Preparing a class:
Decolonial Research, Scholarship, and my son’s conversation with his mother
Each teacher has unique ways of preparing classes. A lot of concentration is required and pushing and pulling of resources, methods and facts. Close reading of texts for me are fundamental. For this week we are reading Decolonizing Methodologies. Research and Indigenous People by Linda Tuhiwai Smith and I get all worked up. It is hard to keep seated and not move and jump and have my body go into convulsions. I listen to music, I go get coffee and I finally had to write this text so I can go back. The text is about our very educational craft: methodology. And immediately many things come to my mind: research, as Prof. Tuhiwai Smith says, is essentially a colonizing tool. And so many times we think with a colonized mind. The meta-hodos is often a matter of control, power, forces that defines the very notions of our humanity. The relation between the things and ourselves, the names we give, the ways we go after (metá) our way, path, journey (hodos). Ways, paths, journeys in which we are many times forced to go simply because somebody else told us so. To deviate from the path is to incur in lower forms of research quality, to eschew from proper paths to improper journeys. With the non-recognized forms knowledges succumbed to a form of knowledge, we have to ruffle our feathers inside of our methodological cages, cages that we inhabit for so long we run the risk to forget we have wings and that we are able to fly from and to other paths.
Linda Tuhiwai Smith is so frustrated to see the ways researchers have treated not only her people but how they formed ways her people must be seen, understood and how these forms of knowledges are turned into laws and policies and perceptions and relations and explotation. We are surely reminded of Michel Foucault’s “subjugated knowledges,” but also of Walter Mignolo’s necessary “epistemic disobedience.” She reminds us that researches are also about absences, silences, invisibilities. It is about disruption.
To find other knowledge is to engage into epistemological violence as if the knowledges in place are not already brutally violent. The non-violent peaceful folks will remind us that we must be careful, and those in power will remind minorities doing this very work that they can be put in danger of losing their positions. As Marybeth Gasman, director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions and professor in history, Africana studies, and the School of Social Policy and Practice, says that schools don’t hire minority professors simply because they don’t want. This “want” is sugarcoated by the issue of “quality.” She describes this quality: “First, the word “quality” is used to dismiss people of color who are otherwise competitive for faculty positions. Even those people on search committees that appear to be dedicated to access and equity will point to “quality” or lack of “quality” as a reason for not hiring a person of color.”
This lack of quality is also often a mark of research, research that is not objective, not deep into the field of recognized (a certain cognition) sources. But we have to remind them, when we have a chance, that the old “discover” that there is no such thing as research in detached modes, no value free knowledge, no objective knowledge that is not deeply cut and transversed by subjectivities. Anthropologist Michael Taussig from Columbia university and many others teach us that so well. Perhaps our epistêmê (knowledge), the technê, our craft, and the phronesis, or our practice, might be a little different, perhaps unrecognizable, or even outrageous. For minorities, we don’t do research for scholarship only. Or we do it in order to play the game but research for minorities are often, if not always, related to a community, often a poor or minority community. Activism! For us the question is not about how we can do proper pristine research but instead, how to do research that is necessarily marked by social contours and personal allegiances, tainted by our own and our communities need to survive. Communities that come from below. But then, surely, when we go there, we contract what we always had and didn’t know, the auto-immune colonizing bug of the “Impostor Syndrome.” We are a fallacy, we haven’t followed the meta-hodos and thus, we are proper thinkers. And let me say that this is not to create a shelter against bad scholarship because bad scholarship is everywhere “including” minorities. We are not playing the victim or saying that we can do whatever. On the contrary we are accountable to several communities: our people, our peers, and the larger “research” community.
Thus, even if my scholarship confuses push and pull, when I cannot understand words of people’s conversation, deep thinkers lectures, expressions in movies, even if I get too emotional with my research and weep more than I should, even if it takes me 3 times more time to read a book than anybody else, even if I am always in need of making absurd statements, not well cared or researched, even if minorities are filled with unending twists and turns, with the lives of my people spinning out of control, without safety of security, even if I write as if holding a candle in the middle of a storm, trying to keep if from going out, even if I walk in the midst of piles of forgotten bodies and unbearable sufferings, even if I have sold myself out, even if I have no precise measure of what I am actually doing, I am still here, keeping a way forward for my people, and for those whose company I keep in my heart, in my mind and in my body.
No guilt trips!
No impinging on others what I don’t want to myself!
No laying on the bed of white guilt as to promote myself!
No staying in the self-enclosed border of politics of identity of my people in order to protect myself and see only myself. In other words, no us and them!
No finding freedom by oppression others!
Brutal analysis? Yes
Challenging scholarship all the time? Yes!
Wrestling with this system? No question!
Doing the work of the master with the master tools? Each day less tools…
Trying to find ways to decolonize myself and my thinking and my feeling? Every single day!
Meta-hodos? Yes! Many!
Suspicion as the daily bread? Indeed!
Holding the hands of my people? Always, otherwise I perish!
Hopes? Very few, almost none!
Give up? Not a choice!
As I prepare this class I think about my children. Perhaps I do this work now mostly for my daughters and son’s present and future. So they will gain a different measure of this disastrous world. So they will love the least of them. Now and then I am fundamentally shaken by them! But every morning they literally wake me up! To life! To awareness! To awakening! They give me literal reasons of why I should continue to plow ahead. This morning my wife told me about a conversation she had with my 4 year old son Ike. After he asked her about blacks and brown and whites he asked her: mom are you brown? No we are considered white, she replied. Is Claudio brown? Yes. Why? Because people who are from Latino countries and other places are considered brown. And he replied: “So then I am brown too. Claudio is my dad and I am brown!” My white boy son of a precious white man is a double raced boy: white and brown. One by birth and the other by love. I have been crying since I heard that story and this is what puts me to work, to do research, to be with my people, my family, my students, and to continue to look at the angel of history…