I went to the first teach-in on colonization, decolonization and Indigenous Solidarity tonight at Occupy Oakland. There were several of us who met beforehand to strategize some about the larger discussion of occupation, (de)occupation, and the current movement. I came primarily as an ally to Indigenous folks, particularly the Ohlone, whose OakLand we occupy and to think and discuss how the terms occupation and colonization relate to Black folks in Oakland.
As Black people in the U.S., a conversation about colonization has to begin with the occupation, the theft of African bodies, enslaved into forced servitude on the stolen land of the Americas. And every way that our bodies were used to "develop" and cultivate this land and its resources and build the structures that have enabled capitalism to prosper. The ways that our bodies, particularly women's bodies, were colonized in an effort to greatly expand the workforce that so called slave owners depended upon to increase their wealth and further theft of land--severing our families, our varied cultures, our languages at will. That's a beginning point. Those physical acts of colonization, rape, and genocide is one place to start. But, as we discuss what "decolonization" means, we have to look at the effects of colonization, or where we have taken on a colonizer's mentality in everyday situations: ownership, consumerism, and space. In Oakland, gentrification is one place to link this conversation.
I've been trying to finish a post on gentrification since Joan and I returned from our summer trip where we traveled through the Black Hills and the Badlands in South Dakota. Driving across Lakota (Sioux) land, the process of displacement resonated with me as a Black woman living in an increasingly gentrified area in East Oakland. I live on a nicely carved out, middle class street where we are one of two renters, near Mills College off the High St. exit. We moved here because of the high numbers of queer couples, lesbians, who live in the area alongside (and sometimes pushing out) poor and working class Black people who have lived here since the second great migration. The process of displacement has been on high speed in recent years as "urban pioneers," mostly white, but also middles class folks have begun buying (or stealing) short sale and foreclosed upon homes that populate the neighborhoods where predatory lenders encouraged longtime homeowners to refinance (an important side note, as I was writing this, I came across the realty company in San Francisco called Urban Pioneer Property Management, no joke, you can't make this stuff up). The area I live in is one that non-inhabitants continue to frame as "ghetto" and "scary" in their "I braved the streets so that I could get my favorite ethnic food" posts on Yelp. The fearlessness of these folks is emboldened in recently formed neighborhood groups who want to "take back High St" or whatever neighborhood street they live on. This kind of colonizer mentality about property and ownership, "This is my little .25 acre of land," "my house," "my stuff" is one that we must examine as it relates to our individual and collective practices. As we are seeing with the decline of capitalism and it's tightening grip as its current form collapses, our ownership of things is temporary. Those things we thought were ours: homes, jobs, pensions, etc. are being taken from us. So we need to reexamine our attachments to ownership and to colonization as more and more of us are displaced, joining the ranks of the "unrecognized."
This is not to say that we shouldn't fight and demand accountability and recognition of the role that capitalism, corporate greed, and corporate personhood (racism, sexism, heterosexism, and imperialism) has played in our displacement. However, we must also recognize the ways that colonization continues to inform our decision making, our organizing frames, and our everyday practices.
Above photo of a tshirt, courtesy of Oaklandish.