The Collective for Radical Death Studies, or CRDS for short, is a collective of death scholars, students of death studies, funeral directors, skilled death workers, trained death practitioners, activists who all see death work as social justice work, anti-racism work and work that must include the death/dying experiences of queer folx, black and brown people as well as women, immigrants and all whose death norms and last rites rituals have been othered. CRDS is an international professional organization that produces and disseminates scholarship by and about death scholars and students and death practitioners of color and from marginalized communities. In this way CRDS serves as a source for thinking more critical about the ways in which people of color and those from marginalized communities die, grieve, are buried and are remembered. As an organization, CRDS then a) pushes for death to be understood from heterogenous cultural norms that simultaneously calls attention to the traditional hyper Western focus and b) calls for an interrogation for how societal inequalities shape death and dying.
Why is the work of CRDS necessary?
CRDS is necessary because death is part of every human’s life, yet, in how death is generally understood, discussed, researched and written about, it is disproportionately white and or and/centering on Eurocentric norms. Case in point, those controlling the conversation seem to be unaware that unarmed black people murdered by the police, Mexican immigrants dying seeking asylum in the US or the fact that a trans woman will most likely have last rites performed that are incongruent with her last wishes are all issues that too should be central to death studies.
What does it mean to decolonize death?
When CRDS says that as an international professional organization our mission centers on decolonizing Death Studies, we unequivocally mean to decenter whiteness/Eurocentricism from Death Studies. Within the field of Death Studies one of the prevailing ideas is that Western society is afraid of death which is supported by the normalization of hospice care and even the norm of hospitals and funeral directors starting in the early 20thcentury, i.e. death left the home and normal process of human life. Well, this is a very American white way to view death when you understand that, for instance, under Jim Crow segregation African Americans were legally barred from hospitals or that European colonialism seriously disrupted the Native Americans deathways and not a fear of death. So, it is this type of “American Way of Death” that must be understood as a function of whiteness (i.e. exclusionary) and so must be interrogated with a gender, race, class, sexuality, religion, international lens. Within the CRDS blog entitled “Decolonizing Death Studies” is a longer definition outlined by CRDS president, Dr. Kami Fletcher.
What are some of the different ways CRDS will be implementing their mission?
The creation of our Radical Death Studies Canon goes straight to the heart of implementing the CRDS mission. This literature canon lists scholarship that centers the ways of dying, deathwork and grieving on people of color and marginalized communities. This scholarship, that is not just books, but films, and even websites so to strongly encourage people to think about how dying, burial and grieving have all been shaped and deeply impacted by systems of power and oppression. In the near future, we seek to have virtual educational trainings/classes that will directly focus on decolonizing death and radicalizing death practices. We are currently planning educational tours and a conference where we hope to take participants to experience Dia De Muertos for experiential learning as it relates to decolonizing death. The conference will be a platform to showcase the work of those decolonizing and radicalizing death so to learn and network.
Other than the Radical Death Studies Canon, we are excited to facilitate a Twitter book-club that kicks off in September called #RadDeathReads. All are invited so please check out our website, Twitter and IG for more details.
How can death scholars, activists, practitioners, and others work toward decolonizing their practices?
As a white person, if you want to decolonize your practices and understanding of death, first, become willing to be uncomfortable in your un-learning, and listen to those whose practices have been marginalized. Second, understand that you personally are not under attack with efforts to decolonize and radicalize death, but that the privilege from which you unconsciously benefit from is being challenged and laid bare. Third, don’t assume that your good intentions are enough. The harm of white supremacy doesn’t only proliferate through harmful intentions. Looking and admitting all this is an important step because racialized white persons and even those reared in a vastly white environment must understand that these blind spots don’t necessarily reflect your character, but social/cultural indoctrination.
Having said that, it’s important to also note that – whether at the center or on the margins – we have absorbed white supremacist values that need to be extorted, they just express themselves differently, depending on your origins. Belonging to a marginalized group doesn’t automatically mean you have the capacity to easily sympathize with another oppressed group, either. Homophobia can be rampant in black communities. Non-disabled and neuro-typical people have to work heavily on their ableism.
Lastly, understanding that the work of decolonizing death is also the work of activism, then to be successful you cannot shy away in acknowledging, and remedying, the violence and bad deaths that haunt the Black, Brown and Indigenous/Native, and LGBTQIA+ communities.
The work will be messy, at times, because it is the work of the bones, of truth, healing, and justice. But you cannot develop nuance without wading through the mess. We have come to a point in our culture in which we would greatly benefit from developing greater discernment and nuanced perceptions of the world around us. Decolonizing death can be just the vehicle.
How can people support the work of CRDS or get involved?
Please go to our website and join our mailing list to receive updates on all CRDS happenings, from the blog to the book club and everything in between. You can also follow us on Twitter and IG and help spread the word about our existence. We appreciate all your #RTs and likes.
As a professional organization that is deeply rooted in educating, we welcome all financial donations that will help us offset our operating costs and expansion of our educational programs. Nothing is too small.
Partnering with us is also a great way to support CRDS. If you are in the health care or death industry or are at the receiving end of these industries and want to work towards decolonizing and radicalizing death, then contact us about partnering. We want to connect with nurses, doctors, doulas, patients, morticians, funeral-home owners, care-takers, activists, artists, the living, the dying and the dead. Let’s support each other by creatinga network of solidarity, support, and sharing.
We are also looking for collaborators who will help expand our mission of decolonizing and radicalizing death through sharing their professional experience and research: indigenous, native, queer, disability researchers and advocates. We want to hear people’s suggestions, want to understand, what are the needs and what are the obstacles. We hope that people will submit blogs or suggestions for our canon that will support our mission. You can find more about our submission criteria on our website.
Dr. Kami Fletcher, CRDS President, is an Associate professor of American & African American History at Albright College, and contributor to The Order. Dr. Fletcher teaches “African American Deathways and Deathwork” which examines African American norms and ideas surrounding death. Follow her on Twitter.
Dr. Tamara Waraschinski, CDRS Director of Communications, received her PhD in Sociology from the University of Adelaide. She became a social theorist and death scholar, particularly interested in how capitalism corrodes our ability to accept that we are mortal beings.
Get your own “Decolonize Your Syllabus” poster by Yvette DeChavez here.
The Order of the Good Death is an official partner of CRDS.
If you enjoyed this piece, please consider supporting our work. Your contribution goes directly toward running The Order, including resources, research, paying our writers and staff, creating videos, podcasts, events and funding more frequent content. We’d love to keep pushing the funerary envelope in 2019. Visit our Support Us page, for a variety of easy ways to contribute, or become a patron on Patreon for exclusive content and rewards.