[COVID-19 Pandemic: Worlds Stories from the Margins] Relinking as healing: Ruminations on crises and the radical transformation of an antisocial and antirelational world

by Julia Suárez-Krabbe 


My dear friend, mentor and guide among the spiritual authorities of the four peoples that inhabit Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia (from now on: Mamos), Saúl Martínez, once told me that he was sometimes asked if he was religious, and that his answer was yes – in the etymological sense of the word: re-ligare (Latin), re-link. And Saúl also emphasized that it is important that I relink in/to Denmark too, inasmuch my roots lie here as much as they lie in Colombia. This re-linking with the Mother as we have used it with Saul not only complements Walter Mignolo’s notion of delinking from modernity-coloniality,[i] it also involves a movement into decolonial healing. Indeed, while delinking is an important move, it appears incomplete if it is not accompanied by relinking, a continued practice of deep reconnection. As we will see, relinking is crucial to these reflections.

More than three months have passed since practically all Danish institutions closed down due to Covid-19. I have cherished the so-called social isolation because my material privileges, including the fact that I live in a house with a garden, made it possible for me to heal a bit from an antisocial and antirelational everyday covered under the veneer of sociality and relationality. The ‘normal’ everyday that many people in a similar position of privilege as mine have missed is structured from within this dominant horizon that separates culture from ecology, human from nature, religion from reason, economy from reciprocity, ancestors from the present, the future from our creativity, choice from possibility. Living in a fundamentally antisocial and antirelational everyday tied to the university, I was living in a constant neurotic relationship to dominant reason, as Lewis Gordon has called such a state. The interruption of this ‘normality’ opened up a space in which I was able to cultivate reason and sociality beyond dominance.

So, in the pause from that everyday I have been able to nourish sociality and relationality [ii] in a way that was healing: I was able to relink a bit more to other Earth-beings from my place to live, and I was able to write again. Indeed, writing pieces like these is also a way of relinking to the people who, like me, defend the worlds that lie beyond the aspiring totality of the current global system. This re-linking is spiritual, social, relational, and it does take place because we are rooted in different places and we cultivate life. In the end, I see the writing of this essay as a way to participate in our cultivation of radical worlds, that is, worlds rooted in places where our creativity flourishes with and beyond what and whom we can immediately hold. Besides the explicit references that I make throughout this text, the force of the ancestors is present in these ruminations, as well as Nanna Hansen’s, Rosalba Icaza’s, and Zuleika Sheik’s nourishing inputs.

Relinking and cultivating our places to live

The last sentence of The Wretched of the Earth reads like this: “For Europe, for ourselves, and for humanity, comrades, we must turn over a new leaf, we must work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man”[iii]. These reflections revolve around this sentence, especially in relation to the increasing amount of white journalists, authors, and scholars in Denmark who, during the period of closing and now during the reopening, understand that crises can also be productive processes of transitions. While until recently their attention was on economic and ecologically sustainable change, it has now turned to structural racism in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

Even though these critical events seem to have had a fruitful effect on these white colleagues, I here push the following questions further: what, in essence, are they/we talking about when using the word ‘crisis’? Whose crises? How can crises become a productive process of transitions? What are the frameworks in which the colonizer can decolonize, to become a new human? Who composes the social, and to whom do we relate and relink? In what shape can the social contain, cultivate and nourish the pluriverse? Is the pluriverse sociogenic, and if so, can the white man/the colonizer partake in this social process – a decolonial sociogenesis?

It should be noted that, in the (Fanonean) spirit of contributing to the development of new concepts, I will be pushing some words towards an other meaning by invoking their etymological sense. This is the case with the words culture, religion and ecology that I will refer to below, and also the words ‘crisis’ and ‘radical’ that I will introduce later.

In the dominant ontology and epistemology, the word culture refers to the vast diversity of ways in which human groups understand each other and ourselves. Conversely, religion refers to the ways in which cultural groups relate to the divine, and ecology typically refers to the interrelationships of organisms with their environment and each other. In this essay, however, I use the following etymological translations of those words: Culture as a word that refers to ‘cultivate’,[iv] religion as Saúl Martínez’ sense of ‘re-linking’ and ecology as ‘place to live’.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a reminder of how the cultural, the religious and the ecological are all interdependent ways of relating. Indeed, we know that the mono-cultural, uni-versal, extractivist, consumerist, patriarchal and colonial global system causes breakdowns in the ecosystems and produces deadly effects, including epidemics like AIDS, Ebola and SARS. This western insight on “the ecology of disease”[v] resonates at least superficially with that, which the Mamos and many social movements and intellectuals throughout the world assert with them: culture, religion and ecology are interlinked because all Earth-beings are interlinked[vi].

Indeed, from the knowledge of the Mamos—a way of knowing that emerges in close interaction, communication and collaboration with Mother World—human rights violations, climate change, illness, wars, earthquakes, and so on happen because of the world’s disequilibrium. This imbalance affects all spheres of life, from the micro and intimate, to the macro structural and macrocosmic. It stems from some human beings’ unwillingness, reluctance or inability to relate and re-link with each other and with all other Earth-beings, that is, with the Mother[vii].

Whose Crises? [viii]

With the notion/practice of relinking in mind, I want to turn our attention now to the questions I posed above through an example of what I mean when I talk about white colleagues in Denmark who understand that crises can also be productive processes of transitions.

Christian Jensen, the main editor of one of the biggest Danish newspapers, a white man in his mid-forties, wrote a large opinion piece on March 15 (a few days after the Danish government closed down most institutions and workplaces) where he reflected upon how he never had lived what he referred to as “the soul-torturing fear of anxiety”. Jensen was explicitly writing on behalf of “the Danes” of his generation, referring also to “our common future” [ix].

As I read it, I thought the obvious: well, I am from the same generation of Danes that he is, but together with all other mixed Danes, Danes of color and/or from the Global South, clearly I am not a Dane according to Jensen’s unspoken criteria. Indeed, all of us ‘other’ Danes do not fit into the “common future” Jensen imagines because, contrary to him, we have lived—and live—a concrete version of what he names the “soul-torturing fear of anxiety” in wars, persecution, hunger, disease, and other devastating effects of this global system. Effects that have led us, or our (grand)parents, to flee from our places to live when they were turned into places to die.

A brief contextualization of Jensen’s words is pivotal here. Today, Denmark is a de facto apartheid-state where we have differential laws and punishment according to whether a person is or is not of ‘non-western origin’. Here, the state can bereave those of us with mixed and/or ‘non-western’ descent of our citizenship status [x]. Danish politicians often verbally attack ‘non-western’ Danes, especially Muslims, and legislates on this basis, and refugees are constantly subjected to systematic state violence[xi]. Yet, we are increasingly contesting, protesting, and mobilizing against this system, and hence we are more and more people that have decided to act. And here is where crisis comes into these ruminations.

The word crisis is derived from the Greek krísis ‘decision’, from the verb kríno ‘I decide, I separate, I judge’. Crisis thus suggests action insofar as it includes the option to decide. In this sense, to stay in crisis would be not to take action, not to decide. When Christian Jensen wrote that opinion piece, he showed that he knows that he is part of the structures and that he has a certain degree of perspective beyond his own lived reality. If not, it would have been impossible for him to see that he and his peers have never experienced the “the soul-torturing fear of anxiety”. He knows that level of fear exists and that there are people who live it.

One could even argue that he sees his role in history insofar as he speaks of “our common future”. However, as we, ‘other’ Danes (and non-citizens) disappear from his reality, so do the racist structures: Jensen knows they exist, but he covers them up. With that, he makes it possible for himself and his peers not to decide, and to hide this decision. Indeed, according to Lewis Gordon, crisis is “the hidden decision not to decide”[xii] and implies a flight from reality.

Gordon would also add that Jensen flees from reality because he dreads what is to be done. Indeed, as Fanon asserted many years ago, “For the colonized, life can only spring up again out of the rotting corpse of the colonizer”[xiii]. But it is difficult to see how a white man as Jensen would ever choose to become a rotting cadaver. Here is the crossroads between crisis and transformation. Unlike some of my comrades in the anti-racist and decolonial struggle in Denmark, [xiv] I insist on the possibility that the white man can decolonize. The following assertion by Fanon is key in this concern:

This huge task which consists of reintroducing mankind into the world, the whole of mankind, will be carried out with the indispensable help, of the European peoples, who themselves must realize that in the past they have often joined the ranks of our common masters where colonial questions were concerned. To achieve this, the European peoples must first decide to wake up and shake themselves, use their brains, and stop playing the stupid game of the Sleeping Beauty. [xv]

As a person who is both Danish and Colombian, it is important for me to work from Fanon’s invitation, and to contribute to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a participant to decolonization as white and mestizo people. Indeed, the quote is central to my ongoing ruminations about re-linking as a decolonizing healing practice. In relation to white people like Jensen who in Denmark are beginning to see transformative possibilities, the fundamental problem is that they are avoiding reintroducing themselves into the world, that is, they are not relinking. Instead, they are choosing to stay in a permanent state of white innocence in Gloria Wekker’s sense. [xvi]

Indeed, racism demands that we de-link ourselves and disassociate from each other, and with it, it also entails an epistemology of separation, laziness and innocence, whereby white people like Jensen treat connected problems as if they were not, and treat problems that involve them without getting involved. Racism, as already mentioned, requires the subject to flee from reality, and in that very move, he is, in Gordon’s words, a “human being that maintains structures that militate against human being[xvii]. Jensen has not yet decided to wake up, shake himself, use his brains, and stop playing the stupid game of the Sleeping Beauty.

Sociogeny, the pluriverse, and becoming human

Ultimately, as Fanon and Gordon, I do not think there is any middle ground in the process of decolonization. Indeed, the current mono-cultural, uni-versal, extractivist, consumerist, patriarchal and colonial global system is a death project [xviii] that demands that we de-link and dissociate from each other. It demands that we cultivate homogeneity at the expense of a cultivation of the pluriverse as places to live with each other as human- and more than human Earth beings.

As I have already suggested, the opposite movement, would be to reconnect and also decide to contribute to a radically social and relational world, a world in which many worlds fit. The word radical, as Gordon also points out, means “to the roots”. And here, in the radical, is where re-linking enters as a key element in the pluriverse:

Relinking entails radicalizing, returning to our roots, for instance by reconnecting to our ancestors and examining how our different socio-historical and economic-political locations in the global articulations of power produce diverse realities and life—or death—projects, and it also involves paying attention to the different knowledges that constitute our worlds. As we saw, Jensen is still caught in a world that produces our non-existence; his “we” excludes us.

But relinking also implies acting in and with all ‘other’ Earth-beings. This means that trees, stones, ancestors, the elements etc. are also part of the social. It is in this space that the colonizer can choose to become a rotting corpse: in fact, the social framework in which he can become a new human is made up of a radical relationship between humans and other Earth beings with whom he could choose to relate and re-link, allowing these relationships to strip him off his colonizing being [xix]. If he decides to decide, re-links, reintroduces himself into the world.

So, as a way of closing and coming closer to an answer to my questions:

Deciding to decide is crucial to turn crises into decolonizing processes. Deciding to decide is not a single action: it is to continuously cultivate an existentially rooted history. The history in which we engage tomorrow and, without guarantees or certainties, become human beings in the sociality that emerges from our interrelationality with other Earth-beings, including the ancestors. This transformation process is radical, cultural, religious and ecological—in the sense in which I have used these words.

Finally, the pluriverse is sociogenic, given that the social is a space that goes beyond relationships between human beings, but does not exclude them. The white man can participate in this radical process that is decolonization as soon as his main priority and practice is to cease to exist, to re-link, and become a new human being by returning to that, which makes him human.

Julia Suárez-Krabbe is a Colombian-Danish scholar and activist. Her work revolves around (anti-)racism and decolonization in relation to human rights, development, knowledge production, education and decolonization. Julia has published internationally both in English and Spanish, and she is the author of “Race, Rights and Rebels. Alternatives to Human Rights and Development from the Global South” (2016).

This essay primarily reflects the impact that Lewis Gordon and the Mamos have had upon my thinking. I have had the privilege of exchanging thoughts and ideas with both parties for more than a decade. I presented a first version of these ruminations at the “Fanon at 95” online Symposium organized by the Caribbean Philosophical Association in July 1-20, 2020. I am very thankful for the inspiration and input that the participants in this symposium gave me.

[i] I introduced the notion of relinking in Suárez-Krabbe, J. 2016. Race, Rights and Rebels. Alternatives to Human Rights and Development from the Global South. Rowman & Littlefield International. For delinking see: Mignolo, W. (2007). Delinking. The rhetoric of modernity, the logic of coloniality and the grammar of de-coloniality. Cultural Studies, 21:2, pp. 449-514.

[ii] Understood in line with Rolando Vásquez, 2012. Towards a Decolonial Critique of Modernity. Buen Vivir, Relationality and the Task of Listening. In: Fornet-Betancourt (ed.), Capital, Poverty, Development, Denktraditionen im Dialog: Studien zur Befreiung und interkulturalität, Vol 33, Wissenschaftsverlag Mainz: Aachen, pp 241-252.

[iii] Fanon, F. 1963. The Wretched of the Earth. (Transl. G. Farrington). Grove Press, New York. P. 316.

[iv] I thank Rosalba Icaza for bringing to my attention that my use of the word culture resonates with that of Unitierra.

[v] Robbins, J. 2012. The Ecology of Disease. The New York Times, July 14, 2012. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/sunday-review/the-ecology-of-disease.html

[vi] A few examples of scholarship working from this understanding: Leyva, X et. al. 2015. Prácticas otras de conocimiento(s). Entre crisis, entre guerras. I, II, II. Cooperativa Editorial Retos. San Cristóbal de Las Casas, México; Escobar, A. 2018. Designs for the Pluriverse. Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds. Duke University Press; Graham, M. 1999. Some Thoughts about the Philosophical Underpinnings of Aboriginal Worldviews. Worldviews: Environment, Culture, Religion 3, pp. 105-118; Donald, D. T. 2009. Forts, Curriculum, and Indigenous Métissage: Imagining Decolonization of Aboriginal-Canadian Relations in Educational Contexts. First Nations Perspectives 2, 1, pp. 1-24; Seth, S. 2011. Travelling Theory: Western knowledge and its Indian object. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 21(49), pp. 263-282; and Ndlovu-Gatsheni, S. 2020. Decolonization, Development and Knowledge in Africa. Turning over a New Leaf. Routledge. New York and London.

[vii] Suárez-Krabbe, J. 2016. Race, Rights and Rebels: Alternatives to Human Rights and Development from the Global South. London: Rowman & Littlefield International. Global Critical Caribbean Thought.

[viii] I have previously elaborated on these thoughts in the essay “Racism, Sociogeny and (Im)possible Decolonization. Reflections on the Crisis of European Man in Denmark.” to be published in the forthcoming reprint of Lewis Gordon’s 1995 book Fanon and the Crisis of European Man.

[ix] Jensen, C. 2020. For første gang mærkede min bekymringsløse generation frygten. Politiken, March 15, 2020. https://politiken.dk/debat/klummer/art7702770/For-f%C3%B8rste-gang-m%C3%A6rkede-min-bekymringsl%C3%B8se-generation-frygten

[x] Suárez-Krabbe, J. & Lindberg, A. 2019. Enforcing Apartheid? The Politics of “Intolerability” in the Danish Migration and Integration Regimes. Migration and Society. Advances in Research. 2, 1, p. 90-97

[xi] See Freedom of Movements Research Collective, 2018, ‘Stop Killing Us Slowly’. A Research Report on the Motivation Enhancement Measures and the Criminalization of Rejected Asylum Seekers in Denmark. Freedom of Movements Research Collective, Copenhagen. Available at: http://refugees.dk/media/1757/stop-killing-us_uk.pdf and Sibel Özcan, Zeynep Bangert: Islamophobia in Denmark: National Report 2018, in: Enes Bayraklı & Farid Hafez, European Islamophobia Report 2018, Istanbul, SETA, pp. 251-282: http://www.islamophobiaeurope.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/DENMARK.pdf

[xii] Gordon, L. 1995. Fanon and the Crisis of European Man. An Essay on Philosophy and the Human Sciences. Routledge, New York and London. P 12.

[xiii] Wretched, p. 93. The original translated text uses the word ‘native’ and ‘settler’ instead of ‘colonized’ and ‘colonizer’, which I have inserted instead for ease of understanding, and to avoid the inversion of terms in Jensen’s case, who could be called a ‘native’ Dane.

[xiv] See for instance the important discussion and reflection carried out by the Marronage Collective on this matter in: Marronage, 2020, The white gaze within the structure, Actualise Utopia. An Anthology about Racial Barriers in the Structure of the Nordic Art Field. Oslo: Kulturrådet. pp. 99-136.

[xv] Wretched, p 106

[xvi] Wekker, G. 2016. White Innocence. Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race. Duke University Press.

[xvii] Fanon and the Crisis, p 83.

[xviii] Suárez-Krabbe, J. 2016. Race, Rights and Rebels. Alternatives to Human Rights and Development from the Global South. Rowman & Littlefield International.

[xix] Cf. Harney, S. & F. Moten. 2013. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. New York: Minor Compositions.