.a meditation on two events per day:
Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and transgender women represent an always-significant and increasingly-visible portion of the LGBTQ community. In addition to the legends of the Harlem Renaissance and the decades of groundbreaking activism spearheaded by women like Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith and Angela Davis, many of the most prominent coming out stories of the past two years have been black…
Bonita Lawrence and Enakshi Dua, “Decolonizing Antiracism”
I’ve discussed this issue before on my weekly podcast with unapologetically-yellow, but I’m revisiting this amazing piece by Bonita Lawrence and Enakshi Dua now after watching a great anti-racism advocate that I follow erase indigenous struggles yet again. It’s disturbing for me because despite ostensible calls for solidarity and a passion for social justice, anti-racism advocates and both critical race and postcolonial theorists perpetually overlook and erase the struggles of native peoples. The word “post-colonial” in and of itself is problematic because it ignores the fact indigenous peoples in the Americas are still undergoing colonization and being subjected to genocide. When we erase native struggles as social justice advocates, we are being complicit in the ongoing colonization and genocide of native peoples whom our settler-colonial states ultimately want to “disappear”— from our public discourse and ultimately from our world as well.
We also ignore our complicity as non-native people of color (along with white people) in this ongoing process of colonization and genocide with our very presence on indigenous lands. We forget historical facts like the Buffalo Soldiers, black soldiers for the US army who actively worked to dispossess native peoples of their lands in the West. We forget the “resounding silence” from suffragists, abolitionists, labor leaders and other incredible activists like Frederick Douglass around land theft and native genocide. We forget the unspoken assumption in “40 Acres and a Mule,” in which little discussion was made of whom those 40 acres originally belonged to. We forget that the same week that President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he also ordered the largest mass hanging in U.S. history of 38 Sioux Native Americans for rebelling in Minnesota.
[image description: a newspaper clipping stating, “Lincoln Ordered the Greatest Mass Hanging in America’s History” and describing the execution of 38 Sioux Native Americans for rebelling in Minnesota]
As Lawrence and Dua state:
Such events suggest connections between the anti-slavery movement, the ongoing theft of Indigenous land, and the forced relocation or extermination of its original inhabitants.
When Toni Morrison states that “modern life begins with slavery,” a statement which is true in many ways, how does that at the same time not contribute to the erasure of Indigenous presence and the genocide and colonization of native lands which preceded and occurred concurrently with and continued after the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade?
Ultimately, though, the biggest crime comes when we forget that the lands we live on (even as non-native POC) are ultimately not our own and carry deep political and spiritual significance to the native and indigenous peoples who were the original inhabitants of that land. We are also settlers.
Janani Balasubramanian of BlackGirlDangerous in a phenomenal piece titled, “What Do We Mean When We Say Colonized?" breaks this down succinctly by saying at one point:
Decolonization is not a metaphor. I’ve witnessed multiple non-Indigenous POC talk about creating ‘decolonized spaces’ or ‘decolonizing our minds’. Decolonization is not a just a set of processes to create more just racial relations. In the US, it literally involves unsettling non-Indigenous people. From Tuck and Wang’s article ‘Decolonization is not a metaphor’: ‘Decolonization brings about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools.’
This is not an exercise in “oppression olympics” but it is a call for all of us non-natives interested in social justice to understand the fundamental differences between our struggles and those of indigenous peoples, and for us to acknowledge and respect those differences. For us to understand that we are also settlers on native lands and that decolonization and reclaiming a relationship with the land lay at the center of native and indigenous struggles. That we not overlook and ignore native struggles and decolonizing discourse, but center them instead. And we realize that academic work in Critical Race Theory and postcolonial theory are far from perfect, and do tend to explicitly and repeatedly exclude indigenous voices and the importance of decolonization as well, to incredibly damaging effect. Anti-racism discourse as we know it is does not center decolonization and tends to not be very inclusive of indigenous struggles and the specific ways in which they are racialized and oppressed in turn.
The entire piece by Lawrence and Dua is fantastic and I highly recommend it, particularly for non-native POC like me, working to navigate and understand our place within imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy and our complicity in the colonial projects of the U.S. and Canada, which inherently hurt indigenous peoples every single day.
One of the most important things that happened to me this year was my “Gender and Post Colonialism” professor deciding to focus the entire course on settler-colonialism and indigeneity.
She pulled a switch on all of us in the class who were expecting to read the introductory “classics” in post-colonialism, and she forced us to literally walk around our communities and learn about the real history of our city - she basically forced all of us self described ~anti-racist~ students to deconstruct our own communities, and it was really eye-opening.
This Lawrence & Dua paper was assigned to us and is fairly specific to Canada, and the GTA, but it’s an amazing read and incredibly important.