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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.