College Holds Multi-Day Event on Decolonization
Issue   |   Tue, 10/31/2017 - 21:10

The college held an event called “Decolonization in Comparative Context,” which took place in in the Center for Humanistic Inquiry on Oct. 27 and 28 and featured a variety of panels with guest speakers.

Panel participants attempted to define decolonization and discuss “its origins and its connection to the histories and memories of a given geographical space,” as well as the “legacies [that] decolonial thinking pass[es] on to contemporary thought,” according to the event’s official description.

Friday evening opened with a panel titled “What is Decolonization?” Held from 4 to 6 p.m., it featured scholars Anjali Prabhu, George Ciccariello-Maher and J. Kehaulani Kauanui.

Three panels were held throughout the day on Saturday: “On Red Skin, White Masks,” “On Brown Skin, White Masks” and “On Black Skin, White Masks.” All three panels featured distinguished academics in various fields including indigenous studies, Middle East studies and black studies.

John Drabinski, professor of Black Studies, organized “Decolonization in Comparative Context” along with Assistant Professor of American Studies Kiara Vigil and Professor of Anthropology Chris Dole.

Regarding the selection of panelists, Drabinski said in an email interview that “it was pretty straightforward: find interesting, creative, innovative and important scholars in our fields … and ask them to come talk about decolonization.”

Drabinski also commented on the success of the event, noting that each panel drew over 100 people, ranging from Five College students and faculty to Amherst town residents and individuals from across New England.

He added, “folks from across the country” have asked when footage of the event would be posted online, showing the widespread attention the event has drawn.

Much of Drabinski’s own writing and teaching is focused on the idea of decolonization, which for him is defined as the “name for a process of liberation from racially oppressive and exploitative pasts, a way of contesting the everydayness of racist hegemony and domination as well as large institutional structure,” he said.

“It’s about de-centering whiteness and white racial hegemony … against the idea of a center itself, against a fixed measure, against racially exclusive notions of what it means to be human and express your humanity,” he said.

Drabinski added that he believes the college faces, in its own way, “this very issue as it moves from the hard work of diversification to the even harder, even more crucial work of anti-racist struggle … Decolonization is about re-making the world and creating new forms of sociality, politics and culture. That’s a very big issue for nations. It’s also a very big issue for small places like neighborhoods, communities and, yes, college and university campuses.”

Chimaway Lopez ’20, one of the students who attended the Saturday panels, found the topics of the panel particularly relevant to the lives of Amherst College students.

“This event is, I guess, encapsulating a lot of what I’m interested in, intellectually,” said Lopez. “The systems of globalization today that we’re all living in — how different people have theorized colonialism — it’s pertinent to everyone’s experience here at Amherst.”

When asked if there was anything significant he thought was left out by the panel, Lopez said that “it was such a big subject, such a big topic, and these are all the beginnings of a lot of different ways of thinking, from people who have been working on this subject for a long time.”

He added that these panels should not be seen as the end of the discussion, but are simply the starting point of a more long-term conversation on decolonization.