• Vic de Aranzeta

Decolonizing Yourself?




Right now is a transitional point for the United States government and people to acknowledge and educate themselves on the racist and colonialist history that has been prevalent in not only our own founding, but most of the world.


As a formally educated socio-cultural anthropologist, I know that anthropology is fraught with racism, prejudice and appropriation — thankfully today many professors try to un-teach the methods that previous anthropologists have used, but ultimately it is up to the individual to carry on with their own research and learn how to become a better ally.


This is by no means a comprehensive list- I felt compelled to share some of the resources I utilize to challenge my perceptions and expand my knowledge. I hope you’ll find these resources inspiring and helpful in your own personal education.



1. Read

Read everything you can, articles, blogs, archives, books, newsletters, social media posts — too often in anthropology I heard that stories, ethnographies and accounts were not reliable ‘data’ and were biased when written from someone within the culture. An outsiders perspective on a culture being the only accurate version is dangerous and outdated and leaves it open to ethnocentrism and bad interpretation. Peoples stories, experiences and emotions matter, and they should not be discounted or ignored because they are written from a personal, insiders perspective.


Read books by written by BIPOC first and then books by ally’s to get a fully rounded view. There’s a lot of books out there with the facade of allyship, but in reality it’s just a mask to make White folks feel better about their thoughts. To really become an ally, you need to get uncomfortable and challenge your notions and perceptions. It’s hard, I know, but it’s necessary work.


Below are two books that were instrumental to me when learning about decolonizing spaces and methodologies. There are countless articles, thesis, and books on this topic of decolonization, so if you’re interested in the subject I urge you to do a JSTOR, library or Google Scholar search to find more.

Decolonizing Museums

Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums by Amy Lonetree


This book shattered my view of museums and was groundbreaking research on colonized museum practices, particularly on the display of Indigenous peoples stories and cultural objects, focusing mainly on North America. Lonetree delves deeper than just guidelines and practices, she shares insight on the impact they have on Indigenous peoples and communities, which is a perspective that is often not included.


Amy Lonetree focuses on a few key museums such as the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culutral and Lifways. She addresses the glaring issues that many museums have when it comes to displaying and sharing stories and history of Native peoples, perhaps one of the most prevalent is that many museums display artifacts and share stories about Native peoples that make them seem like ‘other’ and that they are culturally stagnant.


One of my favorite museums is the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture in Santa, Fe New Mexico-this museum was one of the first I visited that had a section for contemporary stories of Native peoples about life on the Reservation, their own history and experiences with colonialism and boarding schools. This area also had items on display such as Nintendo 64, Barbie dolls and other items that help to educate others that Native peoples are not stagnant and have a living culture.



Decolonizing Methodologies:

Research and Indigenous Peoples by Linda Tuhiwai Smith

Decolonizing Methodologies is a thoughtful and illuminating book on ways that Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can learn about best practices when performing research.

Linda Tuhiwai Smith focuses on decolonizing archaeology and anthropology field work in particular which is deeply seeded in ‘othering’ and colonization. She even delves into words used commonly themselves such as ‘research’ and ‘discovery’ and the colonialist meaning these carry today for Indigenous peoples.


Tuhiwai Smith offers deep insight on the weight that words can hold and how Indigenous peoples can navigate working in the archaeology and anthropology sectors without sacrificing their own connection to culture and maintaining self-determination and decolonized practices. This is a must read for anyone interested in learning about decolonizing methods. This book can be applied to any research methodologies, especially in the UX field.


One thing I have heard over the years is peoples shock when they first realize who the original owners of the lands were that they live on now, and the confusion that there are still Native tribes that occupy the land. This shows a complete failure of our education system in the United States and how systemic racism and ignorance continues to have a tremendous negative impact on BIPOC lives. But know that you have the power to unlearn and learn what is necessary for us all to move forward as a nation and as individuals. It is not up to Native peoples or BIPOC to educate us, the information is out there, it is consistently being updated and we can find the information in a variety of forms both digital and physical.


We need to create change within institutions and take steps to truly decolonize spaces, spaces that should be transformed into educational collaborative spaces that are rooted in the commonalities found in our greater humanity and the beauty of cultural uniqueness.




2. Listen

Listening is a tool that every person has, but not everyone utilizes. We need to listen to and learn from stories of BIPOC. Historically, BIPOC stories have long been written and recorded by people outside of these communities and often contained racist and ethnocentric ideology.



Some stories, like those of Black grandmothers were rarely recorded.



Real Black Grandmothers

https://realblackgrandmothers.com


Real Black Grandmothers was founded by Dr. LaShawnDa Pittman who is an Assistant Professor in the American Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Washington (UW). According to the Real Black Grandmothers website “She was recently awarded a Simpson Center Society of Scholars Fellowship, Royalty Research Fund, and a Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellowship for junior faculty to complete her book manuscript, “Grandmothering While Black: Black Grandmothers from Slavery to the Present.”

Real Black Grandmothers is an ongoing and evolving archive of stories from and about Black grandmothers. Dr. Pittman found through her research about Black grandmothers raising their children that there were no books about Black grandmothers being the instrumental caregivers they are from slavery to present times. This is even more pertinent now when we see the portrayal of Black grandmothers through many fictional depitictions on products and in pop-culture like Aunt Jemima, Tyler Perry’s Madea and Big Mama, but the authentic stories are not being told.

Read more about Dr. Pittman and what she is doing to bring these necessary stories to the forefront.



Native Stories

https://nativestories.org


Native Stories is an app with podcasts, audio tours and stories about and by Native peoples. From their website, “The desire to relearn and reintegrate native ways and knowledge into everyday life is at a peak.”



Unreserved

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/unreserved


Unreserved is a podcast on CBC Radio One hosted by Rosanna Deerchild, a Cree from O-Pipon-Na-Piwan Cree Nation at South Indian Lake; Unreserved is focused on sharing Indigenous stories, music and culture from community members.



Live Oak Museum Consulting

https://liveoaknative.com


LOMC is an Indigenous owned museum consulting company that focuses on educating staff and patrons of museums, as well as impacting change at the policy level in regards to display of Native objects and representing Native life and culture. They focus on gathering stories of Native community members to share authentic stories of existence and experiences rather than have stagnant writing that makes Native peoples seem stuck in time, this is what we often see in museums and it needs to change. Museums are a way to educate on the past, but also the present and can change how we enter the future — that’s why it is crucial to get it right and collaborate and partner with Indigenous communities to have them tell their story to avoid colonialist or outdated views or ethnographies from an outsiders biased point of view.

You can reach out to Live Oak Museum Consulting and find out more about their educational sessions for your team.

3. Learn From Your Mistakes

We all make mistakes every day, they should not be seen as a failure but as a learning opportunity. Sometimes we don’t know all the answers or right things to say — this gives us a chance to take a step back and reassess what we know and don’t know. We have the ability and resources to educate ourselves and ask critical questions about what we think and why we think that. In the end, it’s up to us to take the time and do the work to become a better human, friend, and ally.


We’re all just humans on this giant space rock trying to figure life out, and trying to survive 2020.

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