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Colonization is the act of forcefully stripping sovereignty of a country through acquisition of land, resources, raw material, and governmental structures.

My turn to state an equation: colonization = “thing-ification.” - Aimé Césaire
The use of social media as a powerful tool for free education on various topics continually rises, with definitions, experiential narratives, and resources being shared through Twitter threads, short videos, Facebook statuses, and even memes. And while this is a mostly positive phenomena, there seems to be a trend of words, and thus words’ associated theories, being used misguidedly. Often, this is a simple case of fighting character limits and the loss of nuance that occurs through online mediums, and other times it seems a phenomena of genuine miseducation and confusion. Words like intersectionality, decolonize, imperialism, socialism, and other loaded terms that come with decades of jargon are at times applied to everything, and their actual meaning is lost. Observing this pattern is what lead me to the idea of an article series titled “Words Mean Things,” wherein each month I choose a different word and discuss the theories, uses, theorists, examples, applications, and praxis surrounding it. The goal is to do this as concisely as possible and, understanding these will never be wholly conclusive of all definitions, applications, and examples of certain words, to deliver small primers that exist as resources to lead readers to study deeper. I often say that words mean everything, and then anything, just before meaning nothing.


Colonialism is a system of land occupation and theft, labor exploitation, and/or resource dependency that is to blame for much of our modern concepts of racialization. It is an act of dominance in which a forceful state overtakes a “weaker” state; this means that colonization is the act of forcefully stripping sovereignty of a country through acquisition of land, resources, raw material, and governmental structures. Systems of colonialism are based in notions of racial inferiority, as they as they perpetuate white/European domination over non-white colonial subjects. The most obvious (and broad) example of colonialism is the expansion of Europe into Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and the subsequent creation of colonies. Through violence and manipulation, a relationship of control and influence was exerted economically, socially, politically, religiously, and culturally. In Jamaica, for example, the British empire invaded and colonized the island in the mid-17th Century, and subsequently established British colonial school systems, laws and regulations creating dependency on Britain, and pushed European gender, religious, and wardrobe norms onto the society. There are various forms of colonialism and colonial projects, but all involve some form of domination, control, and/or influence on an indigenous population through violence and/or manipulation. It is also important to note that these various forms of colonialism often intersect and overlap, too. In his 1972 essay “Discourse On Colonialism,” one of the most important pieces of writing I have ever read, writer Aimé Césaire states: “Between colonizer and colonized there is room only for forced labor, intimidation, pressure, the police, taxation, theft, rape, compulsory crops, contempt, mistrust, arrogance, self-complacency, swinishness, brainless elites, degraded masses. No human contact, but relations of domination and submission which turn the colonizing man into a class-room monitor, an army sergeant, a prison guard, a slave driver, and the indigenous man into an instrument of production.”

Puerto Rico is without resources. Meanwhile its colonial government plays golf.

By Holly  Peoples with enduring colonial histories are time and again marginalized and disadvantaged. Meanwhile colonizers continue to profit off of our lives and our land. And in the age of widespread pollution, ecological devastation, and climate change, it is we the colonized who always pay the price. At the intersection of colonialism, corporatocratic economy, and climate, these systems manifest with real and significant consequences on the lived experiences of colonized peoples. In the last few months alone, natural disasters hit, particularly in places with colonial histories. Efforts have rallied behind some of those affected, such as for Hurricane Harvey for example which had not one, but two benefit performances were held. On the other hand, other aid efforts are noticeably slower or more silent. Because of this, many attempt to amplify awareness of less-spotlighted natural disasters. However in the race to focus disasters in non-Western nations, a perilous trend emerges. There is a striking pattern in the media of calling help for disasters by framing affected Indigenous and colonized peoples as Western nationalities. Seemingly every online post for donations asks aid for the people of Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands because they are “American”. And while intentions behind this may be benign, the impact is anything but. This narrative is dangerous in predicating the value of human life on the fact that life is Western — as though we could not care to help Virgin Islanders as Afro-Caribbean people or Puerto Ricans as Boricuas. This framing also erases the colonial history of these lands and peoples, stripping context and culpability of the very imperialist expansion that plays a direct and serious role in climate and environment.

Environmental racism in the case of Indigenous Americans must be acknowledged as an insidious form of genocide.

Environmental racism is a term that first began its use in the environmental justice movements of the 1970s and 1980s, primarily to address concerns about black communities being negatively affected by the US government’s social policies. As the environmental justice movement grew, the term environmental racism came to connote all minority and communities of color who across the USA were equally and disastrously affected by policies involving their access to clean air, water, and non-contaminated land. While the term environmental racism has only existed for the past few decades, its reality has existed since the beginning of white settler colonialism in the United States and indigenous communities have been particularly victimized by environmental racism. From 1872-1873 the US military went on a targeted campaign to kill millions of buffalo in order to starve Indigenous populations and force them to comply with the newly developing reservation systems. These plots of reservation lands displaced Indigenous communities from their ancestral homes and were often inhospitable environments without easy access to water, food, and other natural resources that made self-sufficiency virtually impossible. Even today, indigenous peoples in America continue to survive ongoing and often daily assaults on their rights to livable spaces.

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