Filling in the Blanks – Research Update #5

What began as difficulty gathering the thoughts and ideas necessary to write a meaningful research paper has turned into a challenge of navigating which concepts can actually fit while still pushing the intended argument forward. Investigating broad-reaching systems like neoliberalism and colonialism has thrown the possibility of my discussions wide open, which is both a positive and a negative. My primary objective is to explore how the structures I mentioned previously have intertwined throughout American history and contributed to (and reinforced) an increasingly dispersed hegemony. This process has resulted in the widely accepted beliefs that 1) success and effort are directly correlated, meaning those who struggle financially have only themselves to blame and 2) economic or social achievement at the expense of others is still valid and even applauded, which, under hierarchies of power established by settler-colonialism, often results in further exploitation of marginalized communities.

To clarify the diversity of ways this presents itself in the data I am drawing conclusions from, here are a few quotes taken from Last Word columns on affordable housing in Williamsburg/James City County:

“You can’t keep building $200,000 to $500,000 mansions, hotels and restaurants without providing some place for the minimum-wage workers needed to maintain these.”

“After working hard all my life, saving and getting ahead, I would like to think I earned the money to live in a better neighborhood. Living next door to neighbors who might not be able to afford to keep their property up to the standards of the neighborhood could become a bad situation for all.”

“In this economy, with unemployment at 4 percent, there is no reason why anyone with qualifications should settle for a job which doesn’t allow for an annual salary increase. I state again: you buy the house you can afford.”

Even with only three shortened examples provided, patterns exemplary of neoliberalism and colonialism are hopefully already standing out–regardless of whether the author is for or against proposed housing construction.

Although I feel no remorse for critiquing a system that has contributed to the violent disposal of those deliberately excluded from the ruling class for whom hegemony serves, I do regret time constraints keeping me from fully researching and learning from the activists and organizers already working to dismantle these structures. It is these individuals–not “ivory tower” academics–who are initiating radical change. For example, neoliberal coloniality’s demand for and valuing of productive bodies has been central to disability justice movement for some time, even if the connection is not explicitly stated. A vocal proponent of this work, Talila Lewis, defines ableism as “a system that places value on people’s bodies and minds based on socially constructed ideas of normalcy, intelligence, and excellence. These constructed ideas… are deeply rooted in anti-Blackness, eugenics, and capitalism. This form of systemic oppression leads to people and society determining who is valuable and worthy based on people’s appearance and/or their ability to satisfactorily produce, excel and behave.” Lewis so powerfully shows the dangers of submitting to a hegemony that excludes and erases people, and their fight shares in the intention of my current research to challenge the pervasiveness of the status quo. Hopefully, as I explore the issue further, more connections regarding how neoliberal coloniality is constructed and how it is experienced will be made.

To read more from Talila Lewis, visit