No Gains In Decolonisation Until 'Normal' Becomes Globalised

How can you decolonise something when your very idea of what constitutes 'normal' is actually a Western construct?

02/12/2016 05:59 SAST | Updated 02/12/2016 05:59 SAST
AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa
Supporters of Bolivia's President Evo Morales march through La Paz, Bolivia, Wednesday Oct. 12, 2011. The march coincides with the celebration of Christopher Columbus'€™ discovery of the continent in 1492. In Bolivia the day is marked as the Day of Decolonization, in honor of the indigenous community.

Ever since I first came across it in 2010 to current times, very little seems to have changed regarding decolonisation in South Africa – or any other former colonised country I have looked at. Six years later and, wherever I look, I still see people having conferences, seminars and debates around it while all the practical and implementable solutions that come out of these discussions never seem to have any considerable or lasting impact once they are implemented – and that's to say if they ever do get implemented.

So, looking at it from the days when Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o first spoke about it to the current days where the Fallists are calling for it, it seems as though throughout these years, decolonisation has hardly ever been more than just a hot subject for discussion and, with the way things are currently going, it looks like very little is set to change in the near future.

Don't get me wrong, I am not implying that there is no value to be found in having discussions around decolonisation (participating in such discussions has helped me and many others grow our understanding of the theories and principles around decolonisation), all I'm saying is that the slowness regarding the development of long-term programmes that are aimed at implementing and facilitating the actual process of decolonisation has led to a growing frustration that, as I continue to attend these events, I am starting to recognise in other people too.

Our understanding of what is considered to be normal is so Westernised that it has hindered with every effort we've had in the fight for decolonisation.

With all that being said, I believe that one of the reasons why our progress in matters of decolonisation has seemingly hit a ceiling is that, whenever we do discuss decolonisation – be it of art, education, gender, etc. – the contexts in which we have these discussions tend to be very colonial. Our discussions are had in contexts where the global normative standards for whatever field it is we have chosen to scrutinize are centered on Western cultures or beliefs. For instance, the discussions around the decolonisation of art have, for as long as I've been part of them, been had in contexts where the idea of what an artists is – let alone the definition of the products of their labour – is defined using Western concepts.

So the problem arises from the fact that because of the influence that Western countries have had, and still have, on other countries, and the roles they have played in global history, the concepts, traditions and beliefs that were traditionally Western are now wrongfully seen as global. Together with their guns and bullets, Western countries have been exporting their faiths, traditions, and beliefs for so long that, throughout their years of "civilising" the natives of the "Dark Continent" with their education, they have managed to normalise their own normative standards as the normative standards of the world.

This "globalisation" of Western cultures and beliefs has placed them in the center of global normative standards and has, as a consequence, shifted the others to the periphery. It has become so bad that our understanding of what is considered to be normal – from the languages we use in literature, to the definition of what an artist is, to which numbering system we use (and yes, there's more than one) – is so Westernised that it has hindered with every effort we've had in the fight for decolonisation.

It is my belief that the discussions around decolonisation will never reach any point of conclusion until what we consider as normal is more global than it is Western. We will never come to a conclusion on what decolonisation should look like while we continue to look at the world through the eyes of the West. Without creating global normative standards that encompasses all systems of beliefs of the world, particularly those of the former colonised countries, our discussions will never reach any laudable conclusions.

So, until we reach a point of decolonised global normative standards, we will never reach any impactful solution for the decolonisation of anything in the South African context. To truly decolonise education, the arts, science and other things, we need to decolonise what our definition of the normal way of doing and defining them is.