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Writing Guide with Handbook

2.8 Portfolio: Decolonizing Self

Writing Guide with Handbook2.8 Portfolio: Decolonizing Self

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Write a reflection of your composition process and how it affects your work.
  • Apply the composing processes as a means to discover and reconsider ideas.

After each writing assignment in this course, you will reflect on and write about the composition process. Doing so makes you a more thoughtful writer as you think about the ideas, audience, purpose, and cultural considerations of your work.

The Colonized Self

The colonized lived experience is an important topic of academic discourse. When one refers to a situation as colonized, they mean that the ideas, customs, and culture of one group of people have been imposed onto the Indigenous people of a land. For example, colonization occurred when European explorers arrived in the Americas between the 16th and 18th centuries to inhabit land already populated by various Native American peoples with their own culture and customs. Many scholars and students are interested in exploring what it means to remove this foreign experience from the curriculum and to discontinue operating under the assumption that groups in power determine customs and culture.

Such a process begins with an examination of individual identities and cultures. You have likely attended school in systems that privilege a mainstream culture over all others. The challenge is to figure out the identity of your authentic self, stripped of colonizing forces, the way Sequoyah, Cathy Park Hong, W. E. B. Du Bois, and others have tried to do. Essentially, two versions exist of the self: the colonized self that conforms to academic standards even when they do not align with personal cultural experiences and the decolonized self that challenges mainstream standards, especially when they do not include or make space for lived experiences. So what does the process of decolonizing look like?

The Decolonized Self

Throughout much of American history, education has focused on advancing the colonial purposes of assimilation. This practice can be harmful to everyone, especially to students identifying as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color). While outright racism and exclusion are now frowned upon in academia, colonial racism and exclusion persist through more subtle means: systems of oppression, curricula, and institutional structures.

As a student and writer, you likely have experienced the effects of colonization either to your benefit or your detriment. While it can be difficult to break through entrenched racism and exclusion, through the process of decolonization you can form your identity and better understand the identities of people from other cultures.

The word decolonization refers to the process of a nation or territory breaking free from an oppressive colonial power that controls it. In essence, decolonization is a statement of independence. When used in cultural terms, decolonization refers to challenging and changing the individual and collective consciousness rooted in racism and oppression. Essentially, then, it means undoing colonial practices that have influenced education in the past and continue to do so today. You can learn more about decolonizing education in this TEDx Talk.

As you work to develop your decolonized self, you will likely spend time on introspection, examining unconscious biases and how they affect your perspective on your culture and other cultures. Learning to be anti-racist and inclusive is a lifelong process, one that can be developed in part through the writing process. Continual questioning and reflection is the most important part of decolonization.

Reflection Prompt

In your portfolio for this chapter, imagine that other students in colleges and universities across the country are talking about some of these same cultural issues. Think of it as one big conversation. American philosopher and rhetorician Kenneth Burke (1897–1993) created the metaphor of a parlor where academics across time and space have gathered to help you imagine what academic conversations must be like. Burke describes an academic conversation as “unending”: “Others . . . are engaged in a heated discussion. . . . You listen for a while . . . then you put in your oar” (Burke 110). In other words, as you write, you are adding to a timeless conversation among thinkers and authors. Your words help define cultural understanding of the future. (More about this “conversation” appears in Glance at Genre: Introducing Research as Evidence.)

Consider Burke’s concept of joining an unending conversation along with the intersections of your cultural identities. Write a reflection in which you imagine what happens in the Burkean parlor of your own making when you enter. How does the conversation change as a result of your presence? What parts of yourself contribute to, or maybe even derail, the ongoing conversations? How does the parlor change after you leave? Do you leave the parlor bubbling like warm, nourishing soup or in (figurative) flames?

[continued from previous conversation]

Former U.S. President Barack Obama: “The worst thing that colonialism did was to cloud our view of our past.”

Nigerian Author Chinua Achebe: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

British Writer E. M. Forster: “And Englishmen like posing as gods.”

American Professor J. M. Blaut: “Eurocentrism is quite simply the colonizer’s model of the world.”

American Theologian Catherine Keller: “Western dominology can with religious sanction identify anything dark, profound, or fluid with a revolting chaos.”

Senegalese Author Mariama : “The assimilationist dream of the colonist drew into its crucible our mode of thought and way of life.”

Antiguan American Author Jamaica Kinkaid: “What I see is the millions of people . . . made orphans: no motherland . . . no . . . holy ground.”

African American Author Ralph Ellison: “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”

YOU: “. . .”

[to be continued]

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