Within the colonizing university also exists a decolonizing education. Occupying the same space and time are the colonizer’s territories and institutions and colonized time, but also Indigenous land and life before and beyond occupation. Colonial schools are machines running on desires for a colonizer’s future and, paradoxically, desires for Indigenous futures. In this respect, paraphrasing the words of Linda Tuhiwai Smith, the present of school is permeable to the time now (colonization), the time before that (precolonial), and the time beyond of all of that (decolonial). Regardless of its colonial structure, because school is an assemblage of machines and not a monolithic institution, its machinery is always being subverted toward decolonizing purposes. The bits of machinery that make up a decolonizing university are driven by decolonial desires, with decolonizing dreamers who are subversively part of the machinery and part machine themselves. These subversive beings wreck, scavenge, retool, and reassemble the colonizing university into decolonizing contraptions. They are scyborgs with a decolonizing desire. You might choose to be one of them.
Scyborg—composed of s + cyborg—is a queer turn of word that I offer to you to name the structural agency of persons who have picked up colonial technologies and reassembled them to decolonizing purposes. Foundational femtech theorists have used cyborg, that is, the “cybernetic organism” with new or restored abilities through integration with technological components, to destabilize how we think of the human body as a discrete corporeal entity, to disrupt essentialisms as described by the binary of artificial–spiritual identities, and to challenge how we think of the agency of objects and apparatuses. However, whereas cyborg theory highlighted the technological nature of the body, the scyborg is not preoccupied with debates about hir machine–organic nature. Rather, the scyborg delights in the ways that hir agency is extended by the very circuitry of systems meant to colonize. Scyborg is system-interference and system-witchcraft, the ghost in the machine. Like a mutant code, scyborg is structure’s agency in a nonstandard deviation. Scyborg’s silent addition begs the question of what it is: a Scylla or a Scully, an alternative spelling, a plurality, or an assemblage, a slippage between cyborg and system? I mean for you to apply this term to yourself. I hope you have fun with it. And also build a decolonizing machine while you’re at it. For you, who likes to create a mess out of colonial apparatuses.
This short book insists on the possibilities for a third world university committed to the practical work of decolonization. I frame the university broadly as an amalgamation of first, second, and third worlding formations. That is, the university is world-making. First worlding universities are machinery commissioned to actualize imperialist dreams of a settled world. Second worlding universities desire to humanize the world, which is a more genteel way to colonize a world that is so much more than human. A third worlding university is a decolonizing university. This frame helps us assess the academic–industrial complex with its current neoliberal machinery and its investments in colonialism, but more importantly, it is a frame that describes the decolonial desires that already inhabit and repurpose the academic machinery. Decolonization is, put bluntly, the rematriation of land, the regeneration of relations, and the forwarding of Indigenous and Black and queer futures—a process that requires countering what power seems to be up to. To take effective decolonizing action, we must then have a theory of action that accounts for the permeability of the apparatuses of power and the fact that neocolonial systems inadvertently support decolonizing agendas. This manuscript presents a theory of action in assemblage: the scyborg. Or more precisely, the scyborg is a theory of assemblage in action, of a structural agency that produces the third world university. The third world university is multiscalar; that is, it is transnational in scope, with a multitude of campuses, yet locally specific to address decolonization in its particularities. Its scope is at the scale of the apparatus and at the scale of the personal; its temporalities are transhistorical and futuristic. It already exists.
Colonial schools have a tradition of harboring spaces of anticolonial resistance. These contradictions are exquisitely written about by the eminent novelist, literary scholar, and postcolonial thinker Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. He describes how the machine of British colonial schooling in Kenya produced a Black governor of colonial Kenya and, paradoxically, also helped to produce Mau Mau revolutionaries. Fearful that schools sheltered the Mau Mau, who occupied the imaginations of Indigenous Kenyans and settlers alike as the quintessential Black, violent resistance movement, the colonial state banned many of its missionary-inspired schools in the 1952 declaration of a state of emergency. This ban included the Kenya Teachers College, whose campus was converted into “a prison camp where proponents of resistance to colonialism were hanged.” During the Mau Mau Rebellion, wa Thiong’o attended Alliance High School, a segregated, elite missionary school for Black Africans in British Kenya. And prior to that, he attended Manguo elementary school, which was banned for a time by the colonial government. How can colonial schools become disloyal to colonialism? According to wa Thiong’o, the decolonial is always already amid the colonial.
Colonial schools have been trafficked around the world. Colonial schooling in Kenya, Black schooling in the post-Abolition U.S. South, education for pacification of Indigenous peoples in the Pacific, and Indian boarding schools in North America are entwined through a set of exchanges of people, ideas, models, and philosophies never more than a few degrees of separation from the U.S. Department of War. Kenya’s Alliance High School was “modeled on the nineteenth-century system for educating Native Americans and African Americans in the South.” In 1924–25, G. A. Grieves, the first principal of Alliance, visited and studied “the Virginia Hampton Institute, founded in 1868 by General Samuel C. Armstrong, the son of a missionary in Hawai‘i, and Tuskegee Institute, founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington, a graduate of Hampton and protégé of Armstrong.” Designed to educate Black Americans in the U.S. South, Hampton and Tuskegee were the models for colonial schools implemented throughout the world. These include the total public school system built and run by the U.S. Army in the Philippines beginning in 1901, a military appropriation according to General Arthur MacArthur necessary “as an adjunct to military operations calculated to pacify the people.” They include the Carlisle Indian boarding school founded by Captain “kill-the-Indian-save-the-man” Pratt in 1879. In these global lines of flight—missions in the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, American Indian boarding schools, “Negro uplift” schools in the South, segregated elite Black schooling in British Kenya, U.S. Army–run schools in the Philippines—we have a map of the trafficking of colonial technologies in radically different lands.
Yet colonial schools carry decolonial riders. Like all colonial technologies, “this system did not always produce the intended result.” Colonial schools are especially geared to contradictory desires: the production of “self-reliant” Blacks and the pacification of their political dissidence in the case of Alliance. Booker T. Washington’s idea of self-reliance was in no small part used to quell Black, Native, or, in the case of Kenya, Black Native unrest by developing a middle class of public servants to collaborate with the colonialist government. Yet Washington’s self-reliance also informed radical imaginations, such as Marcus Garvey’s pan-Africanism and Black economic sovereignty. Carter G. Woodson, noted founder of Black History Month and author of The Mis-education of the Negro (1933), attended the segregated Douglass School in post-Reconstruction Virginia (home to the Hampton Institute). A lesser-known de/colonial connection is that Woodson worked as a teacher, then as school supervisor, for the U.S. Army schools in the Philippines from 1903 to 1907. His book became the critical referent for Renato Constantino’s “The Miseducation of the Filipino” (1966). Taking off from the colonial landing are always already decolonial lines of flight, or the “witch’s flight,” an uncanny turn of phrase that Kara Keeling reinvents to describe the transgressive path of the Black Femme.
Keeling explores the Black Femme in cinema, and in society, because her treatment of the cinematic is less about representation and more about the cinematic production of reality (following Gilles Deleuze). The Black Femme is violently pushed aside in commonsense notions of radical Black politics, an effect that is clear in the visual field of Hollywood-made films for/about Black people. Nonetheless, the Black Femme is there, appearing and then disappearing to the offscreen world. Just beyond the frame, she is a “seething spectral presence” that disrupts the common sense of hegemonic Black masculinity and attendant forms of Black womanhood that have become the metonyms for Black radical politics and revolutionary change. In this respect, the Black Femme is a spectral figure, who when followed, leads us to “a more radical elsewhere”—a world just beyond the frame, with imaginaries of justice and gender and ways of being-in-community that are alternatives from the cinematic common sense. This movement off the screen, out of the frame of dominant common sense, is the witch’s flight.
I hear the rustle of the witch’s flight in Scott Lyons’s witty and insightful reflections on Indian boarding schools and the American Indian Movement (AIM). He describes his grandfather’s experiences of running away three times from an off-reservation boarding school, for which he was “cruelly whipped with a leather strap in front of a school assembly,” prompting his fourth and final escape, never to return. In relating his grandfather’s boarding school story, Lyons acknowledges the importance of such grim narratives in constituting a necessary critical discourse about boarding schools as a part of a policy of cultural genocide. However, he points out that inventive paths through boarding schools might be overlooked when we only narrate an overdetermined critique of settler schooling:
All of us grandkids interviewed [my grandfather Aub] for paper assignments at one point or another, and we always did well on our papers. No one ever wanted to interview Aub’s wife, my Dakota grandmother from the Lower Sioux Indian Community (Morton), who attended the same school ten years after my grandfather, and loved it completely. . . . My grandmother was the first in my line to receive not only a high school diploma—she graduated valedictorian—but also the first higher education, attending a teacher’s college and eventually becoming one of Leech Lake’s first Indian teachers.
Lyons credits his grandmother for the education of his generation of cousins, a reality made possible by his grandmother’s different line of flight from school. In yet another divergent set of tracks through school, AIM and Red Power activists eventually occupied Lyons’s old Head Start classroom. Like wa Thiong’o, Lyons’s relationship to revolution was complex. His grandparents scorned the “AIMsters,” while Lyons secretly adored “those young Indians with their long hair and horses—also guns.” Despite being its biopolitical target, Indigenous people ride the currents of school in surprising directions.
Drawing from the Hopi concept of footprint or “track” as metaphorical/metaphysical trails through the sacred landscape, K. Tsianina Lomawaima and Teresa McCarty draw our attention to the possibilities created by and through Native tracking over a hundred years of schooling. “We search for the footprints of Native presence in a century of American Indian education, looking for the unexpected, the overlooked, the seemingly paradoxical results of and responses to domineering policies and institutions.” While maintaining a sharp critique of the curriculum of cultural genocide in the design of Indian education, they dispose of the overdetermined critique of Indian schools as simply a reflex and robot of their settler colonial masters. Instead, they look at the Hopification of settler schooling, “the age-old process of Hopi people learning and adapting from others useful ideas, practices, technologies, and material culture.” For me, their work emphasizes how Hopification is futuristic—both in terms of Hopi technological adaptations and, more importantly, because Hopi reassemblages bear into existence a Hopi future. For example, Lomawaima and McCarty detail the decolonial elements written into the educational readers, printed and distributed and assigned by the U.S. federal government. Someone’s hand wrote those readers and, furthermore, bent the apparatus of printing, distribution, and official curriculum. We have to keep in mind that printed readers are a technology, as are their systems of distribution. What we ought to find amazing in Lomawaima and McCarty’s instructive work are the ways that technological apparatuses become subverted toward decolonization. Again, I feel the electrostatic discharge of the witch’s flight.
There is no adequate English word for “beyond colonization.” The best English-ish phrases that I have heard are Kale Fajardo’s “trans*colonial” and “shadow sovereignty” as theorized by Native literary scholars. For Craig Womack, sovereignty is more deeply expressed in the dynamic language of literature than in the restrictive definitions of treaty law. In Womack’s fictional writing, the tie-snakes are an underwater kingdom of monsters, “something white man has never saw or caught,” that seem like a metaphor for a world beyond colonization. Greg Sarris sums up this deeper sovereignty very simply: “It’s not like anything.” Certainly freedom when spoken with an African diasporic accent gestures toward radical elsewheres, elusive destinations made possible by the very audacity to dream freedom. Such words are already more than English. The word postcolonial is disappointing as far as bringing about decolonization and is at best shorthand for the complexities of contemporary colonial crap. I only find it useful when an awkward + glyph adds other meanings into it: the post+colonial. Posts+ are the postings or updates on colonialism, the posts or appointed roles within colonizing institutions, the outposts where colonial force needs fortification—but also the postscripts or personal codicils that exceed the well-organized colonial script. Posts+ are not “exit signs” from colonialism, like the way postracial or postcolonial is sometimes conceived, but sites for reanalyzing colonial and decolonial activities. Apprehending the post+colonial is to feel the beyond and before of it, “the not yet and, at times, the not anymore” of Indigenous sovereign land and life. In other words, decolonization is the double movement of anticolonialism and rematriation—restoring the futures that Indigenous land and life were meant to follow. This double movement is the fundamental charge of a third world university.
To understand the possibilities for a decolonizing university, we must begin with a discussion of colonialism, particularly the colonizing machine’s desires to settle, to self-sustain, to seduce, and to school. This discussion will be informed by my perspective in writing from North America, a settler colonial context, the details of which are not universal. However, even though the analysis is particular to American empire, through it, I unpack the technologies of colonialism that circulate everywhere—particularly the technologies of colonial schooling. More importantly, this analysis urges us to recognize the queer appropriations of these same technologies toward Indigenous and Black and decolonial futures.
As a small book, there are histories and trajectories untold in these pages. I hope you will read this book in relationship to Craig Steven Wilder’s Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities. Enslaved people not only labored in and for American universities; their very bodies doubled as the literal capital for building and sustaining them—a foundation partially excavated by the 2015 actions of #GU272 at Georgetown University. In The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent, Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira bring together a collection of voices that detail the imbrication of military and academic complexes, of imperial hegemony and academic repression. Scyborgs practice Black study, strategize and find breath in the undercommons—a fugitive reorganization of the university that Stefano Harney and Fred Moten lyrically describe in The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study.
This book is further informed by my perspectives as a North American settler “of color,” a university professor, and also a community school founder and teacher and organizer within the contradictory apparatuses of public schools and school reform organisms. My position is impossible, a colonialist-by-product of empire, with decolonizing desires. I am, and maybe you are too, a produced colonialist. I am also a by-product of colonization. As a colonialist scrap, I desire against the assemblage that made me. This impossibility motivates this analysis, which seeks not to resolve colonialist dilemmas but to acknowledge that they include specific machined privileges that may be put to work in the service of decolonizations. A recognition of impossibility means to theorize contingently—that is, my thinking is temporary; my right to think aloud is contingent on the apparatus of legitimated colonial knowledge production that ought to be abolished. Theorizing contingently is not to take the ultimate position on what is possible, nor even the penultimate, but rather to commit to analyses that make space for Indigenous sovereign work, to commit to making room for Black and queer thought. This requires refusing to give away too much of what I’ve overheard or what I think I know. It involves limiting the extrapolations of my analyses. I hope to make room for you. May you find some spots in these passages that generate directions for your project. A landing pad, a way station, a taking-off point for your broomstick—that’s my goal.
To briefly outline this short book, in chapter 1, I briefly discuss settler colonialism, a framework with which some readers may already feel familiar. For you, I offer the analytic importance of thinking through settler colonial technologies, through those machines that we hate. So although it is a basic outline of settler colonialism, this chapter tries to offer a different tack within theories of settler colonialism to undo some blockages in thinking about blackness, identity, and transnationalism in those theories. I hope this chapter is useful for readers who dislike some of the pitfalls in current theorizations of settler colonialism.
Chapter 2, “Land. And the University Is Settler Colonial,” explains how land is a keystone in the modern university through the particular history of land-grant institutions in the United States. I believe this chapter might be a useful synopsis of the significance of land grants and of land as capital.
Chapter 3 asserts that “A Third University Exists within the First.” In it, I present the framework that describes the first, second, third, (and fourth) world universities. I offer a diagnosis of the strategic viability for a third world university. I hope you leave this chapter with a sense that decolonizing machines already exist—and that you might be making one of your own.
I end with the scyborg as the agentive element, the decolonizing ghost in the colonizing machine. Throughout this discussion, I use historic examples of scyborgs but treat them as historically present; that is, the “active sense of presence,” to borrow a phrase from Gerald Vizenor, of the decolonial spirit that began with the colonial university’s inception is already present today. Scyborg traces are present throughout the machinery. Pieces of other scyborgs may be present inside your own circuitry, and yours in others. Those pieces may lend to your flight, may bend to your will for a bit, and may have a collective, transhistorical will of their own. Scyborg is shorthand for structural agency. The scyborg operates within and without apparatuses. S-he is the decolonial rider within the circuitry of colonizing machines, and hir black gown is continuous with the carbon dust that smokes through their best hermetically sealed works. The scyborg moves at multiple scales; the scyborg is personal; the scyborg is collective. The difference between the scyborg and other orgs in the machine is that the scyborg grasps hir decolonial possibilities. S-he knows hir broomstick can’t carry hir beyond colonization, but with it, s-he might rake together a decolonizing golem. Maybe you could be scyborg, and so I’m writing to maybe you. If so, cite me not, and ghost-ride this book.