Decolonization: An Ethos

Hello my shameless readers. It’s near the end of July and I’m finally ready to share some writing again. Since my last post on the term Filipinx, I took time to reflect on the resulting online and offline conversations. I kept hearing the term “decolonized,” which got me thinking, am I decolonized?

Here’s where I’m at with my understanding:

Amongst my peers, decolonization refers to the process of mental and physical labor against the Western empires. Beyond that:

Decolonization is an ethos, a characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community. (S/O to my friend Veronica for introducing the term ethos to me). Decolonization is a dynamic way of being (because we humans are not static). It is a recognition of our colonized history and an intentional and impactful way of living one’s life to move us into a new era, one that is not centered on the systemic oppression of people to increase an empire’s wealth and power.

I’ve learned that we live on colonized land. How much my parents understood about the awful history of the United States when they moved here — I do not know. From my personal observation, it seems like the “refresh button” aspect of moving to the United States often outweighs the negative history that the majority of the United States is working hard to forget rather than confront and take responsibility for. From personal experience, there is a comfort to living on colonized land despite the knowledge of knowing many were killed to get us here and many continue to be killed to keep us here.

I’ve learned that generations and people before me may have had this conversation already — so at various points in my process, I’ve turned to the Internet for some help:

Steven Newcomb of the Shawnee and Lenape tribes and his opinion piece, “Decolonization Begins in the Mind” provided me with some language I desperately sought out around the process of decolonization:

The U.S. intellectual elite, working on behalf of a love of riches and wealth agenda, have spent more than two centuries of time, effort, energy, and money designing ideas and arguments to dis-empower and rob our Original Free Nations. The U.S. Federal Indian “Law” Domination System is comprised of ideas. Ideas are products of the mind and mental activities (thought). This is why the liberation of our Nations requires a great amount of mental energy and mental skill. Decolonization begins in the mind, with skillful thinking, and a passion for building powerful counterarguments.

I’ve grown into an understanding that we need to understand the oppressive structures we face in order to resist them and transform them. This is decolonization — the mental work of recognizing and resisting oppression so we do not perpetuate the very systems we are working to change.

Easier said than done. In my observation, I’ve noticed three groups of folks (remember, you’re not settled on any one group — decolonization is a process that we must constantly work on):

1) Colonized: Folks who are either ignorant to the oppression within today’s systems or benefit from the systems that they choose complacency.

2) Aware: Many of whom want to resist but fear being “whistleblowers.”

3) Decolonizers: Folks (mostly youth) aware of the injustices of our current systems who are actively doing work internal and external to themselves to resist colonization.

The systems are so oppressive that we get caught up in our need to survive — our need for food and shelter. And in this capitalistic society, that means we need a steady source of that paper we put so much value on. We’re told we should prepare because resources are scarce, but we’re told by who…? (ahem, the wealthy…). We’re told that this is just the way things are — without being told to question who is telling us these things.

I digress.

I’ve learned that decolonization is a continuous mental process that you have to will yourself to engage with on a daily basis. How? The following are ways of navigating and engaging with the world that I’ve been working on the past couple of years:

Giving myself time to slow down, breathe and stay mindful of my Indigenous roots. I don’t know at what point my ancestors engaged with the colonized — I don’t know at what point my personal bloodline went from tribal to settled. I do know that at one point, the world was slower and that my people lived off the land. Their lives were not dictated by the Gregorian calendar. I do know that this hectic 9 – 5 schedule was a product of the Western empire’s need for efficiency. I watch as social media speeds up our lives, often disconnecting us from one another more than intended.

I may be far removed from my Indigenous culture but I can still 1) know whose land I exist on (in New York, it’s the Lenape and in Seattle, it’s the Duwamish)  2) take time to learn about and respect my Indigenous roots (taking care to not romanticize the past) 3) resist the pressure of deadlines, being late, etc. by making time for self-care and self-love.

Taking time to understand how the systems work so we can transform them. I still stand by Audre Lorde, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” I also stand by the belief that you can’t prevent the master from rebuilding the house if you don’t take and transform the floor plan.

I struggle with this part of my daily approach often. I’ve had the conversation of whether I could ever be fully decolonized if I live within the confines of the system too many times to count. Idealistically, living off the grid — growing my own food, having my own source of water, etc. would liberate me from being part of this oppressive system — but making that jump is social suicide and doesn’t actually change anything.

I’ve been educated to hone in on my skills and embark on “a career.” In college, I thought I could settle on a career in public relations, thinking there could be little harm in me capitalizing off of writing media releases, providing creative direction on websites or getting media appearances for clients. But overtime, I grew increasingly aware of how I was being taught to develop messages based on static assumptions (particularly race, gender, economic class) and how the media industry in the United States is run by six corporations.

When I started working within the non-profit industry, I grew increasingly aware of how my job relies on the fact our society has numerous social issues. And people within the non-profit industry still need to make money to survive. Are we really working to render our jobs useless? (Have yet to read but definitely recommend The Revolution will not be Funded).

As problematic as my work can be, it informs my community engagement. The past two years, I’ve discovered the challenges of working within the NYC education system. It can feel limiting to be working to change norms while working within the system — and that’s why I try to dedicate as much of my post-work energy to making folks aware of the problems I’m witnessing to move people to action. All the while reminding myself that I can’t change people.

Creating new meaning, new perspective and new ways of being.

“Be the change you want to see in the world,” Mahatma Ghandi. We often forget that this world is the way it is because we made it so.

I know that there will always be evil in the world (we let that happen).

I do know that having hope is radical. And that there is also something radical about being creative and putting out new art, new writing, new words, new ideas.


Conclusion: am I decolonized?

I’m working on it.

Will I ever fully be?

I don’t think so because I think being decolonized isn’t a static state. It’s dynamic. It’s an ethos.  It requires energy. Mental (and even physical) energy. Being decolonized means having the courage to resist the status quo to stand up for one’s values, rather than to sell my values for comfort or security. It means recognizing that I am not entitled to anything, that life is a gift from some higher being, that other humans deserve love just as much as I do.

It’s a process. Just like reclaiming Walang Hiya is a process.

Thank you for reading, dear reader. To you and to working on decolonizing my mind with Walang Hiya. Isang bagsak.

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