Colonization is the act of forcefully stripping sovereignty of a country through acquisition of land, resources, raw material, and governmental structures.
My turn to state an equation: colonization = “thing-ification.” - Aimé CésaireThe use of social media as a powerful tool for free education on various topics continually rises, with definitions, experiential narratives, and resources being shared through Twitter threads, short videos, Facebook statuses, and even memes. And while this is a mostly positive phenomena, there seems to be a trend of words, and thus words’ associated theories, being used misguidedly. Often, this is a simple case of fighting character limits and the loss of nuance that occurs through online mediums, and other times it seems a phenomena of genuine miseducation and confusion. Words like intersectionality, decolonize, imperialism, socialism, and other loaded terms that come with decades of jargon are at times applied to everything, and their actual meaning is lost. Observing this pattern is what lead me to the idea of an article series titled “Words Mean Things,” wherein each month I choose a different word and discuss the theories, uses, theorists, examples, applications, and praxis surrounding it. The goal is to do this as concisely as possible and, understanding these will never be wholly conclusive of all definitions, applications, and examples of certain words, to deliver small primers that exist as resources to lead readers to study deeper. I often say that words mean everything, and then anything, just before meaning nothing.
ColonialismColonialism is a system of land occupation and theft, labor exploitation, and/or resource dependency that is to blame for much of our modern concepts of racialization. It is an act of dominance in which a forceful state overtakes a “weaker” state; this means that colonization is the act of forcefully stripping sovereignty of a country through acquisition of land, resources, raw material, and governmental structures. Systems of colonialism are based in notions of racial inferiority, as they as they perpetuate white/European domination over non-white colonial subjects. The most obvious (and broad) example of colonialism is the expansion of Europe into Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and the subsequent creation of colonies. Through violence and manipulation, a relationship of control and influence was exerted economically, socially, politically, religiously, and culturally. In Jamaica, for example, the British empire invaded and colonized the island in the mid-17th Century, and subsequently established British colonial school systems, laws and regulations creating dependency on Britain, and pushed European gender, religious, and wardrobe norms onto the society. There are various forms of colonialism and colonial projects, but all involve some form of domination, control, and/or influence on an indigenous population through violence and/or manipulation. It is also important to note that these various forms of colonialism often intersect and overlap, too. In his 1972 essay “Discourse On Colonialism,” one of the most important pieces of writing I have ever read, writer Aimé Césaire states: “Between colonizer and colonized there is room only for forced labor, intimidation, pressure, the police, taxation, theft, rape, compulsory crops, contempt, mistrust, arrogance, self-complacency, swinishness, brainless elites, degraded masses. No human contact, but relations of domination and submission which turn the colonizing man into a class-room monitor, an army sergeant, a prison guard, a slave driver, and the indigenous man into an instrument of production.”
Why is it so important to so many white artists that they maintain the right to be offensive to people disempowered relative to them?By Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein Novelist and commentator Kaitlyn Greenidge made a powerful argument in the New York Times last year that we don’t have to write what we know, but we do have to accept that if we are going to write what we don’t know, rather than have a temper tantrum when we receive criticism, we need to listen and then try to write better. Nothing reveals white anxiety more than someone complaining that they don’t feel free to upset people of color, and fearful rants against people of color in academic and literary contexts such as Francine Prose’s recent New York Review of Books anti-sensitivity screed are tiring and sad. They are a painful reminder that straight white cis voices continue to reign supreme in the literary discourse and that this dominance functions to silence marginalized people in multiple ways. The political priorities of straight white cis people are elevated above everyone else’s and questions of style and taste are addressed almost entirely in the context of how the conversation makes straight, white cis people feel. I know the easiest retort is that this is about freedom of speech. Yet as a staunch believer in the First Amendment (which we must constantly remind people is only about government censorship), I’m far less concerned about the imaginary legal issues here than about the very real impact of protecting writing that is racist in its mediocrity. Why is it so important to so many white artists that they maintain the right to be offensive to people disempowered relative to them? In the Trump era, what does it mean for literary leaders to worry about protecting these rights? As a queer Black femme and Editor in Chief of a literary publication with a mostly queer/trans person of color staff, The Offing, I struggled in the days after Trump became President-elect to put forward a professional face to the staff, even though I had spent most of election day in tears. I had not been excited about Hillary Clinton, yet the first round of tears came at 6:30 AM -- I had not been confident she had the election in the bag against an opponent far more terrifying yet bizarrely more savvy. Should we close shop, I asked? Resoundingly our editors said no. Publications that fearlessly seek out the best writing by marginalized writers and established writers trying their hand in new forms were needed in that moment more than ever. It was essential that our platform not disappear but rather continue and flourish.
Nicki Minaj has participated in the continuation of the hypersexualization and erasure of Native women in our culture via lateral oppression.By Arielle Gray [TW- discussion and mention of sexual assault against indigenous women.] Nicki Minaj proverbially broke the internet with the new cover of PAPER Magazine that dropped last week. The cover shows three versions of Nicki, one on her knees in front of another version sitting down whose breast is being touched by the third version. The cover is highly sexual but in a good way — the "Minaj à Trois" was not only a clever ode to her alter egos but a testament to sexual autonomy and queerness. It didn’t take Instagram artists long to begin re-creating different versions of the PAPER cover. Most recently, she posted a reworked version called, “Pocahontas A Trois” on her Instagram page. “Which one should I get hung up in my Barbie Bedroom?" she asks her users in the post. "I'm torn between the bad bunnies...and Pocahontas." https://www.instagram.com/p/BbnIKl2BBps/?hl=en&taken-by=nickiminaj Before we begin the breakdown of why Nicki’s post (and her negligence to take it down) is so problematic, let’s get one fact straight: a large number of people labor under the delusion that Pocahontas was not a real person, and that Disney created the princess and her story. The reality is that Pocahontas was very much real, and was an underage girl who was forcibly married, raped, had her Native name changed to the more English “Rebecca” and on top of all of that, she was shipped off to England where she fell sick and died at the premature age of 21. The saddest thing about Pocahontas’ story is that what she experienced is neither uncommon or rare. Her life is a historical testament to the power of racial misogyny and the erasure of indigenous women and their stories from history. Reworked into a Disney movie, her suffering (and the suffering of other indigenous women) was erased as well. Disney's Pocahontas has served as a festishized, colonized and stereotypical trope for Native women, reinforcing the systems that are already at work against them. As it stands today, ⅓ of Native women will be raped at some point in their lifetimes — this number is twice the national average. Furthermore, over 80% of rape cases are committed by Non- Native men, the majority of whom are white men. Federal loopholes allow non-Native rapists to get off scott free — tribal courts do not have the federal power to persecute non Tribal members when it comes to sexual violence and rape. This gap in the law perpetuates the predation of an already underrepresented, under protected minority group.
White women have a legacy of protecting white men, even if it means hindering their own progress and especially when it means gaslighting Black women.[TW- mention of sexual assault.] Men who attack and harass women, other men, non-binary, trans and gender non-conforming people live in our social circles. It’s a culture and it’s unavoidable but when we find out that someone we know has acted poorly or worse, generally, they are no longer invited out with the gang. Unless you’re Lena Dunham in which case you just claim, “insider knowledge” and accuse the victim of being part of the 3% of made up claims. Before you slide up in my Twitter mentions with your outrage, I know that Dunham issued a statement apologizing for her earlier remarks. We’re going to talk about that too and lay out why it compounds the bullshit of the original issue.
The Problem with Her First Statementhttps://twitter.com/lenadunham/status/931672937308057600 When Murray Miller was accused of raping (not just inappropriate sexual comments or touching but sexual assault) of a then 17-year-old actress, Aurora Perrineau, who happens to be a woman of color. Dunham came forward to say that she supports her friend alluding to some “behind the scenes information.” When the accused were not in her circle, she was quick to “stand with victims” and denounce the bad behavior. As soon as it was one of her friends — Miller works as a writer on her show, Girls — suddenly things aren’t so black and white. It is difficult to ignore the racial dynamics of Dunham’s statements, Perrineau is a biracial Black woman, one of the few to have made an appearance on Girls and for Dunham, who is white, to protect a cisgender white man adds layers to the racialization of rape and rape culture. White women have a legacy of protecting and electing white men, even if it means hindering their own progress. The misogynoir runs deep. This is made worse by Dunham’s position in the world. She is a well-known “feminist” actor and author. She is influential and many women see her as a voice to be listened to. Right or wrong, this is the place that Dunham occupies in our media landscape.