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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

Decolonization

“Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunter will always be glorified.” – African proverb

Yesterday, the news broke that Facebook has been pumping out fake news in the News Feeds of users in 6 countries including Bolivia. Only Facebook knew this “experiment” was happening; governments, reputable news sources, and ordinary people like my college-aged homestay brother Sergio had no idea what was behind this fountain of fake news.

Also yesterday, but before this news broke, Jhasmany, Bolivian native and dragons instructor, talked with us about decolonization. He challenged us to consider the effects of colonization that are still felt by people today and the ways we uphold – knowingly or not – systems of oppression. What allows this colonial legacy to flourish, despite the fact that colonization technically ended here in Bolivia in 1825 with the country’s independence?

In Jhasmany’s view, and I agree, it is the social systems and beliefs of white, western people that hold up the colonizer-colonized relationship of dominance and unequal power. Systems like law, taxation, citizenship, and language, and social belief in racism, religion, and conspicuous consumption maintain colonization as we know it today. Through the capitalist economic system, Facebook has reinforced the colonization mindset by subjugating previously colonized people and depriving them of information without their consent…for the sake of what, science?

It is easier on my ego to critique the missteps of others than myself. But that is the problem – if I refuse to be self-critical, how can I expect Facebook to be? The way I go about my daily life is inextricably linked to colonization. My privilege comes from extraction, manipulation and dominance. It comes from fake news and racism. When I rolled up to my homestay in Tiquipaya expecting a bed to sleep on and food to eat and a roof over my head, that was a colonial mindset. When, during an education protest in Cochabamba, I asked a woman why she was marching expecting a response, that was a colonial mindset. When I assumed that my dissaproval of President Trump is shared by my homestay family, that was a colonial mindset. When it turned out that they did not share my opinion and I explained to them that they should, that was a colonial action. It is tough ground to navigate when I see my belief in LGBTQ rights, equality, and feminism challenged here. But it is also not my place to impose these beliefs on other people.

So what does decolonization look like? It looks like humility. Listening. Talking less. Hearing. Smelling. Gratitude. Understanding. Representation. It is real news, face-to-face interactions, and love. Jhasmany puts it best – “treat everyone not how you want to be treated. Treat them how they want to be treated.”