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Illustration von Anna Meidert

Europe’s Nightmare: The Practice of Decoloniality

A history of decoloniality

Violence that outlasts time. Violence that can touch the past and the future in simultaneity. Violence that understands its necessity as eternal. This is how Frantz Fanon described colonial violence at the Accra Positive Action Conference in 1960. Fanon’s analysis of colonial violence does not remain unanswered: “by any means necessary”[1] is one of his calls to overcome colonialism.

Through decolonization, indigenous populations, as well as the abducted and displaced peoples of colonized states, demand the reestablishment of their own order, the right to their property and land, the right to their resources, their autonomy, their culture and sovereignty over their bodies. Decolonial longing is to reject Eurocentric models for the societies and peoples of the Global South and to create sincere[2] and self-confident communities in the absence of Europe. Thus, the call for decolonial violence manifested itself through numerous liberation movements that translated Fanon’s words from Maryland to the peripheries and plantations of the Global South.

Despite their common origin in the desire to dismantle European colonial systems, these liberation movements are primarily characterized by their heterogeneity and contradictions. Neither independence narratives nor the resistance practices of colonized societies exist in sync with one another; rather, regional responses to colonialism, such as pan-Arabism or African socialism, generate irresolvable conflicts. Both ideologies address, among other things, the liberation of Black and Arab people, but offer different visions for the organization of a post-colonial society. While pan-Arabism focuses on Arab identity and promotes a socialist and chauvinist central government, African socialism emphasizes the need for a decentralized, participatory and regional entity. The practice of liberation, on the other hand, does not exist in isolation from one another; the theories, traumas and anger of colonized peoples merge and interact in conjunction.

Decolonization is thus the historical process that disrupts the colonial order and confronts two opposing forces. The history of decolonization begins at the same time as that of colonialism, for the emergence of colonialism also gave rise to anti-colonial resistance.

During the independence movements, which were characterized by decolonial violence, political violence, as one dimension of colonial violence, was shaken. But the far-reaching colonial system, its colonial bureaucracy and its historical collaborators, such as universities and other institutions, remained still. The same ideologies that were previously propagated by Europeans were now being reproduced by Black and non-white bodies. Colonialism had multiplied. Upon the founding of post-colonial states, colonial infrastructure, or colonial bureaucracy, was often incorporated. This allowed for the preservation of colonialism. The dominance and arrogance of colonizing Europeans lives on, not only in economy and politics, but also in fashion, art, music and dance. All of these spheres are contaminated by colonialism.

For a long time in German-speaking countries, European colonialism was dealt with from an observational and passive perspective. Compared to the colonial history of other European countries, Germany’s own colonial past was so short and insignificant that it did not find its way into collective memory. Considering that the first genocide of the 20th century was the product of German colonial rule, it is only ever mentioned as a side note.

Processing the systematic and repressive domination and exploitation of the territories of the Global South occurs only superficially, if at all. Discussions are often nipped in the bud by subsequently presenting the dominated territories as ‘undiscovered’ or ‘unclaimed’ in order to justify their illegitimate seizure. This myth of undiscovered-ness conceals a pervasive rationale of white supremacy that persists to this day in various social and academic spheres: in short, things only begin to exist when white people take notice of them.

‘Decolonize’ as Trendy

Current power relations are therefore the direct result of the colonial division of the world and, in particular, the organization and state of labor since the colonization of the Americas. It is why today we can no longer speak of colonialism, but of coloniality. Identifying coloniality concurrently creates an intervention. Those who name coloniality decenter Europe as the geohistorical center of the modern world; those who name coloniality see the necessity of decoloniality, and thus a position in which coloniality is unmasked and questioned.

The call for decolonial intervention has spread like wildfire in the major cities of Western European countries in recent years. The demand for decolonization, which has migrated from the Global South to the Global North, transposes the liberation struggles of colonized black and non-white people into a new temporality and geography.

As of late, “decolonize the climate crisis” or “decolonize the Humboldt Forum” are some of the prominent calls that have found their way into the niche discussion surrounding decoloniality. Suddenly, more and more formats such as podcasts or publicly funded panels appear to address the topic of decolonization as well. These intellectual discussions are accompanied by suitable merch and aesthetic stickers, which are then dutifully placed on one’s MacBook. The colonized world’s historic struggle for liberation is thus transformed into a marketing campaign in Europe. Decolonial theories are cut into bite-sized pieces for the European audience and then sold as bestsellers in the form of non-fiction books. Discussing racist structures is allowed, and the demand for more representation of Black and non-white bodies is also benevolently noted in the notebooks of elected officials. Decoloniality is a state of totally restructuring of the existing order, not merely begging for a place in the sun.[3]

Inspired by the historical practice of colonization, decoloniality must be a contemporary response to the colonial matrix that we encounter in everyday life, for example, through racism, patriarchy or white supremacy. Decoloniality demands the radical transformation of the world and of perspectives and positions that are shaped by white rationality. Decoloniality questions Eurocentric knowledge and hierarchies and unmasks Europe’s self-serving narratives, such as that of universality. Restructuring and destroying the rationale of colonialism is fundamental to decoloniality

Effectively, white structures could never be negotiators or advocates for decoloniality, for a decolonial intervention no longer aims to translate the needs of Black and non-white people into the language of those in power.

[1]The phrase “by any means necessary” appears again five years later in 1965 in a speech by Malcolm X, inspired by Fanon’s call for emancipatory violence

[2] The concept of sincerity is an anti-colonial self-conception. Fanon writes: “Under the colonial regime, gratitude, sincerity, and honor are empty words.” (Fanon 1963:295) Inspired by decolonial thinkers, Thomas Sankara renamed Upper Volta to Burkina Faso (translated from Dioula for, “land of the upright man”) in 1984.

[3] “A place in the sun” is a phrase specific to the German colonial project, in which outlines the desire for Germany to have at least part of the world’s colonial spoils, despite it not being a major power at the time. It comes from chancellor Bernhard von Bülow’s address in Parliament in 1897 “We do not want to put anyone into the shade, but we demand a place for ourselves in the sun” (Holmes, 2010:1). 

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