patrick wolfe to tequila sovereign on settler colonialism as scholarly enterprise
So what’s specific about [settler colonialism]? Or even, as Cheryl Harris asked me at UCLA, why not just call it imperialism? My answer is that, within the imperialist social formation, the settler-colonial relation of invasion is as specific as the relation of slavery, which often accompanies it, but that it hasn’t had the same level of recognition as the relation of slavery and this defect should be corrected. This is one of the reasons why it’s crucial to recognize the uninterrupted operation of the logic of elimination after the frontier, including into the present. Slavery was technically abolished a century and a half ago. Not so the attempt to eliminate the Native alternative. The impression you get from many histories is the precise reverse – they have slavery living on as a kind of half-life in the present (as in important senses it obviously does) while Indian dispossession figures as a one-off thing of the past (which it categorically is not). Against this kind of background, it’s no wonder that confusion has arisen as to why Indian rights can look so different to African American rights. Add to this the confusion of color – as Nandita Sharma wanted us to do at UCLA – and the profound historical differences distinguishing the different historical relationships of oppression into which Euroamerican colonisers have respectively sought to co-opt Indians and Black people get occluded in a multiculturalist fog.
I assume it’s understood throughout that what I’m attempting to analyze is NOT a fait accompli. Lest there be any mistake on this point, I’m careful to use words like ‘seek’ and ‘attempt’ when I spell out the settler logic of elimination. Natives have always devised and will continue to devise modes of resistance and ways around settler discourse that frustrate it and prevent it from usurping their right to determine their collective identities and ways of doing things. All the same, there is a power imbalance (genocide has its consequences) and settler discourse continues to wreak havoc, so, as a contribution offered to Native resistance and anticolonial, antiracist solidarities, we can try to develop a clear-sighted understanding of the nature of settler colonialism – of its background, its effects and, most of all, of the limitations and contradictions of settler discourse that can be turned against themselves for liberatory ends.
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