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Refusing Canada

BY Eric Ritskes / Commentary, Media / 0 COMMENTS


plate3“I don’t want no fucking country…” Dionne Brand [i]

This is a call for us all to refuse the country, the violence of its founding and maintenance, and its profound, ongoing mechanisms of exclusion; this is a call to refuse its false sense of belonging. This image, and the above quote, calls us to upend the national imagination and embrace otherwise possibilities.

The Canada 150 logo is described as a series of diamonds coming together to form the national symbol of the maple leaf.[iii] It is intended to be a celebratory logo of belonging and inclusion, to represent the many pieces of a multicultural whole that come together to form Canada.

But, as Rinaldo Walcott reminds us, the oft celebrated multicultural project of Canada is not a project of belonging, but rather a project of Whiteness that exacerbates the problem of belonging for those who do not subscribe to this normative Whiteness. [ii]

It is not only a project of profound Whiteness (and antiblackness), it is also a settler colonial project. Canada is an ongoing project of violence that seeks to subdue and destroy Indigenous peoples, cultures, and lands. To celebrate Canada is to celebrate colonial conquest, settlement, and the attendant violence necessary to secure the nation’s ongoing legitimatization and normalization.

If the Canadian government wants to make reconciliation a central part of its birthday celebrations, doesn’t there need to be truth as part of the process before we can celebrate reconciliation? And, if we’re being truthful, isn’t there more than truth needed before we can celebrate reconciliation?

Instead of allowing Canada to recuperate its image through celebrations of reconciliation and inclusion (a classic counterinsurgency method, as Dean Spade reminds us), truth telling disrupts the peaceful, multicultural narrative that marginalizes the experiences of those who are subjected to the colonial violence of the state.

A politics of ‘no fucking country’, a politics that upends the nation and its symbols, is a process of truth telling; it is not merely a rejection of the violence of the state, but a generative stance, the opening of otherwise possibilities. The politics of refusal is not merely reactionary, nor is it foundering for lack of otherwise possibilities. In this image, the logo is flipped and the diamonds no longer symbolize celebration but the sharpness of their edges, a cutting edge that brings clarity. In refusal, we find a tool to aid in crafting the future we are hoping for.

"I am not a nation state, nor do I strive to be one... " Leanne Simpson [iii]

There are otherwise worlds being built, otherwise possibilities being breathed and being dreamed into being. There are alternatives to the nation state. As Leanne Simpson writes in the above essay, Indigenous nationhood models otherwise worlds, ones that do not rely on violence, that are not enclosures. Indigenous nationhood demonstrates for us a possibility that requires a different sort of embodied relationality and accountability to one another and to the land we live on.

So, in refusal of the settler nation state of Canada we find not only a rejection of the celebration of the ongoing colonialism but we find an opportunity to support and celebrate the ongoing resistance to it. In refusal, we disrupt the normalization and legitimization of colonial violence and open space for otherwise possibilities to be dreamt and built into being. That is something worth celebrating.

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Shirts, sweaters and stickers are currently being sold with the Colonialism 150 logo, with proceeds going to the Onaman Collective's Indigenous Tattoo Gathering, an important gathering and practice of Indigenous sovereignty. They can be purchased here. More information about the gathering can be found here.

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The above reflection was included with the Colonialism 150 logo as a contribution to the book Surviving Canada: Indigenous Peoples Celebrate 150 Years of Betrayaledited by M. Tait and K. Ladner.

The logo has also been mentioned in other mainstream media, including: a panel I was invited to be a part of on CBC Radio's The Current, in Canadian Art online, Rabble.ca and The Walrus

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[i] Dionne Brand, Land to Light On (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1997), 48.

[ii] Rinaldo Walcott, "Land to Light On? Making Reparation in a Time of Transnationality," in Metaphoricity and the Politics of Mobility, ed. Maria Margaroni and Effie Yiannopoulou (Amsterdam: Rodopi B.V., 2006), 89.

[iii] Leanne Simpson, “I am Not a Nation State,” NationsRising.org, http://nationsrising.org/i-am-not-a-nation-state/

 

More Recent Posts

 

Refusing Canada

Refusing Canada

“I don’t want no fucking country…” Dionne Brand [i] This is a call for us all to refuse the country, the violence of its founding and maintenance, and its profound, ongoing mechanisms of exclusio...Read More »

Tectonic Shift(s)

I've always written poetry. Most of it has been bad, some of it might have been good. Most of it I've had no idea if it was 'bad' or 'good'.

I've never published any poetry. This might have something to do with that I've no idea if my poetry is 'bad' or 'good'. Despite an undergraduate degree in English literature, in which I took a number of classes specifically about poetry, I'm not really sure I can tell good poetry or bad poetry.

So, this might be bad.

But this last year has seen a reinvigoration of poetry writing in my life. I'm not sure what sparked it, if it's a continuation of past poetry writing practices, or if it is the result of some 'spark' at all. But, I have decided to share some of it.

This is not the best poem I've written. Mostly I know that because I have no idea how to evaluate what my best poem would look like. But, it is a poem. It is the first poem I wrote in this period of 'reinvigoration', and sometimes what is first is the truest expression of what you want to accomplish, of what you hope to do. Sometimes it is only a first draft of what only long hours and long discarded drafts can accomplish. Either way, this is my poem.

 

Tectonic Shift(s)

A shift in landscape reposes questions of relations:

How do you hang on when the world is leaning?

It is an imperative, for times that have long passed into the future,

For working new plots of land.

Local movements in cities, apartment blocks,

Moving mountains, train tracks glacially tenured.

What is the appropriate action,

When you know that there are two sides to every coin?

 

Is this a deviation from the generalized state of security, or

Standard Operating Procedure?

 

Can we formulate practical proposals that are not

Stillborn from the mouths,

Absent of the necessary blood and sweat and tears and rebel yells?

Why do things get worse with each revelation,

Each roiling rotation,

Each revolution?

 

They prowl, they categorize, they build where we burn

And all the while we dream nascent dreams of the past.

Some claim immunity while others claim impunity.

 

Can you count the pain? Can you balance the white sheets

Draped over prone bodies and heads?

Spectacle of the splinter, driving it in - oh so - deep.

Transformation of naïve innocence

In order to bear witness,

To say their names, ages, sisters, and their sins.

 

It all seems so insane yet so calculated, so fluid yet so proper.

What do you hang on to when the world is leaning

In sanctimonious excess

And you don’t know your own hands, your own head

And compromise is the only position your body knows?

 

The impunity of the inarticulable violence that stalks our dreams,

That lifts each foot each step, away, yet still touching, holding on

Movement without a hope, spinning tops waiting to fall.

Ignoring the face of this place,

Which smells oily and law-like in its shame,

We dream gaps into being so that we,

Never filling but always falling,

Might run into them.

The continued violence of #AllLivesMatter: Mural of Sandra Bland defaced in Ottawa

The backlash to the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, which sprung up last summer during the resistance in Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, Baltimore and beyond, was as speedy and as certain as the three seconds Cleveland PD needed to gun down Tamir Rice in a park. The hashtag #AllLivesMatter sprung up as a pushback to the centring of Blackness; the hashtag was challenging and fear inducing to white supremacy even in its centering of Blackness as an epicentre of white violence. This violence is visited by white supremacy upon Black bodies in a white colonial state and this revelation, while not really a revelation to anyone who is not white, seemed threatening enough to white folks that they immediately erased Blackness yet again and reasserted white violence with the #AllLivesMatter hashtag.

Many penned their reasons explaining why #AllLivesMatter was racist and violent, hoping perhaps that there were some well meaning white people out there using it by accident. And perhaps there were a few. Yet, the sentiment survives and, in fact, has seen a revival in the recent US presidential race, most notably with Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton walking into a Black church and proclaiming “All lives matter.” Understanding the power of #AllLivesMatter matters...

What has also continued is the murder of Black people by police. As activists have noted, hardly a day has gone by without someone in American being murdered by a police officer, the ones who some still trust to ‘protect and serve’. One of the most recent cases was that of Sandra Bland, a Black activist pulled over for an alleged traffic violation, roughed up by the arresting officer for daring to assert her rights in the face of routine police intimidation, and found dead in her jail cell days later. While an investigation is still ongoing, to many there is no doubt that Sandra’s murder is part of an ongoing pattern of the state and their belief in the disposability of Black life.

In the wake of Sandra Bland’s death, artists Kalkidan Assefa and Allan Andre painted a mural in Ottawa in remembrance.

Original Mural, via Ade Boluwatife (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153328745204300&set=a.10151131979674300.445670.504909299&type=1&__mref=message_bubble)

Original Mural, via Ade Boluwatife.

This is significant in it’s cross-border connection making. Canada promotes a narrative of blissful and peaceful multiculturalism, particularly in contrast to race relations in the United States. And yet, Black life is routinely erased, in many ways. The day after the mural was painted, activists marched in Toronto to protest the police murders of Jarmaine Carby and Andrew Loku, Black men gunned down by police. They shut down highways, reminiscent of actions south of the border. In Montreal, the same week, two police officers were found guilty of beating a Black man stopped for a traffic violation. Canada does not value Black life any more than the United States; in this, colonial states are remarkably consistent.

Less than 48 hours after it was completed, the mural of Sandra Bland was defaced with “All Lives Matter.”

Defaced mural, via RJ D. Jones.

Defaced mural, via RJ D. Jones.

Make no mistake, this is an act of white supremacy. #AllLivesMatter is a mantra of white supremacy that ignores history, social relations, power, and, most of all, the lives of non-White people. #AllLivesMatter is a mantra of peaceful multiculturalism that proclaims equality in the face of disproportionate violence against Black and Indigenous peoples, in particular.  #AllLivesMatter is hate speech, especially when splashed across the mural of a slain Black women, erasing once again Black life, remembrance, resistance, and presence. It proclaims that Sandra Bland’s life does not matter underneath of #AllLivesMatter.

This defacement was spotted by RJ Jones, who organized a group of Black, Indigenous and white allies to attempt to fix the mural. This too is significant in its connections. In Canada, like in the United States, Black and Indigenous peoples are the most targeted by police violence. In fact, days after Sandra Bland was detained and murdered by police, a Choctaw activist, Rexdale Henry, was found dead in his cell after failing to pay a fine for a traffic citation. While in different yet connected ways, Indigenous lives do not matter in the white colonial state. So it is Indigenous youth who recognized Black life as valuable, recognized the violence of #AllLivesMatter and attempted to restore the mural. As Anishinaabekwe writer Leanne Simpson wrote during the #BlackLivesMatter protests last summer, “I was reminded over and over this week that Black and Indigenous communities of struggle are deeply connected through our experiences with colonialism, oppression and white supremacy.”

Touched up mural, via RJ D Jones.

Touched up mural, via RJ D Jones.

The violence of colonialism and white supremacy continues, writing itself onto buildings, over murals, onto bodies and the land, and into the laws – and the enforcement of them - of our countries. #AllLivesMatter is a form of this violence and cannot be ignored, cannot be condoned, cannot continue. As Leanne Simpson writes, “To me, Ferguson is a call not only to indict the system but to decolonize the systems that create and maintain the forces of Indigenous genocide and anti-Blackness.” We must continue to resist, continue to remember Black and Indigenous life and, more importantly, begin to support and centre Black and Indigenous life beyond the spectacle of their death. We must decolonize systems of white supremacy that are built on Black and Indigenous death.

A version of this post was republished in the Huffington Post, here.

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