Collectivity Decolonise Decolonise The Curriculum Education Neoliberalism Power Transformation

Demystifying the Concept of Decolonisation

By Phoebe Boateng

Decolonisation is a word that terrifies so many in society and academic institutions. Mainly because it is perceived as a personal attack on whether or not one/ an institution is racist, which is a misconception about decolonisation. We also associate decolonisation with days of slavery and colonial rule that so many want to forget. Post-colonialism is the more preferable and tasteful word used as a way to say that we are working on out colonial past. A means of not truly delving into the trauma that it caused. However, it must be noted that as a society we are unable to learn and progress if there is no active decolonisation process. It is a process that looks beyond diversity and BAME quotas. I remember watching a recent interview with Angela Davis as part of a Black Lives Matter speaker series. In that series, part of the discussion touched upon the need for diversity having to go above and beyond its performative nature. A point that she made stuck with me. Davis says, ‘don’t assume that simply by establishing a diversity and inclusion office that that’s the answer’[1]. This is why decolonisation is so important. Not only does it go further than the performative measures that Davis discussed, but is a way to reimagine a system that is inclusive of all knowledge systems and thought processes[2] and to critique existing power structures too. Ensuring that no one feels excluded from the conversation. To have institutions, curriculums and systems where each and every one of us can see ourselves reflected in it.

The word decolonisation has always been on the periphery of my awareness but has only recently been something that I have become actively involved in. Up until the summer I wasn’t fully aware of the student-led, decolonisation process that was happening at my own university. To learn about the inspiring work that has been done by students and staff alike for the past two years and become involved in something that has been so important. Decolonisation is a topic that everyone must learn about and understand why the process is so important. In order to have true richness of knowledge in society there needs to be decolonisation. It would redefine the way that we learn, empathise, understand and view all aspects of society. Colonisation is so deep rooted in our society that it wasn’t instantly recognisable until it was pointed out to me. The lack of my history taught in school was something that I always believed to be colonial. However, it runs deeper than just history. I’d never really questioned the rigid structure of the way information and knowledge is delivered and received across all institutions, so binary in its nature. 

The work being done in decolonisation networks by students and staff across the country is so important. It is a shame that not all students and staff of those institutions aren’t more aware/ receptive of this work. The active decolonisation network at my university (Decolonise Keele Network or DKN) that started two years ago has been doing remarkable work and continuing the important work in the face of adversity. It is so crucial that networks like DKN have been created not only within my university institution but the decolonisation networks that exists in institutions across the UK. Working with students and staff in DKN has been different to any other networks/ groups that I have been part of. The collaborative way of working and different approaches to ‘leadership’ within the Decolonise Keele Network (DKN) is unlike the running of any initiative that I am aware of. It is rewarding to know that all ideas are important and deserving of attention, which is not necessarily the case in all networks/ organisations. Conceptually, it challenges asymmetric power structures and ideas surrounding hierarchy that are the norm within organisations. It is refreshing to be able to work in this way with a network of people who are dedicated to what is definitely going to be a long process. In a neo-liberal society, we are focused on short term solutions to long term problems. However, with an issue as deep rooted as colonisation, there is no quick fix. There must be commitment, time and effort spent on this decolonisation and the first step is becoming involved in the process itself. 

Getting Involved 

How can I get involved in the decolonisation process? In all honesty there isn’t a specific set of rules. However, I can say that, it is important to understand what decolonisation is. As previously mentioned, decolonisation isn’t about diversity, it goes beyond that. A PhD student in the network describes the difference as ‘you could have a black lecturer, teaching a room full of black students and still be teaching a colonised curriculum’ and teaching within a colonised institution. Decolonisation is a reflection of inclusion that is beyond surface level, not diversity nor tokenism. The next ‘step’ would be to get involved in networks committed to decolonisation work. Apart from physical networks, there are so many interesting conferences and events that are much more accessible now that the virtual age has begun. Since my involvement with DKN, I have attended so many conferences that have not only educated me but enabled me to be in spaces that go beyond my university institution. It is so important to have discussions with people who are committed to decolonisation work and share knowledge and experiences. ‘Eventbrite’ is a great platform to start finding and attending events/ conferences. It is as simple as typing in key words that are topics of interest and just taking the time to look at the results that pop up. Additionally, ‘Decolonial Dialogues’ (website linked below) is an important educative space. 

You might be wondering how exactly education and getting involved in decolonisation work translates into notable change within institutions? It is of course difficult to make real changes if those in positions of power are either not educated or unreceptive to the idea of decolonisation. Education about decolonisation and the debunking of the myths surrounding it is so important for initial change to be made. Notable change within institutions and society as a whole must come from people putting in groundwork and applying pressure to said institutions. 

The decolonisation process is going to be neither quick nor easy. However, it is a necessary process to ensure that as a society we can acknowledge and learn from the past and step forward into a society that is past performative inclusion. 


[2] Decolonise Keele Network Manifesto

About the author

Phoebe Boateng
I am a final year Law student studying at Keele University. Apart from my degree and decolonial work, I am interested in reading dystopian fiction and reading and writing poetry. Additionally, I recently started a fashion page to showcase my wardrobe and discuss sustainable and vintage fashion:

Decolonise Keele Network Social Media: 
Facebook: Dialogues:

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