I got asked many times about how my first year of social sciences went, after having gone through a leadership training the year before. Each time, I find myself shaking and lost because I’ve been unable to put into words or describe to the fullest what it truly had been making me feel and pushing me to become.
Today, I am attempting to write it all down, hoping that words and language itself, wouldn’t fail me, at least, this time.
Thinking back to January, and to my first introductory class, we were asked to read ‘Orientalism’ by Edward Said. And I was too excited about it. I was among the few who knew who Edward was, I had even read his autobiography in Arabic the year before. I wasn’t knowledgeable per se about many of Said’s writings, yet I had felt a connection with him through his childhood which he narrated in a very transparent manner in ‘Out of Place’. He was and still is, one of those intellectuals and authors who perhaps without even trying, captivated my soul through their honesty.
I vividly recall how I had to stop my reading many times and reread the first paragraph. At some point, I couldn’t understand neither half of the vocabulary used, nor what each sentence meant. I was deceived and felt like I wasn’t good enough for it after all. And It was then that I realized that I had walked into the discipline of Social Sciences with so much pride and ego, thinking I knew it all, thinking I was equipped both mentally, and logistically with every tool, I needed to ‘shine’… or, at least, to get the most of out it.
Prior to that class, my professor might have mentioned once or twice how complex and difficult the journey may be, but I didn’t take it seriously then. Later on, it seemed that nothing and no one had warned me about the in-depth intellectual challenges, the uncomfort with one’s self. And so, in addition to the day-to-day thoughts I was having on violence and resistance after reading Fannon, Steve Biko, Achille Mbembe or Paulo Freire, I was also thrown into a vortex of contradicting theories after the inter-cultural discourses in class. And finally having to contrast everything and contextualize it through my own background and upbringing wasn’t as pleasant as I would’ve thought to be.
In brief, I didn’t know the extent to which it was going to change me. I mean, it’s so easy to say that “I am going to university to get a degree…” yet hard to confess how the journey could forever change one’self. Just like a Moroccan proverb says: “ دخول لحمام ماشي بحال خروجو”, which translates to: “you never come out of a bathroom the same way you entered it.”
It had, first of all, brought me to confront my identity from various lenses.
There I was, in a Pan-African University, defined as a ‘white’/ brown-ish Moroccan from a middle-class family, yet not African enough for many. (Questioning what it meant to be African in the first place, came much later during the year) And suddenly had to put everything into question: language, race, class, culture, religion, values, and principles that have been solemnly embedded in cults and traditions, that have throughout time been made holy, to the point that whoever attempted to change them was considered an outlier.
Second of all, it had me pushed me to become a better listener. Before this year, I had never been a person who would sit quietly in a classroom without contributing at least four or five times. This process of listening had been shaped by a genuine interest in hearing others, what they have to say, and sometimes the things they choose to not say as well. It has contributed to providing me with more time for in-depth reflections, and more time to building my arguments before voicing them (this one had been quite a challenging one), as it became a crucial part of the conversation. And how to put into words what I thought can never be explained, in addition to how to speak in tongues, and how to accept ideas that are on the other spectrum of mine.
The fact that I was (and still) part of a class that was constituted of 27 individuals from 20 different countries of Africa, I had been blown away by our commonalities. It had been a sort of wake-up call on a daily basis when realizing that we were breathing social constructs, through media consumption, fueling the stereotypes we had about one another. And that as Africans who were claiming to want change, we were still colonized in our minds, in our language, and in our choices due to the influence of numerous hegemonic western teachings. And that the change we needed to see required many of us to win.
BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR ME TO BE DECOLONIZED IN THE FIRST PLACE?
Well, to date, decolonizing myself means to:
Value other human beings no matter where they come from, their educational level, their race, language, political opinions, life choices, etc.
Question every single aspect of life, dig further, learn, unlearn and relearn. Question why things matter, and why they don’t. Why do I do the things I do? Have I been unconscious when making certain choices or was in a state of awareness? How does the music I play/sing/listen to or literature I consume influence me? How did I turn out to be who I am? And what were the elements involved? As a native of a post-french colony, to what extent have my ambitions and ways of seeing the world shaped by imposed notions of success, happiness, and fulfillment? What does it mean to be Moroccan? Is there such a thing as being an Arab-African?
Value my mother-tongue, Arabic, as a pristine and eloquent language, and to let it transpierce my soul with its poetry, flourished novels, and ancient history more than ever before.
Understand my African heritage, whatever that means.
Let go of ethnocentrism (claiming that my religion or ‘culture’ is better than other people’s), which gives room to so much more tolerance and acceptance.
Stop being addicted to painting a superficial image of myself that have never existed, and never wanted to exist as having long straight hair instead of naturally curly hair, or trading comfort and simplicity with wearing ‘trendy’ and branded clothes.
No longer wanting to be a passive product of society, that consums in order to claim existence.
Be patient with my learning, and be open-minded to various philosophical approaches, and teachings that I have been taught as corrupt, forbidden, or “no-nos.”
Not believe in cultural absolutism.
And while this is my own on-going learning journey, I am deeply aware that most of these questions or phases might last longer than I think they would, but the fact that I am constantly thinking about them had, since then, allowed me to observe better, read critically, and ask more effective questions.
In a world filled with judgments, it is also important to note that while acquiring different lenses, as a human being, it is somehow burdensome not to be judgmental. Yet, knowledge should never be a tool to intimidate or discriminate another person rather, a connecting bridge that stands on humility, modesty, and sharing. In this, I allow myself to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Whenever you feel like criticising anyone…just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS OUT THERE THAT WE DON’T KNOW THAT WE DON’T KNOW, SO LET’S KEEP THE CURIOSITY BUTTON ON, AND THE GRATITUDE GOING!