I don’t vote. I can’t vote actually. Neither in my adopted home country of Canada, nor in the United States of America, though my family is from the latter, and it is technically possible for me to register to vote via absentee ballot in the state of Wisconsin. There is also of course the whole argument to be made about the futility of voting. Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, Malcolm X and Emma Goldman all taught us that significant change will likely never come from the ballot box. I think that is true. As a friend and colleague—a decolonial indigenous feminist philosopher extraordinaire—is fond of saying: you can’t fix liberalism with more liberalism. Additionally, there is an argument that, for us as First Nations (status & non-status), Xicano, Kānaka Maoli, Métis, Inuit, Boricua, Genízaro and African people here in Occupied Maehkaenah-Menaehsaeh, voting is ultimately a practice of affirmation and legitimization of the systems of settler colonial, anti-Black and parasitic capitalist oppression. There is something to be said on that regard as well I believe.
The point of this though is not to make an argument for or against involving ourselves in the imperialist electoral system. I didn’t do that this time last year when Canada ran through its federal electoral cycle, and I don’t intend to do it now. Rather, I want to take a moment to comment on the meaning of this most recent American electoral contest. Because I do believe that it does mean something. I believe that it is a sign of the times; a signpost for the ongoing and deepening crisis of imperialist parasitism internationally and the settler/master colonial regime “domestically.”
I know a lot of my relatives are scared of Trump. Mmy mother called me at 1:30 AM on Tuesday night to tell me that she thought she was going to throw up. My younger brother, who lives in Waabanakiing and works as an electrician, told me this morning that he thinks he should leave his job, for the health of both his body and soul, with the fact that many of his co-workers are white Trump supporters weighing heavily on his mind in those considerations.
So what does this election mean for us? As Indigenous Peoples? Red Peoples? Earth Peoples? What does it mean for us as our resistance grows at Standing Rock, against the Back Forty Mine and in every other corner of our occupied homelands?
I truly do not think that many of us bought the lie of the election. Hillary Clinton many us correctly recognized was the smiling, superficially friendly aspect of the white power terror formation that is settler colonialism. Trump on the other hand was the rude, blunt in-your-savage-face truth of it all. Either one would have been an implacable enemy of our Nations, just as every president who has ever taken office has been an Indian Killer and a Slave Catcher.
Neither do I think that many of us also ever bought the lie that the United States of America (or Canada for that matter) has ever entered into a supposedly “post-racial” era. When you live the bare life of Red life, when you experience all of the violence and all of the pain, when you have to face down on a daily basis the multiple, converging vectors of death that are constantly arrayed against us, you know this proposition cannot possibly be the truth. We know we have lost our languages, our cultures, our traditional ways of being, our familial connections and, not least by any measurement, our lands, and we know that the fault for these things lays firmly at the feet of the Beast, the Empire, these things we call the united states and Canada. We also struggle, in the most beautiful and inspiring ways, every day in our communities, whether rural or urban, and in our own personal daily lives to bring these connections back, to revive and renew our kinship to all of creation and our relatives. And we know that we are winning, but at the same time we know that we are doing so against the interests and machinations of those settler/master nation-state powers who claim sovereignty over our bodies, our lands and our nations.
But there is also something deeper going on here with the way that now president-elect Donald Trump has come to occupy the position of the new emperor that I want to briefly dissect. I think comrade Nick Estes, Lakota historian at the University of New Mexico and co-founder of The Red Nation, hit the nail squarely on the head on Facebook Tuesday night, as the early signs of a Trump victory were rolling in, when he said:
[T]he immense ground swell of national movements for liberation, whether native or black, has drawn the inevitable ire of the settler bent on revenge and retaking what was perceived as ‘lost.’
This a truth that needs to be spoken, but which is somewhat heretical amongst the amorphously labelled “left” on this continent—whether anarchist, Marxist, postautonomist, progressive liberal, etc. I think Van Jones, as a CNN panelist Tuesday night actually spoke the truth quite well, referring to the election as a “whitelash” against the changing composition of the U.S. settler/master empire. Of course he wanted us to believe on the flip that Clinton was not some kind of deeply embedded agent of said empire, which has in its DNA the dispossession and genocide of Native peoples, anti-Black racism and the enduring legacy of African enslavability, and an orientalist cognition of the peoples of the Arab World, the Ummat al-Islamiyah, the Indian Subcontinent and the “Far East” which positions them as always-already simultaneously exotic and inferior rival civilizations and thus threats that anchor the eternal war footing in defense of its physical and psychic well-being. But Van Jones is ultimately a liberal. You get the point.
So I believe, absolutely, that this election is a culmination of forces that have lived deep in this land since the time of First Contact. It has ebbs and flows, but it has always been there. Indeed, as if by some great cosmic joke, Trump was elected on 18 Brumaire in the old revolutionary French calendar, and so I find it quite apt here to quote Marx:
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. (Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon)
So with that in mind, I will say that the signs of this currently cresting white wave began to appear at least as far back as 2009. I find myself remembering back to Al Jazeera English’s programme People & Power and its excellent episode that year entitled White Power USA which discussed the absolutely astronomical rise in the white right, in particular armed white militia-type organizations, following the election of the first Black person to the Whitest House. Alongside this we of course then saw an avalanche of other forms of white settler/master reaction. It was not long before we witnessed the emergence of the Tea Party, which carried firearms into Washington D.C. and called for a second American revolution. We also saw the rise of the closely related Birther Movement, which so deeply could not fathom that a Black person could become president that it reacted in the most mind-boggling of ways: the belief that the only possibility was that he was born on the African continent, and thus ineligible for the office. The past eight years has seen a veritable explosion of other unabashedly white supremacist and settler/master revanchist forces in the U.S. from the Ku Klux Klan (which actually endorsed Trump, though on camera he feigned ignorance) to an array of Neo-Nazi and Fascist-type forces.
At the same time Obama was white power wearing the face of the colonized. He was never intended to be anything but that. Indeed he, in many key ways, “out Bushed Bush” as I’ve often said of him over the years. He’s sent drones to bomb countries the Bush-Cheney regime could have only dreamt of. His foreign policy has rained absolute chaos upon the people of Syria, reinforced the vicious settler colonial regime in Israel, and broadly sown war and human suffering across North Africa, the Levant, Gulf of Aden and Mesopotamia. He’s deported more of our Indigenous family from south of the Rio Grande than any other president in history. He’s been a stalwart brick-in-the-wall against Native struggles. He never lifted a finger to stop the daily violence inflicted on our Red and Black peoples and nations. He placed a $2 million bounty on the head of Black Liberation Army warrior and modern-day Maroon Assata Shakur. Under his imperial administration Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu Jamal, Sundiata Acoli, Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, Oscar López Rivera, Mutulu Shakur, Jalil Muntaqim, Byron ‘Oso Blanco’ Chubbuck and many other Red and Black political prisoners and prisoners of war have continued to languish in prison. The water in Flint is still undrinkable and the Navajo reservation and other Indigenous communities still remain “zones of national sacrifice.”
But that wasn’t enough for a significant portion of the settler/master population. And on this we must be clear that it is a significant portion. It serves us absolutely no good to live in an imagined world where these forces represent a minority; a particularly noisy one, but one never-the-less. For many citizens of the American settler/master garrison, after eight years of a Black president—no matter how imperialist, how neocolonialist, how capitalist, and after being constantly warned by forces of the right-wing, whitestream media of an impending demographic catastrophe—when they gazed deep into their souls on Tuesday night, they found only a sickly grinning mass of white nationalists.
Again, make no mistake, Clinton also represents settler colonialism, antiblackness, Orientalism, capitalist parasitism, imperial white power and perpetual war upon the colonized and poor peoples of the Third and Fourth Worlds and the ecological web in which we are all embedded. The Clinton Dynasty has been responsible for unimaginable terror and imperialist murder which has been unleashed on the peoples of Rwanda, Somalia, Haiti, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Palestine and Yugoslavia. They were responsible for putting into place domestic colonial policies that significantly increased federal funding for police and prisons in Black and Urban Indigenous communities, which in turn have led to increased, horrific police murder and incarceration of Red and Black people. The Clinton Foundation stole billions of dollars from the impoverished people Haiti, money that was supposed to build hospitals. As Secretary of State, Hillary oversaw a regime in the Honduras that murdered Indigenous rights leaders.
However in the context of this electoral contest Clinton was the measured bourgeois technocrat. She argued for fine-tuning the system in the interests of big capital, financial capital and neoliberal globalization. Trump was, and is, something different. He was elected to take a sledgehammer to a system that many settlers believed was being taken over by creeping political correctness, feminism, Black, Red and Brown peoples, and a neoliberal capitalism that sent their jobs oversees.
The militia movements. The Border vigilantes. The Neo-Nazis and Klansman. The Birther Movement. The Tea Party. These were the proverbial canaries in the coal mine regarding the attitudes of a significant sector of the settler/master population, years before Trump ever took those first steps that have now lead him to the post of commander-in-chief. Trump was not the origin, but rather the culmination in many ways of those (re)emergent forces of white reaction. For many of his white working class supporters, who helped him absolutely crumble the traditional liberal democratic stronghold of the Rust Belt and Upper Midwest, the fine tuning of neoliberalism, settler colonialism, anti-Black racism and imperialism are not enough. No, for them, the maintenance of naked white power was, and is, the principal goal. They see their way of life under threat, as comrade Estes said, by the insurgent movements for liberation, decolonization, reparation and rematriation of Red Peoples, Black peoples, and all other oppressed peoples in the world.
And they are not wrong. Following Fanon we know that the task before us is, in many ways, a quest to destroy the world. We know, again following Fanon, that the category of the settler/master must come to an end. It is a simple fact that the reclamation of Indigenous land, the abolition of modern slavery in all its form and the liberation of the worldwide African and Black community, and an end to the parasitic capitalist world-economy would obliterate the pedestal upon which the settler/master stands. So the signs of an America, their America, in decline were there in stark relief, and they saw it. Someone simply had to pull on those strings of white rage, and Trump was the person perfectly poised to do just that.
The left, again, of whatever stripe, has never really seemed willing to deal with that. Given the chaos and upheavals in both the continental settler colonial regime and global capitalist world-system, driven by movements for liberation and decolonization, it is likely that this is only going to intensify. Those amongst the left, especially the white left, need to deeply grapple with these issues. They need to work to dislocate themselves from their own imbrication in the Eurocentric and parasitic order of things. Only then will they be able to see the world for how it really is.
The nasty in-your-face truth of whiteness, or more correctly white power, is that it is so much deeper than an issue of false consciousness, hegemonic culture or ideology. Those things of course all profoundly important. I would never deny that. But we indeed do ourselves a profound disservice when we buy into what amounts to left-wing conspiracy theories which postulate that possessive whiteness is simply a mask, a front, a veneer, that obscures class relations, or some other dispensation of power, that are supposedly more fundamental than these other antagonisms and contradictions.
Whiteness is not superstructural, and it is so much more than white (skin) privilege. If there is anything I have picked up from analytic philosophy it is the need for absolute conceptual clarity, and this is why I speak of white power. Because it isn’t just suprestructural. Whiteness is more than a question of privilege, of false consciousness, hegemony, ideology and similar things. No, white power is a materialist relationship. It is a relationship built on stolen land, stolen labour, and stolen resources. Driven by overlapping logics of Indigenous elimination, negrophobia, Orientalism and parasitism, it is a relationship built upon a mountain of beaten and broken, dead and dying, Red, Brown and Black bodies. Whiteness is nothing more, and nothing less, than conspicuous consumptive death.
And, against the cries of heresy from within the left, we must be firm and declare that as whiteness is a materialist relationship, it is a relationship in which there are material benefits to those on top. The settler working class, those who veered so hard into the Trump camp, benefit from stolen Indigenous land, stolen Black labour, and ongoing targeted violence against our bodies and nations. Indeed their entire society would not exist without it, and whiteness, as an attitude, is outlined in part by a deep, one might even say pathological, sense of territorial entitlement: this is their land damnit, their country; they fought for it and they will fight to death to keep it.
They also benefit deeply from the parasitic structure of the modern/colonial/capitalist world-economy, a world-economy in which the handful of wealthy countries absorb value and the inexpensive products of Third World labour—which are dispersed to the metropolitan working class through superwages, cheap goods and a social democratic welfare state—while exporting death, pain and immiseration to the colonies on a global scale.
And, as I said, this is the world that is under threat. It is under threat because the oppressed peoples of the Third and Fourth Worlds are rising up to take back what is ours: our lands, our resources, and our lives. The material basis is crumbling.
As another comrade, himself a revolutionary anti-imperialist and long-time resident of Appalachia and the so-called “Rust Belt,” put it Tuesday night: there is also a movement against this, a movement of settler revanchism, which seeks to reclaim not only a set of global privileges that it is felt are deserved, but which the settler nation has been historically conditioned by 250 years of direct material benefits to expect to be the order of things. That Trump basically swept the Rust Belt, states which democratic party apparatchiks had long assumed were safely in their pocket, demonstrates in the most clear way the appeal of Trump’s particular brand of right-wing populist white nationalism has to working class whites who, feeling the shock waves of a changing world order, have come to believe that their place at the top of the heap is threatened.
Indeed, I would go further and say that Trump’s relatively stunning victory shows the danger of the general leftist practice of for the last century ignoring, if not pandering directly to, the inherent underlying viciousness of the settler/master nation, across all internal lines of class and gender, through appeals to their misdiagnosed class interests. Yes Sanders appealed to them as well, however, we have to consider the truth of the fact that, following the failed candidacy of a soft social democrat who called himself a socialist, this sector of the settler/master garrison, a sector we are told by 150 years of anti-capitalist orthodoxy is a sector whose direct materialist interests are in overturning the capitalist world-economy, swung hard towards a movement rooted deeply in white nationalism. Trump promised to make “their” America great again by effectively dragging it over piles of Red, Brown and Black bodies. And they lapped it up.
There are lessons to be learned here. We cannot delude ourselves any longer. We must be clear, decisive and bold in both our analysis and our action if we are going to win. But in the end I do believe that we are winning. I have always had the deepest and most utter confidence in the global alignment of forces.
So I say to you, those of you who I know are scared: do not despair. Do not lose sight of the goal towards which we have sworn to give everything: our minds, our talents, our resources, our bodies and our lives.
To my Indigenous family I say this: yes we will reclaim our lands. And yes, we will continue to build our movement for liberation. We know the situation today facing us would be no different under a newly elected Clinton regime. From Standing Rock to Waabanakiing, from rez to rez, from Menominee to Anishinaabe, Rotinonshón:ni to Hopi, Haida to Lakota, our people are organizing for our liberation. I would say to you do not give up, but I know you will not. I know that you cannot. So continue to organize! Go to Standing Rock! Go to Aamjiwnaang! Fight Line 9! Fight LNG expansion! Fight the Back Forty Mine! Organize and defend our sacred sites, our homelands and all of our relations! Every day I feel the weight of our ancestors on us, of those who fought and passed on before. I also feel the responsibilities we have to those of us who have yet come, or who have only just arrived. But I also know that Kemāmāh-Ena͞eniamenawak are smiling. They are smiling because the 7th fire has arrived. They are smiling because six sun has arisen. We will win. We owe it to them, to ourselves, and to all of our relations.
To my African family, know that we will not forget you. We cannot. We see your struggle, and always have. We know that Black lives, and, most especially, Black Power matters. Our enemies are the same, and that is always how it has been. That is why we embraced each other the moment we first met. We have been allies, friends and kin for so long. Organize! Defend! Educate! And continue to struggle for freedom, justice and reparations. And know what when you meet the enemy in battle, that the Red Nations of this land stand with you! Against us, united, this current order of power cannot stand.
To the rest of the world, know that we will continue to fight for you, because we know that are struggles are deeply interwoven with each other. We will never forget the people of Palestine, and we will never cease our opposition and struggle against the vicious settler colonial state that occupies her beautiful lands. We will always stand with our brothers and sisters of the world-wide Ummah, and with the peoples of south, east and southeast Asia as they struggle for a brighter world, free of parasitism and where entire countries are no longer relegated to second-class status.
And finally, to my white friends, many of whom are scared themselves of what is to come because they know that the order of things is unjust, and to others who maybe do not understand why this has happened, I hear you. For too long you have lived in self-imposed isolation and rest of the world, but it is time for you to come home and rejoin the human family. It will be hard. I will not lie to you about that. You have existed for so long at the expense of the rest of us, and that cannot continue. Indeed, you must know that it will not be allowed to continue. I also know that is hard to break away from this, even as you may know full well that it is unjust. Your lives will not be the same as they were before once we are free, but I do think they will be better. You too can be part of our mass world-wide struggle for liberation. There are organizations you can join in which you will fight for justice, liberation and decolonization. Join the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement. Work with the Chippewas Solidarity campaign. Go to Standing Rock and humble yourself before the great mass of our Nations. Fight! Make reparations! Make rematriations! Break with parasitism and pedestal! But it is on you to decide. We are winning, and we can win without you, but you can choose to help us make a better, more equal and just world!
A new day is coming. Our day. Our future. I can see it just over the horizon. We will resist. We will struggle. And we will win.