I temporarily suspended my instagram account this week. During a conversation with a BIPOC woman about the merits of decolonizing education from the inside versus from the outside, she blocked me and made a post about how infuriating racist people are.

It was a tough conversation. She was saying that BIPOC kids don’t have the luxury of cherry-picking educational reform because the racist colonial culture in which they live demand more of them. I was saying that unschooling would be a better, less colonial approach to education, and that those of us with privilege should do what we can to dismantle oppressive colonial systems.

Was I being racist by not agreeing with her? I’m still not sure and I’ve been tearing apart the conversation in my head for a few days now. Her point was that unschooling is a privilege, and I agree with that, but I wonder what one should do with privilege if not try and take down oppressive colonial institutions. The alternative is to continue supporting those institutions and that doesn’t feel right to me.

It may have been my tone during the conversation: I was trying to tell her that I appreciated her time and effort to share her very well researched and eloquent point of view. I was trying to share the work of BIPOC folks that have taught me about the oppressive nature of the current education system, but she said that I was creating a hierarchy suggesting that I knew more than her. Obviously, that wasn’t my intent – I was trying to share other perspectives with her that came directly from people without the privilege I hold.

And this, of course, is the problem with social media. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone about heated, nuanced topics in the comments section of a post. You don’t understand each others’ perspective or tone, you don’t know about the history of their research or the intersection of other ideologies they may hold. You can’t even fucking link to an external resource. I make a solemn vow right now NOT TO ENGAGE in this kind of deep dialogue on social media posts.

That being said, her words struck me deeply and I’ve spent the last few days digging deep into the work that I’m trying to do, what motivates it, and whether any of the things I’ve actually said on this blog have any grain of truth. I’ve tried to present these posts as a journey of learning and experience rather than fact or reality, but there are some important questions that I’m asking myself:

  • how can white people participate in decolonization?
  • does “opting-out” have any effect or change other than on how I live my life?
  • if I’m not opting out, does that necessarily mean that I’m opting in to systems that uphold and perpetuate oppression?
  • is unschooling actually contributing to the systems of decolonization or anti-oppression or is it just a move to innocence?

The term “move to innocence” comes from an essay titled “Decolonization is not a metaphor” by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang that was written in 2012. I read the essay a few years ago and came across it again last night in seeking answers to some of the questions above. Reading it again triggered a lot of emotions in me that I think I overlooked the first time.

In the essay, Tuck and Yang argue that the term “decolonization” has become a catch-all idea for social justice work and this has watered down the true meaning: the removal of colonial forces for indigenous cultures. Land back, life ways back, the end of cultural genocide. They also identify multiple settler “moves to innocence”, actions taken by us settlers with a guilty conscience but who are not actually doing any tangible work to decolonize.

I realized when I was reading last night that I am guilty of almost all of these moves to innocence. I claim that I’m trying to decolonize my life, but that’s pretty much bullshit. I’m doing the ideological work, decolonizing my mind as they say, but actually doing very little work beyond that to give indigenous people back their land and their sovereignty.

So what the fuck am I doing?

I mean, I’m trying to raise kids in an environment without hierarchy. That’s something. I’m doing a heck of a lot of re-learning about history, connection to the earth, indigenous cultures, and capitalism. That’s something too. But it’s barely anything really.

When I talk about opting out of oppressive systems, I’m trying to establish first what those systems are, then trying to find ways to not have to engage with them, and then (hopefully) helping to build alternative systems to replace the oppressive ones.

And I think there’s some decolonization work in there, but right now I’m not sure. Tuck and Yang’s essay points out very clearly that decolonization work is very different from other social justice work that seeks to redistribute wealth because decolonization isn’t about sharing, it’s about giving back to indigenous communities that were bulldozed by colonial forces. It’s about understanding that the original act of colonization was itself wrong and undoing that colonization. It’s not about sharing, it’s about giving it all back.

All that being said, I don’t think the words that I’m writing are racist words. My intention is to be as anti-racist as possible, but I’m still learning (SO MUCH LEARNING) every day. I’m going to keep posting to Instagram to share what I’m writing but if these ideas miss the mark or cause you harm, I’m sorry. If I suggest things that are offensive or insensitive, I’m sorry. It’s never my intention. Please let me know so that I can learn to do better.

Additional Resources

Decolonization is not a metaphor

White Allies, Let’s Be Honest About Decolonization

What are white people doing to decolonize their minds?

We Settlers Face a Choice: Decolonization or White Supremacy

Decolonization: What Ought To Be