Decolonizing Feminist Methodologies from the Dark Side traces the colonial and racialized conceptions of gender, the body, and power implicit in how gender as a category of cross-cultural analysis is deployed in mainstream feminist and gender research. Decolonizing Feminist Methodologies critically responds to the concerns articulated by women of color, indigenous, and transnational feminists who argue that not enough attention has been paid to the coloniality of gender in “postcolonial” and settler colonial contexts, such as the geographies of the Caribbean and its diasporas. My aim is to provide a productive critique of mainstream feminist methodologies for gender and queer theorists from the epistemologies of Afro-Latinx/diasporic communities in order to develop a decolonial feminist methodology for identifying, denouncing, and transforming anti-black and (neo)colonial relations of power for and among communities of color.
In the first chapter, “Performing Gender Through Cross-Cultural Analyses” I examine the Eurocentric presuppositions that travel with and are imposed when gender is deployed as a universal cross-cultural category of analysis without any attention to colonial and settler colonial histories. I illustrate how mainstream gender analyses provide more insight into the relationship of power between white heterosexual elite “Men” and “Women” than they do the relationship of power between racialized men and women. Rather than do away with the category, I suggest using gender to track the racialized matrix of bodies produced in and through violent colonial relationships.
In chapter two, “Gender (Mis)Translations,” I shift perspectives to explore how Afro-Latinx/diasporic ritual practices trouble Eurocentric deployments of gender. Through a comparative analysis I, first, illustrate how Afro-latinx/diasporic conceptions of the body are obscured and (mis)translated through gender analyses that foreground the “sexual difference.” Second, I argue that such mistranslations fundamentally erase the more dynamic, expansive, and non-gendered/non-racialized conceptions of the body being activated within ritual practices, such as the building of altars, initiation, and ritual possession.
In chapter three, “Theorizing the ‘Body’ and the ‘Human’ in Afro-Cuban Santería,” I delineate at least five different ways in which practitioners’ bodies are rematerialized as non-gendered/non-racialized in and through ritual enactments such as initiation and possession. I propose the notion of a palimpsestic body, as a way to understand the multiplicity of logics at play in ritual. I do so in order to argue that Afro-Latinx/diasporic ritual conceptions of the body are layered in ways that are not reducible to the “sexual difference” or dichotomous arrangements of the social.
In the fourth chapter, “Working the Spirit, Transforming the Social Body,” I illustrate how Afro-Latinx/diasporic ritual practices function as culturally-specific modes of empowerment that can disrupt and reorder colonial arrangements of bodies and power, often beyond sacred spaces and in ways that are not immediately visible to non-practitioners. I discuss the alternative categories of power, such as spiritual seniority, that are made possible through ritual and ritualized enactments and that function to trouble mainstream hierarchies of power.
In chapter five, “Working the Spirit, (Re)Working History,” I examine how Afro-Latinx/diasporic modes of empowerment have been silenced through the production of History proper. I instead turn to ritual “archives,” in order to produce a counter-hegemonic narrative of “race” and “power” in Cuba. I argue that ritual “archives” not only trouble the methodological tendency to think power in and through observable categories of difference, such as race and gender, but they also destabilize colonial narratives that suggest power has historically been the exclusive right of cis-hetero males in all cultures across space and time. Altogether, the chapters build in way that signal the need for decolonizing Western categories of analysis and attending to local modes of being and knowing, local categories and modes of empowerment, and alternative cosmosenses and cosmologies with more liberatory potential.
I conclude this book by considering the value of these co-existing operative categories and non-gendered/non-racialized understandings of the body as methodological tools that challenge the prevalence of dehumanizing narratives about Afro-descendants globally. My aim is to proffer ingredients and methods for producing alternative, and possibly decolonial, readings of the past in ways that may move us towards transformative visions for the future. This takes on a particular urgency in the context of globalized anti-blackness and the ongoing systematic assault on Black and Brown lives.