No, Landback doesn't mean Ethnostates

a short essay exercising my own brainworms

I don’t feel like engaging with most of the people who make this argument, but unfortunately engagement media usually preys on our compulsion to respond to the most salacious arguments and this essay is a moment of weakness for me. Twitch streamers in the past few years, and more specifically this month have taken to associating political concepts like decolonization and landback with the politics of racial purity going so far as to assume that both entail or could entail some sort of white genocide. For the informed, this is challenging because it takes historical targets of genocide and turns them into an imagined potential perpetrator of genocide, but I can understand why these two terms have such bad publicity. Organizations (and I use that term very lightly) like certain strains of the Uhuru movement, a specific example of this being black hammer, have used the term as branding for their organization while being as salacious as possible and take the most vulgar misunderstanding of landback to justify making a “no whites allowed compound” in Colorado which unsurprisingly never came into fruition. The irony of course, aside from their resemblance to every other clickbait feature of modernity, is that even these people depend on white permission with their frankly hilarious “reparations core”, made up of all white people needed to fund their organization. It’s frustrating to see people see this as the face of landback or decolonization, but I suppose I can see why that’s the case. Though it doesn’t excuse the critical lack of understanding from people arguing about this in the public sphere as though they were authorities on the matter.

                The first thing I would like to dispel is the notion that this conversation has anything to do with notions of racial purity among indigenous and black people. I think that there’s often little elaboration on the pigeonholed line “Race is just a colonial social construct.” That’s true, but money, the law, and friendship are also social constructs. It doesn’t mean those things are not important to acknowledge as social realities that most people are forced to acknowledge in material ways. Trying to speak coherently about decolonization as though we are arguing about deporting whites is not indicative of reality or even a potential one. For supposed leftists and all the strains of black nationalism’s engagements with Mao, it’s frustrating to see people who don’t understand how dialectics inform the course of one’s politics. White people and the idea of a white settler nation are one side of this dialectic and the existence of “non-white” people is locked in an oppositional but mutually defining relationship against it. In this conflict one aspect exerts power over the other, and both aspects of this contradiction contain elements of the other. This is easily recognized in the struggle against racism and colonialism across history. Europeans and their material interests in the eponymous “new world” were opposed to the people living here and the people enslaved to work here on account of wanting their land and labor for free. The categories of race that appeared to justify this are arbitrary in their biological basis, but they are not arbitrary in terms of their historical consequences (the immiseration of a disproportionate amount of black and indigenous people).  These two contradicting forces contain element of each other by virtue of most people not being purely one race, nor their interests reflecting that of the larger group they belong to, such as when Candace Owens supports the racism of Donald Trump because her material interests are in being paid to hawk conservativism.

Now what this says about the possibilities in our political imagination is drawn by our society’s distribution of power along racial fault lines and we should approach this with sober minds, not imagining a currently impossible situation where Native Americans are deporting white people unless someone can explain the current social mechanism by which that happens. We also shouldn’t lean to hard into acting like that’s the actual goal of Decolonization or Landback because while tempting to just lose patience with white people portraying it this way, it doesn’t do anyone who’s doing serious work organizing against the many fronts of colonization any good to have these misconceptions reproduced any more than they already are. Engaging in this way only confirms the belief that Black People and Native Americans are distinct races of people who organize around our race following the prescriptions of colonization. Ideally, we’re organized against the notion of being categorized this way in the first place, while understanding that most of the people who don’t have a material interest in racism don’t feel the same way as us.

Twitch streamers and twitter pedants have taken to arguing about this in a way that situates their own status as ‘leftists’ as some kind of justification for chiding advocates who express support for landback in ways they find incorrect or too extreme. They imagine that it disrupts the imagined universal peace of American society when indigenous people rightfully recognize that their land was stolen and demand it back. To veil the violent history and present of colonialism they have taken to projecting a fictional reign of terror that might be inflicted on them if these ideas are taken to their supposedly-logical conclusion, while making no mention of the reality of racialized violence that’s carried out in every institution: policing, housing, food distribution, healthcare, drug policy, employment, and plenty of others. Native Americans on pine ridge are living on what is ostensibly a concentration camp and understanding that they might hate you for that is a humbling responsibility of the people that this society has benefitted, the society these supposed “progressives” want to either reform or abolish. I’m a white-passing Native American and even I can accept this responsibility because I know the only way to meaningfully be indigenous is by belonging and being accountable to a community of other Native Americans. Part of that is understanding why someone might be suspicious or resentful of my white skin and to not try to argue with them why they’re aggrieving me personally. Because the conversation about native identity has always been so complicated and full of pretendians, I don’t think anybody serious about decolonization thinks we need to kick white people off the land on the basis of their race, and the interpretation of it as such is a way of projecting one’s own complacency with violence onto emerging forms of political awareness among indigenous and black people.

Colonization is foremost a capitalist economic process whereby land from unsuspecting, vulnerable, or demilitarized societies is forcibly seized by a foreign power and resettled by individual or national private property holders. Understanding colonization in this way can make it pretty distinguishable from the cultural aspects that it tends to become mired in, freeing landback from conversations about policy based around race. However, considering how many white people hold private property, I don’t think many are willing to surrender their own identity despite their expressed sympathies. In Class struggle and the origin of racial slavery, Independent scholar Theodore Allen explains,

“The pioneer slaveholding sociologist George Fitzhugh described in terms even more explicit the role of the poor whites in the social order established by and for the plantation bourgeoisie. "The poor [whites]," he said, "constitute our militia and our police. They protect men in the possession of property, as in other countries; and they do much more, they secure men in the possession of a kind of property which they could not hold a day but for the supervision and protection of the poor."6 Here Fitzhugh has perfected our definition of racial slavery. It is not simply that some whites own blacks slaves, but that no whites are so owned; not simply that whites are by definition non-slaves, but that the poor and laboring non-slave-holding whites are by racial definition enslavers of black labor.”

This is obviously not the case with all white people, but it is very likely that most white people, which is to say the descendants of Europeans, have someone in their family who benefitted from or participated in, the violent theft and redistribution of labor or land at least one generation before them. I don’t think this means claiming personal responsibility and apologizing for simply existing, in the way that someone like Robin D’Angelo encourages us to, which is typical of liberalism in its individuality (D’Angelo, I might add, is a white woman who makes money hand over fist teaching white professionals how to convincingly apologize to black people in books like “white fragility.”) Of course not, but it is incumbent on you to listen and understand that resentment comes from the grievance with you having so much power that you could simply avoid or ignore many of the injustices of colonialism. By that virtue you also have the power to not engage with that resentment or try to “own” individual colonized people with “facts and logic.” As I’ve demonstrated in this previous 3 paragraphs, our thoughts on any given matter are secondary to the matter of colonialism and it’s history. This is at the heart of being a materialist.

                I think what most self-understood white people want is to never fully break down the exploitative structure of our society while still feeling like they’re materially contributing to the ideals of human rights that liberal societies are paradoxically built on. They want to look at history and see a mirror that reflects all that they find virtuous because their actions do not speak loudly enough for themselves. Many features of modernity, as noted ubiquitously by Foucault, mimic the function served by the Church in antiquity, following this analysis we can identify several sects in the church of liberal social justice; there’s the catholic cultures of confession that pop up in online spaces like tumblr where users are encouraged to check their own privilege. The other approach is the protestant “personal relationship with god” which is an enormous responsibility to hold one’s self accountable without a hierarchy, especially when there are no social consequences for your mistakes. The problem these both have is they never meaningfully transcend interiority; We fail to see the other, and instead refer to a sense of what we prescribe as the needs of a community, a community we have no intimacy or familiarity with, a free floating, ambiguous and often self-serving “social justice.”  The solution is to never allow ourselves to be placed under the assumption that our identities, beliefs, or purely superficial actions mean we’re contributing to some investment in institutions that are going to eventually end colonialism. Those institutions when they are made manifest in the real world are almost universally private firms that employ people and have a stake in colonialism continuing to be perpetuated and apologized for, perpetuated and apologized for, over and over as a way to garner attention and/or offer itself as an adequate solution or platform for ending it. Part of the way we move beyond this impasse is by valuing people as we would ourselves and understanding the unique role we are situated in while refusing the notion that it is our destiny to be oppressed or oppressors. Part of that comes from the mutual understanding that comes with solidarity and solidarity can only be created in an environment that you share a mutual proximity to with others. This is obviously difficult to do over the internet and the purposeful misunderstanding of what the word landback even means is just one example of why that is.           

                I think that we would be wise to recognize not just what we’re fighting for but acknowledge that we cannot argue strangers on the internet over to our side. We can, on the other hand, acknowledge what our side is and who is on it. Trying to smugly correct someone who makes money off arguing about these things is essentially going to only benefit them in the long run, unless you’re also just cynically trying to build a competing brand that utilizes notions of landback as a way to market yourself, (which to be clear you should not do.) The most appropriate solution I can offer is that we acknowledge each other instead of trying to engage in a fruitless attempt to win atrophied hearts and minds. I think this operates independently of any abstractions like “social justice” or even things like “landback” as an abstraction and should instead be imagined as the most material and approximate thing I spoken about in this essay, which are those people and things approximate to you. While this may sound spinozist, I think the distinction I might add is that we need to understand that these relations are not things we project ourselves onto, they are distinct from us and warrant our respect and responsibility on that virtue. To state this alternative concisely before I end this short essay, I’ll provide a quote attributed to Che Guevara as he was about to be executed in Bolivia. Responding to whether or not he believed in God he said, “no but I believe in man.”