Rooted in Dutch/Groningen movements against political and social injustice, Decolonize Groningen considers itself as an integral part of the global struggle against oppression and inequality, and stands in solidarity with decolonial movements worldwide against the colonial imposition of a single universal narrative regarding societal values: The narrative of modernity.
But what is modernity? How does modernity relate to coloniality? What distinguishes coloniality from colonialism? And what does a decolonial perspective entail?
In order to understand coloniality, we must begin with the concept of modernity.
Originating during the Renaissance (14th – 16th centuries), the narrative of modernity emerged as a project for the salvation of humanity. Since the conquest of the Americas (beginning in 1492), European imperial powers fomented their beliefs and way of life, as they transformed through the centuries, impacting the fate of the entire human race until today.
Early modernity advocated such salvation through the conversion to Christianity. Over the course of the following 500 years, modernity further developed and remolded itself, eventually taking on a secular form. This secularized form underwent various phases, each with its associated rhetoric, among them a number of significant periods such as: The Enlightenment (from approx. 1650; civilization / progress), post WWII (from approx. 1945; development / humanitarian aid), Globalization (from approx. 1990; market economy / promotion of ‘democratic values’ / digitalization).
Modernity, as we know it today – placing the individual front and center, within the framework of the capitalist nation-state – entails the celebration of ‘our’ supposed democratic values, such as rationality, equality, tolerance, individual rights and freedoms.
Although such achievements may rightly be considered as admirable, modernity poses a darker side, in that it is portrayed as an exclusive European endeavor – regarded by European powers as a highlight of world history – devoid of correlation with peoples outside the realm in which it transpired.
This eurocentic approach towards history negates the fact that in reality, modernity draws from a dialectic relation with non-Europe, particularly capitalizing on the European colonial enterprise. Moreover, modernity is propelled as a universal good, while its imposition lacks consideration for other socio-cultural contexts and necessitated the destruction of other forms of knowledge.
The anchoring of the narrative of modernity as an overarching model formed the base which enabled the European powers to position themselves at the center of the world order.
The pursuit to universalize the concepts enshrined in modernity occults its darker side, coloniality, without which modernity could not have asserted itself.
Colonialism is misguidedly perceived as pertaining to a bygone era. While in much of the world the struggles of colonized peoples led to formal decolonization, i.e. the end of territorial domination of lands primarily in the global south by European powers – although there still remain colonized/occupied regions around the globe and on-going liberation struggles by people aspiring freedom persist – this failed to eradicate the crux of the colonial mindset and ambitions.
Bearing further implications than the liberation from formal colonization alone, coloniality addresses the deeper significance and consequences of colonialism which characterize the global world order until today: A multi-layered construction of power, domination and exploitation, as related to issues of race, gender, sexuality, class, religion, ethnicity, epistemology (the philosophy of knowledge), linguistics and the antagonism between human activity and the natural environment. Coloniality informs the ongoing geopolitical, military, socioeconomic and cultural domination by the global north and perceived superiority of ‘western’ knowledge and way of life (so-called western civilization).
Contempt for ‘the Other,’ rooted in the century-long dehumanization of colonized subjects and the legacy of slavery, is entrenched in the eurocentric paradigm with which colonial powers justified the conquest of and reign over subjugated populations, accompanied by the destruction, taming and co-option of alternative realms of knowledge and life-worlds.
Such contempt remains prevalent in the ‘western’ perception of the world, albeit in a periodically rebranded image, its modernized manifestation glossed over by indoctrinating rhetoric such as developed/developing nations and supposed 1 st and 3 rd worlds, serving to distinguish ‘the Self’ from ‘the Other’. Underpinning the neoliberal geopolitical policies of the dominating powers, these sanitized contemporary concepts draw on the demeaning of (ex-) colonized and enslaved peoples as sub-human and stand in a dialectic relationship with systemic racism.
As a present-day manifestation of the doctrine of salvation – in line with 500 years of European missions, initially with a bible in the hand and subsequently with the objective of ‘civilizing’ populations considered primitive/inferior – mechanisms in the form of ‘humanitarian aid,’ ‘developmental assistance’ and ‘empowerment programs’ provide a masked assurance of continued hegemony through the cultivation of dependence on the powers that be by peoples in regions of geostrategic value and/or rich in natural resources.
Concepts such as ‘superiority’ and ‘inferiority,’ inherent to racist colonial thinking, have culminated in the colonization of the mind, i.e. the embedment of such concepts into our perception of the world, society and the ‘self’, tragically including the often depreciative self-perception by subjugated and marginalized peoples themselves.
Coloniality is therefore inseparable from modernity. The global struggle against modernity/coloniality connects the struggles against oppression and exploitation at the local level of subjugated, oppressed and exploited peoples themselves, with struggles from within the crux of power in the global north.
It also links specific struggles such as the campaigns against Zwarte Piet, Shell, Israeli settler-colonialism and others, with the broader struggle against the prevailing neoliberal power structures and the decolonization of perception, knowledge and educational institutes, which sustain modernity/coloniality and the concepts they engrain.
Decoloniality seeks the liberation from modernity/coloniality, as largely dictated by ‘western’, white, heterosexual, institutionally educated, able-bodied males, as opposed to the pursuit of emancipation solely from within its constraints.
Decoloniality respects, learns from and is guided by the insights and life-experiences of indigenous and other peoples enduring the repercussions of modernity/coloniality. The point of departure of decolonial movements worldwide is the acknowledgement that there is no single universal narrative pertaining to life-worlds and selfhood.
Humankind entails, and has always entailed, a plurality of realities, perceptions and experiences. As opposed to the neoliberal reduction of human beings to mere objects of consumption, many societies past and present emphasize humanistic relations and human connection with their natural environment. They demonstrate that a pluralistic world based on universal respect and equality is possible; a world free of oppression, domination and exploitation in whatever its form.
A DECOLONIAL GRONINGEN
The Netherlands has a troubled history of colonization and slave trade, in which Groningen also bears its share in the guilt. This history has never been fully owned up to, nor have the encapsulated remnants of the Dutch colonial past been addressed in a meaningful manner.
The ensuing racialized eurocentric paradigm persists until today, including in institutions and academic curricula. Children’s school books and history classes fail to adequately mention the matter and the minimal attention which it is given is portrayed from the perspective of the (Dutch) victor.
Systemic racism remains endemic, although it is largely downplayed and racial profiling trivialized. The struggle against Zwarte Piet is met with rage by traditionalists and society continues to be marked by concepts of ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Just to mention a few of the lingering elements attributed to coloniality prevalent in Dutch/Groningen society to this day.
Anchored in the growing Dutch and global decolonial movement, Decolonize Groningen seeks the long overdue decolonization of Groningen, the Netherlands and the world!