Notes on fake decolonization

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Photo by Mohd Aram on Unsplash

What counts as “authentic” decolonization as the term takes over our social media and influencer bubbles? And how we can sharpen our activism.

By Bhakti Shringarpure, Africa Is A Country

Decolonization has taken over our social media timelines with a vengeance. With hundreds of thousands of “decolonize” hashtags, several articles, op-eds, and surveys on the subject—and plenty of Twitter fighting over the term—one thing is clear: decolonization is all kinds of trendy these days. So, we are naturally forced to ask: What counts as “authentic” decolonization in 2020? Much irritation is generated around how terms like “decolonization” or “decolonize” or “decolonizing” are used, and who is allowed to use them. Only this week, a writer was being flogged on Twitter for saying that it is time to “decolonize” the World Bank and IMF on Al Jazeera. No real attention was paid to the powerful institutions he was criticizing but to the fact that the writer used the term “decolonize.” With these debates getting so territorial and snarky, it’s time to break it down for the haters and the mockers so we can discern the fake from the feeble and the nefarious from the silly.

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Compost the Colony: Exploring Anarchist Decolonization

Photo credit: RÍONA O’REGAN

By Alexander Dunlap, Tvergastein Journal

The term “decolonization” has gained prominence within the University over the last decade. From diets to international security, academics are talking about decolonizing. While the watering down and co-optation of the term “decolonization” is recognized (Tuck and Yang, 2012; Grosfoguel, 2016; IAM, 2017), this article briefly examines how anarchism might be useful for decolonization: what is anarchist decolonization or decoloniality? The recent article by Lina Álvarez and Brendan Coolsaet (2020) on “Decolonizing Environmental Justice Studies” indicates the affinity between anarchism and decolonization without saying it directly. In response, this article provides a conception of anarchist decolonization, which is accomplished by briefly reviewing a multiplicity of anarchist positions, before locating and responding to observable tensions within decolonial theory from which anarchist decolonization departs.

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Let Empire collapse: why we need a decolonial revolution

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Member of the American Indian movement poses next to a toppled Columbus statue in Minneapolis. JUNE 10, 2020 Photo: Ben Hovland / Shutterstock.com

Repatriating Indigenous land and organizing anti-state Indigenous-Black-POC Power alternatives is better than pouring resources into the liberal-progressive vote.

By Mohamed Abdou, Roar Magazine

I am part of a We that says: “Let Empire collapse.” A We that says to build alternatives to Empire, we must expose the illegitimacy of the dreadful dream we are in. Instead of trying to shore or salvage the world as it is, we need to recognize with Audre Lorde that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

I am part of a We that says: “We love and respect you, Angela Davis and your behemoth ongoing legacy of indispensable teachings that are fundamental to the centuries-old struggle we confront,” but we will not be castigated into voting or fall into the trap of “lesser of two evil” arguments that have been critiqued time and time again.

We do not buy the story that we are at a crossroads and have the opportunity to finally fulfill America’s promise by ushering in a new era of Dwight D. Eisenhower-inspired eco-friendly dominance. We are not fooled by the repackaged, false, liberal-progressive hope of a Joe Biden-Kamala Harris-Bernie Sanders coalition that normalizes — rather than contends with — America’s imperialist settler-colonial existence. And which by design cannot allow life-saving reforms such as universal healthcare, student debt cancellations, housing and immigrant rights, racial and environmental justice, abolitionist defunding and dismantlement initiatives and worker protections.

We anticipated Donald J. Trump’s ascendance and expected Bernie Sanders’ demise when few did. We tell you, here, now, as a cautionary tale that it will be no surprise if Trump wins a second term. In fact, the seeds for his potential victory were laid the day of his inauguration because of how resistance and liberation came to be defined — as resistance to Trump rather than liberation from settler-colonial oppression.

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The Settler Logics of (Outer) Space

“River of Souls” by Carl Gawboy (as published in Indian Country Today, 4/2/16)

By Deondre Smiles, Society+Space

In this essay, I position the logics of settler colonialism and the logics of space exploration dominion over both space on earth, and interplanetary space at the expense of Indigenous peoples. I then look to Indigenous conceptions of space as a potential foil to these colonial logics.

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Deondre Smiles, Ph.D. is a postdoctoral scholar at The Ohio State University. A citizen of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, his ongoing research agenda is situated at the intersection of critical Indigenous geographies and political ecology, centered in the argument that tribal protection of remains, burial grounds, and more-than-human environments represents an effective form of ‘quotidian’ resistance against the settler colonial state.

Decolonizing ecology

By Jade Delisle, Briarpatch

Around the time wildfires were blanketing Calgary in smoke last year, I attended a local leftist reading group. They were discussing the impacts of capitalism on natural disasters, agreeing that the wildfires were exacerbated by both global warming and by neoliberal austerity. But when I put forward that invasive, non-indigenous plant species including trees and industrially farmed crops added degrees of severity to the crisis, and that traditional Indigenous systems of land stewardship could help mitigate or prevent natural disasters, I was taken aback by the group’s dismissive response. I was told by the main organizer that my approach to ecology was backwards-looking and idealized pre-capitalist societies, and that without an orientation to the future I risked venerating the stereotype of a “noble savage” in a “lost world.” 

At a time when Indigenous land defenders are fighting for cultural resurgence and the application of traditional knowledge to combat the climate crisis, they are often cast as the monolithic, mystical, degrowth opposition to the secular modernity of white leftists and their fully automated socialist future. In reality, solutions to ecological and social problems that were historically or are presently used by non-European cultures are compatible with modern technology, often in consensus with cutting-edge scientific findings, and more necessary than ever. 

Indigenous Peoples now make up less than five per cent of the world’s population, but the lands they maintain hold 80 per cent of the planet’s biodiversity. Protecting and restoring Indigenous Peoples’ lands is the fastest and most readily available way to sequester carbon and mitigate the impacts of climate change, a result of the optimally efficient relationships between fungi, plants, animals, and people in a given bioregion, which Indigenous cultures have coded into their knowledge systems over millennia of human-environmental interactions. 

Still, those lands are being stolen and mismanaged by colonists who believe that their environmental and clean energy projects – eco-tourism, national parks, and hydroelectric dams  – will be more effective than millennia of land stewardship by Indigenous Peoples. Even when they haven’t yet been invented or scaled-up, theoretical solutions like machines that suck carbon dioxide directly out of the air (which would, themselves, require absurd amounts of energy) are emphasized over habitat restoration. 

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Land-Based Ethics and Settler Solidarity in a Time of Corona and Revolution

Artwork by Rae Minji Lee

By Natalie Avalos, The Arrow

Settler colonialism has been defined as a structure, not an event, meaning that settler societies like the U.S., Canada, and Australia endure over time through racist laws and ideologies that naturalize the dispossession of Indigenous populations. One of the most effective strategies that settler states rely on to eliminate Indigenous peoples and their power is the idea that their knowledges are primitive and superstitious, examples of failed epistemology. This view is rooted in an Enlightenment-born materialism that asserts that legitimate knowledge can only be produced through narrow empirical methods, relegating the negotiations of immaterial life to the social margins. As the colonial project progresses, legitimate knowledge production is simultaneously tethered to race and power (reserved to the white and landed), resulting in what we have come to know as modernity.

Settler colonialism seeks to eliminate Indigenous populations in order to monopolize resources for the sake of capital. It operates through laws and racist ideologies, but also through conceptualizations of the natural world as white men’s for the human taking. Settler colonialism operates from its own metaphysic, producing what I call a settler ecology, which dispossesses peoples but also lands. If settlers want to understand how to effectively address environmental crises, then they have to interrogate the logics of settler colonialism—racialization, white supremacy, and myths of development—as structural dimensions of modern life. Our collective quarantine has dovetailed into an all-out revolution; one that is an all-out indictment of colonialism itself. This time is ripe for this very conversation.

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COVID-19 Denialism is Rooted in the Settler Colonial Mindset

“American Progress” by John Gast

By Kollibri terre Sonnenblume, Macska Moksha Press

COVID denialism in the US is problematic to say the least. The nation is facing a public health crisis that’s far worse than it needs to be, as shown by the examples of countless other nations around the world that have largely suppressed the first wave. In fact, the US is one of the most dangerous places to be for this pandemic.

We have failed to pursue common sense policies and collective action here due to the ignorant attitudes not only of our leadership but of a significant share of our population.

Three recent interviews I did for my podcast, “Voices for Nature & Peace,” highlighted the connection between this unfortunate state of affairs and our status as a settler-colonial state. These three guests were Margaret Kimberley, a columnist at the Black Agenda Report and member of the Black Alliance for Peace; Joanna Pocock, the Canadian-born, London-residing author of “Surrender,” a memoir about living in the western US; and Alley Valkyrie, a US American activist, writer and artist in France.

What is “settler colonialism”? A method of expanding a nation’s area in which ordinary citizens take the lead by physically occupying un-ceded land themselves, using violence or the threat of violence, often for resource extraction activities like mining, ranching, logging or farming. Spreading religion is another justification. When the area’s original inhabitants defend themselves—or even when they don’t, and just try to negotiate peacefully—they are moved or massacred by the nation’s military. (Hence the term, “calling in the cavalry.”)

The United States of America was founded this way, as waves of European colonists moved from east to west, dispossessing Native Americans of their home territories as they went. In fact, one of the two main reasons for seeking independence from the British was because they forbade colonists from stealing land west of the Appalachians. The other main reason was to preserve and spread the institution of slavery.

Though “the frontier” was officially declared closed in 1890, and the so-called “Indian Wars” are said to have ended by 1924, the US remains a settler colonial state. The physical occupation is ongoing, as well as the mindsets that motivate it.

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Decolonizing Psychology: Relegated To The Margins, Our Humanity with Sunil Bhatia

From Last Born In The Wilderness

At its root, Western Psychology is colonial. With that in mind, what would a decolonized psychology include and exclude in its framework? As Sunil addresses in his work and in this interview, Psychology, as a social science, has served the Western colonialist project in all its forms. Even as we have entered into a “post-colonial” period over the past century or more, the impacts of colonization on numerous populations around the world are still felt presently, profoundly so. Officially, Western nation-states have abandoned previously defined colonies to self-governance (after centuries of various forms of anti-colonial resistance). But, the processes of an “internalized colonization” continue to manifest from a globalized, neoliberal socioeconomic system that is structurally founded on the long-lasting legacies of colonialism and white supremacy. 

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To Breathe Together: Co-Conspirators for Decolonial Futures

By Sefanit Habtom and Megan Scribe, Yellowhead Institute

AS THE COVID-19 pandemic continues, many increasingly ask, “when will things go back to normal?”, “can we ever go back to the way things were?” and, in even more frightened moments, “could this be the end of the world?”

For Black, Indigenous, and Black-Indigenous peoples, these are not new questions. Since white settler ships landed on Indigenous shores with enslaved Black people in cargo holds, we have asked these very questions; but have asked them without ever letting the uncertainty of the answers deter us from striving to unmake the so-called “New World” in pursuit of something otherwise.

Unmaking is a desire for worlds in which Black, Indigenous, and Black-Indigenous peoples can breathe and live full lives.

The original prompt for writing this piece was “how can Indigenous people show up for Black communities right now?” But we have taken a slightly different approach, thinking instead about our shared experience of surviving within white settler society, while at the same time, taking seriously the antiblack and genocidal imperatives that mark us differently.

Tiffany Lethabo King has called on Black and Indigenous Studies academics, activists, and artists to imagine “how Black and Native communities can ‘end this world’ and remake reality and its relations on more just terms” (2019, p. 209). To engage with this call, we reflect on the violent conditions bringing Black, Indigenous, and Black-Indigenous peoples together and collaborative paths forward.

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About the Authors

Sefanit HabtomSefanit Habtom is a doctoral student in the department of Social Justice Education, at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. Her research is on Black student organizing that focuses on land. She is Eritrean and hails from Vancouver, BC.

Megan ScribeMegan Scribe (Ininiw iskwew, Norway House Cree Nation) is an interdisciplinary Indigenous feminist researcher, writer, and educator. Scribe is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Ryerson University. Her research establishes connections between violence in the lives of Indigenous girls and settler colonialism. She is a longtime Community Council Member for Aboriginal Legal Services’ Diversion Program and a member of the Planning Committee for the annual Strawberry Ceremony.

Colonialism and Anti-Colonialism in the Second International

Karl Marx’s own ambiguous and sometimes contradictory views on colonialism meant that the Second International would debate over the correct view on the matter. Donald Parkinson gives an overview of these debates, arguing that Communists today must unite around a clear anti-colonial and anti-imperialist program. 

Reactionary political cartoon. Reads: “Social-Democracy is against world politics; against colonies, against the army and navy!”

Reactionary political cartoon. Reads: “Social-Democracy is against world politics; against colonies, against the army and navy!”

By Donald Parkinson, Cosmonaut

Today, when Marxism seems to be under constant intellectual assault, we hear the claim that Marxism is a Eurocentric ideology, that it is a master narrative of the European world. It could be tempting to simply dismiss this claim on its face. After all, most Marxists today live in the non-European and non-white world, inspired by the role Marxism played in anti-colonial struggles. Yet we should always pay attention to our critics, regardless of how bad-faith they may be. They can help us understand our own blind spots and weaknesses and better understand ourselves. As a result, we should take the question of Eurocentrism seriously and engage in a critical self-reflection of our own ideas. A closer look at both the works of Marx and the history of Marxist politics tells us that there were indeed Eurocentric strains in Marx’s thought. Yet through its capacity to critically assess itself Marxism has, to varying degrees of success, overcome its Eurocentrism to develop a true universalism, against a false universalism that only serves to cover for a deeper European provincialism.

Marxism developed in Europe as a worldview designed to secure the emancipation of the world from class society. This is the source of internal tension within Marxism: on one end there is the universalist scope of Marxism, an ideology designed to unite all of humanity in a common struggle. On the other end, there is the source of Marxism in the continent of Europe, an ideology that was shaped by the specific processes of capitalist development that propelled Europe into an economic power standing above the rest of the world. It would be foolish to simply dismiss charges that Marxism contains Eurocentric elements that exist in tension with its universalism. There is no better example of these tensions in Marxism than the different views on colonialism within the movement.

Colonialism in the history of Marxist thought served as a challenge for Marxism to overcome its own Eurocentrism. Within the works of Marx one can find different approaches to colonialism that could be read as apologetic to colonial expansion or firmly opposed to it, supporting the struggles of colonized people against their dispossession. As a result, the followers of Marx who formed the mass parties that came to be known as the Second International did not have a single position on colonialism that they could take from Marx. There was instead a series of often contradictory positions on colonialism within his work that provided justifications both for supporting colonialism and opposing it. There was also a theoretical heritage within Marxism, economistic developmentalism, that would be used to justify colonialism in the name of socialism.

To better understand these tensions in Marxism, we should examine Marx’s views on colonialism and the first major debates on colonialism in the Second International. These debates are an important part of a greater historical narrative, in which Marxism developed as an ideology in Europe and became the siren song of countless anti-colonial revolts against European domination. Marxism was able to overcome its initial Eurocentrism, but not without a struggle internal to itself and its intellectuals. In better understanding the history of this intellectual struggle, we can better identify the theoretical errors that held Marxism back from becoming a truly universalist worldview, which could serve as a political creed for the emancipation of the world, not only Europe.

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