Since the recent Anti-Colonial Anarchism or Decolonization poster went viral I’ve been privileged, as the poster’s maker, to take part in several conversations it has provoked. In multiple instances, I’ve seen statements from euro-american people who don’t like being called “white” and imagine a “post colonial” or “post decolonized” future.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard these ideas, and they are problematic for a number of reasons. I’de like to share why I believe this.
The challenge around whiteness and decolonization is this: no matter how much people of european heritage decolonize ourselves into more “traditional” identities and relationships, white privilege and euro-centrism remain dominant paradigms – especially in so-called “america”.
Indigenous people and other people of color see that we still privilege from this system of white supremacy. In fact, because of white privilege, it is very possible that our movements of decolonization will be heard “louder” or given more emphasis than those of Native people on their own lands. This injustice will only create more hard feelings, and we must find the complicated path of remaining true to our own healing without further marginalizing others.
This is why I, and many others, believe that decolonization necessitates authentic solidarity with Indigenous people in resistance to colonialism. As decolonizing white people who still retain the benefits of white privilege, we are uniquely positioned to navigate the uncertain borders between Indigenous resistance movements and white society, educating, healing, and inspiring our fellow white people to decolonize and authentically support Indigenous resistance and survivorship against colonization and genocide.
We have a responsibility to do more than connect with our ancestors. While important, this is only one movement of decolonization. There is much more to deep decolonization including healing the relationships between our peoples and Indigenous peoples.
If we believe that we are all connected, especially as settlers on stolen Indigenous lands still under resistance, then we must realize we are a long way from any sort of post-colonial/decolonized world.
The colonial wars against Indigenous people and Mother Earth have never stopped, they are ongoing. While the names have changed, the pursuit for more land and riches is the same. Refusing to engage in this conflict by pretending we have evolved or decolonized beyond colonialism is complete disassociation. It is not real.
Let us be honest with ourselves. As people of european heritage, we have 2000+ years of our own colonization and historic traumas to undo, much less face the genocidal legacy created by our ancestors over the last 520+ years. Colonialism, imperialism, neo-liberal capitalism and corporatism are not forces of the past – they are vigorous and expanding as I write. This means we have a multi-generational journey ahead for us and our peoples to resist the destruction of life, heal historic and present-day traumas, and recover the sacred aspects of culture that cry for renewal. We are only one part of this multi-generational story that will be spoken by the wind and waters for eternity.
Yes, there are times I bristle at being called “white”. I recognize “white” is not a culture, and in fact symbolizes a lack of cultural identity beyond euro-american supremacy. This does not describe the “me” that I know myself to be.
I know and have relationships with my ancestors. I am learning my ancestral language. I know where I come from and have walked those lands. I am reclaiming old traditions and understandings. My Native family recognizes this healing and growth in the understanding of who I am. Despite all of this, I will forever remain “white” to most. The painful legacy of our people is just too great to earn an automatic pass from those we have systematically murdered and victimized.
I realize I will always be proving myself through my thoughts, words, and actions with Indigenous people and other people of color who resist colonization and white supremacy. I may not like it, but I accept it is my responsibility during this time of profound change. It is a responsibility I humbly accept knowing that I grow my heart and understanding with each awkward and uncertain step.
After all, white culture has been demanding that Native people and other people of color prove themselves ever since its arrival. As I seek to be recognized for who I am in Indigenous spaces, it’s just that the shoe be on the other foot now.
I hope you will consider these words in your own life, and in your own decolonization process. We cannot evade our past, we cannot forget in the present, and we must not divert our futures by perpetuating our dysfunction.
For people of amer-european heritage, decolonization is the dismantling of whiteness and white supremacy and the healing of relationships with those living beings – human and otherwise -who have been hurt by our disconnection and dysfunction. It is uncertain ground we walk on, but ground we must walk none the less. In honor of our ancestors who are still with us, let us walk this uncertain ground with open hearts and generous spirits so we may have the wisdom to understand what needs to be done, and the integrity to put that understanding into action.