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The question of coloniality / decoloniality in the context of globalization

Paper presented at the International Council of the World Social Forums

Casablanca, 16 December 2013


Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France

Frantz Fanon Foundation


We need to pose the question of coloniality of power while the globalization hurls its domineering and suffocating tentacles over the whole of the world, including in the process of the World Social Forum and in the context of the International Council.


It strangles the people while maintaining them in an increasingly greater precariousness, and when its goals meet with resistance, its allies carry war in the name of democratic and humanitarian values, which, ​​in their own countries, are flouted or revised downwards.


It deepens inequalities between those who dominate and those who are dominated, it reduces private and public liberties in order to better satisfy its objectives. Globalization controls minds, summoning them to refer to a single lenitive and stultifying thought, which is refined by most of the media.


The capitalist mortiferous organization is based on the belief that there is a prioritization of “races” and cultures, and with the strong idea that the European civilization is superior to any other. It promotes the permanence of coloniality in social relations, international relations, institutions and minds.


Ultimately, 50 years after the independences, one can say that if colonialism no longer exists under its brutal forms, coloniality has never disappeared from the minds of the people and particularly of those who dominate and organize the world with regard to their own interests.


This compels us to look at and understand the nature of the social structure in which people live. At the time of the disappearance of the socialist bloc and still more after the imperial war waged in Iraq and Afghanistan –without forget Palestine under illegal occupation, substantive changes concerning international legal and political regulation occurred:  international law constructed after World War Two has seen a widespread degradation that has a direct impact over the domestic law of States, especially over that which concerns the exercise of the powers of government.


If in the 70s-80s, the role of the State, as regulator of social relations, was openly claimed, nowadays the social role of the State finds itself profoundly eroded by the ideological and political offensive of global capitalism. This offensive has as a consequence a true decline of the functions of the State in terms of the traditional exercise of its competencies. The authorities are content to legally regulate privatization as well as the sale of public assets to transnational corporations in order to achieve “redevelopments” which involve their share of layoffs and outsourcing.


In short, the State is reduced to the role of guardian of private interests. Political power, pressed into a deep crisis of credibility and legitimacy, becomes the factor that conveys “the values” of capitalism and the slogans accompanying it: competitiveness, merit-based reward, individual responsibility, equal opportunity and good governance. The objective being the hoarding of wealth for the benefit of a minority.


The result is final: women and men are treated at once like an exploitable resource that one can select, evaluate, eliminate and like a commodity that one can throw away or replace, just as it was done during the time of the slave trade, slavery, and colonialism.


These “beliefs” have never ceased to weigh on the organization of the world. Their consequences are innumerable and are expressed, among others ways, by a rewriting and a mystification of history, and by the expression of a racism that strikes with full force those who are its victims. Race “as a mode and result of modern colonial domination,”[1] has continued to invest every field of capitalist power, and racism, as Frantz Fanon highlights, has become “the most visible, most everyday item, to be honest, at times, the coarsest element of a given structure[2] and weighs heavily on the identity construction of individuals.


It is characterized by a lack of respect for people identified according to their “race,” which functions in close interrelation, as much at the individual level as in the institutional level, through the establishment of the redistribution of material and symbolic resources along racial lines. Added to this is the construction of a representation concerning a certain “national identity” to ensure a “biological, religious, and cultural purity” to cement social cohesion in order to protect itself from supposed enemies, whether they are from the inside or from the outside.


Don’t forget the representation of the diversity of organized groups, as Etienne Balibar made clear, in a relation of masters and slaves, or, more simply, between civilizations declared “incompatible” which allowed installation of colonialism and neocolonialism today by imposing to a part of the world widespread poverty and the pillage of natural resources to the detriment of cooperation, international peace and security. Thus, humanity has still not reached a mutual recognition but rather an intensification of intolerance and identitarian closure.


Therefore, we are faced with a dilemma. How to reduce or even negate the gap between the proclamation of universal normative principles on non-discrimination with its corollary the equality of rights and particularistic and discriminant racialized application in most contemporary societies?


How, therefore, to move away from the racial assignment which, in contemporary societies, is already real, such that the category no longer leads to stigmatization, nor domination, nor the perpetuation of social, economic and political inequalities, at a time when ontological hierarchies aim to irreparably differentiate individuals in order to better exploit them, and particularly within a climate of rising xenophobia and social fragmentation?


Let us not forget these representations and socio-political structures were built over the course of historical processes in which racial categories played a fundamental role in the construction of a discourse that justified social inequalities and which have durably structured numerous societies.


The financial crisis builds and strengthens the phenomenon of scapegoating which stirs up the rejection of groups of people who share a common geographical origin, an ethnicity, a nomadic lifestyle, skin color, or even a physical characteristic, a religion. Furthermore, there appears a new category, that of “migrants” which becomes a contemporary substitute for the notion of race.


Is it enough to banish the word "race" -concept socially constructed without reference and without meaning-?

Certainly not. We are obliged to recognize that race, in contemporary societies, are real because racial categorization exists and leads to stigmatization, domination and perpetuation of social, economic and political inequalities disadvantaging minorities.


In this respect, the notion of domination is useful, it insists upon power relations and not on identity relations in the treatment of contemporary ethnic and cultural conflicts. It does not make reference to essentialized identities but to historically and politically assigned social conditions, together with the strategies of emancipation associated with these conditions. We must therefore tackle[3] the structures of domination to which these conditions refer and see how the policies of recognition and restoration-that are not identity politics but politics of parity-could be promoted.


The only way to achieve an other society is not to turn a blind eye to these constructions but to dare to seize them in order to deconstruct them, reveal their arbitrariness and their sometimes hidden discriminating effects, with a view to their transformation. In this sense "to explore the “decoloniality" forces to focus on the principle of recognition as a question of social and political status in order to not understand the members through their ethnic origin, but by giving them status of equal partners in different social interactions.


This requires to work on the transformation of structural conditions of domination to deconstruct racial categorization.

[1] Anibal Quijano, Race et colonialité du pouvoir, Mouvements 3/207, n° 51, pages 111-118

[2] Frantz Fanon, Peaux noires et masques blancs