After a bit of back and forth with myself on whether or not it was worth it to respond to an article by Ross Wolfe (1), in which a bumbling attempt is made to paint my article The ABCs of Decolonization as the height of absurdity, I have decided to take the proverbial plunge and jot down a few thoughts. For those critically familiar with Ross Wolfe, he is often known as a recalcitrant Eurocentrist at best, and a barely contained euro-racist at worst, and far less versed in Marxian and critical theory than he would like to lead you to believe. So I will admit at the outset that he decision to engage him is perhaps against my better judgement. However I have decided to do push forward precisely because the article by Wolfe, for all of its demonstrable euro-chauvinist flaws, does provide us with a nicely packaged teachable moment—indeed its euro-chauvinism is precisely why it is a useful pedagogical tool. The article helps to animate two particular points that I have been making for some time, on this blog and out in the real world. The first, and primary one that I want to address here, is one that has its antecedents going back at least as far as the thought of el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, who discussed “the white man’s guilty conscience.” The second is one that has arisen quite simply from direct experience and the analysis that has arisen from interaction with the broad “left” on this continent.
Firstly, even though it is, I imagine, unnecessary for anyone who actually understood what I wrote, it should be said that nowhere in my article (or anywhere else in anything I have ever written) do I actually call for the direct expulsion from Maehkaenah-Menaehsaeh of all settlers. I will say that I am not unsympathetic—as a response to five centuries of genocide, ecocide, and colonization—to the notion that recalcitrant fascists, minuteman border vigilantes, white nationalists, christian evangelical types and other assorted militant front-line functionaries of the settler colonial project be given a one way boat ride to parts elsewhere. However, that’s somewhat besides the point; I mention it purely as part of making myself clear. What I did say is that settler people—and settler radicals, if they are to genuinely claim the leadership that they make-believe they already possess, must be leading on this point—have to give up the notion that they have an inherent, natural right to a chunk of this land. Indeed, no author claiming some variant of the descriptive term indigenist, at least that I am familiar with, has ever made such a claim. However, reading Wolfe’s gibbering keyboard slappings (2) would certainly leave one with the impression that it is pretty par for the course for this particular intellectual stream of thought, and only demonstrates his own profound lack of familiarity with contemporary critical Indigenous discourse and theorization from related fields.
Moving on, it should again be obvious to most that these two things are qualitatively different statements, and that one does not necessarily lead to the other, try as Wolfe might to manhandle such a link into place. On a most basic level, that Wolfe reads the former into the latter in the words of my article could be read as simply an attempt on his part to occlude the subject and practice of decolonization. However, I would contend, that what he is doing here actually goes much deeper than that kind of superficial reading (true as it may be), and in fact demonstrates the point that Shabazz was making more than 50 years ago: that European, Euro-American and other white peoples (Israelies, Antipodeans, New Caledonians etc.) are well aware of the crimes that their nation(s) have committed against the colonized peoples of the world (and that they materially benefit from it too I would add) and have, as a result of this knowledge, a deeply ingrained fear that in the revolution all that they have done will be visited back upon them by the global majority with great ferocity. This feeling is beautifully contained by Africana existentialist and Fanon scholar Lewis R. Gordon when he says:
For the white man looks at the black man and wonders when it will all end, but the white man knows deep down that a just future is one in which he himself no longer exists in virtue of his ceasing to function at the End, or less ambiguously, the telos of Man. European Man dreads, then, as Lenin once put it, what is to be done (1995:12)
That Wolfe in such a clownish manner attempts to collapse a call for the expulsion of settlers—which is not, it must be pointed out, the only way to eliminate the category of settler, though, following Fanon, we must recognize that this category must be completely destroyed—into the line I put forth is indicative of this kind of white anxiety. Ongoing accumulation by dispossession is so deeply fundamental to the material basis, and attendant ideological outgrowths, of settler society (Coulthard 2014) that a call for even a small fraction of the bare minimum of decolonial justice—the return of what was taken from us—is interpreted as a clarion call for some kind of white genocide (and in this, the fear of white genocide, the circle between the white left and the white right becomes complete). Think visions of cattle cars—or perhaps much more aptly: a trail of (white) tears—in which Europeans, Euro-Americans and other white peoples are shipped off to be reeducated on small, barren portions of land, through labouring to help (re)build up our societies.
This deep anxiety informs a not insignificant portion of knee jerk settler colonial and First World responses to genuine decolonial and anti-colonial politics, ethics and theory.
That Wolfe attempts to indict me further by claiming that my article, if followed to logical conclusions, would additionally include the expulsion of East Asians, Middle Easterners, and people from the Indian Subcontinent (3) is again an attempt to forcibly insert something into the text that is not there. Indeed, it puts to lie his purported claim to be quite well versed in contemporary Marxian and critical theory type politics. Anyone who has taken the time to examine and study the development in fields such as Settler Colonial Studies and Indigenous Critical Theory would no doubt have come across the distinction increasingly being made increasingly within those particular milieus between the concepts of settlers and “arrivants” and the slow, correct, push back against the broad category of settlers of colour (Byrd 2011). While itself not a perfect concept, in particular for, in some ways, arguably glossing over the specificity of anti-Black racism (King 2014), the concept of arrivants, which I make extensive use of in my thinking, has helped to provide the necessary structural and phenomenological distinction between settlers as simply a broad category negatively defined as not indigenous, and settlers as a ontological position defined through how they are placed within the political structures of culture, society, law, and philosophy, what they can and cannot be within the world, and what capabilities and powers they have (Saar 2012).
Indeed his apparent lack of awareness on this point, I would note, is a pretty searing indictment of his own Euro-chauvanist theoretical myopia, and goes a long way towards demonstrating that his “analysis” is filled much more with a sense of self-importance than they are with actual meaningfulness. Again, I believe that Wolfe is taking his own uninterrogated fear that the we, the Red Indian Savage Folk and our old African allies, are coming literally for the heads and homes of him and his ilk and mapping it onto others in such a way as to try and make decolonial politics (not just my own, but the entire radical indigenist stream of thought and practice) seem patently ridiculous. Again, perhaps Wolfe is being intentionally disingenuous in an attempt to obfuscate the issue, but if he is, it is linked to some much deeper anxieties.
The secondary point that he, and others like him, demonstrate in their varied responses to my article is that overwhelmingly the “left”, outside of, in my opinion, the broad category of “Third Worldist,” whether Marxist (of any variety) or anarchist, academic or non, are, on the whole, not friends of Indigenous people, and will not be able to be counted upon as allies in our liberation/decolonization struggle. This is precisely because they cannot make, or rather do not want to make, the conceptual and practical leap towards a genuine anti-colonial politics because they know that do so would mean the betrayal of the parasitic world that they are a part of. Unfortunately though it should go without saying that they, the genuine anti-Eurocentrists, are, in the current juncture, few and fair between vis-à-vis the broad category of “the left” (even as they grow). The kind of unapologetically Eurocentric, settlerist, First Worldist rubbish demonstrated by the bulk of the North American “left” sadly rules the day. We who see ourselves as part of a genuinely decolonial Indigenous liberation movement have to come to grips with this unfortunate truth. It also must be noted that most of the people who would claim leadership of what could be said to pass for such a movement often also profoundly miss this. If we sit and wait for even the most “woke” sectors of the settler population to “come to their senses” and “see the real enemy” we’re frankly going to be waiting here for another 500 years. I can’t wait that long? Can you?
(1)I’m loathe to link to his article, and feed his website more traffic, as i agree with the comment by a comrade that “Responding to Ross Wolfe is always a mistake. That’s North American leftist internet 101,” but my point of using it as a pedagogical tool necessitates the people actually read his nonsense.
(2)Wolfe’s claiming that Palestine and Tibet as the world’s only remaining colonies should, on its own, be grounds for immediate disqualification of his attempt at a form of commentary as anything that should be taken seriously.
(3)Not to mention his addition into his indictment of me that my line would call for the expulsion of of mixed-blood persons. No serious indigenist anti-colonial thinker has ever seriously argued for this kind of patently ridiculous line. Indeed, the pendulum swings the other way than it seems Wolfe is aware, because many, if not every single one, of the most important thinkers to indigenism see mixed-blood people as an inseparable component of our nations.
Byrd, Jodi A. 2011. The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota.
Coulthard, Glen. 2014. Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Gordon, Lewis R. 1995. Fanon and the Crisis of European Man: An Essay on Philosophy and the Human Sciences. New York, NY: Routledge.
King, Tiffany. 2014. “Labor’s Aphasia: Toward Antiblackness as Constitutive to Settler Colonialism.” Decolonization.
Saar, Martin. 2012. “What Is Political Ontology?” Krisis 1: 79-83.
The imagine at the top of this article is taken from Kwakwaka’wakw activist, artist and author Gord Hill’s War on the Coast comic.