what can be known
December 3, 2013
I”m reading through this Andrea Smith essay on privilege and i was especially struck by this:
The presupposition is that Indigenous peoples are oppressed because they are not sufficiently known or understood. In fact, however, this desire to “know” the Native is itself part of the settler-colonial project to apprehend, contain and domesticate the potential power of indigenous peoples to subvert the settler state….Thus, the project of decolonization requires a practice of what Audra Simpson calls “ethnographic refusal” – the refusal to be known and the refusal to be infinitely knowable. The politics of decolonization requires the proliferation of theories, knowledge, ideas, and analyses that speak to a beyond settler colonialism and are hence unknowable.
this fascinates me for how the logic of Indigenous genocide so heartily contrasts with the logic of orientalism.
within orientalism, Asians must always be unknowable. Mysterious and inscrutable. Indeed, it is the fact that we cannot be known that makes us a source of constant threat and anxiety to the empire. It is the excuse for constant martial readiness and war making in the orient1.
however, despite this difference, I definitely agree with the basic point. our goal should never be to become knowable or coherent to white supremacy. since, as the academic side of orientalism demonstrates, even the processes intended to make the unknowable known are actually processes that serve to autoritative falsehoods intended to serve imperial goals.
It also confirms one of my central beliefs about decolonization, that it is pointless to speculate about what social structure we are striving for before the moment and action of decolonization itself.
what is possible when we are all free can”t really be known from our current context. not to say that dreaming about what is possible doesn”t have value, indeed these dreams and hopes are often what keep me going. but rather that we shouldn”t attempt to force the direction of change into conforming to some imagined ideal point.
One thing about being free… is that we”ll have the freedom to fail. And to get it wrong. And, if we do get it wrong, to try something else.
and this is a good thing. or, at least, it isn”t the worst possible outcome.