The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Decolonize Your Mind: Listen!

In turbulent times, (white) people tend to talk incessantly about their (ignorant) opinions and more importantly, they talk over the voices of others.

In recent events at several college campuses around the country, specifically Yale and Mizzou, students of color at PWIs (predominantly white institutions) are working towards achieving change and have made significant progress in the past few weeks. However, students had to take drastic steps to capture administrative attention. These steps became necessary when the privileged refused to simply listen.

When black students at Mizzou felt unsafe on campus as white students around them created a toxic environment with blatantly racist actions, students of color voiced their concerns and administration ignored them. They protested vocally on campus, calling for a response from the school president and others in faculty, and nothing was done. Eventually, the school president resigned two days after black football players joined the movement in solidarity with other activist groups and refused to play; college football brings in millions of dollars for the school, so I have safely assumed that to be the president’s primary reason for resignation.

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This situation represents only one instance when people who have institutional power refuse to take action regarding the concerns of the oppressed, or even acknowledge the existence of a problem.

Keep listening, there’s more.

After the recent terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13th, the already-prevalent Islamophobia has become an even more serious threat to Muslims everywhere. People quickly demonize Islam as a dangerous religion because conservative politicians and media have fed this narrative to the public. Without listening to Muslim people, many white people have decided that they pose a serious danger and have become violent in the anti-Muslim backlash since the Paris attacks.

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Texas Senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz recently stated that he believes Christians of any race or ethnicity “pose no meaningful risk of … committing acts of terror” and insisted that the USA should only allow Christian Syrian refugees into this country, which further vilifies the entire religion of Islam, and also ignores the insidious history of radical Christians and their acts of terrorism. The Ku Klux Klan terrorized black people and other minorities in this country for years, and instances of Christian extremism leading to violence plague this country’s history, despite Cruz’s denial and delusions. Because white Christian people largely control the dissemination of information, these extremists rarely receive the right label: terrorists.

This idea that terrorism is exclusively a tradition of Islam partly comes from a refusal to listen. Muslim people have unfortunately been forced to explicitly state a painfully obvious defense of their religion and remind everyone that extremists can pervert any religion. To label the entire religion as inherently violent and dangerous is insulting, prejudiced, and simply incorrect.

The addition of common sense with simply listening to Muslim people (and the subtraction of racist beliefs) will lead any logical person to the same conclusion.

Apparently thousands of Americans, including everyone on FOX news, all the Republican candidates for president and a few people in my classes, are not familiar with this equation.

During a discussion about police brutality in one of my classes, one girl argued that black people are biased in their perceptions of police brutality, and this necessitates a third party’s point of view to validate their experiences. Apparently, hearing testimony from people living the reality of police brutality does not suffice.

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She basically just said “I’m white, and police brutality doesn’t seem THAT bad.”

As a privileged white girl, I don’t understand how she is more qualified to discuss this topic than black people who face this state-sanctioned racism every day.

This represents an unfortunately perfect example of white people discounting the words and experiences of people of color. White people continue to ignore and talk over people of color, believing that they somehow have more knowledge about the lives of nonwhite people than actual nonwhite people.

Some words of advice to you ignorant white people: stop talking over us.

You don’t understand the experiences of people of color. Instead, let us control our own narratives and define our own identities. Believe us. Support us. Listen to us.

The idea of “decolonizing our minds” comes from writings of the author, feminist and social activist bell hooks. She encourages us to critically examine every thought and action, free ourselves from the coercive ideologies, and overcome the impacts of structural oppression. This monthly column will analyze spaces and times where and when we can pause and make strides in this arduous process, and also highlight figures who are helping us to decolonize ourselves.