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The growing and important discussion about decolonization

The movement aims to change colonial structures, mentalities and practices, ultimately reshaping power dynamics

The toppled statue of Bogotá's founder, Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada; May 7, 2021.
The toppled statue of Bogotá's founder, Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada; May 7, 2021.Mauricio Dueñas Castañeda (EFE)

The terms colonization and decolonization have slowly gained traction in mass media, social organizations, academic circles, political discussions and online platforms like TikTok and Instagram. The debate over decolonizing museums or addressing historical reparations for people of African heritage highlights the increasing awareness of latent coloniality, and the importance of engaging with these concepts to better comprehend and navigate the reality of our world today.

A growing group of people seeks to investigate, question and challenge the enduring impacts of colonialism in power structures, collective imaginations and daily life. What do we mean when we talk about coloniality? Simply put, it’s about recognizing that many of our behaviors, customs and social structures originated in the colonial era and persist today. Our current understandings of gender, race, and class are deeply influenced by the weight of colonial legacy. The process of racialization continues to shape notions of social class, while constructs of beauty and success are intertwined with gender, race and class. This system has become internalized, and we view it as natural because the legacy of colonization shapes our worldview.

By accepting colonial heritage as the norm, we disregard the need to dismantle political and economic borders. On May 25, the vice president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, remarked: “It’s disheartening to hear some leaders rejoice over Bolivia and Chile’s protective legislation for lithium, as if it means everyone will flock there to buy it. We should aspire to be Malaysia or Korea, rather than reverting to the colonial era of Potosí.” Fernández noted Argentina’s historical belief in its superiority because of its European heritage and whiteness, and said the extractivist colonial mindset persists in other Latin American countries.

In cultural spaces, just like in politics, the issue of decolonization is gaining momentum. Take the literary novel, for instance, which has long been a key vehicle for expanding Western culture. Concerns now arise about the novel’s deeply ingrained 19th-century attributes that dictate notions of individuality, authorship and linear narrative. When embracing decolonization, the novel breaks free from traditional storytelling methods, challenges established norms, redefines timelines, questions established voices and plays with dimensions of space and time. It’s a journey towards disorganization and reevaluation of the literary canon.

Fashion, as an industry, has consistently perpetuated racist, classist and patriarchal notions about the body while prioritizing the consumption of goods over the well-being of our planet. The standards of beauty in fashion have been predominantly based on a white, European and extractivist perspective. In Latin America, the interconnections between fashion, tourism, and colonialism are evident. The aesthetic and cultural perceptions of the land and its inhabitants are often exoticized, serving the fleeting desires of tourists who celebrate their destination without considering the consequences. This cycle allows fashion and tourism to thrive while perpetuating a colonial model that perpetuates racial inequality. It’s a system where some benefit at the expense of others.

Recently, there has been growing public interest in news, analysis, and denunciations of racist advertising campaigns. For example, Colombians are rejecting the promotion of Cartagena as an attractive tourist destination despite its social and physical fragility. Mexican environmentalists and indigenous communities have joined forces to fight the Mayan Train project in the Yucatán Peninsula. Both academia and the media now engage in conversations about decolonization and actively work to combat racial bias and racism in Latin America and other multiracial nations.

The connection between race, class, and gender in colonial fashion and tourism is well-known. Audiences are now questioning historically patriarchal industries and exploring alternative forms of creation and sustenance that challenge power dynamics. Understanding and addressing the colonial heritage behind these practices is crucial. To achieve this, collective voices advocate urgently for the ongoing decolonization of mentalities, practices and power structures.

Decolonial thinking is a powerful tool that helps us understand the past’s connection to the present and shapes future possibilities. In Latin America and the Caribbean, intellectuals have long questioned the relationship between modernity, colonialism and oppressive structures. Frantz Fanon viewed decolonization as dismantling power structures, including the inseparable network of racist, patriarchal, and extractivist relations that harm both people and the planet. Decolonization is both a structural problem and an individual mindset, requiring collective action to challenge and dismantle beliefs and attitudes.

Challenging the romanticized notions of miscegenation is crucial in understanding its impact on racial democracies. Behind this concept lies an anti-blackness endeavor rooted in the Americas, aiming to whiten populations and cultures. This endeavor is still prevalent today, evident in the displacement of Haitian people and the unwelcoming attitude toward Black migrants. Such attitudes maintain prejudiced and stereotypical beliefs about the Black community. Haitian writer Lyonel Trouillot aptly reminds us that “Our country is not cursed, but rather the product of human actions and governance.” The notion that Haiti is a cursed country due to its non-Catholic beliefs originates in colonialism, perpetuating the numerous humiliations and injustices faced by its people daily.

Feminist discourse calls attention to the gender perspective on social issues, while decolonial thought takes a broader anti-patriarchal approach by considering race, class and power dynamics. It challenges dominant narratives that perpetuate various forms of violence and suggests alternative ways of engaging. With increased visibility in political and cultural contexts, decolonialization has gained momentum and sparked discussions about colonial legacies. It’s not a theoretical framework — decolonization aims to actively transform colonial structures, mentalities, and practices in pursuit of social justice. It’s not a metaphor — it’s a call to reconfigure power.

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