Standing up for equality: decolonialising our society
Deanne Bell, Senior Lecturer
I am from Jamaica, a country formed by British and Spanish imperialism and coloniality. In April 1999, the Jamaican government increased tax on gasoline, and I witnessed public demonstrations featuring people from all walks of life. Later on, I also took part in demonstrations, and the people of Jamaica formed Jamaicans for Justice to address the tax increase and injustices in legal, social, political and justice systems. It really opened my eyes to how racism and classism determine people’s lives in colonialised countries.
My research journey
Before embarking on my research journey, I was a stockbroker, an investment banker and an entrepreneur. I became part of Jamaicans for Justice - a non-governmental human rights and social justice organisation based in Jamaica. Their important work focuses on political and social change, but it didn’t explore or analyse the role our psychological life plays in the way society is structured.
I’d never thought about doing a PhD, but while studying a Master’s degree in Depth Psychology with a focus on critical community psychology, liberation psychology and ecopsychology, I encountered the works of writers and philosophers Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi and Aimé Césaire. I realised that there were ideas out there that could help me understand why racism and classism felt so wrong to me, and how they can be transformed. This is what eventually led me to complete a PhD in this area.
The field of critical community psychology explores political and radical responses to creating a better society, and demands that we should all become aware of the influence of colonial power in creating and maintaining our unjust social conditions. The field of liberation psychology offers an approach that aims to actively understand the psychology of oppressed and impoverished communities by addressing the oppressive socio-political structure in which they exist.
Moving towards a decolonialised future
Today, my research tackles how to go from where we are – which is where most of the world experiences themselves as inferior in the world of coloniality – to an anticolonial world. I explore how colonial racism and classism damage human beings, both psychologically and socially.
We see the effects of coloniality in higher education itself, so I also take a decolonial perspective to explore how students experience what is called the ‘attainment gap’ - which are inequalities between people from different socioeconomic backgrounds in the westernised education system.
'I also conduct research into how Westernised universities can be decolonised so that we can move away from teaching and learning from the monocultural EuroAmerican perspective to teaching and learning from a pluriversal perspective. Knowledge of Western and European origin is believed to be superior, and other kinds of knowledge are considered to be less valuable. Through my research, I am actively contributing to changing this belief.
I also investigate people’s colonial indifference, or apathy, in relation to the pain and suffering experienced by historically marginalised people as a result of coloniality. This work explores how coloniality moves from the social world inward, finding its way into psychological life, and how indifference towards other people’s pain becomes internalised.
An example of my work is the project, Tivoli Stories. This is a platform for residents of Jamaica’s Tivoli Gardens to memorialise loved ones and to break historical silences following a state of emergency and incursion into the community in 2010. In May 2010, the government of Jamaica sent security forces into Tivoli Gardens in response to an extradition request for Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, a community member wanted for drug and money laundering charges in the USA. In four days, more than 70 civilians were killed – the single largest number of civilians killed by the state since the post-war slavery rebellion in 1865.
At the request of the community, we produced the film: ‘Four Days in May: Kingston 2010’ to tell their story and to catalyse an international response to the community’s suffering. Framed as a truth and memory project, 'we centre the voices of people in the community to build an archive of memory so that their story can be told on their terms. We also created a multimedia art installation: ‘Bearing Witness: Four Days in Kingston’, as another way for the community to have their stories heard.
Research has taken me from being a bystander to coloniality to interrogating how it affects people’s lives. It has transformed my silence into voice, and it has 'given me a chance to analyse the violence of coloniality.
I believe in the power of decolonising knowledge through research. The most meaningful affirmations of my work come from people sharing how their understanding of the world has opened up during research encounters and in feedback to my published work.
Follow my story
My story doesn’t end here. Keep up to date with me and my research by keeping an eye on my academic profile. For anything else, please feel free to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deanne is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences. Deanne's research areas include collective trauma, social suffering, structural violence, indifference, and the psychological effects of coloniality and decoloniality. She utilises qualitative research methods in order to prioritise historically marginalised people’s voices.
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