West Writers Festival Artwork by Aysha Tea

When they speak, it is scientific; when we speak, it is unscientific;
When they speak, it is universal; when we speak, it is specific;
When they speak, it is objective; when we speak, it is subjective;
When they speak, it is neutral; when we speak, it is personal;
When they speak, it is rational; when we speak, it is emotional;
When they speak, it is impartial; when we speak, it is partial;
When they speak, they have facts; when we speak, we have opinions;
When they speak, they have knowledge; when we speak, we have experiences.
These are not simple semantic categorizations; they possess a dimension of power that maintains hierarchical positions. We are not dealing here with simple semantic, but rather with a violent hierarchy, which defines who can speak.

Grada Kilomba

Epistemic struggle

  • imperial based identity
  • colonised
  • don’t think of themselves as “indigenous”, they don’t need to
  • needs to critique; not only the centre but different voices (otherwise issues remain invisible)
  • speak to defining powers
  • theorising as a community member not for. Invited to participate for skills not your cultural identity.
  • protect space – doesn’t respect all knowledge and doesn’t deserve all knowledge


Decolonising the Narrative


  • is an epistemic struggle
  • not answering set questions, it sets the questions
  • changes terms of the enunciation/conversation
  • process not fixed point
  • creates pluriversality, rather than universality
  • makes visible the epistemological zero-point*


* EPISTEMOLOGICAL ZERO-POINT “Europeans are people who do not know their place because they have not explored it yet. People living there have situated knowledge and knowledge grounded in their experiences… Operating under the hubris of zero-point blinds you to the fact that other people, with their own existence and knowledges, do not have the same problems that you have and therefore could care less about your knowledge, until the moment that you impose it on them and tell them they do not know about themselves what you know about them.  You conclude that they are inferior and ignorant, that their reasoning is defective, that their sense of beautiful doesn’t exist. You do not stop to think that they are as ignorant of your interests and values as you are of theirs. However, you assume you “know” them because you describe them and include them in your system of knowledge and in your epistemic architectonic.” – Walter Mignolo


“What are you?”

 “I’m Vietnamese. What are you?”


Vietnamese can’t be “nothing” without white people. White is the canvas of the world.

Who has the imperial power to “welcome”? We need to decolonise our aesthetic.  Initiatives must critique to be de-colonising.

e.g. “Real Australians say welcome” – posters do not critique or #RefugeesWelcome these are not decolonising initiatives.


Walter Mignolo on Decolonial Thinking

  • who is the knowing subject? What is his/her material apparatus on enunciation? (Who gets to say who can speak or when?) Construction of visibility.
  • what kind of knowledge/understanding is s/he engaged in generating, and why?
  • who is benefitting or taking advantage of such-and-such knowledge or understanding
  • what institutions (universities, media, foundations, corporations) are supporting and encouraging such knowledge and understanding e.g. Rhodes scholars – took the statue down. Yale cafeteria staff smashed a window depicting slaves.


Being an advocate is speaking to my cohort…
awareness brings change