By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on December 1, 2023.
Jebunnessa Chapola describes herself as a transnational person. Born in Bangladesh, she immigrated to Canada in 2010 after studying in Sweden, Norway, and the United States.
Beyond her identity as a transnational, Chapola is an anti-racist scholar. “My transnational experiences have helped to make me who I am today and also my cross-cultural socialization, interdisciplinary education, and anti-racist activities,” she explained this week when she spoke to students at the University of Lethbridge and via Zoom.
A postdoctoral fellow at the University of Regina, much of her research has been centred around colonialization and Indigeneity. In her lecture, Chapola explained that her experiences growing up in Bangladesh – a country with a long history of colonization involving Portugal, Britain, India, and Pakistan – have informed her perspective and approaches to her work.
Chapola says “anti-racism” is not simply being “not racist” but rather an active approach to understanding and combatting colonial ways of thinking. “Anti-racism is not an effect, it is an ongoing lifelong journey of identifying and eliminating racism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies, and practices, and attitudes, and behaviours. So that power and opportunity are redistributed and shared equitably.”
She explains that racialization has been used to justify oppressing Aboriginal and Indigenous people throughout the world.
With that, racism exists on three levels, individual, institution, and societal, which Chapola says together make up systemic racism that creates the disadvantages different racial groups endure.
“It is socially constructed through power relations. It is embedded in colonial legacies, and it is connected with ongoing colonization.”
Throughout her lecture, Chapola drew a direct line between colonization and racism, stating that many current ways of knowing in Canada are colonial and lead to a disregard for the many other ways of knowing that provide perspectives unacknowledged by colonial thought.
Overall, it limits knowledge and perpetuates the systemic racism that continues to disadvantage people of colour, including black and Indigenous peoples, she says.
But Chapola recognizes it is not as simple as deciding to not be racist. “Decolonization and anti-racism, they are intwined and both are, I would say, a lifelong learning, unlearning, and relearning journey. Without having anti-racist education, it is hard to learning the meaning of decolonization, and also without decolonial education it is really hard to be an anti-racist.” She explains that it can be hard for people to venture beyond their comfort zones.
Chapola provides a few questions those seeking to decolonize their minds can start with. Many of them are ideas that have slowly been incorporated into the curriculum. They include questions like: Who are we, and where did we come from? Who owns the land we live on today? What is the history of the land we live on What does decolonization mean to us? And what did colonizers do to the people who lived on the land?
She also emphasizes land-based learning, which supports and encourages Indigenous ways to knowing, Indigenous languages, and reconciliation. Chapola’s talk highlighted the efforts of movements such as Idle No More, Orange Shirt Day, and Red Dress Day.
“I recognize racism is a present and current problem, I seek out questions that make me uncomfortable,” she says.