Facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis.
"There is very little data available"
When we hear the word “data” one of the first things that comes to mind are numbers. For the state employee, more often than not these numbers are part and parcel of a process of performance measurement and an assessment of some kind. However, when we look the word data up in the dictionary, we find that the word data is used to refer to facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis. I.e., data is nothing more than information that is collected for understanding what it relates to.
Data can be used in a variety of ways. Today data is leveraged to inform and support critical decision making, as well as identifying opportunities, and evaluating the effectiveness of methodologies currently in practice, but data isn’t just about numbers and statistics.
In a speech celebrating the life of Eduardo Mondlane, leader of the Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO), who was assassinated by Portuguese agents in February of 1969, Amilcar Cabral notes how, “The principal characteristic, common to every kind of imperialist domination, is the negation of the historical process of the dominated people by means of violently usurping the free operation of the process of development of the productive forces.”
In this observation is the recognition that colonialism/imperialism doesn’t merely interrupt the unveiling of the story of a people, it seeks to negate this story by telling a new one. This is precisely why the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) calls for the idea of data to be decolonized. The popular association of data with excel spreadsheets, charts, dashboards, etc. frames data collection and data analysis in a way that can only be understood through a colonial and/or western institutional praxis, which historically have produced more harm rather than helping indigenous people.
UIHI further clarifies the imperative of decolonizing data, stating “Decolonizing data is about reclaiming our traditional data practices, this gives the necessary context to tell complete stories. We know that data is not just numbers and statistics. Native data represents Native people.”
As diasporic Africans, this is something we can definitely relate to. Data is the information in a story used to tell the story. Like the people indigenous to the America’s, the story that is told about us has consistently produced more harm than it has helped us. These stories have always been undergirded by data. Like the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africans have collected and interpreted data for thousands of years to tell their own stories. Data not only tells our story, that is our history, but as we collect and interpret data we are also writing the next chapters for our future.
Decolonizing data means changing the way we think about data as being more than just numbers and statistics, but all of the information used to tell a story of the past, present and future. Decolonizing data means shifting our understanding with regards to who does this labor, from professionals to The People. Decolonizing data is an initiative that emerges from the recognition that gathering, analyzing, and sharing information to ensure our well-being in perpetuity is our responsibility, but additionally, taking back the power to tell our stories is the beginning of taking back the power over our futures.
Want to learn more about decolonizing data? Join us at our next BUILD Policy & Data subcommittee meeting held on the 2nd and 3rd Tuesdays of every month, from 11:00 am – 12:00 pm.
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