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Decolonizing the White Colonizer?

  • Author(s): Lucas, Cecilia Cissell
  • Advisor(s): Baquedano-Lopez, Patricia
  • et al.

This interdisciplinary study examines the question of decolonizing the white colonizer in the United States. After establishing the U.S. as a nation-state built on and still manifesting a colonial tradition of white supremacy which necessitates multifaceted decolonization, the dissertation asks and addresses two questions: 1) what particular issues need to be taken into account when attempting to decolonize the white colonizer and 2) how might the white colonizer participate in decolonization processes? Many scholars in the fields this dissertation draws on -- Critical Race Theory, Critical Ethnic Studies, Coloniality and Decolonial Theory, Language Socialization, and Performance Studies -- have offered incisive analyses of colonial white supremacy, and assume a transformation of white subjectivities as part of the envisioned transformation of social, political and economic relationships. However, in regards to processes of decolonization, most of that work is focused on the decolonization of political and economic structures and on decolonizing the colonized. The questions pursued in this dissertation do not assume a simplistic colonizer/colonized binary but recognize the saliency of geo- and bio-political positionalities. As a result of these different positionalities, white U.S. citizens committed to participating in our own decolonization and in the decolonization of our (social, political, educational, and economic) structures and relationships with others must learn from but cannot simply imitate or appropriate decolonial methodologies developed by indigenous people and people of color.

The title of this dissertation posits decolonization as an active ongoing process (through the use of the verb-form, i.e. "decolonizing") without guarantees (through the use of the question mark). Each chapter addresses a different yet interrelated aspect of this process:

Chapter One intervenes in the reconstructionism versus abolitionism debate in Whiteness Studies, and offers p/reparations as a framework for redistributory practices and (inter)personal transformation and as a methodology through which the white colonizer might contribute to racial justice and decolonization projects. P/reparations processes are open-ended and include apologies, material and cultural redress, and structural change to ensure non-recurrence. By highlighting historical and contemporary processes of accumulation by dispossession, p/reparations processes emphasize interconnectedness and challenge the illusion of autonomous individuals, groups and nation-states. Thus, a p/reparations framework intervenes into discourses of meritocracy and equal opportunity; denaturalizes notions of citizenship, immigration, and the borders of nation-states; and provides counter-narratives to discourses of aid and charity which assume the assets being redistributed were legitimately acquired and that acts of redistribution should thus be met with gratitude.

Chapter Two examines the ways in which the geographical control of bodies has been a key technology of white supremacist colonialism. Given the entanglement of geographical (im)mobility with social (im)mobility and an unequal racialized distribution of premature death, decolonization and the dismantling of white supremacy necessitates not only the redistribution of political and economic resources but divesting from U.S.-ness itself. As such, decolonization requires not only white abolitionism but also U.S.-abolitionism. This chapter interrogates the use of the trope of "the criminal" by both the nation-state and the prison industrial complex, and the ways in which these discourses are mobilized as threats to the white colonizer's "home." As such, this chapter argues that, for the white colonizer, one aspect of decolonization may require developing a relationship to home as a foreign concept as well as (in many cases) pursuing downward rather than upward mobility.

Chapter Three suggests power-conscious hybridity as a technology the white colonizer can employ in the face of this challenge of needing to claim whiteness and U.S.-ness even as we seek to participate in their abolition. Hybridity emphasizes that no one is reducible to any particular "identity." In order not to disappear into colorblind "humanness," engage in cultural appropriation, and/or revalorize whiteness, however, the white colonizer's employment of hybridity must simultaneously involve (de)facing whiteness. (De)facing implies a double movement: facing whiteness, in all of its horror, without resorting to white flight; and defacing whiteness, both in the sense of destroying it and in the sense of de-facing it, i.e. undoing the notion that whiteness is human.

Chapter Four examines issues of pedagogy and curricula inside and outside the classroom as they pertain to processes of recreating and transforming colonial white supremacy. This chapter critiques discourses of "equality of opportunity" as a primary ideological mechanism supporting colonial white supremacy in the current age of colorblind racism. Through participant-observation of two different attempts at "social justice" schooling (one at the high school level, one at the college level), it examines the creation of what Michel Foucault calls "docile bodies," and draws on pedagogies from theater as possibilities for cultivating counter-disciplines of the body. This chapter ends with a list of specific skills the white colonizer needs to learn for the purpose of decolonization.

"Chapter" Five attempts to "practice what I preach" (in particular in relation to the colonial white supremacy institutionalized as epistemological hierarchies in the academy) by revisiting the topics of this dissertation in a live performance. This theoretical and methodological intervention enacts a response to critiques of the mind/body split in colonial epistemologies, and positions performance as analysis which must be engaged on its own terms -- rather than only as a methodology or phenomenon that is then analyzed in writing. This is also a pedagogical intervention which insists on the importance and legitimacy of multiple modalities of communication beyond writing within academia, and seeks to make academia feel accessible to a wider range of people with a range of learning and teaching styles.

The Inconclusion addresses the question of why the white colonizer would want to decolonize. It argues that the prerequisite for wanting to decolonize is recognizing oneself as colonizer and all beings as interconnected. Then decolonization becomes not so much a choice as a spiritual--which is also to say political--imperative. As such, this dissertation argues not only against the mind/body split, but also against the mind/body/soul split by emphasizing the importance of politicizing and embodying spirituality and infusing political movements with spiritual convictions.

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