Searching for Decolonial Love

December 7, 2012 6 Comments

What is decolonial love, why must we cultivate it, and how can we practice it? These are a few of the questions that have been turning over and over in my mind since I heard Junot Díaz speak so brilliantly at ARC’s Facing Race conference in Baltimore a couple of weeks ago – decolonial love is a term I had not heard before Díaz used it and now I will surely be bringing it up a lot. Building on Cynthia Silva Parker’s previous post about the conference, I want to share a bit of what Díaz had to say and ask YOU, what would look like if we really really good at practicing decolonial love? I think the implications are profound and exciting!

Díaz got deep about the ways in which he perpetuated heteronormativity and pigmentation politics in his own family and how it hurt his little sister. He talked about widespread incest within his community and that the guys he grew up with, many of whom had been raped, spread that victimization out really far (with cheating and misogyny). Here we could go into a long history of European colonization of the New World and the rape culture that came with it. Díaz asks, “How many of us are aware of some of the strange and agonizing systems that both invite us to tyrannize other people and help to tyrannize us?” The fact is that we have ALL been affected by colonization in a multitude of ways. I agree with Díaz that some of the groundbreaking racial justice work we have to do is within ourselves. At the heart of modernity and in everything we are, is what Díaz calls ergo conquiro, or the conquistador’s mind. “All of us have possessive, commodified investment in our identities – that we see as a way to stand apart, to hoard, to highlight difference. This has sealed us off to the possibility of more dynamic and profound connectivities.”

The conquistador’s mind is a permanent feature of how we think about ourselves and others, Díaz says. It explains why folks of color often see their own group as human, but are not so sure about other folks of color. It explains why so many people in the U.S. are suspicious that Obama isn’t really American. I’m reminded of john powell’s argument in Racing to Justice that the “problematic and isolated white self” is the lens through which we see and is preventing us from living into a truly inclusive America. This is NOT to say that white people themselves are the problem, but that this conquistador’s mind is the frame operating within each of us (and in our institutions and structures). I think Díaz and powell would agree that we must see that colonial idea of self and others, name it, and find another way, all of us, to become more dynamically interconnected. Díaz says that cultivating decolonial love will get us there.

How can we cultivate decolonial love? Díaz says that there is no telling which practices will prove liberatory for the future, so we must proliferate strategies to see what works. Here are a few Díaz calls out:

  •  Cultivate the Martí Mind, named for José Martí. As progressives we judge each other’s authenticity all the time. This is so not helpful. We must stop seeing each other through the conquistador’s mind and instead, have as much love for other groups as we have for our own.
  • Practice “racial anarchist calisthenics.” Drawing on James Scott’s concept of “anarchist calisthenics,” we must practice breaking the little rules of society and exercise the muscles of resistance – because we are practicing society’s rules all the time without thinking about it.
  •  Say white. White supremacy is the great silence of our world, and in it is embedded much of what ails us as a planet. White supremacy’s greatest trick is that it has convinced people that, if it exists at all, it exists always in other people, never in us. We must practice saying white.
  •  Study and emulate the 3rd world feminist writers of the 1980s, including Cherríe Moraga, Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler. They write/wrote brilliantly about how power and oppression work and there are threads of hope in their work we should look to. Without knowing it, each of us nurses a head of the many-headed hydra of power. Even if we chop all the heads off and raze the structures of oppression, the hydra lives within us. We must realize that we are fundamentally comprised of the oppressions we resist, understand how that has shaped us and how we love.

BAM! Díaz drove the point home that we progressives are too often too quick to act from our conquistador’s mind. I could not agree more. We should take to heart Díaz’s advice that we learn to tolerate other people’s contradictions and our own, and that we embrace simultaneity as a value. Because practicing decolonial love calls us all to a higher and harder place – loving ourselves, loving those we love to judge, and cultivating a way of being and loving that is not rooted in colonialism, but freedom.

What does decolonial love mean to you? 


  • Thanks so much for these reflections! I was really struck by Junot’s talk–the clarity of his analysis, the candor about his personal story, and the urgency of figuring out his question. Decolonial love seems to involve a deep self love and love for one’s own group as well as others’. It’s not sentimental and it’s really challenging!

  • Well done, Jen. Great reflection and recap. May decolonial love rise within and among us – the love that really does justice (via undoing injustice)! dLYBY! 😉

  • Maanav Thakore says:

    Thanks for this Jen! Junot’s keynote, Shakti Butler’s presentation at the Cracking the Codes forum and john powell’s book (as well as the work of countless others, including the work of the powerful sisters at INCITE! and the incredible healing justice and transformative organizing work that’s happening across the country) taken together have felt like the long awaited response to bell hook’s call for a national dialogue on love. Here’s to further conversation and cultivation of real models here in Boston and beyond.

  • Sara says:

    Awesome post, Jen, thanks for sharing! You leave me inspired to learn more, and reflecting on why we often run into road blocks doing this work and possible solutions to move things forward.

  • Mistinguette says:

    I did not hear Diaz at Facing Race, so I appreciate your summary of his comments. I am entranced by the radical honesty of his fiction, and unsurprised that he re-articulates the concepts Cherrie Moraga spoke of as the essence of mestizaje: when the other is also the self.

    At the same time, I read your post after reading Eve Tuck & K. Wayne Yang’s “Decolonization is not a Metaphor,” and I am wondering what decolonial love means as something that is not a metaphor. How can I aspire to practice “decolonial love” while I participate in the ongoing colonization of indigenous land and place?

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