Another Way to Decolonize the Curriculum

...As with so many areas of public life and the ways in which our societies function, there are pronounced racial aspects to these concerns. A century ago, the brightest, most ambitious, or most fortunate young people across the global expanse of the British Empire, from vast swathes of the African continent to populous countries such as India, were educated by and within systems of British colonialism. By and large trained as people who would implement and further the European colonial project, many of these students and graduates knew firsthand the ways in which colonialism had sought to decimate Indigenous cultures, languages, and histories. This firsthand experience spoke of the devastating havoc wreaked by systems that were the embodiment of white and colonial supremacy.

Many decades later, in another part of the world, the struggles to assert the legitimacy of Black Studies as part of curricular offerings universities in the United States saw unprecedented levels of activism across many campuses, with Black students and their allies demanding that lecturers who looked like them, and shared so many of their experiences, be hired as an integrated part of student and academic life. For people of color, including students and graduates looking for employment opportunities, the quest to decolonize the curriculum has always, or long since, been an urgent one. So, although Decolonizing the Curriculum (or DtC) has the appearance of something that has become fashionable at this time, in these particular BLM contexts, the demand, the striving, the related activism of DtC has a formidable history not often recognized by latter-day proponents of the movement.

Though there are key differences between diversifying the curriculum and decolonizing the curriculum, in some respects there are important overlaps. While academic decolonization is more focused on challenging and changing institutional approaches to the curriculum, pedagogy, knowledge and research approaches, a concurrent, ongoing, and attendant challenge is the demand for a diversified and inclusive university environment in which greater diversity, from faculty to the student body, from university governance to staff make up, is given priority.

The perennial difficulty with initiatives such as the Professor in Anti/Post/Decolonial Theories and Praxes one, and Decolonizing the Curriculum more broadly, is that they exist or are read as not so much challenges to the established order, but institutional embellishments. In other words, universities can merrily continue to leave largely intact their age-old structures of elitism and white supremacy, but if the appearance of change is communicated, then that in and of itself amounts to what passes as progress. The cultural fabric of a university cannot be genuinely disturbed and unsettled by the hiring of professors (oftentimes, pointedly people of color) specifically brought in to decolonize the curriculum or diversify the faculty. Real and systemic change (such as that which has been demanded for many decades) is what is required, and such change can only be seen to have been implemented when whatever institutions survive the decolonizing process, look markedly different from what universities currently look like. In order for meaningful change to occur, whatever survives must, by definition, look markedly different from its unreconstructed former self. If in essence an institution looks the same, chances are it is the same.

This inclination towards self-satisfaction with what are, in the scheme of things, fairly derisory or excessively relative efforts, has long been manifest in societal concessions to civil rights. The dominant culture deludingly convinces itself that a splash of color or a splash of diversity in and of itself represents meaningful and structural change. The reality is of course that the appearance of diversity all too often confirms a stubborn resistance to change. The presence of a few more Black people—on television, in upscale neighborhoods, or within university faculties—does no more than point to fortunate opportunities for a favored few. Furthermore, such individuals are somewhat burdened by hyper visibility, being perceived as representing substantial change...

The above extracts are from Eddie Chambers' "Another Way to Decolonize the Curriculum", Art Journal, Volume 82, Issue 3, Fall 2023: 5-7 See