Tag Archives: whiteness

Are White People Indigenous?

By Pegi Eyers, Stone Circle Press

The colonial history of the places we call home, and current political realities shape how we use the language of “nativization” and “re-indigenization” to describe our process of re-bonding with the land.  This blog addresses the current (and unresolved) controversy on the use of these terms, and describes the boundaries that are in place to ensure that as Settler-Allies we continue to support the First Nations of Turtle Island in their ongoing cultural and spiritual recoveries.

To talk about the ambiguities we encounter in our re-indigenization process as white folks, let’s start off by asking – who is indigenous?  And how do we define indigeneity?   

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(Originally published 10/7/2016)

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Dear White People: An Open Letter to White People on Becoming Indigenous

By Adebayo Akomolafe / bayoakomolafe.net

Dear white people,

For as long as I can remember, I have always been white. Like you. I just didn’t know it.

Born in the bipolar Nigerian city of soaring skyscrapers and sprawling slums, Lagos, where the sun sometimes forgot to dim its fierce heat, I grew up thinking I was black like everyone else. All the signs were there – including my black skin, my shy head-hugging hair, and my Yoruba name with its lyrical tonality and vaunted meanings.

There wasn’t much more to that identity, however. Nothing special. When I walked down Jemtok Street to buy my dad a small cold bottle of Guinness Extra Stout, it wasn’t ‘black’ music that people were dancing to in street parties or ‘black’ movie heroes that people were speaking animatedly about. We were all bedazzled by Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo, by the manner of speaking of those of us who were fortunate enough to visit your countries, and by your technological wizardry – evidenced in every gadget we owned or wanted to.

At school, we watched recorded clips of BBC news videos to learn how to pronounce English words properly. “Don’t open your mouth so wide”, our teachers would warn – not quite living up to their own imposed standards. During Christmas, my sisters and I didn’t understand why we were not allowed to hang our stockings on the front door[1], and cursed our misfortune when snow didn’t fall – like it did on TV.

Even though we preferred our own food (yours never seemed to have enough seasoning or fried chunks of meat), our own traditions (our elders felt kissing publicly meant you all had no proper ‘home training’), and our music, the soundtrack of our lives was the promise of traveling ‘Abroad’ and knowing the magic of meeting ‘oyinbo[2]’ people and living in ‘oyinbo’ lands. And living ‘oyinbo’ lives. The good life.

It was every thinking and non-thinking man’s dream. And for good reason: the West, your home, was heaven, and God lived there.

Needless to say, a steady undercurrent of self-loathing flowed through our lives – urging us to civilizational heights of whiteness. Urging us to wear three piece suits under a quizzical sun. Urging us to demonize our own traditions so that we could catch up with you.

We didn’t say it this way, but it was nonetheless inescapably true to us: if it was white, it was right.

But one day, at least for me, it ‘suddenly’ wasn’t.

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White Settlers and Indigenous Solidarity: Confronting White Supremacy, Answering Decolonial Alliances

“If white people who practice Indigenous solidarity miss, or never consider these nuances when invoking “settler” status, I am concerned that we then leave its whiteness normalized and unchallenged within our theories and activism. Reflecting on this has led me to a number of questions about how white people embracing the singular or uniform term “settler” may obscure differences among non-natives and reinforce our formation by white supremacy. For instance, if white people self-define through an oppressor role with respect to Indigenous people, does our emphasis on this let us evade naming our oppressor roles with respect to peoples of color? Or, if we think that these latter roles are subsumed or explained by the term “settler,” do our analyses and actions then demonstrate how this is so?”

Decolonization

White settlers who seek solidarity with Indigenous challenges to settler colonialism must confront how white supremacy shapes settler colonialism, our solidarity, and our lives. As a white person working in Canada and the United States to challenge racism and colonialism (in queer / trans politics, and solidarity activism) I am concerned that white people might embrace Indigenous solidarity in ways that evade our responsibilities to people of color and to their calls upon us to challenge all forms of white supremacy. This essay presents my responsibilities to theories and practices of decolonization that connect Indigenous and racialized peoples. I highlight historical studies by Indigenous and critical race scholars — notably, those bridging black and Indigenous studies — as they illuminate deep interlockings of white supremacy and settler colonialism. I call white settlers to become responsible to these, and related projects, so as to challenge the authority we might claim, or…

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Spaces Between Us: Queer settler colonialism and indigenous decolonization

Morgensen, Scott Lauria. Spaces between us : queer settler colonialism and indigenous decolonization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

From Settler Agrarian:

I skipped over a chapter in this summary and I found myself quoting Morgensen extensively as I tried to summarize, because so many of his claims were quite complicated and nuanced.  I’m still digesting this book; I might be able to say more about what I actually think about it later…

Morgensen’s book tracks what he calls “the biopolitics of settler colonialism” in queer movements.  He shows that the biopolitics of settler colonialism structures Native and non-Native queer movements, and their interrelationship.  Colonialism is always there; it structures desires and relationships, and it tends to remain naturalized in settler society: the targeting of indigenous communities for death seems natural, necessary, or already-accomplished.  In the intro, he advances three claims:

1)   “In the United States, modern queer cultures and politics have taken form as normatively white, multiracial, and non-Native projects compatible with a white settler society.

2)   Within broad transnational alliances (focused here in the United States), Native queer and Two-Spirit activists directly denaturalize settler colonialism and disrupt its conditioning of queer projects by asserting Native queer modernities.

3)   Settler colonialism and its conditioning of modern sexuality produce an intimate relationship between non-Native and Native queer modernities that I interpret as conversations (ix).

Thinking settler colonialism ‘biopolitically’ means “reading ‘modern sexuality’ as the array of discourses, procedures, and institutions that arose in metropolitan and colonial societies to distinguish and link primitive and civilized gender and sexuality, while defining racial, national, gendered, and sexual subjects and populations in biopolitical relationship.  The colonization of indigenous peoples was a “proviing ground for the biopolitics of settler colonialism,” which, he argues, “defines modern sexuality as ‘contact’ between queered indigeneity and its transcendence by settler sexuality” (23).  In short, settler colonial biopower affects all modern sexualities (32).  Heteropatriarchal settler colonialism sought “both the elimination of Indigenous sexuality and its incorporation into settler sexual modernity” (34).  He argues that the sovereign power of death and the relegation of indigenous people to a state of exception worked in tandem with “a modern and siciplinary education of desire that produced normative subjects of life” (34-5).  European sexualities fostered misogynist hierarchies and ‘queered’ indigenous peoples, interpreting transgressions of heteropatriarchy not only as abnormality in individuals, but as symptoms of a flawed society, requiring heteropatriarchal interventions and discipline (36-7).  This is part of a shift from the singling out of individuals (the regime of sovereignty) towards their subjection “with their communities to military attack, containment, or removal” (38).  Thus residential and reserve schools “used disciplinary education to try to break Native communities, languages, and cultural knowledges” without the need for “brute violence” (39).  This is part of the “deadly logic of regulation,” which never precluded overt and extreme violence, but nonetheless represents a distinct and pervasive aspect of colonialism (40-1)

So what are the implications of biopolitical settler colonialism for settlers?  Morgensen situates the subjugation of indigenous peoples as “proving ground” for the sexual regulation of settler societies and modern sexuality more generally.  Colonial settler subjectivity was still in formation, not yet naturalized: “far from reflecting the finality of conquest, this period was one of tense negotiations of active and contested settlement.  Any iteration of modern sexuality in this time that placed Native people in the past knew itself to be a contingent claim that remained open to challenge” (42).

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