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How might we decolonize time?
I flippantly wrote in the chat yesterday “we need to decolonize time”, but a participant asked me to elaborate on it further, and this made me think that maybe this would be a good thought experiment. Which I will get to, once I explain the context.
So yesterday, June 30th, I co-hosted a conversation on Inclusive Citation, Inclusive Academia? Via Equity Unbound. The link includes the video recording, Google doc with Q&A and resources, and inside the Google doc, the link to the Zoom cloud recording which should have a written auto-generated transcript, and an audio version of the recording. If you missed this, and you care about social justice in academia, I strongly encourage you to watch/listen. The conversation was a pledge I made, when I saw recent movements in academia like #ShutDownAcademia as a response to #BlackLivesMatter and we aimed to discuss ways in which we can dismantle racism and coloniality in academia. The speakers were all IBPOC academics – Kim Fox and Doris Jones are African American faculty at my institution and good friends who are also people I share many dissenting/activist views with. My conversations with Kim sparked the idea of this panel. We also had the wonderful Jasmine Roberts – I only met her on Twitter recently, and her writing is powerful on this subject, and Tutaleni Asino whom I have known for some time and is an African role model for me. And Mia Zamora, a longtime collaborator on equity and connected learning, among other things, and one of the co-facilitators of Equity Unbound as well.
So one of the things that happened is that we had allotted 5 mins for each panelist to briefly outline their contribution to the panel before opening up space for questions from the audience of 40+ people. I had originally asked people to share their questions in the registration form, and I had created a Google doc curating their questions. Kim, Jasmine and Mia went into that document and started responding to questions before the session started, and I did, too. I also tried to focus my contribution on responding to some questions in the list about practical steps one can take to improve the inclusivity of their citation practices.
In any case, the reason I mentioned decolonizing time is that one of the speakers was saying something really compelling, but her time was nearly up. I wanted to hear her speak, but I also wanted to make sure others had their fair share of time, and that participants could have an opportunity to ask questions and join the conversation, as I knew many of them who had enough expertise in the topic to be panelists themselves! So when I said decolonize time, I meant, find a way to give everyone (but particularly non-cis-hetero-white-men) space to speak without being interrupted, but also ensure others had the same. Which is impossible in a synchronous conversation with many people in it. Giving people equal time is not necessarily equitable. Non-native speakers and very reflective people may need more time to convey a particular point. Stories that are not familiar and go against dominant discourses need more room/time/care to be understood well. And on top of all of that, if you think of privileging voices by letting them speak aloud in a conversation vs type in chat… some people much prefer to type then speak up. So what constitutes empowering someone’s voice is not a constant and not the same thing among all participants.
For example, in the Zoom session at the beginning, I asked panelists to introduce themselves aloud and other participants to type in the chat. This is obvious privileging of the speakers, but expected in this context. I also asked how everyone is feeling right now, to type that in the chat… and that is something allows everyone room to say… but some people may be feeling really bad and not able to express it enough, or get empathy for it… I read some out loud, not all, and that in itself is also a choice of how to use air time.
I think that encouraging people to ask questions ahead of time in their registration, curating those in a Google doc, and responding in writing and asynchronously even ahead of our session, was a good idea. It decolonized time a bit, by stretching the amount of time participants had with panelists… so even if someone’s question did not get air time, it was answered in some way in the Google doc and participants could go back and ask to elaborate. This allowed us to take more spontaneous questions during the session and call people to ask them aloud and elaborate. So I think that asynchronicity “expands time” and democratizes spaces in the sense that someone contributing does not interrupt another. Someone may take up more space by posting a lot or posting long messages, but they cannot stop another from contributing. This is also why I made the Google doc “comment only” so that it shows who contributed what, and no one loses authorship over their contribution, and at the same time, no one mistakenly deletes someone else’s work, which can get very sensitive. I even used “suggest” mode when adding my own contributions to model the same.
When Omara asked about decolonizing time, I asked her what she meant by it. She interpreted it as “counting students late” and the types of assumptions and control this assumes. I liked this interpretation, and added that beyond students of color, whom she had talked about, also students with mental illness can be disadvantaged by late policies and such.
Then on Twitter today, Parisa Mehran mentioned timezones, reminding me of tyranny of timezones and how we might try to decolonize time in that way.
And later today, Mia Zamora asked about decolonizing time as a way of looking at who narrates history.
I think it’s also worth mentioning the problematic nature of measuring learning and work with time, as some people learn and work faster than others. Also, as career mom, I think some of my time is more precious than other times (like weekends and afternoons are more precious because time with family, and taking that time to do work stuff can be a problem).
In what ways are women currently in the pandemic disadvantaged in how they are expected to fit millions of things in the same time that their male colleagues don’t have (don’t have primary childcare and homecare responsibilities, at least in my part of the world).
So… time. We value it, waste it, manage it, measure it, but we cannot control it. How might we decolonize it? Let me know in the comments!