During the height of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests various educational institutions made a commitment to ‘decolonise their curriculum’ – including Eton College. This was met with social media responses such as ‘They have gentrified decolonisation!’ and ‘Excuse me. You are the colonisation!’ and similar sentiments, highlighting a concern that such a demand has been diluted to a performative gesture or a metaphor for a diversity initiative.
‘Decolonise the curriculum’ has been circulating in higher education institutions since at least 2011 following a conference in Malaysia. In 2015, the Rhodes Must Fall campaign at the University of Cape Town gained traction for demanding that a Cecil Rhodes statue be removed for what it symbolised – a monument to an imperialist responsible for the Glen Grey Act, which arguably developed the conditions for Apartheid in South Africa.
Given the nature of the demand in Cape Town, and later Oxford (which also has a Rhodes statue), it is understandable how this movement can be seen as demand for a decolonisation process in higher education, from the curriculum to financiers of a university. But this is not decolonisation; rather, when distilled, the demands are centred around representation.