Reflections on the decolonial Summer School

The Maria Lugones Decolonial Summer School asked us to write a reflection about the three weeks of following classes on the topic of “Learning to Unlearn Decolonially (Living, knowing, the university & the museum)”. We could write a letter, a dialogue, an op-ed/ essay, a diary or memory. I decided to write an op-ed/essay kind of piece.

When applying for the Summer School on Decoloniality I wrote that I wanted to educate myself further on the field of inclusion and diversity, a topic that has been the recurrent theme throughout my journalism career. Decolonization has become a buzzword, especially since the global Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, and it felt like the next logical step for me to explore what it actually means. I expected to get a thorough understanding of how decolonizing media, education and our own minds can solve the root causes of the problems we’re dealing with in the diversity and antiracism debates. 
The experience I got from working in a multicultural media organization for ten years, where I got confronted with my blind spots and prejudices, created the foundation for me to focus on what I call “inclusive journalism”. It is an attempt to bring together the embodied experience of whiteness, the spiritual practice of Vipassana meditation and a holistic approach where media diversity isn’t just about hiring more people of colour in newsrooms. One of the six characteristics that I defined is ‘decolonization’ because I learned that eventually the colonial times have laid the groundwork for inequality today.

Perpetuating the colonial narrative

But I didn’t have a good understanding of what it means to decolonize. The hashtag on social media showed different historic statues that were taken down by protesters and media reported on people like Congolese activist Mwazulu Diyabanza who had stolen artifacts from his home country from a museum in France, the former coloniser of Congo. Most of what I read was about turning back time in some way. Returning objects and rewriting history. It’s becoming clear that the time has come for the Western world to critically look at how the dominant power position in the world really originated. But how to go forward from here?
The colonies were the starting point for the stock markets of Amsterdam and London where commodities from former colonies are still being marketed every day with the benefit going mostly to Western countries. And the rise of capitalism runs parallel with the imperialism of The West, maintaining inequality, causing climate change and creating mental health problems. Other countries outside of The West are copying capitalism, so how do we stop perpetuating this colonial narrative? Those thoughts occupied my mind before the Summer School started and I was looking for ways to bring decolonial awareness amongst my fellow journalists.

Sensing and touching coloniality

The first thing I wrote down in my notes of the first day was a quote of Catherine Walsh who introduced herself saying “I’m not an academic, I’m a militant intellectual”. It illustrates to me the specific approach of the faculty to create a decolonial space for learning from the very beginning, different from the academic environment that I know. Walter Mignolo and Rolando Vazquez’ explanation of the basic premises of what decoloniality is about, was the next thing in my notes. There is no modernity without coloniality and the decolonial is all about delinking from those two. It was liberating to hear that we’re not striving for a new uniform modernity, instead, we want to become pluriform. It’s not about entering the norm, it’s about healing the colonial wound and remembering what has been dismembered. Owing, a sense of gratitude towards our ancestors and the earth, instead of owning and disowning where modernity and coloniality are focused on. And, most importantly, you can’t see coloniality as a concept detached from your own life. I personally sensed coloniality when working amongst colleagues from different cultural backgrounds and getting confronted with my white Western gaze on the world. And again at this moment, being a Western tourist in Bali during the pandemic, is another moment in my life where coloniality touches my life. I even discussed this in the weekly writer group that I’m part of in Ubud, Bali, and it was interesting to see how many people felt uncomfortable even thinking about coloniality in their own life. 

Decoloniality is about community

Delinking from a framework that I grew up in isn’t always easy and what I struggle with the most is the fear that by focusing on pluriversality our societies become even more polarized than they are already. Although while writing this I also know that my understanding of decoloniality isn’t fully there yet and I should trust that the path towards a pluriform world will connect us more instead of separating us. I just can’t see how that will work out, which totally fits the decolonial approach: by just doing it I will learn.
My challenge now is to break through the colonial matrix of power that also runs through media and journalism. The tools offered in the Summer School will help me take the steps: analyzing who is talking about what, when and why. Listening and being humble. The concept of the Lakou in Haiti, explained by Jean Casimir reminded me in some way of how media startups in Asia are focusing on engagement with their audience, building a community. The independent journalism initiatives fill in the cracks of the system of mainstream media. And we need an initiative in journalism education similar to Escuala Popular Nortena of Maria Lugones to learn each other beyond the logic of oppression. I got confirmation through this Summer School that I’m heading in the right direction. And at the same time there is so much more to learn. Especially for myself in starting collaborations, experiencing the communal in my own work and realizing that I’m insufficient by myself.

Stuck in Western thinking

Gloria Wekker’s classes came as a certain relief to me in combining the political framework with the decolonial. I voted for Bij1 in the latest election because I believe that we can change our society through democratic political system. In my ideal world someone like Valiana Aguilar can sue the State or seek the justice of her community in international court. I think of Aminata who didn’t feel at home within the academic world and yet was able to manipulate that environment to suit her own needs and the needs of many others. Fabian showed me what a struggle it can be, to lose your frame of reference, and yet all of the teachers in the Summer School inspired me hugely to explore a world outside of modernity. I’m aware though that the examples I’m mentioning also prove to me that I’m still quite stuck in Western thinking and there isn’t one universal solution for everyone. Valiana might need different ways and tools to get justice for the colonial wound in her community. And wouldn’t it be great if Aminaty started her own institution where like minded students don’t have to fight for a feeling of belonging like she had to?
What strikes me most in thinking decolonially is the space it offers to bring my whole self to the table. Exploring where my grounding is and why I’m doing what I’m doing. It felt often uncomfortable to be white during discussions about separate break out rooms for people who identify as Black or feedback about the word ‘humour’ I used that was taken completely out of context. And yet it reflected my own disability to bring my points forward without violating others. My inner decolonial journey has gotten a strong impulse through this Summer School. I gathered a lot of information in and I feel like I only scratched the surface. As Aldo Ramos was saying: I’m not an owner of my life and practice anymore, I owe it.” The Summer School gave me the map, the vocabulary and the tools. Wishing all of the faculty members and fellow students a good life and hope your heart is feeling well today.

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