This is what real “decolonization” should look like.
“Decolonize this place!” “Decolonize the university!” “Decolonize the museum!”
In the past few years, decolonization has gained new political currency — inside the borders of the old colonial powers. Indigenous movements have reclaimed the mantle of “decolonization” in protests like those at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access pipeline. Students from South Africa to Britain have marched under its banner to challenge Eurocentric curriculums. Museums such as the Natural History Museum in New York and the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Brussels have been compelled to confront their representation of colonized African and Indigenous peoples.
But what is “decolonization?” What the word means and what it requires have been contested for a century.
After World War I, European colonial administrators viewed decolonization as the process in which they would allow their imperial charges to graduate to independence by modeling themselves on European states. But in the mid-20th century, anticolonial activists and intellectuals demanded immediate independence and refused to model their societies on the terms set by imperialists. Between 1945 and 1975, as struggles for independence were won in Africa and Asia, United Nations membership grew from 51 to 144 countries. In that period, decolonization was primarily political and economic.
As more colonies gained independence, however, cultural decolonization became more significant. European political and economic domination coincided with a Eurocentrism that valorized European civilization as the apex of human achievement. Indigenous cultural traditions and systems of knowledge were denigrated as backward and uncivilized. The colonized were treated as people without history. The struggle against this has been especially central in settler colonies in which the displacement of Indigenous institutions was most violent.
South Africa, where a reckoning with the persistence of the settler regime has gripped national politics, reignited the latest calls for decolonization in 2015 with the #RhodesMustFall movement. Students at the University of Cape Town targeted the statue of the British imperialist Cecil Rhodes, but saw its removal as only the opening act in a wider struggle to bring white supremacy to an end. Under the banners of “more than a statue” and “decolonize the university,” students called for social and economic transformation to undo the racial hierarchies that persist in post-apartheid South Africa, free university tuition and an Africa-centered curriculum.
Now, partly riding the global surge of Black Lives Matter mobilizations, calls for decolonization have swept Europe’s former imperial metropoles. In Bristol, England, last month, protesters tore down the statue of Edward Colston, the director of the Royal African Company, which dominated the African slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries. Across Belgium, protesters have focused on statues of King Leopold II, who ruled the Congo Free State (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) as his personal property from 1885 to 1908. King Phillipe II of Belgium recently expressed “regret” for his ancestor’s brutal regime, which caused the death of 10 million people.
Colonialism, the protesters insist, did not just shape the global south. It made Europe and the modern world. Profits from the slave trade fueled the rise of port cities like Bristol, Liverpool and London while the Atlantic economy that slavery created helped to fuel the Industrial Revolution. King Leopold amassed a fortune of well over $1.1 billion in today’s dollars from Congo. His vision of the Royal Museum for Central Africa, which opened in 1910 soon after his death, reproduced a narrative of African backwardness while obscuring the violent exploitation of the Congolese.
By tearing down or defacing these statues, protesters burst open the national narrative and force a confrontation with the history of empire. This is a decolonization of the sensory world, the illusion that empire was somewhere else.
Laying a flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo on the statue of King Leopold or hauling the Colston statue into the sea, where thousands of enslaved women and men lost their lives, tears apart the blinders and boundaries between past and present, metropole and colony. Insisting on the presence of the past, the protests reveal Europe’s romance with itself, unmasking its political and economic achievements as the product of enslavement and colonial exploitation.
This historical reckoning is only the first step. Acknowledging that colonial history shapes the current inequalities and hierarchies that structure the world sets the stage for the next one: reparations and restitution.
Reparations is not a single act. The Caribbean Community has already demanded reparations for slavery and Indigenous genocide from Britain, France, Spain and the Netherlands. Although there is little movement at the level of states, the University of Glasgow agreed last year to pay 20 million pounds (about $25 million) for development research with the University of the West Indies in recognition of how the university benefited from the profits of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
The Herero of Namibia, who suffered the 20th century’s first genocide at the hands of Germany, have also called for redress. Their efforts follow the successful bid for reparations by the Mau Mau of Kenya, many of whom were tortured during Britain’s brutal suppression of their independence movement in the mid-20th century. In other contexts, activists have focused on the return of the looted artifacts that fill Europe’s great museums. France, for instance, has committed to returning 26 stolen artworks to Benin.
But reparations should not focus only on the former colonies and their relations with European states. Colonialism lives on inside Europe’s borders, and Europe itself must be decolonized. Black Europeans experience discrimination in employment and education, are racially profiled and are subject to racist violence at the hands of the police and fellow citizens.
The European Union recently avowed that “Black lives matter,” but its policies deprive Black people of equal rights, imprison them in camps and drown them in the Mediterranean. Overseas imperialism was once believed to be a political necessity for European states; today, anti-immigrant politics plays the same role. In either case, European policymakers disavow responsibility for the misery they bring about.
Repair and redress is owed as much to Black Europeans as it is to former colonial states. It would mean treating Black Europeans, and all migrants from the colonized world, as equal participants in European society. And this form of reparation cannot be perceived as one-off transactions. Instead, it must be the basis of building an inclusive and egalitarian Europe.
This is no easy task and will not happen overnight. But we should remember that just 80 years ago, colonial rule appeared to be a stable and almost permanent feature of international politics. In just three decades, anticolonial nationalists had transformed the world’s map.
The struggle for racial equality in Europe is a fight for a truly postcolonial condition, and its creation is implied by each dethroned statue. If colonialism made the modern world, decolonization cannot be complete until the world — including Europe — is remade.
Political momentum on the left for such an effort must face the reality of legal obstacles, particularly from the Supreme Court.Proponents concerned about the wealth gap instead must come up with policies that have the effect of disproportionately building wealth for African-Americans, without singling them out.
“There are ways that you can craft legislation that essentially gets at this effect,” Ms. Baradaran said. “Look at how much legislation we have that gets at the opposite effect.”
Policies like the mortgage interest deduction, for example, disproportionately benefit white families, who are more likely to own homes. So do tax advantages for the rich, who are more likely to be white. Even federal investments in seemingly race-neutral infrastructure like the Interstate Highway System had this effect by enabling the development of all-white suburbs in an era of legal discrimination.
Wealth-building proposals today are trying to engineer a similar if opposite outcome. That makes the details thorny.
“The first and most efficient approach is targeting relief to the people who were targeted with discrimination,” said Dorothy Brown, a law professor at Emory University. “If we can’t get there, then we have to go to next best.”
Ms. Warren’s strategy, she said, is a clever workaround. Rather than specifying African-Americans, Ms. Warren’s bill would target specific neighborhoods where African-Americans harmed by the legacy of lending discrimination are likely to live.
Other researchers argue that a program based on neighborhoods redlined in the 1930s would be too narrow; most African-Americans who buy homes aren’t purchasing in such neighborhoods today (and in some cities, middle-income whites are).
But the kind of neighborhood criteria Ms. Warren has in mind could be one model. Ms. Brown proposes identifying neighborhoods with the least household wealth and allowing tax breaks associated with homeownership, like the mortgage deduction, only to people who live there.
Mr. Booker’s proposal would give $1,000 in a government savings fund to every newborn in America, for use later in adulthood. But the government would seed more money into that fund each year according to a family’s income, giving the most to children in the poorest families. That money could then be spent in adulthood on education, buying a home or starting a business.
“Ultimately, assets give people agency in their lives,” said Darrick Hamilton, director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University. His work on the baby bonds concept informed Mr. Booker’s proposal. “Assets give people the ability to make decisions,” he said, “to have choice and have freedom and self-determination.”
In the past, tests such as the SAT and ACT may have resulted in discrimination against particular groups. But this doesn’t imply testing should be abandoned. The real alternative to discrimination is to have the best, fairest tests possible. That’s why these days every standardized-test question is tested for bias. Questions are judged on several scales, including their “differential item functioning”: Subgroups of students—black males, white females, suburban kids, rural ones, Southern students, students living in poverty—are controlled for overall ability. Auditors compare the performance of these subgroups, and if any of them underperform on a particular question, it’s thrown out and never used. In addition, we don’t ask questions on certain topics. We know boys do better than girls on questions about sports, and rich kids do better than poor kids on questions about sailing, so we leave those subjects out.
the fact that a worker’s wealth and well-being is much more dependent upon her employer than the employer is on a given worker tilts things in the employer’s favor.
.. Two trends demonstrate the decline of labor and the ascent of business. Since 1979, after-tax corporate profits as a share of gross domestic product have grown by 22.8 percent, while the share of nonfarm business sector income going to labor has dropped by 10.3 percent.
The decline in worker bargaining power in the United States is the cumulative effect of numerous small and large changes over recent decades reaching into almost every area of law and policy. This combines with a decline in the enforcement of existing laws that could protect workers’ bargaining power — laws protecting unions, laws against wage theft, nondiscrimination laws, and more.
.. Among these changes is the requirement that employees sign what are known as “noncompete” and “no-raid” agreements, both of which restrict workers’ ability to extract pay hikes by threatening to take similar jobs at competing companies.
.. “less than half of workers who have non-competes also report possessing trade secrets.”
When entry-level workers at fast food restaurants are asked to sign two-year non-competes, it becomes less plausible that trade secrets are always the primary motivation for such agreements.
.. The treasury report estimated that 30 million American workers have signed noncompete agreements.
.. 94 percent of the net employment growth in the U.S. economy from 2005 to 2015 appears to have occurred in alternative work arrangements.
The growing emphasis on “shareholder value” has provided additional justification for all of these anti-worker developments.
.. “the shareholder value movement starting in the late 1980s and now institutionalized through industry analysts” was crucially important in the devaluation of employees:
.. Accounting in business is mainly about costs. Finance people hate fixed costs because of the challenges they raise to share price valuation when there is uncertainty, and the biggest fixed costs are labor. Simply moving the same labor costs from employees to outside staffing companies moves it from one part of the accounting ledger to another and makes analysts happier.
This mentality, in turn, encourages “the use of temps and contractors” to fill high-wage jobs because “that way the employer doesn’t have to raise wages for all their employees.”
.. Companies could outsource work to areas with cheaper labor and less of a union presence. This both weakened the union and ramped up competitive pressure on the companies that were unionized. The result was fewer unions.
.. In 2017, 6.5 percent of the private sector work force was unionized, down from 35 percent in 1955.
.. The contemporary weakness of organized labor and the threatened status of employees has roots in the breakdown in the 1970s of the postwar capital-labor accord — what A.H. Raskin, the legendary labor reporter for The Times, called a “live-and-let-live relationship” that held sway for 30 years.
.. First, they would alter antitrust enforcement to require consideration of the likely effect of mergers on concentration in the labor market, in order to prevent “too high a risk of wage suppression.”
.. Second, Krueger and Posner would support legislation making noncompete agreements “uniformly unenforceable and banned if they govern a worker who earns less than the median wage in her state.”
.. ban no-poaching arrangements altogether:
We propose a per se rule against no-poaching agreements regardless of whether they are used outside or within franchises. In other words, no-poaching agreements would be considered illegal regardless of the circumstances of their use.
.. In the 2016 election, Trump profited from the conviction of rural and working-class voters that they were on a downward trajectory. If anything, Trump appears to be gambling that letting those voters’ lives continue to languish will work to his advantage in 2020.
.. His administration has turned the executive branch, the federal courts and the regulatory agencies into the sworn enemy of workers, organized and unorganized. Trump is indisputably indifferent to the plight of anyone in the bottom half of the income distribution:
- look at his appointments,
- look at his record in office,
- look back at his business career and
- look at the man himself.
The Gendered Effect of Social Class Signals in an Elite Labor MarketWe sent applications from fictitious students at selective but non-elite law schools to 316 law firm offices in 14 cities, randomly assigning signals of social class background and gender to otherwise identical résumés. Higher-class male applicants received significantly more callbacks than did higher-class women, lower-class women, and lower-class men. A survey experiment and interviews with lawyers at large firms suggest that, relative to lower-class applicants, higher-class candidates are seen as better fits with the elite culture and clientele of large law firms. But, although higher-class men receive a corresponding overall boost in evaluations, higher-class women do not, because they face a competing, negative stereotype that portrays them as less committed to full-time, intensive careers. This commitment penalty faced by higher-class women offsets class-based advantages these applicants may receive in evaluations. Consequently, signals of higher-class origin provide an advantage for men but not for women in this elite labor market.
Gretchen Carlson filed suit against Roger Ailes last summer — and started an avalanche.
Less than 10 months later, two of the most powerful men in media, Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, have been knocked off lofty perches at Fox News.
And the world is suddenly a different place for women who’ve experienced sexual harassment in their workplaces.
.. Ailes vehemently denied the charges, but Carlson, who reportedly had tape-recorded evidence on her side, eventually got a $20 million settlement and a public apology.
.. “Gretchen started the public avalanche, and Megyn continued it internally,” Maynard said.
.. “We found out, in all of this, that if you speak up, there will be action, and that there’s strength in numbers,” longtime media executive Vivian Schiller said Wednesday.
That’s especially true, of course, when one of those employees is a major star.
.. Of course, plenty of women have complained in the past, in companies and organizations, to no avail. Some have been retaliated against. Others ignored, mocked or silenced.
.. Next step, she said: Women should demand that Congress pass the Fairness in Arbitration Act to stop silencing victims of discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
Ms. Fitzgerald dates the Christian right to 1979, when Jerry Falwell, the pastor of a Baptist church in Virginia, founded the Moral Majority, an organization that was designed, as she puts it, “to register conservative Christians and mobilize them into a political force against what he called ‘secular humanism’ and the moral decay of the country.”
Falwell vowed to fight a “holy war” and outspokenly condemned abortion, homosexuality and sex education.
.. high-profile sex scandals that undermined any sense of moral authority: think of the Bakkers, Jim and Tammy Faye, and of Jimmy Swaggart.