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Against the death maps of Empire: Contesting colonial borders through Indigenous sovereignty

October 14, 2015

This editor’s reflection is in response to a series of essays that was written on this site, examining the intersections between immigration and decolonization. The full series can be found here. There are further resources on this topic at the end of this reflection.

by Eric Ritskes

“We live within fabricated borders, within countries that were named by Europeans. Nigeria doesn’t mean anything in my language. I’m Yoruban… Our borders are all wrong.” (Seun Kuti, 2013)

Nelson Maldonado-Torres (2004) writes that “borders appear in our world as the death maps of empire” (p. 48). As toddlers wash up on beaches, borders are increasingly militarized in exclusionary ways (such as the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, or the Mexican-US borders attest to), and boats full of African migrants flee across watery borders, often ending up on the bottom of the Mediterranean rather than across it, that borders are death maps continues to be obvious to those most affected by their violence. And, as Benjamin Ndugga-Kabuye & Tia Oso’s essay in this series documents, borders affect and target certain bodies disproportionately and in differing ways – they maintain the privilege of few at the expense of many. Colonial borders work to contain, exclude, separate and kill.

As Seun Kuti states in the introductory quote and as this series demonstrates, our borders are currently all wrong. But are all borders wrong?

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Enacting solidarity between displaced and dispossessed peoples: resistance-through-art in the prairies

October 13, 2015

by Zoe Todd

In recent weeks, Mi’kmaq leader Stephen Augustine has called upon Canada to open up its doors to refugees fleeing violence in Syria. According to the Cape Breton Post, Augustine urged a crowd at a pro-refugee rally to acknowledge the model that the Mi’kmaq set when refugees and immigrants came to the Maritimes over a period of hundreds of years. Augustine reminded the crowd that refugees, “need to come to North America and we need to welcome them in the way that Aboriginal People welcomed people to eastern Canada and to Canada in general.” And, as my friend Leila Sidi pointed out to me this week, Harsha Walia articulated, in a public Facebook post, the ongoing solidarity between Indigenous peoples here in Canada and those fleeing violence abroad. Heeding Augustine’s call to ‘open our doors’, and acknowledging the solidarity between Indigenous peoples and refugees that Walia references, means seriously engaging with the inter-related issues of a) Indigenous sovereignty here in Canada, b) settler-colonial governance that seeks to control any and all borders and c) ongoing neo-colonial displacement of self-determining peoples around the globe.

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Gaagegoo Dabakaanan miiniwaa Debenjigejig (No Borders, Indigenous Sovereignty)

October 1, 2015

by Dylan Miner

Miner_Migration1. ‘No fences, no borders. Free movement for all.’

During the mid-1990s, I remember frequently crossing the Canada-USA border – as was common for youth living in the borderlands – to go to clubs and restaurants and, more importantly, for punk and hardcore shows. I was an art school student (and then art school dropout) living in Detroit, located on the US-side of the Detroit River, just across the Medicine Line from Windsor, Ontario.

Sometime in 1996, following the release of Propagandhi’s second album, Less Talk, More Rock, I decided to cross the Ambassador bridge and see the Winnipeg-based punk band play a show somewhere in southern Ontario (maybe London or Guelph or Hamilton, I don’t recall). Traveling with an Arab-American friend, we were stopped and questioned for potential gang involvement. This border stoppage delayed us enough so that we barely made the show – that was what seemed important to us at the time, as teenage punks. Although I am an Indigenous person, my white-privilege – a topic that light-skinned Indigenous and Latinas/os should talk more about – and class-privilege allow me to cross the border with less violence than brown-skinned Indigenous peoples, Latinas/os, Arabs, Black folks, and other people of colour. Although borders are inherently violent, settler-colonial nation-states enact border violence in ways that are not distributed equally.
Remembering my own border-crossing experiences, and thinking about my current work as an artist–activist–intellectual, brings to mind one particular eighty-eight second Propagandhi song, ‘Fuck the Border.’ As these Winnipeggers let us know in their searing song: ‘No fences, no borders. Free movement for all. Fuck the border.’ The anarchist-orientation of certain sub-genres of 1990s hardcore helped me, as a youth, understand the implications of global capitalism and the intersectionality of colonialism, capitalism, and hetero-patriarchy, among other structural oppressions. Bands like Propagandhi, Los Crudos, Limp Wrist, Chokehold, and Bikini Kill were particularly relevant to me, at one time or another. But what does punk have to do with Indigenous sovereignty, migration, and to the Canada-USA border?

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On Terror, Captivity, and Black-Korean Conflict

September 24, 2015

by Tamara K. Nopper

The words terror and captivity are not commonly found in the scholarship on Asian-Black relations, particularly in the scholarship around Korean storeowners and Black customers in the United States. But terror and captivity are there. Numerous studies show Black people report being watched, followed, and treated as criminals by Asian storeowners. And if you go off the grid of dominant commentary circulated and sanctioned in progressive spaces, you will hear more explicit discussions of what Black people endure as they shop in these businesses.

In response to Black people reporting in academic surveys and interviews that Asian storeowners treat them as criminals, many Asian American scholars, pundits, and activists reframe these accounts as indicative of “mutual misunderstanding” or “mutual stereotyping.” According to this narration, we are told yes, Korean immigrant storeowners may have “stereotypes” about Black people as criminals but in return, African Americans are xenophobic and treat Asians as foreigners.

Black people’s desire to live with dignity and free from the constant threat of captivity gets read as Black nationalism and Black nationalism is generally framed in Korean immigrant entrepreneurship literature as American-centric, irrational, violent, and opportunist. Boycotts, calls for community control, and organized challenges to Korean-owned liquor stores in Black neighborhoods are depicted as racist and xenophobic. On more than one occasion, Asian Americanists falsely equate Black protest targeting or affecting Korean-owned businesses with state violence and white supremacy, such as the U.S. government’s internment of Japanese Americans or the 1982 beating and subsequent death of Vincent Chin.

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No One Is Illegal, Canada is Illegal! Negotiating the relationships between settler colonialism and border imperialism through political slogans

September 21, 2015

by Craig Fortier

“No borders, no nations, stop the deportations!”

“We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!”

“Land, justice, self-determination! Canada is an illegal nation!”

“No one is illegal, Canada is illegal!”

Photo by David Ball

Photo by David Ball

These are four variations of chants that have been regularly heard during migrant justice rallies organized by No One Is Illegal in the city of Toronto over the past ten years. While these chants do not originate among activists in Toronto nor are they used exclusively in this city, they exist as part of a broad lexicon of political slogans that help to assert a radical anti-nationalist politics within contemporary migrant justice movements.

Rally chants play an important role in sustaining a high level of energy and enthusiasm within political demonstrations but they also bring into the public realm political debates that are happening within movements. As political context, analysis, relationships, and education change, the chants used in demonstrations are also modified, adapted, discarded, or resurrected. The four chants with which I began this article are part of an important public discussion that is taking place among activists on the streets of Toronto (as well as other cities in the Canadian and the US settler states). Specifically, these slogans and the shift in their usage illuminate some of the longstanding discussions and debates within migrant justice movements on the relationship between settler colonialism and border imperialism (Walia, 2013), the differential impact of borders on the lives of migrants, settlers, and Indigenous peoples (Byrd, 2011); and the conditions needed to imagine a radical migrant justice politics that aligns with Indigenous movements for decolonization (Walia, 2014).

The adaptation and use of political slogans in public demonstrations is a particularly interesting space to negotiate relationships of solidarity (in both analysis and practice). For members of No One Is Illegal and other activists within anti-authoritarian struggles, the chants used in their demonstrations are challenged and reaffirmed through relationships of solidarity, accountability and mutuality that have been fostered with Indigenous activists in their struggles for decolonization. Nonetheless, these relationships have also pushed migrant justice organizers to think through the potential conflicts and contradictions of asserting an anti-nationalist or no borders politics in their political slogans, given the context of settler colonialism in which they organize their movements. 

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Nationalist narratives, Immigration and Coloniality

September 17, 2015

by Leigh Patel

“I’ll tell you what freedom is to me. No fear. I mean, really! No fear”

Nina Simone

“Take me to another place

Take me to another land

Make me forget all that hurts me

Let me understand your plan”

Arrested Development

I am the daughter of immigrants. My family’s mixed history of sanctioned and subjugated migration has indelibly imbued our lives as well as our relationships to cultural practices, home and receiving countries, and to land. I am also a United States citizen and a scholar who studies migration. I have marched for immigrants’ rights and have met with local, state, and national policymakers to speak about the experiences of undocumented youth. I believe that the current push and pull of vulnerablized beings across nation-state borders is a project of dehumanization wrought by the insatiable settler capitalist project.

It is because of this mix of experiences that you will never hear me condone the idea that the United States is a nation built by immigrants. Or that it is a melting pot. Or a tapestry. Or any of the other commonplace nationalist narratives of migration that settler colonies fervently need. Decolonial praxis and dreaming require explicit attention to the ways that nationalist narratives of migration collude with and sustain the structures that displace and exploit Indigenous and Black life. These narratives don’t do any durable favors for migrants of various racial backgrounds, either. In this essay, I propose that we must be precise and exacting in locating the effects of these narratives in order to dismantle and dream beyond the structures they sustain.

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Forged in Struggle: How Migration, Resistance and Decolonization Shape Black Identities and Liberation Movements in North America

September 14, 2015

by Benjamin Ndugga-Kabuye & Tia Oso (Black Alliance for Just Immigration)

There is a graveyard at the center of American democracy. At this late moment we are still coming to terms with how Black migration inspires anxiety for anyone concerned with the maintenance of empire, nationhood, and even the process of decolonization. “A really broad notion of who is Black America” opens a transnational dialogue that can excavate the global scale and varied manifestations of antiblackness. In the U.S. the displacement and surveilling of Black bodies has been and still is central to democracy, especially since Black-led movements in the U.S. have made progress and grown with independence movements on the African continent and throughout the African Diaspora. In examining the nature of migration throughout the colonies, we find exploitative economic forces combined with punitive racialized policies, alongside resistance struggles to gain concessions such as conditional citizenship, but have yet to achieve true freedom.

For nearly a decade, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) has worked to magnify the intersection of racial justice and migrant rights. A shared movement for social and economic justice that connects multigenerational Black communities with recently arrived migrants is the only response to systemic racism and the neoliberal capitalist globalization that reinforces social and racial hierarchies.

Read more…


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