Decolonial Uprisings: On Violence as Necessary Mediation
Finding evidence is all about how you look.
I recently had to explain to a white man friend of mine why Audre Lorde didn’t include imaginaries characters like Don Juan or Casanova in her understanding of the erotic as power. He could not grasp why she would not be interested in developing the erotic to include white masculine power, justifying his position by claiming that there is feminine in the masculine, that masculine does not contradict the erotic, and so on. I tried to re-center Lorde’s majestic force within black lesbian intellectual understanding of the feminine, by explaining why him, being different from other white men (according to himself) was beyond the point. I had to then state that he has to be okay with scholarship not being written for him. Texts that are not shaped to include the white man. Works that don’t care about his positionally. Imaginaries that do not function according to his set of assumptions. Worlds that have other functions to perform and other stories to tell from the ones centered by his white gaze.
This conversation made me go back to the words of Toni Morrison, a pioneer in the fight for the right to build a literary universe outside of the white gaze. In an interview, Morrison explains how she has been accused, as an African American writer in a predominantly white country, of not writing about white people, of writing too much about race. In other words: of crafting stories free from the dominant assumption that the imaginary reader must be a white person. All her writing life, she goes on to explain, she made sure that “the white gaze was not the dominant one in any of [her] books.” She didn’t want to be “consumed and concerned” by the white gaze and that is for her where liberation comes from: finding the parameters and the postures that can assert her sovereignty and authority. For Morrison, the people who helped her most were African writers such as Chinua Achebe and Bessie Head who “could assume the centrality of their race because they were African and they did not explain anything to white people.”
There is a very specific kind of violence that exhausts BIPOC and that has to do with the constant pressure to explain and yet not be listened to. Like the many times when the only BIPOC at a table is being contracted on the very subjects that concern them most: racism, policing, daily operation of institutionalized segregation. At the center of such violence stands the oppressive gaze: one that annihilates the possibility to thrive outside of the framework imposed by the oppressors, one that enforces the constant reduction of their legitimate positionality. As undifferentiated as violence often stands, it is necessary to reinvest what we collectively mean by violence. It is about time that violence stands in the fight for freedom.
Violence, a notion that defines a versatile force being employed to subdue, deployed to submit, to exercise power over an entity in order to obtain a goal and attain it against someone’s will. Violence, a word that is used to depict the unnamable of human actions as much as it is used to describe the scale of a climate catastrophe. Often, violence is left indifferently addressed and stands in a blur.
Violence, a noun used with another word, as in state violence, armed violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, etc.
Violent, an adjective that can be used to describe a violent act, a violent person, a violent situation where injustice and power are fused into one notion. That is in the blur of violence that supremacy exercises its power. In other words, in face of such uncertainty, the faith of violence stands on how one looks at it and who gets to judge its importance, who gets to decide on the framework. Not only what is violent to me can be completely acceptable to others, but the oppressor usually also gets to dictate what is violence for himself and for others. It is in such a sense that the oppressive gaze functions like a double-edged sword: one that can both inflict violence and impose a discourse that together legitimate its consequences and effects.
Fanon opens the first chapter of his book Les damnés de le Terre (1961) The Wretched of the Earth (1963) by “De la violence” a title which could mean both “on violence” and “some violence,” which defines something that is both a given, as in this is a text on violence, and an offer, as in “il y aura de la violence.” “there will be violence,” “violence will happen.” The core idea of his chapter is to tackle the “atmospheric violence” of the colonial order, the violence that is “rippling under the skin of the colonized individuals” (31). The core argument is that to dismantle the colonial configuration of our present world, one cannot but think through violence as “the perfect mediation” (44). This mediation is located between colonized and colonizer. For Fanon, “force is the only solution” between oppressors and oppressed (32). It is then a specific form of violence that becomes necessary in front of systemic oppression: a dismantling violence of a decolonizing force that creates room for change.
As a “world with no space” (4), the compartmentalization of coloniality is the key that Fanon offers to “delineate the backbone on which the colonial society is organized,” (3) a society that is structured according to colonialist values that dictate and define violence in the first place. This violence is based on ethical predicaments to judge, assess, and terminate the life of the oppressed. In that context, the event of decolonization becomes a violent process of challenging the destruction of the “indigenous social fabric” in order to install new predicaments based on non-colonial values that can overcome the violence of supremacy. For Fanon, the first and most important value for the colonized individual is the land and the retribution of the wealth that land provides can only be mediated through the radical decision to ground decolonization as a violent event (10). Anything else is just “jargon” substituted for reality (10). Because the “geographical configuration” (3) of the colonial order is one of mutual exclusion, its function is to compartmentalize forces into two distinct poles: the colonized and the colonizer. In that context, an oppressive regime is a regime of geographical compartmentalization (15).
Through decolonization as violence, Fanon offers a new way of thinking about time and revolution and locates the project of decolonization in a futurity that finds violence as “the perfect mediation.” For him, decolonization is both a violent event and a violent process, a dual modality of thinking about history not as linear or cyclical but as a dual structure that oscillates between two different orders: the one of violent events that reconfigure the structural dynamic of power and that of violent processes that continuously challenge the modes of operational governance and domination exercised between the colonizer and the colonized.
Understood in terms of a psycho-affective curse rather than a political cause, colonization is conceived according to the longstanding impact that the dominant structures impose upon the individuals (both psychically and collectively). As a curse, the impact of colonialism can not only be addressed but the violent and pervasive dimension of its structure is impossible to dismantle without force. Terror and fear for someone’s life is not only violent but the survival modality that it requires calls for very difficult modes of existence. The use of violence as a decolonizing force is one that undoes the structural fabrication of the colonial system, opening up new possibilities and new modes of existence (both psychic and collective) for entire generations of people. In the context of the current decolonial uprisings (2020- ) “violence is a desperate act only if it is compared in abstracto to the military machine of the oppressors. On the other hand, violence in the context of international relations, we realize, represents a formidable threat to the oppressor.” (38)
Decolonization’s primary purpose should be to “repossess land and territoriality in order to ensure the security and territoriality of national polity and global entity,” (xi) as Homi Bhabha suggests in his preface to Fanon’s book. It is within the polarized world of colonizer and colonized that Fanon locates violence as the only and “most perfect form of mediation”. While for Arendt, Fanon’s violence “leads to the death of politics” and for Sartre violence is linked to a quest for existential freedom, whatever that means, I am not sure, Homi Bhabha proposes to think of “fanonian violence” as a struggle for psycho-affective survival and a search for human agency in the midst of the agony of oppression” (xxxvi). For the colonized, violence becomes a praxis, a form of work toward the dismantlement of the oppressing regimes of systemic segregation, the unique mediation possible in a world that is structured and gazed at through antagonism and opposite.
Colonized and colonizer form two poles that shape a compartmentalized world of antagonistic forces. As such, violence is a dual mediation: it is the violence embedded in the structural configuration of the colonial order and it is the only modality through which the colonized not only survive but dismantle such order. The dual world of colonial compartmentalization is one that divides colonizer and colonized, that is the gifted and wretched of the earth. Or more accurately, in Fanon’s words: les damnés de la terre, the damned souls of the earth. The damned souls mean the cursed souls, the ones that have been banned from the world of the common, the ones that have lost dignity and love in the supremacist gaze. Because cursed souls designate the souls whose possibilities are cursed, whose chances are reduced, whose movements are contained, this notion implies a temporal shift in the modality through which to think through violence, not so much as events of the past, but in relation to futurity and the future of colonial violence when it comes to thinking and being engaged in decolonization as action.
“Decolonization is the encounter between two congenitally antagonistic forces that in fact owe their singularity to the kind of reification secreted and nurtured by the colonial situation.” As an encounter, decolonization is a violent event (1): violent because of the power dynamic it aims to undo and overcome, and because of the violence that is required to dismantle the structural oppression imposed upon psychic bodies and collective individuals. The agony of oppression is the place through which to think through violence as a survival modality from the part of the colonized and the primacy of colonial violence as the cause of counter-violence understood in terms of survival. As Fanon reminds us, “permanent state of tension” (16) the colonized is the one who survives domination without succumbing to domestication (16).
The psycho-affective curse of the colonial regime can only be dismantled through newly engendered instruments of violence and can only be reversed through the reversal of economic dependency. Land reforms. Housing reforms. Legal reforms. The racist culture will take so long to change. Let’s change the system that produced such a culture in the first place.
Dominated as psycho-affective bodies, domesticated as wealth-deprived nations, the structure of coloniality is a curse for most individuals on the earth. Only a violent future will leave the framework that constructs and legitimises the oppressive gaze. Only the future of the instruments of violence seem to offer a possible if not sustainable solution. If, as Fanon suggests, “violence is a cleansing force” (51), one may ponder why the violence of protests are always judged according to supremacist predicaments. Only the redistribution of wealth can overcome the geography of hunger and the emotional zones of social anger that coloniality has produced in the very tiniest structure of relations. Violence for violence, one may simply have to choose on which side of life one stands, on which side of the ambivalent force of instruments one chooses to engage and form whom and what to fight for. Not only do we need more than human investment to overcome imbalance, but we might envision a new form of sacrificial redistribution to counteract the curse that colonial power continues to impose upon psycho-affective colonized and collective individuals.
The colonies have been economically domesticated to become a market and thus an instrument of economic force for the colonialist nations. To dismantle the very violence that continues to operate on a material and psycho-affective level throughout our contemporary geographies and political zones of oppression, we need decolonial uprisings. Everywhere.
It is about time.
Audre Lorde, “The Erotic as Power” Sisters Outisder. Essays and Speeches (Berkeley: Crossing Press, 2012)
Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth 2007.
Toni Morrison in an interview with Bill Moyers,
Coco Fusco, “the Art of Decolonization”
ha ho cha, ke eng e salang