Originally published on Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society Open Access Journal (2013)
by Mitra Fakhrashrafi
“I started writing because there was an absence I was familiar with. One of my senses of anger is related to this vacancy – a yearning I had as a teenager… and when I get ready to write, I think I’m trying to fill that.” –Ntozake Shange
#DecolonizeHistory is about storytelling that disrupts space to present narratives that have been actively silenced or neglected. #DecolonizeHistory is a Toronto-based sticker-art project aimed at interrupting space, addressing colonial roots and undoing processes of white supremacy. Historical narratives within mainstream discourse are presented without the context of colonization, slavery and imperialism, despite the fundamental role they play on all aspects of life. Within these erasures, there are narratives we are told at the expense of silencing other narratives that are actively unrepresented. We are taught to honour the anti-apartheid work done by Nelson Mandela, while we are simultaneously taught to disregard Mandela’s continued activism to end the illegal military occupation of Palestine. We are taught to fight for the eradication of gender-based violence yet the stories of countless Indigenous women, women of colour, trans women, queer folks and disabled folks rarely make headlines. This absence of certain narratives has its roots in colonial violence and it has been normalized to the point that stories that diverge from the mainstream discourse are “delegitimized” or presented without “validation.” Nevertheless racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia and other forms of violent discrimination are lived experiences that require no mainstream validation to prove they exist. Existence is resistance and storytelling through art is a part of this resistance.
“Colonialism set the foundation for all other ‘ism’s’”
– Krysta Williams, Outreach Coordinator for Native Youth Sexual Health Network
#DecolonizeHistory connects all violence and untold stories to colonial violence. Violence manifests in various ways: the absence of our narratives when we walk into public spaces is violence. Institutions built off genocide and slavery (that continue to perpetuate systemic violence) need to be interrupted to build decolonial space. As a process of unlearning, #DecolonizeHistory disrupts the mainstream narrative and makes visible (some of) the stories left unrepresented. This project currently features Trayvon Martin, subject to a system of racism that never served to protect his life, Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen arrested and detained in Guantanamo Bay when he was only 15 years old, and Assata Shakur & Huey Newton, labelled “terrorists” for actively resisting systemic racism on stolen land. By connecting current acts of injustice to colonialism #DecolonizeHistory interrupts space to boldly state that colonialism is not a part of our past but rather a part of systemic violence that continues to play out in society.
I began this project over a year ago with Trayvon Martin and Assata Shakur on my mind, and over the past year I have received many suggestions to expand the project and add different stories including Leila Khaled, Mohammad Mossaddegh, Mumia Abu Jamal, Leonard Peltier and Ericka Huggins. I am looking forward to expanding the project and I am continuously inspired by other groups doing resistance art through so many different mediums. This project has also allowed me to reflect on my experiences with colonialism as an “Iranian-Canadian,” displaced through processes of American imperialism and now taking up space as a settler on stolen land. #DecolonizeHistory aims to illuminate the detrimental role of colonialism across the globe while highlighting resistance everywhere. Violent structures privilege certain narratives while silencing or disregarding others; this was true long before Harper & Bush & Reagan because it has its roots in the colonial process that built this system. #DecolonizeHistory interrupts space to connect colonialism to the violent injustices that continue across the globe. This project is dedicated to Renisha McBride and Ali La Pointe and Nabila Rehman and Bobby Hutton and the countless unnamed.
Mitra Fakhrashrafi is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto (Scarborough Campus) completing a degree in International Development Studies. She is co-founder at Toronto Students for Justice in Palestine and loves Gil Scott Heron, bell hooks, Kanye and fesenjaan. You can also follow #DecolonizeHistory on Instagram.