Decolonizing: The Newest Fad in Leftist Recuperation

Back in late 2011 when the Occupy movement still had some momentum, there was a big debate in Oakland about whether to change the name from Occupy Oakland to Decolonize Oakland.

In the end they decided to stick with the name Occupy, but a group split off and took the name Decolonize Oakland.

The reason for the name change as I understand it, is that the term “Occupy” is  offensive to some people who define themselves by one of the social categories the dominant civilizing forces put them in.

Considering Occupy is a word used when a Colonial or Imperial force commodifies the land indigenous people inhabit or even the indigenous people themselves, it is not surprising that the people most affected by this process would want to choose a different name.

The problem I have with this is not that people want to disassociate themselves from a word that carries the connotation of chattel slavery and genocide. My problem is the people that make up Decolonize are still defining themselves by the social categories imposed on them by the dominant order.

While I acknowledge that oppressed groups of individuals experience their dispossession in unique ways that can form the basis for solidarity, I also acknowledge that defining oneself by a social category imposed by the dominant order robs people of the ability to  create their lives on their own terms in free association with others.

As a mass movement, Occupy Oakland defines itself from the point of view of class struggle. The virtuous “99%” versus the villainous “1%.” The individual desires of each member of the 99%  do not matter to Occupy Oakland. What matters is that each individual member of the 99% subordinate their desires and passions to the class struggle ideology of Occupy Oakland.

I commend the members of Decolonize Oakland for rejecting the economic class struggle program of Occupy Oakland.

The problem is Decolonize Oakland is merely switching out one form of ideological subordination for another!

According to the Decolonize Oakland Points of Unity, Decolonize Oakland is a

“collective of queer people of color and people of color.”

While the desire to break free from the Occupy movement is understandable, the creation of a new group based on a shared social identity imposed upon them by the dominant order requires each unique individual to subordinate their individual autonomy to the group.

Their Points of Unity go on to say:

We decolonize to claim spaces for the self-determination of communities of color in Oakland.

Decolonize Oakland speaks of monolithic communities of color where none exist. What does exist are individuals living in Oakland who have been assigned social identities that alienate them from their own lives.

Rather than striving to free themselves from the network of institutions that alienate them from their own lives and creativity, they seek to create a mass movement using an in group/out group dynamic that treats everyone in the in group as “good” and everyone in the out group as “bad” regardless of the individual thoughts, desires and passions of the members of the groups Decolonize Oakland assigns people to. (Meet the new rulers, same as the old rulers)

It should be noted that the motivation for this partially comes from the failure of a large percentage of the individual members of Occupy Oakland to acknowledge and comprehend how the social identities imposed upon them put them at odds with other members of Occupy Oakland who have different social identities imposed upon them.

But the solution is not to create a myriad of splinter groups each with their own political program based on the social identities imposed upon the members of each group. The solution is for each individual to use their own unique creativity and passion to break free from the social roles imposed upon them by the dominant order.

From this viewpoint, it doesn’t matter which involuntary social group an individual belongs to. What matters is their will to break free of all social identities so they can create their own lives according to their individual passions and desires.

Only then will individuals be able to create their own lives according to their own unique passions and desires and see other people as individuals striving to create their own lives as well.

At that point individuals can freely associate based on affinity and begin attacking the ideological structure that creates the institutions that enforce the rule of civilization.

If we fail to free ourselves from the bonds of imposed social identity and subordination to political ideologies, our struggles will merely replicate the institutions and structures that oppress us.

And if that is the case, why bother?

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9 Responses to Decolonizing: The Newest Fad in Leftist Recuperation

  1. translation: it’s wrong for other people to define themselves as they want to define themselves and organize themselves how they want to organize themselves. they need to do things the way i want them to do it. i am the one who knows what is best, even though i have no idea who these people are or what they have experienced.

    ie, same shit, different day.

    • acephalist says:

      Hi Yvonne, thank you for your reply.

      My goal in the critique of Decolonize Oakland was to argue that people will never free themselves from the alienating effects of civilization as long as we continue to define ourselves according to social roles created by civilization.

      Decolonize Oakland’s website claims they are a “collective of queer people of color and people of color.”

      I am glad people in Oakland that do not fit into the white-hetero-normative category have found a basis for solidarity and are fighting back.

      I believe that reclaiming our own self-activity is a fundamental part of changing our world. I also believe that by clinging to social roles not of our own making we submit to the patterns of enslavement that have historically dominated us ever since the rise of agriculture and domestication.

      I want to decolonize, but I want to go further. I want to decivilize.

  2. Luz Calvo says:

    If you think racial/ethnic identity is ONLY something imposed on us, you are sadly mistaken. I claim my history, my culture, my people’s resistance to colonization and capitalism as strengths and inspiration that motivates me to struggle and fight. I am against all oppressions, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, and capitalism. I am not against Occupy’s anti-capitalist stance, I am against Occupy’s belief that we have to fight the economic battle “first.” and I am REALLY against the Occupy’s belief that fighting racism and/or sexism inside the movement is somehow counter-revolutionary.

    Your fetishization of the “individual” is really odd. To me, it sounds like it a repackaged US ideology of rugged individualism, this time in libertarian clothing. I identity with multiple groups and find my home in these grouping. My identification with these my groups is a form of solidarity with the struggles my peoples face now and historically. I also often choose to act in solidarity with other groups in struggle. I don’t ask them to leave their identity, history, culture at the door when I do so. That would be silly (and look a lot like colonization).

    Self determination for all people! Decolonize!

    • acephalist says:

      Thank you for the reply Luz. It sounds like we view our struggles differently. You said you claim your history and culture as strengths. I do not.
      I am of the opinion that humans essentially domesticated themselves with the advent of agriculture, animal domestication and division of labor. To me, the institutions, structures and technological systems of civilization imprison us. I don’t just mean western civilization, I mean all civilizations including Native American, Mayan etc.

      I view Capitalism, Communism, Socialism and Leftist forms of Anarchism as various manifestations of civilization, which I regard as a prison. IMO ideologies keep us chained to the various manifestations of civilization that enslave us.

      The focus on individualism is a rebellion against ideologies. By no means am I advocating that people ignore the uniqueness of the oppression’s of individual social groups. I think we can learn much from those critiques and I think it is fantastic that people are able to use their shared oppression as a basis for solidarity to fight back.

      Again thank you very much for taking the time to read my post and comment.

  3. Luz Calvo says:

    I really appreciate the fact that you are so polite in your replies. I respect you for not attacking those with different perspectives/analyses/assumptions….your generosity of spirit is refreshing.

    • acephalist says:

      No problem. Thank you for your reply as well.

      And to be honest, since I do not experience the oppression that a person of color or queer person of color does, I think I should have focused my critique on something I directly experience. My tone was too harsh as well.

      Part of why I write is to bring rough ideas into my conscious mind. What I posted was an incomplete thought.

      One thing that annoys me is when people in the social categories of white and/or male fail to comprehend the ways civilization oppresses people not in those social categories.

      On the other hand, I believe the network of institutions that make up modern day civilization impose roles on us and breaking free of those can only be done at the individual level.

      I do not think those two viewpoints are mutually exclusive, but I think I didn’t pay enough attention to the former in my post.

    • acephalist says:

      I stumbled across this article by Wolfi Landstreicher and I think it says what I was trying but failed to say quite well.

      “Because identity politics is based on oppressed individuals identifying with the group identity through which they have been oppressed, it also requires maintaining the identity of the oppressors as a group identity. So what does a “white” person who is striving to dismantle her whiteness, not out of guilt, but for her own liberation, do? What of a “man” who seeks to get beyond his “manhood” for similar reasons? Only within the context of a fight for the freedom of every individual to create her life on her own terms is it possible to find ways to interweave the fights of blacks, latinos, indigenous people, etc., against racism with the fight of a euro-mutt against the limitations of whiteness. Only within this context can the battle of women and gender queers against sexism interweave with the fight of men against the limitations of manhood. And euro-mutts can only truly be accomplices (as opposed to a lickspittle auxiliary support group) of those fighting their own racial oppression, when they join this battle to fight the limitations that their supposed “whiteness” has imposed on their individual freedom, in other words, when they are fighting racism and the very concept of race for themselves and their own freedom. And the only comrades you can truly trust are those who have joined battle with you for themselves. The same logic applies to biological males in their fight against sexism. If they aren’t starting from their own battle against the limitations that “manliness” imposes on them, then they aren’t fighting for themselves, and they will not make reliable comrades, because willing slaves can never be trusted. In fact, this logic applies across the board.”
      https://sites.google.com/site/vagabondtheorist/from-the-armchair/the-strange-the-odd-the-freaky-and-the-queer

  4. xinaxmictlan says:

    The bigger point for me is to create a social structure in which all the social identities become irrelevant. It feels like you’re asking us to reverse-engineer society/civilization by dropping this stuff. However, like you acknowledged, the life experiences and subjective viewpoints of people were at odds. Even if someone drops their social identity, their ways of looking at and acting in the world are still framed by the way they grew up, which is connected to their social identity. So dropping the labels won’t necessarily change our ways of being, but it seems that will give us an absence of language to describe the dynamics of what is causing strife in budding movements that ideally seek to be cross-class, interracial, multicultural, non-heteronormative, and even decolonial.

    • acephalist says:

      Thank you for commenting and excellent points xinaxmictlan! Just a thought – perhaps creating social structures is the wrong way to go about it? I’m not saying that it is or that I have an alternative, right now I have far more questions than answers. 🙂

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