postcolonial feminism

Hi y'all! 

I’ve compiled a list of readings that speak to issues of nationalism, indigeneity, colonialism, and resistance/decolonization

The list is of course limited to what readings I’ve encountered at some point. They also come from a variety of academic disciplines and political movements (settler colonial studies, native studies, queer theory, postcolonial studies, feminist studies, trans studies).

And, with a few exceptions, these files were legally uploaded and shared… a lot of the time by the authors themselves, which I feel the need to point out because I love when authors can/do share their work online for free. (I say this not because I’m worried about the sanctity of ‘intellectual property’ but because I’m worried about things being deleted.)

Also re-linking to this list of pdf readings, “Natives Read Too,” from The Yáadihla Girls!

 human rights/war/nationalism/sovereignty 

transnational/native/postcolonial feminisms & feminist critiques: 

decolonization, art, and resistance (not necessarily feminist):  

queer theory/sexuality studies/native studies/trans studies 

*Actually just going to link to this page of Dr. Puar’s work because it’s  great and relevant (and she also has a lot of work on Israel/Palestine).

critiques of humanitarianism/developmentalism: 

[Really wish I knew more about this kind of work.] 

Biopolitics, science, environmental justice 

and…. U.S. politics  

Solidarity does not assume that our struggles are the same struggles, or that our pain is the same pain, or that our hope is for the same future. Solidarity involves commitment, and work, as well as the recognition that even if we do not have the same feelings, or the same lives, or the same bodies, we do live on common ground.
—  Sara Ahmed

A selection of reads centered around feminism, written by women of color for women of color.

Read on Trascender Magazine

you hear the stories of our women and in your inability to understand our strength and resilience you pity us. You do not speak our languages and yet you say you are the expert on our struggles. Without ever understanding what we’ve said of ourselves you pass on our stories and like a game of telephone the distortions grow with each telling. But we will not be silenced, we will speak our truths and we will saturate this discourse with our own narratives leaving no crevice for your lies.

Thus a particularly problematic effect of certain pedagogical codifications of difference is the conceptualization of race and gender in terms of personal or individual experience. Students often end up determining that they to “be more sensitive” to Third World peoples. The formulation of knowledge and politics through these individualistic, attitudinal parameters indicates an erasure of the very politics of knowledge involved in teaching and learning about difference. It also suggests an erasure of the structural and institutional parameters of what it means to understand difference in historical terms. If all conflict in the classroom is seen and understood on personal terms, it leads to a comfortable set of oppositions: people of color as the central voices and the bearers of all knowledge in class, and white people as “observers” with no responsibility to contribute and/or nothing valuable to contribute. In other words, white students are constructed as marginal observers and students of color as the real “knowers” in such a liberal or left classroom. While it may seem like people of color are thus granted voice and agency in the classroom, it is necessary to consider what particular kind of voice it is that is allowed them/us. It is a voice located in a different and separate space from the agency of white students. Thus, while it appears that in such a class the histories and cultures of marginalized peoples are now “legitimate” objects of study and discussion, the fact is that this legitimation takes places purely at an attitudinal, interpersonal level rather than in terms of a fundamental challenge to hegemonic knowledge and history. Often the culture in such a class vacillates between a high level of tension and an overwhelming desire to create harmony, acceptance of “difference,” and cordial relations in the classroom. Potentially this implicitly binary construction (Third World students vs. white students) undermines the understanding of complication that students must take seriously in order to understand “difference” as historical and relational. Coimplication refers to the idea that all of us (First and Third World) share certain histories as well as certain responsibilities: ideologies of race define both white and black peoples, just as gender ideologies define both women and men. Thus, while “experience” is an enabling focus in the classroom, unless it is explicitly understood as historical, contingent, and the result of interpretation, it can coagulate into frozen, binary, psychologistic positions. To summarize, this effective separation of white students from Third World students in such an explicitly politicized women’s studies classroom is problematic because it leads to an attitudinal engagement that bypasses the complexly situated politics of knowledge and potentially shores up a particular individual-oriented codification and commodification of race. It implicitly draws on and sustains a discourse of cultural pluralism, or what Henry Giroux calls “the pedagogy of normative pluralism” (95), a pedagogy in which we all occupy separate, different, and equally valuable places and where experience is defined not in terms of individual qua individual, but in terms of an individual as representative of a cultural group. This results in a depoliticization and dehistoricization of the idea of culture and makes possible the implicit management of race in the name of cooperation and harmony.
—  Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Race, Multiculturalism, and Pedagogies of Dissent
The apparent analogy of a seed being planted in furrowed soil to a male’s “planting” of semen in the vulva of a female led to the conclusion that men provide the seed of new life and women constitute the soil in which that seed grows. This metaphor is a central part of what was the most consequential and far-reaching mistake in human history: the idea that men are solely responsible for procreate… (it) continues to plague us today, centuries after we learned for sure that it is an error. The seed metaphor reversed the apparent positions of the sexes in regard to procreative power. What had always appeared to be principally female power was transformed into an entirely male power…men now claimed to be reproducers, while women were reduced from the seeming creators to the soil in which men’s creation grow: not to put too fine a point on it, women were equated with DIRT. Women were left with all the work of procreation, but men now took all the credit.
—  Robert S. McElvaine “Eve’s Seed: Biology, the Sexes and the Course of History”
Intervening on Racism and Privilege: Easy as 1-2-3?

by Mauro Sifuentes

This fragment of thought was stirred to the surface by a recent piece by Mia McKenzie on the Black Girl Dangerous site, entitled “4 Ways to Push Back Against Your Privilege” - the full text can be found here: [url=]

First, allow me the opportunity to situate myself, especially for those who have not yet encountered my work. I am a student of postcolonial and feminist thought, and I draw heavily upon poststructural critiques and creativity. I spend my time engaging youth in violence prevention work and also work with diverse constituencies to advocate for queer, transgender, and immigrant people of color. Previous projects I have participated in had international foci and I push my work to refuse U.S.-centrism even as it is situated within the U.S. Personally, some of my academic and advocacy interests lie at the intersection of race, gender, resistance, and rurality in California.

Returning to postcolonial thought for a moment, I would especially like to mention the work of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, a Third World scholar and feminist, and her ideas of the problematics and possibilities of essentialism. Essentialism, for those who are unfamiliar, is the idea that people who fall under an identity label all share some kind of essence with one another, and it is this (innately held) essence that allows us to claim these identities. She believes that there are moments when essentialism has strategic uses, but also cautions heavily against relying on it as a unifying - or dividing - and critical force.

I appreciate the multiplicity of queer and of color voices that the Black Girl Dangerous collective uplifts and displays with such frequency and passion. There are not nearly enough venues for queer people of color to vent, share, self-promote, analyze, and reflect, let alone publicly. I frequent the site and have found many perspectives that carry beautiful depth, pain, hope, and a desire to shift the world and public discourse.

Additionally, I want to emphasize that providing (white) people with itemized primers for how to go about deconstructing identities and intervening on privilege is inherently fraught - ethics and accountability are unfortunately much more complicated than a list of “to-dos” or “how-tos.” I feel like this inadvertently reduces the struggle of life-long accountability to a handful of check-list behaviors and turns ethics, which is a practice of relating to self and others, into a kind of morality, which relies heavily on binaries, dogmas, and strictures. These types of lists are problematic, especially when they are directed at white people or people in other privileged positions because there is already the inherent propensity within a racist and otherwise marginalizing society to allow one voice, or a small number of voices, to become representative of incalculable diversity. While we, as people of color and members of other targeted groups, are not responsible for the irreverent ways our words and thoughts will be used, we also owe it to ourselves and our communities to be robust, particular, and to encourage complex critical thought.

McKenzie’s article mentions four suggestions for intervening on privilege. Below I have itemized my responses for clarity and hope that these thoughts contribute to a conversation she is participating in as well. It would definitely be helpful for comprehension if folks familiarized themselves with the piece before reading further:

  1. I think that constant reflection on privilege is something people don’t do enough, beyond self-labeling as an ally. I’m more interested in the act of building alliance than the identity of an ally (a sentiment shared by McKenzie in other works) – whereas the latter focuses on an individual crafting a morally righteous self, the former focuses on the acts of building communities of difference. “Relinquishing/sharing power” - it can be incredibly useful to conceive of power as a thing, and in my experience it is also useful to see it as a set of relations that we navigate, that are not stagnant, and that we have the agency to shift. It is difficult to see how power/privilege are to be relinquished or shared, because that reduces them to ‘things’, or some ideological commodity; privilege is something to be refused in moments, intervened upon in others, and questioned always, including the conditions that allow for that privileging.

  2. I fully encourage people to interrogate the spaces they feel entitled to and to reconfigure the ease with which they access those spaces; however, I don’t think the question should always come down to a “should I/shouldn’t I” opposition, but rather, a thoughtful reflection on attendance might include some of the following questions: Was this event designed for me as an audience? If not, how can my participation be respectful? Who is not present? Who is disproportionately represented? Am I in a position to donate to this event? Am I in a position to engage the event producers? If not, do I know people who are? Do I have people in my life to help me strategize respectful interventions? In fact, these are questions you might ask of yourself in any space. Sometimes you may decide it is best if you don’t attend, and sometimes you may attend hoping to practice entering a space with humility and a desire to learn.

  3. I think this item might be more forceful if framed differently. Rather than “shut up/don’t talk,” promote listening skills in people who are used to taking up space. Implore people to pay attention to who is speaking in a room. In my work with youth, I promote the Move Up/Move Back technique (which is borrowed from many of the spaces I’ve been in, including academic and community spaces), where people who usually speak more are asked to be increasingly mindful of how much conversational space they take up, and people who usually are less inclined to speak challenge themselves to use their voices to fill the space. These dynamics will shift from space to space, and sometimes you may be in a space where you need to Move Up, whereas in others, you may need to Move Back.

  4. I think that what I’m less interested in is policing which identities people claim than learning all the different reasons people claim identities. I’ve never allowed myself to be seduced into comfort by being around people who share certain identity markers with myself. I don’t find safety around most trans people, nor around queer people, nor around all people of color – and not because those people were inauthentic or 'posers.’ In my experience, the moment we begin to draw lines is the same moment we’ve drawn a circle of truth and purity around ourselves, whether or not we intend to do so.

    I have no right to tell people who/what they are – I DO have a right to ask them questions of curiosity and accountability. If a man who only dates and is attracted to women calls himself queer because of cultural proximity, I would want to understand more of what resonates for him with that label, in which spaces he claims it, what his aversion is to heteronormative spaces, and what his commitments are to queer communities who experience very intense forms of discrimination and how he differentiates his own experience of queerness. I also don’t pretend that the way a rich, college-educated queer person experiences their queerness is at all similar to how a working class or immigrant queer person experiences their queerness. The essentialism behind suggesting that only certain people have a right to identity markers assumes that we know what that marker means to each person who claims it and it demands instantaneous knowability of hugely diverse populations, and assumes forms of sameness that may not at all be present.

McKenzie repeatedly returns to her opinion that light-skinned people of color need to be careful about claiming POC status, and that some of these people claim to not experience racism. Whether or not they are aware of it, racism has informed their experience. For a person to be of POC descent and to deny that racism has informed/affected their existence via targeting of racism is a product of internalized racism – whose experiences of racism are deemed most legitimate, in a culture that is obsessed with oversignifying the visual, both to the detriment of populations of communities of color and to the benefit of those with light skin (white or of color)? Additionally, the fixation on light-skinnedness as a determining factor in experiences of racism stems from a very particular construction of race, one that is incredibly US-centric, though it does play out in many other places as a product of Euro-American colonization. We need only to look at the genocide in Rwanda and the targeting of Kashmiris in order to see that certain discursive formulations of racialization/ethnic distinction do not always privilege lighter-skinned populations, when it comes to historical and global contexts. What are we to make of indigenous communities in Scandinavia and how they are discriminated based on race/ethnicity, or the ethnic divisions in Ireland, peoples whose skin we would all automatically read as 'white’ within a U.S. setting?

Relying on the idea light-skinned privilege in order to ignore other people’s experiences of racism or ethnic discrimination, diverse as they are, is to use the Master’s tools to patch over the holes in his house while claiming to have torn it down. I’m the darkest member of my mixed-race family – yes, even darker than my 'fully’ Mexican-American mother - and it would not only be inaccurate to say my siblings have not experienced racism; it would be violent as well, as I would be denying the complexity of their experience. Perhaps it might be more useful to support light-skinned POCs in their own excavations of racism in their lives, as well as encouraging them to think about how passing privilege functions for them – as it both provide ease in certain moments, and also exposes them to grossly offensive forms of racism in the presence of white people who assume their whiteness. Additionally, reducing the degree of racism experienced to skin color is to pretend that experiences of racism are primarily and exclusively interpersonal, versus structural, historical, and institutional. A light-skinned person of color may be the child of dark-skinned, immigrant, migrant farm laborers with no college education who struggled to put food on the table – which would seriously inform and shape that light-skinned person’s life possibilities via structural racism, even if they are unable to identify the ways interpersonal racism shows up in their life. This caricature I paint is not even a rhetorical strategy, but a person who exists.

Does any one of us get to decide who is dark enough to experience 'true’ racism, globally? Identity markers are already multiple – we are using singular words to demarcate certain parts of people’s many identities in order to parse them into groups. In the end, we speak these words in English, and there is no way to purify them of history just enough to render them wholly un-problematic.

I think that horizontal alliances (alliances across communities that are targeted by an -ism, though the manifestations may be hugely different) are seriously lacking in communities of color, and while McKenzie’s perspective is easily digestible both by many progressive white (queer) people, and by some who share similar experiences of racism, it comes across as reductive, essentializing, and simply, reproductive of unquestioned ideological constructions around race and racism. I don’t think she is attempting to be as reductive and callous as she comes across, and it seems she is trying to get at the complexity of experiences of racism, but this is quickly lost. It is difficult to implore others to be mindful of their privilege when investigations of structural oppression are so one-dimensional. I would ask that she offer more specificity in lieu of universals/generalizations, as her perspective is one I value and one that warrants much more space in a world that would rather she remain silent. Rigor and depth of engagement would be a great place to start.

I agree that we all need to get on board with having more conversations, being more thoughtful about the shifting relations to privilege we carry with us as we walk through the diverse spaces we inhabit, and that many claims to identity will be fraught and problematic. What I cannot get behind is the moralistic basis for McKenzie’s suggestions, the way she flattens race into her own particular experiences of racism, and the trendy list-format-as-guidebook for people seeking to rethink their relationships to privilege and alliance. In my studies, interventions, and personal reflection, I have taken it as an ethical imperative to critique not to tear things down, but to participate in building them up. I am not one to wholly affirm things and can only hope that these contributions I offer here are taken as an extension of engagement, a desire to share and learn, and a sense of hope in everyone’s ability to reflect on the truths they hold dear.  

For comments/questions/feedback, please contact me at:

One thing that I notice since relocating to the West is the social pressure (maybe even a requirement?) to define who, how, and why you are the person you are. Sometimes you can’t have a simple conversation without taking three minutes to disclose all of your identities and current life practices. Needless to say that is a trend in most queer/trans spaces. The hyper-performance of identification satisfies the individual desire to feel defined and established, along with comfortably placing yourself within the structures we live under. And this definitely applies to gender discourses as well.


But– I realize how both my physical and mental colonization contributes to my situation: The context in which I was brought up (Middle East) is diametrically opposed to the one I am living in now (New York City). The same goes for the language and culture I currently consume. (I talk about these issues more on my personal tumblr: I have let the Western and White queer and trans discourses of gender somehow sneak their way into my life. I now realize that me seeking validation in identifying within this system not only perpetuates colonialism and cultural imperialism, it also halts me from carrying my gender to it’s full potential. Sadly however, when I tell people that I don’t really identify as anything, it ignites confusion and anxieties on their end and I can see from their reactions that they would much rather have a definite, documentable answer from me. (Keep in mind that my personal identification, or the lack thereof, has nothing to do with how I am treated and read in the world but that is a discussion for another article.)

And that is the basic practice of colonialism– Seeing something new, and something that does not belong to you and demanding access and documentation per your values and practices.

Maybe I have taken in the Western individualistic self-branding idea and reverted it at exponential levels, or I simply do not get the discourse, but my answer to this uncomfortable state of being is to say that my gender is my gender and it can’t be compared, situated, or categorized with anyone else’s. When I identify the way I identify currently is simply an enactment of the politics of the self- because frankly I don’t see any other alternative that makes sense to me right now.
To privilege the racial body in the absence of historical context is indeed to generate an idiom that tends to waver with impressionistic haste between the abstractions of postcoloniality and the anecdotal literalism of what it means to articulate an `identity’ for a woman writer of color. Despite its proclaimed location within contemporary theoretical– not to mention post-theoretical–discourse, such an idiom poignantly illustrates the hidden and unnecessary desire to resuscitate the `self.’ What is most striking about such discursive practices is their failure to confront what may be characterized best as a great enamourment with the `real.’ Theories of postcolonial feminism eminently lend themselves to a reopening of the continued dialogue that literary and cultural studies have–and will continue to have–with the perplexing category known as realism, but at present the former discourse chooses to remain too precariously parochial to recognize the bounty that is surely its to give. Realism, however, is too dangerous a term for an idiom that seeks to raise identity to the power of theory. While both may be windmills to the quixotic urge to supply black feminism with some version of the `real,’ Trinh’s musings on this subject add a mordantly pragmatic option to my initial question: `what comes first, race or gender?’ Perhaps the query would be more finely calibrated if it were rephrased to ask, `What comes first, race, gender, or profession?’ And what, in our sorry dealings with such realisms, is the most phantasmagoric category of all? If race is to complicate the project of divergent feminisms, in other words, it cannot take recourse to biologism, nor to the incipient menace of rewriting alterity into the ambiguous shape of the exotic body.
—  Sara Suleri, Woman Skin Deep: Feminism and the Postcolonial Condition

In 2007, women from the Movement of the Indigenous of the Republic took part in the annual 8th of March demonstration in support of women’s struggles. At that time, the American campaign against Iran had begun. We decided to march behind a banner that’s message was “No feminism without anti-imperialism”. We were all wearing Palestinian kaffiyehs and handing out flyers in support of three resistant Iraqi women taken prisoner by the Americans. When we arrived, the organizers of the official procession started chanting slogans in support of Iranian women. We found these slogans extremely shocking given the ideological offensive against Iran at that time. Why the Iranians, the Algerians and not the Palestinians and the Iraqis? Why such selective choices? To thwart these slogans, we decided to express our solidarity not with Third World women but rather with Western women. And so we chanted:

Solidarity with Swedish women!

Solidarity with Italian women!

Solidarity with German women!

Solidarity with English women!

Solidarity with French women!

Solidarity with American women!

Which meant: why should you, white women, have the privilege of solidarity? You are also battered, raped, you are also subject to men’s violence, you are also underpaid, despised, your bodies are also instrumentalized…

I can tell you that they looked at us as if we were from outer space. What we were saying seemed surreal, inconceivable. It was like the 4th dimension. It wasn’t so much the fact that we reminded them of their situation as Western women that shocked them. It was more the fact that African and Arabo-Muslim women had dared symbolically subvert a relationship of domination and had established themselves as patrons. In other words, with this skilful rhetorical turn, we showed them that they de facto had a superior status to our own.


From “White women and the privilege of solidarity” - Houria Bouteldja



Next semester (Feb-June) I will hopefully be taking courses on Gender, Ethnicity and Religion, as well as Gender, Visualty and Technology. Today the book for the first course came in the mail - as you can see in the pictures above, the topics and essays are all super interesting! I’ll start reading in January and I also hope to share some of the things I learn on this blog!

~mod r

“In place of dignity I would like rather to propose a concept of disposability, which seems to acknowledge a logic of the marketplace critically and without avowing it as such. Disposability forces an understanding of how chrematistics is as much reliant on an idea of disposable income as it is on an idea of disposable people. It also is necessarily a heteronomy rather than an autonomy, acknowledging the multiple names and laws that go into the constitution of any subject, and the violations that go along with this. If I develop a chain here in this long distance between disposable income and disposable people, it is to demonstrate the formal one in which Freud is right to think of money as shit with all the rejections and pleasures that go with it.

So how, then, would there be any guarantee of the principle of equivalence in the right to justice? It is precisely through a desubjectivation. This is not only the loss of subjection through a change in the content with which the subject is filled. It is the undoing of the very process of being a subject itself. A singular signature suggesting and indeed asserting a characteristic uniqueness may nonetheless be divisible into a heteronomy. Rather than establishing sameness and consistency as being the mark of signature, personhood, humanness, autonomy, or life itself, another law may ultimately prevail differentiated from the primitive, if modern, notion of subjecthood.

The moments of dissolution and displacement are crucial in thinking not only the individuated subject, but also the group in postcoloniality - the sounds beyond the communicated, the not-human or excess of autonomous humanity that is consistently coming undone in a melancholic manifestation. Demetaphorization would be one of the symptoms of that, when the ‘as if’ disappears when dogs are stabbed and allowed to die with grace, and when the lack of consistency from disposable income to disposable people makes it impossible to relate to another humanity as if they had the same right to justice. Melancholia, as symptom and reading practice does offer a way of gauging how critical agency functions to constantly undo injustices performed in the name of justice and novelty. The impossibility of completed digestion of the past, and its calm production of novelty, manifests itself in constant critique. While melancholia may be an ‘impoverishment of the ego’ as Freud puts it, it is also a form of constant critical agency, and establishment of any notion of the subject in relation to disposability rather than dignity. Postcolonial feminism has frequently questioned the prioritization of identitarian frameworks that rest on rights based notions of injury and reparation. Justice, in this regard, would force an understanding of the radical disparities and complicities of both the ‘as if’ and an impossible relation to it that will be crucial in furthering an ethico-political realm for postcolonial feminism beyond rights based reinstatement of the liberal subject.”

“Indignity” by Ranjana Khanna


RePlug - I found the Kalki Performance Video! 

transcript / the monologue is here -

tumblr Feminists - you need to spread this to the world, for the sisters in India.

Because intersectionality counts

 ’‘For many years, feminist peace researchers have been calling attention to the links between the position of women in society and the continued tolerance of social and gender violence and the war system. They argue that these conditions are not separate phenomena. That they are interrelated, interdependent and reciprocally created’’ Betty A. Reardon

Forms of oppression, injustice and intolerance are always interlinked, and by acknowledging the concerns of disadvantaged groups, the links can be exposed.

This is why feminism needs intersectionality or it’s not feminism.

What Little I Can Do

I pulled myself off of Tumblr some time ago because I felt that I had nothing to say that wasn’t being said by others, over and over again, and better than I could say it. In my classroom last week, while making connections between Frantz Fanon and Virginie Despentes, a student of mine asked, “In both queer feminism and postcolonialism, everyone seems to be saying the same thing over and over again, and very little changes. I know more than I used to, and I’m going to act differently now. If that’s happening to me, then why isn’t it happening to everyone?” I had no concrete answers for her. All I could say was that if they do not hear us the first time, we must try again. If they do not hear us one way, we must be heard another way. The more of us say what we have to say in as many ways as we can, the more of a chance we might have of being heard.  In the very moment I said it, I recognize that I had silenced myself (not just on the internet) out of defeatism and fear of censure. This weekend, I am compelled to share my thoughts, if only to take the only kind of action I know how to take.

Thursday evening, twin suicide bombings in Beirut left at least 41 dead and 200 wounded. Over 110 people died on Friday night in series of brutal terrorist attacks on Paris by ISIS. Over 26 dead and 61 wounded in a roadside suicide bombing in Baghdad. ISIS takes responsibility. Debates continue about whether to call them Islamic State (IS) and legitimate the caliphate they have declared, which Muslims around the world are rallying against in protests, open letters, tweets, and Facebook statuses, as to insist that these acts are not representative of Islam or most Muslims. The large majority of the coverage focuses on the attacks in Paris. Facebook launched the option to temporary place one’s profile picture underneath the French flag in solidarity. Debates have ensued about whether to politicize grief, when it’s important to understand death as political, and the massive inequality of news coverage between tragedy in the “Western” world and tragedy elsewhere. More publicly than I have ever seen it, there is an outcry about the obviousness with which we deem some lives more sacred than others. That which is less sacred is not European, not North American, not Christian, and not white.

This weekend, multiple histories of oppression layered on top of one another and showed the world their intersecting wounds. The distance in space and proximity in time are not accidental. The stranglehold the Euro-U.S. Empire has on the resources and chances nations in the Middle East, Africa, and most of Asia have for any legitimate political sovereignty is provides for the violences that have roiled the globe for decades, and yet I don’t see it discussed in these terms nearly enough in reactions on news and social media. The global denigration of the cultures and languages of the Middle East, and the rapid resurgence of colonial Orientalism only add fuel to extremist fire. Often, these attacks are framed as random, unprovoked follies of an insane, violent people driven mad by a faith that run directly contrary to the Enlightened, liberal, modern, rational, supposedly democratic ideals by which the “West” defines itself. And yet, radical groups and their extremism are often Western products. Philip Gourevitch wrote for The New Yorker,

With the increasing familiarity of such attacks comes the increasing familiarity of the reaction: the state of emergency, the military in the streets, the closing of the borders, the call for harder, fiercer, more unrelenting retaliation. The self-inflicted wounds of America’s often-disastrous reactions to the wound of 9/11 stand as a cautionary tale. But although ISIS itself arose from the rubble of America’s overreaction, there is no reason to expect that the caution will be heeded.

Continuous, cyclical, violent, global one-upmanship only replicates itself exponentially, regardless of which “side” the violence comes from. That Gourevitch highlights “the self-inflicted wound,” however is important. There may be a great deal mad about ISIS, but its existence is by no means random. While no one would argue that anyone “deserves” the kind of attacks suffered by those in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad this weekend, we in the “West” repeatedly refuse to trace the histories that lead to terrorist acts because the finger points back at us, while we claim moral superiority and the exclusive right to declare war. Seldom do we see articles even briefly reversing perspective, trying to see how one culture’s terrorist is another culture’s freedom fighter. Seldom do we see these actions as cries for recognition, acknowledgment, and restitution from those who have for generations been oppressed and puppeteered, declaring that they will be puppets no more. Somehow, even in the face of massive destruction, we are slow to ask why.

Global denunciations of ISIS and of terrorism are appropriately harsh. The outrage is warranted, and the global solidarity it seems engender is heartening. Thankfully, there is also attention being paid to the efforts of Muslims across the globe protesting, writing open letters, and circulating material on social media as part of the #notinmyname campaign, asserting that these murders are not representative of Islam. That it is even necessary to highlight to the world that Islam, one of the world’s largest and oldest religions, has to defend its name against the psychotic actions of a terrifying few speaks to the depth of the damage done to Islam and the Middle East. While these acts are not representative of Islam or of those who insist on diplomatic ways to right the massive inequality of power between the “West” and the Middle East, I would like to see some acknowledgment that these attacks are, beyond the platform of establishing a caliphate (which few Muslims would support) and a way to force the hand of the “West” to split the world in two distinct halves, are a form of making an argument. Spectacular violence of this kind calls attention through theater and carnage to colonial histories and a neo-imperialist present that daily prevents people across the globe from embracing their chosen ways of life, or often, from simply living. This plight has been so suppressed and silenced for so long, transformed and bent through orientalist discourse, that the resistance formations we see now are outsized, bombastic, entirely disconnected from the objective of justice.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement in the United States, which has now swelled into a global phenomenon, brought the discussion of violence and armed resistance in almost every North American institution of learning. In conversations about the long standing structural violence against black and brown bodies in the U.S. and the histories of slavery, indentured labor, and exploitation that are replicated and reinforced in present U.S. policy and social life, many in my community – admittedly radical leftist, overeducated intellectuals in the public university system – conclude that violent response may be the only recourse. This is hardly the first case in which the oppressed had to seriously debate the value of armed resistance over passive or pacifistic means. The argument, simplistically, goes: If there is no winning through available, sanctioned methods, then other methods must be employed. I make this connection because, should we put ourselves in the shoes of those whose lives are lived under the boot of Euro-U.S. neo-imperialism, extremism looks like activism’s murderous cousin. When faced with the option of diplomacy and conversation, the response could similarly be that one cannot use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house. The scale here is entirely different, but the questions about violence, extremist or otherwise, remain. If we turn the tables again, should the U.S., France, and others join hands in a war on terror? Would violence of that scale be justified? Is global one-upmanship going to resolve the issue, or lead us outright into global warfare the consequences of which are impossible to determine?  

When we zoom out from the Manichean universe in whose terms these atrocities force us to think, we see those who are most vulnerable caught in the divide. Some are now blaming the presence of refugees and migrants for the atrocities in Paris. That one of perpetrators may have to have come through Greece on a falsified Syrian passport, allowing him to travel through Europe and commit mass murder in France renders those undertaking these dramatically dangerous passages further vulnerable. A tweet making the rounds on Facebook reads, “To people blaming the refugees for in Paris tonight. Do you realize that these are the people the refugees are trying to run away from…?” By infiltrating the most defenseless people on Earth (whose conditions these global violences already produced,) and rendering them more vulnerable, the “collateral damage” of these acts may now include even more massive migrant and refugee death on the borders of Europe. On which side of which war are their bodies to be caught, and in the name of whose god, culture, nation, philosophy? Is violence a question, then, of scale, or of efficacy? What kinds of violence are we prepared to condone, and against whose bodies, whose name, whose formation? Who do we see as properly representative of the needs and lives of the peoples for whom they purport to speak? What separates the extreme from the necessary?

Hysteria, stupidity, theater, and spectacle are driving forces too strong in the 24-hour news cycle for anyone to have a practical conversation about global justice. On social media, we are being called to pray. Pray for Paris, pray for the world, pray for the peace-loving Muslims who do not accept atrocity in their name. I was born into a Muslim family, but I do not practice or properly identify as a believer. I wouldn’t know exactly how or whom to pray to, but I must ask, which god’s people today do not have on their hands the blood of their brothers and sisters? Who amongst us, amidst all of our complicity, can look upward without shame braided together with our grief? When not even faith is available to foster a notion of the sanctity of all life, where do we turn? When all corners of the globe call for war all at once, what god would not have its hands tied?

I removed myself temporarily from these questions and the repeated calls for acknowledgment of simultaneous atrocities across the world from Paris to focus on a lesson plan. On Tuesday, I am teaching Césaire’s “Discourse on Colonialism” (1955).  

…the crowning barbarism that sums up all the daily barbarisms …they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it legitimized it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples; …it would be worthwhile to …reveal to the very distinguished, very humanistic, very Christian bourgeois of the twentieth century that without his being aware of it, he has a Hitler inside him, …that if he rails against him, …that, at bottom, what he cannot forgive Hitler for is not crime in itself, the crime against man, it is not the humiliation of man as such, it is the crime against the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact that he applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of Indian, and the blacks of Africa.

That is the great thing I hold against pseudo-humanism: that for too long it has diminished the rights of man, that its concept of those rights has been – and still is – narrow and fragmentary, incomplete and biased and, all things considered, sordidly racist (3).

Césaire wrote these words in 1955, and yet the words ring enormously true today.  Islamophobia, global racism, and the migrant crisis in Europe beg the question of the history of the nation-state and the citizen-subject. Enlightenment liberalism can only imagine the nation and the citizen in terms of the white, male (Western, rational) being whose existence and definition depends on the domination and objecthood of racialized bodies and cultures deracinated and corrupted by colonization. What am I to say to my students, who hail from all over the world, speak a dozen languages between them, and who are all queer, brown, and black persons in a variety of combinations, about how they are to read such a passage in the wake of this weekend’s global tragedies?

In a conversation with my brother, I found myself saying,

“You and me, we are Muslim, secular, South Asian, European, and American. With that perspective, we have to do something. Anything.”

“And what is that?” he asked.

What I can do as a teacher and a writer is teach, and write. If I say that which has been said over and over again, I add my voice to the litany. If I have no answers, perhaps I can ask some good questions. I’d rather do the only things I can do, and say the things I can say in the ways I can say them, than do nothing.


Name: Danielle Pointe-Tezana (fun fact,right? Long names are long.)

: Actress (Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor Zahra Bastet)

Tumblr URL: theneverlandarchitect

: Senior BA Acting/WLP Double Major, avidly studying the intersection between feminism and postcolonial theory, especially as relates to the media. I’ve been storytelling and acting since I was about three, and jumping around shouting spells and trying to be a magical action hero since about 3rd grade, when the near-illegible print inside my copy of the Philosopher’s Stone says I read my first Harry Potter book.
I’m also trained (and undergoing advanced training) in stage and film violence, specifically unarmed, quarterstaff, broadsword, and rapier - which, if you look closely - has quite a bit in common with wand dueling.  Also I met JK Rowling at a book signing once and she told me I was a sweetheart. It is one of the highlights of my existence thus far. 

Hogwarts House: “Those patient Hufflepuffs are true, and *unafraid of toil*.”

: Orphan Black, Harry Potter (duh), Young Avengers, The Wicked Years Saga (The novels by G. Maguire moreso than the musical),The Amazing Spiderman, but ALSO Ultimate Spiderman (Miles Morales XD XD) , Tomb Raider, Assassin’s Creed, Game of Thrones(?), VGHS, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Pacific Rim,OINTB, and last, but not least, “Renaissance” Disney/Disney-Pixar. Because of reasons.

Hobbies: *gestures towards long list of fandoms* Tumblr. Fanfiction, Video Games, Swashbuckling, Lyric writing, Building things, very slowly teaching myself the piano, Nerding out about Theme Parks, Capitalizing Random words in Sentences.

What You’re most excited for in the film: Cursebreaking, anyone!?! Seriously, playing a DADA professor in the vein of all of the awesome (and not so awesome) individuals who’ve done that job has me ecstatic. Getting to do so as a badass OC who tells a story previously untold in the Potterverse? What more could I ask for? /politics and fangirling.
Wait, more fangirling: GUYS.The CASTLE. The POTTERVERSE. I CAN’T.