organization where we work together in combining forces and devising strategies and tactics against institutional racism.

The decolonial movement in the global South might be organized in a total different way. There are many spaces possible.

The organizers of the Summer School have created a space in which academics and activists from different parts of the world and different ethnicities are invited and accepted to engage in critical discussion on decolonial theory and practice. Everybody has the right to express and share their views in this space and the organizers should ensure that this freedom of expression is guaranteed. It is rude and disrespectful towards the organizers if participants demand that th eyclose the space they have created for some participants and open it exclusively for other participants.

If we are in a space that someone else has created we will respect their rules and regulations as a matter of principal of decolonial ethics. We will not impose our rules on the people or organization who have created the space which we enter.

So from a practical and ethical point of view we can not accept shutting down a participant from sharing her views on the basis of her skin color or on the basis of her opinions. Her opinions should be heard and discussion like the opinion of anyone else.

There is also a political argument for creating the space in the way the organizers are doing. The Summer Schools are spaces where people are encouraged to engage in practical political work.  In the struggle against institutional racism the question of white allies is a crucial question. From our political philosophy we need to organize white allies in the struggle against institutional racism. Therefore we encourage white people to engages in political discussion and speak out so we can just their views and actions in the light of how the contribute or obstruct our struggle.

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Stop bashing Houria Bouteldja and the PIR!

The French daily, Le Figaro, started a series of articles aimed at criminalizing the Parti des Indigènes de la République (PIR) and its leader Houria Bouteldja. The PIR is a member of the Decolonial International Network. They are portrayed as racist, homophobic and anti-semitic.

They create an atmosphere of hate around Houria Bouteldja and the PIR. Progressive activists and intellectuals have rallied against this attempt by Figaro to criminalize Bouteldja and the PIR. The attack against the PIR is a typical example of the rise of the police state in Europe.

Freedom of speech under attack in the UK

On Sunday June 18th 2017 the Quds Committee in the UK organized the annual Al Quds Day. Al Quds Day is an international event to protest the Zionist occupation of Palestine and is held on the last Friday of Ramadan. For years this event has been organized in Britain and every year it attracts the criticism of Zionist forces. This year a particular vicious campaign was waged against the organizing committee by the Zionist Campaign Against Anti-Semitism.

They pressured the mayor of London Sadiq Khan to ban the event. His office bowed to the pressure and supported the call. The Zionists thanked him: “Both the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime have been very helpful in facilitating contact with the right people within the Metropolitan Police Service, and we are grateful to them for their efforts.”

But the London Police stood by the freedom of expression and allowed the event to continue.

Meanwhile Islamophobic pundits created a climate of hate around the event. Majid Nawaaz, the director of the Quilliam Foundation and LBC radio presenter, along with some niche media attacked the organizers, claiming they were terrorist sympathisers, and even focused on the Islamic Human Right Commission (IHRC), a member of the Decolonial International Network. IHRC has ledged several complaints with the BBC, LBC, and various press and media regulators, as well as the police, after this year’s campaign against Al-Quds Day.

The night of 18th June after the event, a white terrorist Darren Osborn, drove his van into a crowd of Muslims at a mosque in North London killing one and injuring eight people. It has been reported that his original plan was to attack the crowd at the Al Quds Day march.

The attack on the Al Quds Day failed, but it showed the concerted effort of Zionists, Islamophobic and terrorist forces to clamp down on the freedom of speech.

DENK (THINK) in Holland: First political party of people of color in parliament

A political party of people of color

Recently a unique development took place recently in The Netherlands.

In 2014 two Turkish members of the Dutch Labour Party in parliament, Tunahan Kuzu and Selçuk Öztürk, left the party because of its attitude towards racism and islamophobia. They started their own faction in parliament and eventually named their group DENK (THINK). Between 2014 and March 2017 they vigorously campaigned inside and outside on a platform against racism and islamophobia. The developed a program with radical demands, among others:

  • The focus in government policy should not be on integration but on acceptance of diversity.
  • The acknowledgement of institutional racism as the main problem.
  • The establishment of a racism-register of people, organizations and companies the openly promote racism so that government can act on prohibiting business with or subsidies to them.
  • Affirmative action and quota-arrangement in the labour market for people of color and women, starting with government jobs on a national and regional level.
  • A specific quota of 10% for people of color in the top of the major companies in the Netherlands.
  • Formal apologies and reparations for enslavement of black people in the former Dutch colonies and for the colonial wars in Indonesia.
  • Decolonizing history and renaming of streets, tunnels, bridges and museums and stop the celebration of villains.
  • Rewriting the history textbooks in the educational system that teaches about historic injustice committed by the Dutch.
  • Total abolition of Black Pete celebrations in the public and private domain.

The daring confrontation in parliament with the white parties and the smart use of social media to expose racism in parliament earned DENK a reputation of courageous fighters in the struggle against racism and islamophobia.

The campaign against DENK

The media, political establishment and the white left in Holland immediately reacted with outrage to DENK. The critique was not just about political positions. It was the whole idea that people of color would dare to be non-apologetic and confront racism directly in parliament was unacceptable. So a campaign of vilification was started. Kuzu and Öztürk are Muslim fundamentalism. They are the fifth column of Turkish president Erdogan in Holland. They are a divisive force that is dividing people rather than uniting them. They should denounce the Armenian genocide. They should speak out against Erdogan’s policy to arrest people involved in the military coup against Erdogan. They are anti LGTB and anti women, despite the fact that their program calls for banishing homophobia, closing the wage gap between men and women and a vigorous policy against sexual intimidation.

So the whole operation was directed at shifting the focus from racism and islamophobia to other issues.

Personal attacks, lies, framing them as irrational and attacking the whole idea of a political party for people of color had the opposite effect in the different communities of color. DENK was admired for their non-apologetic approach of racism and islamophobia. They attracted followers outside the Turkish community. They broadened their base to the Muslim community as a whole.

In May 2016 a well know black former TV presenter, Sylvana Simons, became a member of DENK. Although DENK already had black members, her entry into national politics via DENK created a big stir. It was symbolic for the unity of all people of colour, especially the Black-Muslim alliance. She became a target of a smear campaign. She received countless death threats. Immediately forces came into action to divide DENK. Simons was portrait as a radical, anti-white person, that had nothing to gain by allying herself with Muslim men, who are also patriarchal.

These forces were eventually succesfull. In December 2016 Simons left the party without prior notice or discussion. A few weeks earlier her supporters had secretly founded a new party, Article 1. This refers to the first article of the Dutch constitution that prohibits all discrimination. She announced that her parte was founded on the theory of intersectionality that does not divide people, but unites them. She used the argument of divisiveness against DENK to justify her split.

Leading white feminist Anja Meulentbelt and leading LGTB-scholar Gloria Wekker supported Simons and Article 1 in her split.

The elections

On March 15 the elections took place for the 150 seats of parliament. To the shock and surprise of the white community and the white political establishment DENK gained three seats. The Labor party went down from 38 to 9 seats. The extreme right won seven seats (the party of Geert Wilders won five and another extreme right party won two).

Article 1 did not gain a seat. She got half of the votes needed for a seat. Simons mainly got her votes from the black community. The hope that white women and white LGTB would support her did not materialize.

The victory of DENK energized many people of color who actively participated in the campaign and in the discussion on social media. A united front of Blacks and Muslims would have strengthened the struggle against racism and islamophobia. The split was more detrimental to the black community. If Simons had stayed in DENK she would now have been elected to parliament, because she would be number three on the slate of DENK.

Lessons

The first lesson is that in countries with large communities of color a political party that explicitly draws upon their support can have a major impact on the debate on racism and islamophobia, provided that they take a radical approach. Even if they get one seat, their voice in parliament has a major impact on the self-confidence of the communities of color and strengthens the struggle against racism and islamophobia.

The second lesson is that the unity of Black and Muslims is considered the most dangerous strategy by white power. That unity is a powerful force in bringing down institutional racism. That is why all forces of the white power structure (media, violent threats, politicians) are focussing on breaking that alliance. Unfortunately it succeeded for now, but hopefully activists from communities of color have learned this lesson and will work together to recreate this unity.

The third lesson is that the weakness of the theory of intersectionality has led to a shift in focus away from racism and islamophobia and has damaged the movement.

Hopefully these lesson will be valid for social movements in other European countries.

 

Sandew Hira

5-4-2017

Decoloniality Europe becomes Decolonial International Network

decolonialityEuropeIn 2012 activists from Europe established a network called Decoloniality Europe. Many of the participants maintain relations with decolonial organizations and networks outside of Europe. In order to develop these relations it was necessary to create a space that extends beyond Europe. That is why the network changed its name to Decolonial International Network.

LogoDINOrganizations who want to join the network can contact the coordinator of DIN: Sandew Hira, sandew.hira@iisr.nl.

Sandew wil engage in a conversation about the relationship with DIN and explores ways to develop it.

IHRC beams protest images onto Houses of Parliament and Bahraini embassy

In response to last week’s execution by the Bahraini government of three of its own citizens IHRC staged a double protest at the Houses of Parliament and the Bahraini Embassy in London.

Huge images bearing messages condemning the executions and the British government’s continued support for the authoritarian island monarchy were beamed onto both buildings last Friday night (19 January) in order to raise political and public awareness.

The giant messages (see attached photos) were set against the backdrop of the Bahraini flag and the faces of the three executed men, Abbas al-Samea, 27, Ali al-Singace, 21, and Sami Mushaima 42. All had been found guilty of planting a bomb which killed three policemen but their convictions were widely seen as politically motivated, based on retracted confessions and mired in allegations of serious torture.

Britain continues to politically and militarily support the Bahraini regime despite a well-documented history of human rights abuses against its citizens and reform campaigners.

A report commissioned by the Bahraini government (the BICI report) documenting the events of an uprising in 2011 revealed systematic torture, arbitrary detentions, and extra judicial killing in the streets. Although the Bahraini government accepted the report and promised to implement its recommendations, their implementation has been woefully inadequate. Professor Cherif Bassiouni, the head of the BICI team, wrote in June last year that most of the reforms had not been fully implemented.

Things actually seem to be getting worse. The country’s only remotely critical newspaper, Al Wasat, which was shut down in 2011, has now been ordered by the government to close its online edition too after criticising the executions.

Earlier this year Bahrain announced that it was reversing one of the BICI reforms which stipulated that the National Security Agency (NSA) have its powers of arrest removed. The power separation was considered important in controlling torture.

Despite these developments, last December PM Theresa May flew to Bahrain to meet with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council on the sidelines of the organisation’s latest summit. The visit demonstrated a glaring disregard for human rights and also a dangerous message of approval to the al-Khalifa dictatorship.

A month earlier Britain opened its first military base in the Gulf in Bahrain, the first in the region since 1971. The base will be used by special forces and Navy destroyers, frigates and minehunters to help prop up the region’s autocrats. Britain also supplies Bahrain with military equipment and training which have been used to suppress indigenous uprisings and pro-reform protests.

Likewise the British government remains an unflinching backer of the Saudi Arabian government whose troops are stationed on the island in order to protect the regime against any threats to its rule.

IHRC chair Massoud Shadjareh said: “The extra-judicial murder of the three Bahrainis has once again highlighted the brutal nature of the al-Khalifa regime. It is high time that the British government stopped becoming an accomplice to the suppression and abuse of fundamental human rights. The British government’s contention that economic interests in the region are important should not be used as an excuse for us to acquiesce in the continuing torture and oppression of the Bahraini people.”

Check the images.