“Black freedom” as a claim, as a possibility, challenges us to imagine and to produce new modes of life.
“We can conceive of anti-Black racism as the crucially important element of the production of nationalist coloniality in which the Black subject is never able to occupy the site of incorporation into the nation-state.”
The following is an excerpt from Rinaldo Walcott’s book, The Long Emancipation: Moving toward Black Freedom. It is re-printed with permission from Duke University Press. Copyright Duke University Press 2021.
Chapter 15: I Really Want to Hope
In Ottawa in 2012, a summit between Indigenous leaders and the Conservative Canadian government took place. This gathering was in part produced by the spectacle of ongoing colonialism at Attawapiskat, and it was compounded by the excesses of coloniality elsewhere. The Conservative government framed the conversation at the meeting as one of providing and assuring the community access to capitalism and its many resources. That this was the government’s intention was made clear through the constant refrain of bringing “in” Indigenous peoples. An invitation to participate more fully in capitalism was offered as a form of justice by the colonial state. Participation in colonialist exploitation becomes justice, but only if and when resources in territories or the territories themselves are needed for capitalism’s expansion. Former Canadian prime minister Paul Martin set up a foundation called the Martin Family Initiative with support from the banking industry (Scotiabank specifically). Its work is to make sure that First Nations/Indigenous peoples are more intimately tied to contemporary Canadian capitalism. The Martin Family Initiative has an educational program that teaches Indigenous students how to produce business plans among a range of other “skills” meant to alleviate their “outsider” status within the nation. These programs are driven both by Indigenous demographics and by a white desire to secure the future of capitalism by incorporating a previously ignored population into late-modern capitalism by way of the lure of small rewards. However, achieving the kinds of justice Indigenous communities require, in which their forms of life are fully acknowledged, would necessitate not inclusion but significant opposition to capitalism in all its present forms. It would require an alignment of Indigenous claims against ongoing colonial practices with radical Black demands that also require relief from colonialism so that their collective lives can be achieved. What we might call “Black freedom” is only possible in distinct opposition to capitalism, historically and presently. Given that the Black body was an instrument of capital, as well as a significant producer of it—it was both commodity and labor—the question of freedom and capital is a particularly knotty one for Black being. Given the intimate crossing of blackness and capitalism, “Black freedom” as a claim, as a possibility, challenges us to imagine and to produce new modes of life that might be in accord with some of the most radical global Indigenous calls for a different kind of world. It is precisely in the moment that Black being can enjoy full human status (the small h for human here signals Wynter’s concerns for a humanism beyond Euro-American articulations) that we begin to see the possibility of a new world yet to come. I mean here that Black being fully expressed would undo the brutal effects of Euro-American articulation of the human and thus inaugurate a different world, that new indigenisms enter the world.
“Achieving the kinds of justice Indigenous communities require would necessitate not inclusion but significant opposition to capitalism in all its present forms.”
I reiterate here that engaging the epistemological formations of antiblackness is not and cannot be merely one mode of thought among others. Thinking through antiblackness gives and activates a lens to see the human radically differently, to see that its present incarnation has been contingent on the production of other beings’ unhumanness and unfreedom. It is, in fact, only by engaging antiblackness as a foundational limit to our collective livability that the overarching racial capitalist ordering of neocolonial peoples, Indigenous peoples, and Black peoples are made visible. The site of liberalism’s compromise, by the induction and seduction of selected Black and Indigenous individuals and/or groups, only shores up, as a complementary feature to violent intrusion, the production of disposability.
At this late stage of capitalist modernity, the Canadian nation-state’s flexible conceptions of sovereignty, nation, and self-determination are meant to ensure capitalist longevity, secured through incorporation. In the case of Attawapiskat and other places, no such flexibility is evident in the face of an absence of desirable resources. Attawapiskat is an interesting case here for many reasons. It is a territory lacking in natural resources in the places where people live but resource rich in the immediate surroundings. Where the people live is a site that is not needed for the transportation of resources, and so its appeals to the national government for economic resources are dismissed and treated with disdain. This disdain is, for me, the evidence that, regardless of racial history, those territories that possess the resources (in this instance diamonds) to continue to aid in the production of capital are able to find a place in the late capitalist modern nation. Those without resources cannot. My point here is that capitalism continually modifies and “includes” formerly denigrated others on its own terms and gives way to previously excluded people if those people can now fuel its engines. Attawapiskat cannot fuel capital’s engines, and therefore it must be managed. Radical discourses and practices that seek to overcome coloniality might want to refuse the logics of belonging to place, in the sense of past ownership of or claim to land, and instead forge a relational logic with Fanon’s landless “damned of the earth.” Such a claim is not to ignore that human beings need to belong; rather, it is to position belonging outside its historical, naturalized, quasi-organic trajectory and to create another form of sociability not premised on a history of racist social, political, and cultural gradations and exclusion.
“Radical discourses and practices that seek to overcome coloniality might want to forge a relational logic with Fanon’s landless ‘damned of the earth.’”
The ongoing disposability of Black bodies in Canadian society has created Black severance and, as a consequence, estrangement from the geopolitics of nationhood, no matter how broadly or inclusively defined nation might appear to be in the multicultural Canadian sense. We can conceive of anti-Black racism as the crucially important element of the production of nationalist coloniality in which the Black subject is never able to occupy the site of incorporation into the nation-state because blackness was deemed as fundamentally disjunct with the idea of a nation of free subjects. The fundamental out-of-placeness for Black bodies persists, even if ambivalently attenuated by partial inductions into late capitalism as it seeks new bodies in its constant crises. But the more fulsome social reality is that those inductions of the select few do not by any means outweigh the social, cultural, and political expulsions on a mass scale.
What I earlier referred to as a pure decolonial project gives up the politics of organic “identity” in favor of a mobile “politics of thought.” This “politics of thought” will be able to critique coloniality’s most profound epistemic operations, which have produced knowledges of bodies “in place” and “out-of-place” and the economic and material practices that have resulted in death-worlds for Black people. To acknowledge these death-worlds is an urgency: from that radical vantage point, it becomes possible to conceive of forms of relationality and intimacy, of new modes of humanness beyond capitalist (post)modernity. In a postcommunist world, and a neoliberal globe, thinking, articulating, and moving toward different and new modes of human life is our present challenge. These new modes call for moving beyond and against the “happy story” of progressive liberation of indigeneity in the “native land,” against the illusion of a move into the bounty of rights and freedoms. To refuse such a “happy story” is to account for the ways in which history might offer us a better calculation of how to alter the human yet again in our time. Such an alternative will require the production of “new indigenisms” of our globe, and those new indigenisms will require of us conversations, debates, politics, and policies that are centered in the “catastrophic culture” that has brought us together. Edward Kamau Brathwaite, in his lecture “Middle Passages,” articulates what he calls “the literature of catastrophe” as the by-product of European colonial expansion.Brathwaite points out that this catastrophe of colonialism produces death, racism, environmental degradation, and so on, but it also produced jazz; Caribbean, African American, and Indigenous literatures; and other cultural forms and practices that have reshaped the globe and human life. I adapt his term to articulate a culture of catastrophe, which draws on his insights. Such a catastrophe has the potential, however, to shape profound human possibilities and potentialities. A pure decolonial project works the ruins of catastrophe to shape an “other” human intimacy based on the “politics of thought” and thus on mobile association, not on preordained belongings to place and graduated identities.
Rinaldo Walcott is a Professor in the Women and Gender Studies Institute, University of Toronto.
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Attawapiskat has emerged as a site of contention in Canada settler colonial de- bates because of the poverty, suicides, and othersocial maladies that affect this remote community. In 2013 the chief of Attawapiskat, Theresa Spence, went on a hunger strike forforty-three days in Ottawa to highlight what can only be de- scribed as the brutal evidence of ongoing colonialism.
 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Press, 1963).
 Rinaldo Walcott, “Disgraceful: Intellectual Dishonesty, White Anxieties, and Multicultural Critique Thirty-Six Years Later,” in Homeand Native Land: Unset- tling Multiculturalism in Canada, ed. May Chazan et al. (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2011), 15–30.
 Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Middle Passages: A Lecture, audio cd (Toronto: Sandberry Press, 2006).