Decolonizing Evaluation Week: Clarifying Decolonization Mumbo Jumbo by Geri Peak

Photo credit: Dubscience Photography & Film from a Baltimore Girls performance at Artscape 2015. Instagram:  @mrdubscience

I’m Geri Peak. I practice evaluation through the lens of spiritual demography. I recently conceived the term to align higher order principles with the collective aspirations of the clients and communities I serve, to create more durable and useful understandings that accurately inform collective advancement, and ultimately seek the transformation of ‘selves and systems.

Like so many words and phrases that describe action in relationship to countering the systemic racism that manufactures recurring harm and marginalization in our society, decolonization remains an actively mis-used term that, while powerful, demeans the experience of those from whom land was taken. As a Black woman descended from African captives violently taken from their lands and transported to stolen land and as an evaluator, it’s important to be more precise. 

Like mumbo jumbo, a derogatory mischaracterization of one cultural practice related to the powerful tradition of masked dancers that has come to mean confusing and incomprehensible language, decolonization has a meaning and recourse. It means to give back land. Perhaps the truth about decolonization has been masked by metaphor, as I’ve previously described.

So what do we intend by asking for evaluation to be decolonized?  What metaphorical lands have we usurped in our quest for accountable measurement? The first “land” that needs to be reclaimed is our wisdom. All people make meaning. We learn and discern what items, resources, behaviors, and ideas are beneficial, useful, of value to others, elevates our status or hold us back. Dominance promoted by violence, superiority and biased rationales has given undue prominence to the perspectives of white-bodied folk, primarily men. Epistemicide is the killing or destruction of ways of knowing. Our ways of knowing have been improperly interpreted or outright misused to construct our collective inhumanity, diminishing our reality to caricature with deadly consequences. And as such, our ways of knowing are completely undermined and discounted.    

Hot Tip

Trust our wisdom.  Give that land back by listening to us. I strive to listen to EVERY client and their participants, community and stakeholders. It’s a practice. Not a token gesture to service Black voice, although it does serve that purpose. 

A second “land” we can return is our nobility. We who collectively face systemic oppression, marginalization, harm and violence are drawn as incapable of self-care, actualization, rational thought or collective advancement without the intervention and “protection” of people from outside of our community. Infantilization could be the name of that land, being treated as if we were children. And yet, we have served up innovations, ancient and contemporary, that inform society’s advancement.  Our insights mightily contribute to the betterment of the world. 

Hot Tip

Trust that we are capable.  We are all created noble.  For me, that means engaging everyone as partners in evaluation— making meaning, finding solutions, and using data.

As one who has put on the mask and danced the representation of the spirit of Kakilambe, something that would traditionally have been forbidden a woman, I know there are respectful ways to delve into the cultural unknown and hold that learning with awe and respect. I invite you to join me in asking what other lands we might cede in our collective re-alignment of the habit of evaluation. This practice advances understanding as we humans have always done, through query.

Lesson Learned

Question Everything.  The road ahead is difficult.  Yet, we evaluators understand the transformative value of questions. Let’s continue to ask what “lands” must be returned through the practice of evaluation. Together we will dance a dance of liberation.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Decolonizing Evaluation week. All posts this week are contributed by individuals committed to the decolonization of evaluation. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

4 thoughts on “Decolonizing Evaluation Week: Clarifying Decolonization Mumbo Jumbo by Geri Peak”

  1. Thank you for sharing your insight on the importance of decolonizing and how the word is often misinterpreted in society.
    As an educator, decolonizing my education practice is a journey I have been on since the day I started teaching. Realizing my own privilege and the bias that will naturally create has allowed me to begin to look deep at the decision I make and the impacts they will have on all the students that I teach.
    I had never thought of decolonization as giving back different “lands” and spaces that were taken from those that were colonized throughout history. As you state: dominance promoted by violence, superiority and biased rationales has given undue prominence to the perspectives of white-bodied folk, primarily men. It has made one way of knowing, telling, and being, superior to all others, resulting in all other “ways of knowing have been improperly interpreted or outright misused to construct our collective inhumanity, diminishing our reality to caricature with deadly consequences.”
    I often speak to my students about the importance of both listening and being willing to hear. There are times that I find myself listening to others, but in reality, I am not willing to hear what they have to say. One way I can decolonize myself and my education practice is to give that land back by listening to all those around me and trusting that everyone is capable. I just need to find different ways to allow individuals to shine by allowing them to lead the way.
    As I read your post it made me think about this idea that so often the those who have privilege feel the need to help those who are seen as less fortunate, instead of learning what we are doing in our own lives that may contribute to the situation different people are living in. As you state: our insights mightily contribute to the betterment of the world. But we have to be willing to listen and learn and adjust our thinking before our insights, and although the “road ahead is difficult” it is a road that everyone must travel on to return the “lands” that have been taken.

  2. Geri, thank you for your words to emphasize the real AND the metaphorical lands that we move in and through. It put wind in my sails.

  3. Geri, I wanted to thank you for this post. I’m coming off a very trying and discouraging week engaged in (often heated) debate with a nearby (all white) community over the importance of anti-racist education and preparing teachers to adopt critical theory, particularly critical race theory, as a pedagogical tool. I was feeling pretty hammered and then I read your wonderful post. Even though I know that the community I was working with will never hear or accept words such as this, they give me hope and renew my dedication to this work. Thank you.

    1. I’m sending you love, energy, camaraderie and support. We plant seeds that we don’t know how they will sprout or be tended. That stony ground in that community may yet have a crack in which water and nutrients may gather for the message to be received somehow. Keep on keepin’ on!!

      And my thanks for your generous comments. I am humbled to inspire hope and dedication. This helps me keep on keepin’ on as well!! <3<3<3

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