dimanche 7 juin 2020

No Black Lament For This "Nation"...

Rinaldo Walcott and Idil Abdillahi on what it means in the era of Black Lives Matter to continue to ignore and deny the violence that is the foundation of the Canadian nation state. What is meant by the ongoing destruction, erasure and death of Black people in this “country” all made acceptable throughout white western culture, enacted by state structures draped under the benevolent lie of multiculturalism and modernist ideology that regulates our thinking on migration and movement. What it is for BlackLife to survive exhausted as Dionne Brand states, “in this inexplicable space”. “Canada” has consistently been in denial of its deep imbrications in the Atlantic world of slavery, its practices, its economies, its ideologies and its logics and so has always had a problem with Black folx. “Canada” smugly and tellingly states that it is “anything but the USA” so that it may keep at bay its lethal fear of how blackness there occupies a contestatory space vis a vis whiteness and so that it may continue to cajole itself with its white fiction of national founding. 

From BlackLife: Post BLM and the Struggle for Freedom, 2019.



“In George Grant’s (1965) “Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism” he trades in the continued lie, or to be more generous, the myth of the “two original peoples” who founded Canada. These two peoples in Grant’s nationalist and ethnocentric fears he termed “French and Catholic, British and Protestant, united precariously in their desire not to be a part of the Great Republic; but their reasons were quite different”. One could read Grant’s comment here as a kind of collusion – a collusion that works against all the others. While Grant is defending Canadian-ness vis a vis disdain for the US and its mid-twentieth century empire, his defence – his lament – consecrates the myth of the founding of the nation as one that is both ordained in a certain way as English and French and also destined to be so. The logic of Grant’s claim is to place all those outside the category of (white) English and French as adjuncts to the nation. Multiculturalism later formalizes these adjuncts into communities, allowing for some to enter whiteness against the block of non-white others.

Now, of course Grant is also writing against the USA. And it would not be too trivial to suggest that blackness bears down heavily on what is at stake for him, even when he does not directly address blackness. At the time of Grant’s writing the civil rights movement is at its peak and the spectre of blackness haunts his text in all kinds of ways. Thus we might also read Grant’s fear of the US as too steeped in the fear of how blackness there occupies a contestatory space vis a vis whiteness and its own claims of national founding. One significant way that Grant’s lament works is to also rhetorically deny blackness historical space in Canada. This denial that is endemic to Grant’s text runs across the works of Canadian white male philosophers like Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan too.

A Canada that cannot or refuses to conceptualize its relation to transatlantic slavery and its formation, as a part of the post-Columbus slave-world is a Canada that will continually have difficulty with Black people. This argument goes beyond making the evidence of slavery in Canada appear and be present and a part of our conservation, to also suggest that Canada’s own place in the Atlantic world is imbued with slave logics; the evidence of slavery’s existence here is but only one part of a larger history, dynamic and consciousness. We think, for example, of Canada’s historic trade in salted cod used to feed those enslaved in the Anglo-Caribbean as one example of the suppression of Canada’s deep imbrication in the Atlantic world of slavery, its practices, its economies, its ideologies and its logics. Indeed, Grant and Innis, in particular, in their attempts to produce a political philosophy that centres Canada as a nation-state have both failed, one might argue, or deliberately decided to engage Canada’s place in the slave-holding Atlantic world as central to its founding and thus its ongoing existence.

The myth of two original peoples then allows for others to be imagined in the nation as always recent, as always having just arrived, just migrated. And it simultaneously allows white settlers to claim a natural belonging and to have a history of arrival at the same time. Indeed, to inhabit a history of arrival and to offer reconciliation is a masterful political move. In that move a new compact is being created; it is a compact that [not only] asks Indigenous peoples to enter Canada (…) but also to enter a Canada that was founded to always already exclude them. (…) [R]econciliation is not much different from Bartolomé de las Casas in his decree that Indigenous peoples had a soul and therefore should not be enslaved, but Africans were fair game for the brutal subjugation of mining and plantation slavery. Reconciliation, then, still demands an Indigenous less-than-human-self that might be rescued, but it is a self nonetheless. Black selfhood remains in this moment still outside the category of European Man. In this moment the question is one of how national institutionality responds to reconciliation from multiple sites of guilt, privilege and power to exactly state what reconciliation looks like. And, we should be clear that reconciliation is not transformation, remaking and decolonization.

Flowing from this, Canadian (literary, cultural, social and political) Studies’ liberal multicultural approaches to Black Canada remain steeped in (anti-)blackness as only constituting the example to and for something else. In real terms, then, Black people and their gifts are still commodified in service of producing whiteness and white people in an unbroken relation to slavery (with their adjuncts now sometimes more included). How many of you are working to institute forms of Black knowledges and their production, meaning Black thinkers, into your various institutions? How might it be in this moment of white reconciliation that white people, especially white scholars, speak a “we of settlers,” meant to enfold Black people in that plurality? How is the thought, the idea, even possible, if Grant’s thinking is still not in some way underwriting what Canada is and means? And if Black people’s enslavement remains out of the purview of the definition of colonization being used? We pose these as dead serious questions because in this moment of reconciliation, white desires, demands, and order of knowledge continue to proliferate. We pose these as questions seeking to ask how might Black knowledges show up as more than possessions for white performative identity making? We pose these as questions because we see continually who moves across our institutions, who matters to them, who gets the call for the interview, who gets the job. We are exhausted by Canadian (literary, cultural, social and political) Studies’ anti-blackness posing as engagement with Black people and their expressive cultures. One might make the analogy between the use of Black literary products and knowledges as not unlike the historic trade in salted fish and rum. White folks profit, once sugar is king, until no longer needed; bounty then, now obsolete. And in that process from profit to obsolescence the story of Black people’s relation to the formation of Canada goes missing. We are exhausted by a Canadian (literary, cultural, social and political) Studies that prefers Black products minus Black people; as Dionne Brand states, “Our inheritance in the Diaspora is to live in this inexplicable space”. Such an inexplicable space is one in which Black people get folded into the category of settler by white people and some Indigenous people, but never do Black people get others to account for the theft of our subjectivity as the enslaved in the Americas. How do you reconcile that?"

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