The colonial era started with the occupation of America by the Kingdom of Castille in 1492. The displacement of the center of the geopolitical world from the East to the Atlantic also began what is known as the Renaissance, which will give the West not only economic and political but also intellectual protagonism, as Europe achieves the spread of its cultural and religious values in the centuries that follow. With the arrival of the Enlightenment in the mid-eighteenth-century, the Western value system will be normalized, presenting itself as the product of a positive rationalism that plants Western culture as a series of universal values.
This combination of political, economic, and intellectual power is known as coloniality (of power, of knowledge, and of being). This term was coined by the Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano and later developed by the group “Proyecto Modernidad /Colonialidad / Descolonialidad” whose participants included Edgardo Lander, Ramón Grosfoguel and Agustín Lao-Montes, philosophers Enrique Dussel, Santiago Castro-Gómez, María Lugones and Nelson Maldonado-Torres, semiologists Walter Mignolo and Zulma Palermo, anthropologists Arturo Escobar and Fernando Coronil, educator Catherine Walsh, and literary critic Javier Sanjinés. Coloniality consists of the imposition of a racial hierarchy that privileges the construction of the white race above all others. Coloniality normalizes Western philosophical ideas as universal, presenting any other philosophical lens as irrational cultural beliefs. Finally, coloniality contributes to the homogenization of lifestyles in non-Western communities, presenting the West as the model to be emulated. The globalization of culture that we talk about today is but a continuation of this process of homogenization promoted by the growing transnationalization of economic processes that started with the arrival of the Renaissance and is what is known as Modernity.
In response to the survival of the structures that maintain coloniality even after the independence of colonized nations, Quijano and the other authors mentioned above propose to carry out a process of decolonization. Walter Mignolo defines this process as an act of “epistemological disobedience” (Mignolo 2010). It has to do with learning to think outside of the parameters imposed by Modernity. This process always poses the risk of a turn into an idealized national identity. Another risk of the process of decolonization is that of perpetuating situations of impoverishment by interpreting the process of decolonization as an effort to isolate the community or nation from the Western world.
The concept of coloniality and decoloniality arise as a response to the historic reality of the Americas, but they have also had great influence on other continents, especially Africa, where the majority of the countries that were colonized during the nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century have adopted the idea of decolonization as a way to overcome decades of European domination. In his book Black Skin, White Masks (1952), Franz Fanón has insisted on the necessity of colonized communities to liberate themselves from psychological oppression at the hands of the dominant culture. The need for decolonization has been defended by politicians and political organizations throughout all of Africa, from the first president of the Congo Patrice Lumumba to the leaders of the National Liberation Front in Algeria. In the second half of the twentieth-century and in the twenty-first-century, other intellectuals have approached the idea of decolonization with a certain level of skepticism. Senegalese writer Ousame Sembene, for example, proposed in his novel God’s Bits of Wood a more modern decolonization, more tolerant of the survival of colonial elements in Senegalese society. More recently, Algerian journalist and writer Kamel Daoud criticized the use of the concept of decolonization as a way to distract the attention of Alegerians from the urgent problems that make difficult their day-to-day existence. Historian Frederick Cooper has criticized the frivolous use of the concept of decolonization by the African political elite, used to accumulate power during the postcolonial period (Cooper 1996).
References Cooper, Frederick. Decolonization and African Society: The Labor Question in French and British Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print. Fanon, Frantz. Peau Noire, Masques Blancs. Paris, Seuil: Verlag nicht ermittelbar, 1952. Print. Mignolo, Walter. "Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and Decolonial Freedom." Theory, Culture & Society. 26 (2009): 159-181. Print. Quijano, Aníbal. Colonialidad y Modernidad/Racionalidad. Perú Indígena, vol. 13, No. 29, pp. 11–20. Lima: Instituto Indigenista Peruano, 1991. Print. Sembène, Ousmane. God's Bits of Wood. London: Heinemann, 1960. Print. by Adolfo Campoy-Cubillo