Academically and in my legal practice, I started out as a human rights lawyer. Firmly of the belief that equality and human rights were the solutions to the world’s problems. Stepping further into dark jurisprudential waters, I began to question the nature of law and human rights and equality. So, I have ended up being a decolonial teacher.
The problem with equality is that we try and reduce it to metrics and measures. We try to promote equality by measuring people against each other. This is not wrong, but we are afraid of taking it to its logical conclusion. If we say we are arguing for equality for women, black people, people living with disabilities etc, we have to accept that we are talking of subalternity or otherness, or a class of the oppressed. We are also talking of particular bodies as standard. As normative. Therefore, as dominant. Consequently, the dominant group is the privileged and powerful group against which equality is measured. When you have the same rights and liberties as them, then you are equal. This makes equality a messy and emotive subject as on the one hand the subordinate group is measuring their social goods against the dominant group – I want what they have. On the other hand, the dominant group, does not want to cede what they believe they rightly are entitled to – I will lose what I have. When we push for freedom, we all strive towards a near utopian state of being. But freedom is not generally contestable. Rather than arguing equality to normative bodies, why not argue a right to be free?
And this brings us into other thorny questions. Are human rights ascriptive? Something we naturally attach to bodies we consider human? Is discrimination actually the counterpoint of human rights? What is discrimination but the non-recognition of othered bodies as human? So are human rights about reversing non-recognition or realising the evils of non-recognition? How we answer these question determines how freedom is operationlised and equality measured. Human rights presumes the system will be able to achieve equality with just a little tweaking. It involves a lot of magical thinking about progress and the passage of time, without confronting the system that created inequalities. If we are going to question the system, we need to question the system that creates and upholds the system and sometimes the system behind that. And that is some inception level stuff. That is decolonial thinking. Which is why we struggle to define decolonisation.