It took me a long time to realize that the difference between settler colonialism and franchise/metropolitan/regular-old colonialism was the hinge for what I’m trying to do with the relationship between the United States and Kenya in my dissertation. In a very complicated way, of course; the problem with Kenya settlers is that they thought they were a settler colony when they actually weren‘t and couldn’t be, a problem they had in common with South African settlers, for whom the problem was not as grave but just as unsolvable. There just weren’t enough settlers, such that the colonial economy — and thus, the keys to the kingdom — always rested, in the final analysis, on African labor. The white settler community wanted Kenya to be a “white man’s country,” like the United States and Australia, and they failed because they lost the demographic war they often didn’t even realize they were fighting.
The reason it took me so long to find that piece of the conceptual puzzle, I think, was because “post-colonialism,” to the extent one can generalize, had quite programmatically taught me not to observe the distinction. Theorists of colonialism and postcolonialism tend to treat “it” like it’s one thing, tend to act as if it had a definite historical form and anatomy about which a variety of generalizations can be made and from which all sorts of statements about culture can be derived. This is not surprising; the pantheon of postcolonialist thinkers who rose to prominence in the 80′s traded on that notion quite successfully — and wrote a lot of important work whose foundational statusis is more or less proven by the extent to which we’ve moved beyond it — yet to the extent that “postcolonialism” became a subject of knowledge, it tended to turn “empire” and “colonialism” into an increasingly singular thing.
Without attributing intention to the founders of that canon, it’s not surprising that it happened that way. In part, making “the colonial” into a very specific thing allowed us to enjoy a triumphalist sense of post-colonialism in the present, insulating us in time from the sins of the past, and in this way making postcolonialism a safe discourse for us now. And it is also insulated us in political space; since empire was a thing that Britain and France did, the American postcolonialists — which was most of them — could safely excoriate the sins of an empire with whose legacy their audience had almost nothing to do with. The more specifically you defined “the postcolonial,” after all, the fewer people you alienated.
More here: ‘Postsettlerism is not a good thing’
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