Decolonising Geography

To decolonise geography we need to think about the colonial histories that have influenced geography as a discipline. Past colonial and imperialist legacies are rife in modern day society, leaving a range of institutions that need to be addressed. Furthermore, we need to critique the past, present and future of colonial and imperialist legacies that influence society and the disciplines and institutions we enter on a day-to-day basis.

The oppression of Indigenous people and their landscapes, along with the indignity this creates, is still common today, demonstrating that we must remain critical about anti-racism and a post-racial society – we need to look beyond the current perspectives that result from the way Indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities are currently being represented in society.

We also need to understand what intersectionality is and how to decolonise this. There is much imperialistic and colonial oppression on these types of queer geographies that can have an effect on our ontological (nature of being) and epistemological (theory of knowledge) viewpoint of this type of geography.

So how do you decolonise geography? It’s very important to understand geography is a subject that has ties to imperialist and colonial rule. Geography needs to be acknowledged as being a part of a history that built the British Empire and its colonial efforts. To decolonise geography means to take the subject apart piece-by-piece and show how much impact it has had over different timeframes and scales. This could stretch all the way to when colonists first came into existence, forward to how the topic is represented today. To begin with, it’s important to understand there are many aspects in geography that need to be reflected upon.

Methodology is a key concept that should be to be looked into, as the way indigenous and BAME people are researched is constantly oppressing them, through a colonial and imperialist presence. When it comes to research, it needs to be understood that these focus groups are not guinea pigs or some sort of lab experiment to be tested on, and it’s important to recognise when being around these groups of people, their knowledge about what is being researched on is just as important as finding out the data that needs to be produced.

When looking at Indigenous Australia, this has been at the forefront of colonial history, which has constantly seen the denial of Indigenous homelands. Indigenous people have been consistently ignored by the Australian government, and this continues in modern day society. Indigenous Australians have the right to govern their own lands and be given their own sovereignty they deserve, not only because it’s a part of their history and ancestry but because self governance and autonomy are intrinsic rights for communities that demand them.

Australia is a country that has been at the centre of colonial histories with constant discrimination and prejudice towards the Aboriginal people. The British denied indigenous Australians sovereignty by illegally possessing the country that was embodied by the crown of England. Contextually, the crown had full occupation of the Australian territory and patriarchal domination was ever present in excluding and denying what was rightly owned by Indigenous Australians. However, this is continued into the present day, as we still see Indigenous Australians being denied their land, along with the political, cultural, and socio-economic responsibility to control it. This is their right, yet we still see colonial settlers destroy and replace their lands with a new political order.

The Uluru Statement (2017) highlights the contemporary issues Indigenous Australians continue to face, with propositions for constitutional change and structural reform to return what is rightfully theirs. Indigenous Aboriginals deserve a right in their say for the future, it’s clear there needs to be a focus on constitutional recognition to assert Indigenous sovereignty and to look at the past on how colonial rule has led to the voices of Indigenous Aboriginals being unheard.

Diasporas is an emerging concept within societies that migration has affected. The decolonisation of the concept of Diasporas has shown that the phenomenon is not only the case within Indigenous countries, but also a situation that is happening in Western societies as well.

Countries such as Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are starting to realise they do not represent the imperialist ideology of the United Kingdom and are increasingly seeking to draw away from the UK, in part because it is not aiding the development of their countries, rather, their countries could economically develop quicker without the UK. Furthermore, identities formed from a basis of political divergence have helped to divide the kingdoms of Britain.

Decolonisation also extends to other key spaces, such as that of museums, where it has enabled clear critiques and demands about the origins of the materials and artefacts that have been contained within museums for centuries. The decolonisation of museums needs to acknowledge the collections of the slave trade. Further, the content of museums and galleries does not represent national demographics, and this must be addressed.

Tolia-Kelly (professor of geography) examines how the gallery space can become a “theatre of pain.” an experience that promotes violence and genocide, leaving the artefacts lifeless. She contests that the museum embodies racial and ethnic stereotyping, elements that possess zero academic merit. Many paintings lack the appreciation of how some ethnic faces might be represented, giving them a false depiction that adds to the colonial oppression within these institutions.

Another example is the on-going issues related to identity, space and place regarding public art within post-apartheid South Africa. In contrast to the issues with museum collections, knowledge production art can help open new narratives that were once neglected in the past. Some engagement into history, memory and space can recreate the ideas of the city to conceptualise a better future.

Kimberlé Crenshaw (civil rights activist and philosopher), describes intersectionality as “trying to address rhetorical failures in politics, feminism and anti-racism”. Analysing intersectionality in society and it’s institutions is important because there is clear systemic oppression of feminism, class, culture and queer identities. Through racial violence and its gendered and sexualised politics, we live in a society where violence against women is not acknowledged by the capitalist powers that run society.

In this, black feminism is also further excluded. There needs to be an understanding in creating more spaces for women of colour within the feminist movement so there can be an acknowledgement of self-identity, so women of different colour can build communities together and have a general consensus, without the role of colonial feminism.

Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell writes about the dilemmas in feminism going global, and looks at how the minority of feminists are starting to challenge the perpetuation of women’s oppression by radical liberal feminists. This provides a detailed overview of “intersectionality” and the reason it needs to be decolonised, because there are still inequalities and multiple forms of oppression within the feminist movement.

Lastly, Afro-futurism is a new idea that develops a significant empowerment for Afro-Heritage people. The idea was coined by Mark Dery (an American author), and has seen a number of science-fiction TV programmes and movies being created. Most notably, the movie Black Panther has recently increased the interest in Afro-futurism.

Similarly, Black Mirror episodes have also seen a rise in a number of Afro-heritage actors taking up Afro-futuristic roles, and Anthony Mackie’s performances in Altered Carbon on Netflix and Marvel’s Capitan America have also contributed to this. In everyday life black people are constantly oppressed, these movies and TV programmes promote the culture of Afro-American and Black British traditions that create a form of resistance to the capitalist powers that try to oppress people from these backgrounds.

It’s very important to develop an understanding of Afro-futurism, and how this can help BME people survive the present. The term “Wakanda” comes from the movie Black Panther and this creates and celebrates a connection of community that feels like home for people of BME heritage. It’s important to recognise this imagination because BME people are not represented in the attractive ideology of the future. When decolonising postcolonial futures in film, we need to enforce BME futures that discover the different designs that can be built of the things Afro-heritage people currently hold, and their traditions.