The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Decolonize Your Mind: Passivity is NOT an Option

Disclaimer: This article contains content that may not be deemed appropriate for minors

This month, like every other month, has brought a whole new set of experiences regarding microaggressions, racism, discrimination and tokenism in my life. However, I feel like people have been exceptionally passive lately. The more I converse with the people around me about the necessity of a revolution in the way we think and act, the more I realize that people speak such empty words about activism.

Photo via:

I’m being very vague. Let me provide you with some sobering, concrete examples.

Recently, I started reading a book for a class that CLAIMS to be “postcolonial,” despite assigning 5/6 novels by white women. So I’m reading this book, and the writer starts making really problematic comparisons between animals and people. She literally calls prairie dogs “the untouchables,” and she compares their existence to “fists raised to the sky,” unmistakable black power movement imagery. Before I got to page 100, I had marked ten instances that made included racist/problematic rhetoric.

I went to my professor’s office hours, and I explained to her why I didn’t want to finish the book. She acted very concerned but ended up saying really condescending things like “maybe you’ll get to the point where you can read this book in the future,” as if I wasn’t mature enough to read racist literature.

Gif via:

The most frustrating part of our meeting happened when I expressed frustration about problematic comments made in class that went unchecked, and she told me that she heard them too.

The gif accurately mirrors my reaction to her statement.

This is almost worse, now. You hear the comments. You understand the issues with them. Then, in a classic ignorant-white-person fashion, you decide on silence, passivity, and inaction. GREAT.

She even went as far as saying she didn’t want to be “confrontational” when responding to these ignorant comments.

I understand choosing the methods of communication carefully in order to maximize effectiveness. However, she has sacrificed a safe classroom and prioritized her own methods. Fine. If that’s the decision she has made, I suppose I’ll have to deal with it. But I won’t stay quiet in her class.

A few days later, I was sitting in my class about Renaissance literature, and my teacher insisted on analyzing the minute differences in each printing of Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” I asked my professor if these differences had any meaning, since printing in the 1600s was a process prone to error. He admitted I was right. Victory.

Wrong. A girl sitting behind me said something about how it’s fair to critique the literary canon, but “don’t you read Shakespeare and think that he perfectly sums up the human experience?”

Gif via:

Shakespeare is a white man, and can only discuss his own experiences. He will never know what it’s like to be any other person in the whole world. When I explained this, some white guy shot back “it’s not about ra-”

Gif via:

“It’s not about race, it’s about being human.” I explained to him that the intention of eurocentric, patriarchal discourse is to make people think that the white man’s experience can extend to all; in reality, this ignores the nuance of nonwhite people and other diverse groups. I realized at one point in the “discussion,” I was sitting in the middle of the classroom with people from all corners of the room throwing shit towards me, discounting my words, invalidating my message.

Comic via:

I looked to my professor for affirmation, and he decided to change the fucking subject.

He didn’t even address anything I said, and just moved the fuck on.

His reaction was honestly worse than arguing against anything I had to say, because he gave me the impression that he could not care less. My words meant nothing, and he clearly did not want to waste time responding to me.

So I no longer participate in class.

Since April is Sexual Assault Activism Month, let’s talk about this school’s “activism.”

I’m tired of the “It’s On Us” campaign against sexual assault on college campuses. The empty slogan places the responsibility of prevention on bystander intervention, when most sexual assaults on our campus (and in general) happened in a residence hall or private housing situation, and by an acquaintance. Realistically, bystander intervention is not the most effective way to prevent these assaults.

It’s not on “us,” it’s on rapists and predators to NOT assault people. The university’s approach reflects an avoidance and misunderstanding of the nature of the problem, and they seem to just want students to take care of it themselves.

I’m done with people who knowingly hang out with rapists.

I’m so sick of the people around me choosing inaction.

I’m so frustrated with people who approach me after class to tell me they agreed with me, but didn’t actually speak up in class to support my ideas.

I’m tired of people who claim to understand racism and other forms of discrimination, and don’t speak out when they hear or see acts of prejudice.


The idea of “decolonizing our minds” is included in the 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 bimonthly 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.