Updated: Jan 3, 2022
I've been thinking on and engaging in some energizing conversations around anti-oppressive efforts that are taking place in Canada and beyond. I want to discuss something that's been on my mind for some time but I haven't found the words to articulate it quite precisely. I'll try my best to do so in this essay, but I know that this conversation is an on-going and complicated one.
THE HISTORIES WE CAN'T DENY
I hope the take home message from the social upheavals of 2020 and 2021 isn't that black and brown people need to be in positions of power while white people become the peasants and proletariat. Without a doubt, some of the most frustrating rhetoric coming out of leftist activism is a disdain toward anyone white, anyone straight, and anyone cis. I know this feels like a daft thing to say in this cultural moment, but stick with me.
When Harvey Weinstein was arrested for his acts of sexual violence, legions of people expressed their relief of the justice through statements like “I hope he finds out what it feels like to get raped.” Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement has resoundingly stood against these comments, saying we have missed the mark if this is where we end up. She said those comments are an exact perpetuation of the rape culture the premise of her movement is founded on resisting.
Hold this sentiment closely and let’s translate it into white supremacy.
What Tarana Burke is advocating for is grace.
Of course, white supremacy and the feudal capitalism it engenders doesn’t need my grace. It tramples anyone in its way. And billionaires are not losing sleep over our misfortunes as they race off to space. English will continue to be the language I’ll write this blog. White men and women will sign forms and approve bills which result in the deaths of thousands of African, Indigenous, Latin, Arab, and Asian people. So, please, white people, understand the impatience and rage, and the inarticulacy they can breed, for those of us feeling the impacts of white supremacy the most severely.
However, if we zoom out, we see that the entire story of the Euro-colonial world and the subsequent American Empire, which we live under, is only an infant in the mature reach of history.
What I’m more interested in combatting when I press for values of anti-racism and equity is a much deeper quality of human existence.
A colonial state of mind.
And this is where I’m not quite sure how to phrase this most effectively. It is ephemeral in its substance because this is, ultimately, deeply spiritual work. So help me explore this definition throughout the next few paragraphs.
...I’m not quite sure how to phrase this most effectively. It is ephemeral in its substance because this is, ultimately, deeply spiritual work.
White supremacy is the most contemporary symptom of the colonial state of mind. However, not long before, Muslim colonization conquered the global exchanges connecting the economies of Eurasia and Africa. The Japanese colonial empire extended from the edge of South Korea, across parts of Eastern China, and down through Papua New Guinea. Chinese empires also emulated the same qualities of the colonial state of mind we see today. And while Europeans were in the depth of their dark ages, empires were in full fledge in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa - just take a look at Mansa Musa's empire in the 13th and 14th century.
What these histories seem to suggest is that the colonial state of mind is something each of us has the capacity to hold. You don’t have to be white to uphold white supremacy. Look at the Black Americans who supported Trump. Or Brigitte Gabriel, the Lebanese-American woman who worked in Trump’s office and had a significant hand in the Muslim Ban. We also know the opposite is true. While white people benefit form white supremacy, we also recognize that white people can live deliberate lives resisting it.
So then, if its not white people that reproduce white supremacy – and many of us marginalized today come from colonial civilizations, what the hell is it that we’re actually resisting?
WHAT IS A COLONIAL STATE OF MIND?
It seems to hold that a colonial state of mind is a deeply personal sense of orienting yourself in the world. It is not only in the imperialist expansion of certain colonizing nations, but it is, as Dr. Cornel West puts it, an "imperialistic energy," which ought to be resisted.
The colonial state of mind promises progress, growth, endurance, and above all, freedom (though false) at any and all costs. But this state of mind isn’t only witnessed in external systems. It exists in the choices we make each and every day. This isn’t some sweet little sentiment I’m making; I am deeply advocating that if we do not unwind ourselves from the colonial state of mind – if we do not decolonize our imagination – we have no hope in overcoming Left vs Right, Dems vs GOP, Israel/Palestine, Black and Indigenous domination, etc.
So as activists sitting on the left rally for the destruction of white supremacy, it is vital that we sit in the truth of these histories. It doesn’t diminish the painful experiences borne from white supremacy, but it does allow us to see things more clearly. And that clarity gives us space for meaningful and lasting change. Maya Angelou articulated it so precisely, when speaking on justice, when she said, "...and I began to talk about the need to seek after justice...to long for justice...and then I was afraid that we might lust for revenge. And that is terrifying."
The colonial state of mind is one option in our lived expressions as human beings. In effect, I argue that colonization and imperialism is simply the political manifestation of the ego. And the ego, whether you understand it spiritually or psychologically, reminds us that the unfettered whimsy of our ambitions will always lead to inevitable disappointment.
Let me repeat that: the ego reminds us that the unfettered whimsy of our ambitions will always lead to inevitable disappointment.
This is where my activism takes root. Embodying the principles of anti-oppression isn’t some checkbox exercise in how many books read or what we put in our email signatures.
It is a practice in humility. It is a process.
It is a practice in humility. It is a process.
OBSERVING A "LUST FOR REVENGE" AGAINST WHITE SUPREMACY
At this impasse, I understand we can’t talk about the colonial state of mind without talking about white supremacy. Which is why I will always call for specific action against white supremacy. I’m not apologetic about that. But I worry when our rhetoric becomes superficial. Hateful speech against white people is vastly different than rageful speech against white supremacy. The former is rooted in our own colonial states of mind, our egos. The latter is calling injustice into accountability.
Hateful speech against white people is vastly different than rageful speech against white supremacy.
And yes, I know hateful speech against white people doesn’t have much political, economic and cultural ramifications, because, yes, whiteness does have a stranglehold on political, cultural and economic infrastructure in the globe.
But white supremacy is a blip in history. What happens when the tides shift? What happens when TV shows look more increasingly like the plurality of the planet? What about when education shifts to represent the multiplicities of histories and locus' of knowledge that overlap on Turtle Island? What happens when students learn Arabic, English, and Cree in public schools? When theatres confidently have Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in positions of power? When economic systems shapeshift away from the cultural capitalism and its white supremacy? What happens when America loses its global wealth and power (which is it)?
What happens when the tides shift? They inevitably will, we see that in history.
Then, surely, we will have overcome and our dream is a success, and we can celebrate. But if all of this is built on teaching our children hateful rhetoric to those who are in power today, then all we have done is pursued the same egoic journey that puts us at the bottom of the pyramid now.
And I know full well, our rage is justified, our demands for change need to be met, our anger doesn’t need to be tempered and our tones don’t need to be soft for the change to be demanded. But in the journey of self determination, I don’t want to become the villainy I fight against.
But in the journey of self determination, I don’t want to become the villainy I fight against.
WHAT IS THE ANATOMY OF SUPREMACY?
When we observe these histories of imperialism and the political manifestation of the ego, we see that the anatomy of supremacy is a daisy chain of one oppressed group with a justified rage turned into an oppressive group with a tyrant authority. The anatomy of supremacy centers fear, scarcity, and paranoia. In turn, this breeds a lust of power, an occupation of the minds and hearts of its subjects, and a deeply convincing self-righteousness. It inverts the scarcity experienced through repression into an insatiable and desperate power over others.
Look no further the political irony that has become the settler colonialism of Israel against Palestinians. Look no further than the white Christian fundamentalists that stormed that capitol of the United States last year (and if you’re thinking, at what point in history were the Christians oppressed, don’t forget the most recent dominating empire before the one we’re in now was the Muslim empire with a 600-year legacy – who, yes, colonized well into Europe (look at Spain and Eastern Europe).
The rhetoric in both Christian Evangelical Fundamentalists and Zionists groups is that we are repressed, we are attacked, we are at risk of death and domination. It isn't unusual for a Christian Evangelical Fundamentalist to proclaim that Muslims and their false God want to dominate over Euro-Christian cultures. And it isn't outside the scope of Zionists to proclaim that they are at a continual threat from European, Christian, or Muslim forces who wish for the eradication of Jewish people. While the historical context of these cultural foundations can certainly be justified, the inversion of these fears have birth oppressive and repressive cultures in the form of American global imperialism and Israeli settler colonialism. It becomes laughable when the fundamentalist Evangelicals are afraid of Muslim supremacy when the American Empire, and its inherent Christian undercurrents, have overwhelmingly orchestrated, manipulated, and devised the political, geographic, and economic outcomes of the entire Muslim world since WWI. The same logic can be applied the Zionist domination over the Palestinian people.
However, I share all of this to say that even those two specific groups, who now possess a great wealth of power, demonstrate how the daisy chain of how an oppressed group with a justified rage can mutate into a oppressive group with a tyrant authority. If today, I came into the world at a time when my experiences are oppressed and marginalized, but I have to resist the "lust for revenge" in how I lay down the foundations of my activism. I will not contribute to building a tomorrow that roots the fears of my ego into the soils of the Earth.
Instead, we can choose to respond to the offers of our spirit.
AN ALTERNATIVE DISPOSITION
If our egos tell us that fear, scarcity, and paranoia ought to be at our center, then our spirit tells us love, abundance, and faith can remedy this human fragility. By putting our ambitious egos in service of our spirit, we are putting ourselves to the good work.
...our spirit tells us love, abundance, and faith can remedy this human fragility. By putting our ambitious egos in service of our spirit, we are putting ourselves to the good work.
I fail at this over and over and over.
But that’s the work we’re tasked with. It isn’t a finish line we reach, it’s an unyielding process. And much like jogging builds endurance in our physical bodies, this negotiation of ego and spirit fortifies our spiritual bodies.
And if this is sounding religious (like Christians failing to live perfectly like Jesus or Buddhists’ in pursuit of stillness in mind, body, and heart), it’s because so many religions, in their essence, were simply descriptive observations of human spirit and not the prescriptions that they have mutated into. The struggle between an ambitiously entitled ego and a steadfast spirit has always been the struggle.
The struggle between an ambitiously entitled ego and a steadfast spirit has always been the struggle.
This internal work is where we manifest out from. And that grants us all the agency, self determination, and capacity to build a new world. It isn’t some far off future – it is right here and now.
So I ask, if imperialism and colonization is the political manifestation of our ego, what is the political manifestation of our spirit?