Among the Others

The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Decolonizing Wealth (release date October 16, 2018 with Berrett-Koehler Publishers.) The book offers not just a provocative analysis of the dysfunctional colonial dynamics at play in philanthropy and finance, but also a potential road to transformation guided by Indigenous wisdom: Seven Steps to Healing. I hope this little appetizer makes you hungry for the book.


The concept of colonization followed the trend that seems to have begun when humans first became farmers and began managing, controlling, and “owning” other forms of life—plant and animal (this horrifying word, “livestock”). Conceptually, this required that humans think of themselves as separate from the rest of the natural world. This was the beginning of a divergence from the Indigenous worldview,which emphasizes connection, reciprocity, a circular dynamic.


The separation worldview goes like this, on an individual level, but also at every level of complexity: The boundaries of my body separate me from the rest of the universe. I’m on my own against the world. This terrifies me, and so I try to control everything outside myself, also known as the Other. I fear the Other, I must compete with the Other in order to meet my needs. I always need to act in my self-interest, and I blame the Other for everything that goes wrong.


Separation correlates with fear, scarcity, and blame, all of which arise when we think we’re not together in this thing called life. In the separation worldview, humans are divided from and set above nature, mind is separated from and elevated above body, and some humans are considered distinct from and valued above others—Us. Vs Them—as opposed to seeing ourselves as part of a greater whole.


The separation-based economy exploits natural resources and most of the planet’s inhabitants, for the gain of a few. It considers the earth an object, separate from us, with its resources existing solely for human use, rather than an understanding of the earth as a living biosphere of which we are just one part. Money, of course, has been used and is still constantly used to separate people: most fundamentally, into Haves vs. Have Nots.


Separation-based political systems create arbitrary nation-states with imaginary boundaries. Their laws and institutions oppress some groups and privilege others. Leaders and experts are considered a special breed, set apart from the common person; all the important choices are up to them. The separation-based political conversation revolves around the questions: Who should we fear? and who should we blame?


Most damaging of all, a long line of mostly White male bullies and sociopaths took the concept of separation and used it to justify oppression, slavery, and colonization by “scientifically” claiming the inferiority of Africans and indigenous people, among other Others.


Thanks for reading and sharing this. Stay tuned for next week’s Decolonizing Wealth post!

An enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, Edgar Villanueva is the Chair of the Board of Native Americans in Philanthropy, a Trustee of the Andrus Family Fund, and the Vice President of Programs and Advocacy at the Schott Foundation for Public Education. Having directed the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars for over a decade as a philanthropy professional, Edgar Villanueva diagnoses the dysfunction in the institutions, systems and people that deal with money: it’s 21st century colonialism. Integrating traditional indigenous wisdom with savvy financial experience, Villanueva explains how money can be used to facilitate relationships, to help us thrive, and to bring things back into balance.  Pre-order here:

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