Colonialism: erasure and the void
“Land occupation, as a mode of empire building, has been and continues to be tied to a logic of the void. Namely, justification for occupying land is often given on the basis of colonialist practices of traveling to ‘new’ lands and ‘discovering’ all matter of ‘voids’: for example, claims of population voids (for instance, lands allegedly unpopulated before the arrival of the settlers), land devoid of property ownership, territorial sovereignty, development, civilisation, or inhabitants with specific labor relations to specific parcels of land... [w]atever the specific nature of the alleged absence, a particular understanding of the notion of the void defines the colonialist practices of avoidance and erasure.”[i]
The logic of the void is, as Karen Barad points out, ‘the colonialist practice of avoidance and erasure’ which holds its danger on the political oppression and violence. Barad reminds us of all atomic bomb experiments that are happening on ‘empty’ lands, ignoring the environment already present there (beings and non-beings) and the populations that surround the areas. A sad example of erasure is the military settle colonizers and ethnic cleansing of Israel over Palestine, forcing thousands of Palestinians to become refugees, and more than that, a potential extinction to culture, languages, and more.[ii]
In, “When Languages Die: The Extinction Of The World's Languages: And The Erosion Of Human Knowledge” K. David Harrison raises an important awareness of how Euro-colonialism is one responsible for the loss of indigenous people, barring with them heritages of culture and language.[iii] The erasure of history results in what he calls `cultural amnesia`.[iv] He points that the death of language usually begins with political or social discrimination, forcing its speakers to abandon it in favor of ‘bigger’ or ‘more dominant’ languages.[v] Language has been shaped over time to serve particular needs and populations in their environment, therefore its potential extinction disrupts the transfer of traditional knowledge across generations.[vi]
On “Reinventando a imaginação sociológica para rebeldias competentes” inspired by many writings of the Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos, João Arriscado Nunes problematizes what he calls the ‘condition for objective Knowledge.’ For him, this condition happens when Eurocentric history is taken as a start point of knowledge, as a neutral perspective, silenced and reinforced by social sciences (led by Capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy), which in turn, produces colonial hegemonies - comforted by a universalized stand point, with a danger consequence of making minorities invisible.[vii]
For Nunes, associating social changes with ecological devastation and the extinction of the so-called ‘less-than-humans’, are marked not by regulations and emancipation, but rather by appropriation and violence.[viii] The consequence of defining societies or groups by its deprivation in relation to ‘developed’ others, or when social sciences (the ‘anthropologists’) happens to speak for the ‘native’, is the deny of histories that mark the experiences and struggles of these people, extracting the agency and pushes ‘native’ to a position of ‘Other.’[ix]
Nunes sees a need for de-canonization of social sciences, epistemological concepts, Eurocentric normative politics, to amplify the understanding of the present, the re-interpretation of the past to keep the future open against the end of history within a neoliberal order.[x] His arguments comes closer to what Donna J. Haraway calls the ‘politics of sublime indifference’, when relating neutrality with equality on the discourse of Humankind, which rather ignores the inequality of burdens imposed on earth by structural hegemony - and its consequences for humans and nonhumans.
The indifference Haraway referred to derives from both the logic of the void and the erasure of histories, assuming instead, ‘neutral’ as being synonym for American-Eurocentrism. As examples, let’s take the resistance of white liberals in the U.S with #BlackLivesMatter[xi] insisting that #AllLivesMatter is more instructive. Or, the general political approach towards environmental justice and climate change which, as Haraway points, often masks an attempt to make kin “while not seeing both past and ongoing colonial and other policies for extermination.”[xii] Haraway would propose the urge to respect historical contexts, diverse kinships, which “should not be generalized or appropriated in interest of a too-quick common humanity.” Thus, she defends a position of ‘non-neutrality’.[xiii]
There is nothing neutral in history, people have been categorized, divided, and ordered in and through hierarchies. Within this discourse lies what Karen Barad would call an attempt of ‘renormalization’. It subtracts all infinity of possibilities to include all human beings, pre-supposing that there is ‘common neutral essence’ of existence (the emphasis is put to highlight what is in trouble in my argument).[xiv] Here is where I claim for the extinction of Neutrality, where it does matter which story tells stories, and for that, one can no longer be (and was never) neutral.
A redefinition or new understanding of the term would support the awareness of the term ‘neutral’ and its misleading definition. There's danger in signifying neutrality, that is not impartial by any means as it contradicts itself and perpetuates Euro-American centric narratives that destroy for its own comfort while it also provokes its own death.
[i] (Barad, Troubling Time/s and Ecologies of Nothingness: Re-turning, Re-membering, and Facing the Incalculable, 2017, p. 76)
[ii] I suggest the reader to keep searching for more information about Palestine
[iii] For Harrison, “…it is hard to define exactly what the term ‘indigenous’ means, people who have inhabited a particular land since before recorded history and have a strong ecological engagement with that land may be considered indigenous. There is clearly a link between language diversity and the presence of indigenous people.” (Harrison, 2007, p. 11)
[iv] (Ibid., p. 20)
[v] (Ibid., pp. 5-8)
[vi] (Ibid., p. 16)
[vii] (Nunes, 2019, p. 342)
[viii] (Ibid., p. 344)
[ix] (Ibid., p. 343)
[x] (Ibid., p. 345)
[xi] The #BlackLivesMatter represents the awakening of African American and allied against police murders of Black people and other outrages.
[xii] (Haraway, 2016, p. 207)
[xiii] (Ibid., p. 4)
[xiv] (Barad, After the end of the world: Entangled nuclear colonialism, matters of force, and the material force of justice, 2020, p. 95)