Europe is Indefensible: mobilizing indigene and the colonial question

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In Discourses of Colonialism, Cesaire famously states:


A civilization that proves incapable of solving the problems it creates is a decadent civilization.

A civilization that chooses to close its eyes to its most crucial problems is a stricken civilization.

A civilization that uses its principles for trickery and deceit is a dying civilization.

The fact is that the so-called European civilization — “Western” civilization — as it has been shaped by two centuries of bourgeois rule, is incapable of solving the two major problems to which its existence has given rise: the problem of the proletariat and the colonial problem; that Europe is unable to justify itself either before the bar of “reason” or before the bar of “conscience”; and that, increasingly, it takes refuge in a hypocrisy which is all the more odious because it is less and less likely to deceive.

Europe is indefensible.


How do you understand his affirmation that Europe is indefensible?


Even looking at contemporary Europe, we see how much the colonial question permeates post-colonial metropoles (Spain, France, UK, Portugal, etc). Considering the readings on the Indigenous Republic in France and Rita’s lecture on racial segregation in Portugal, how has the colonial question (if not the memory of colonialism/racial categories) been mobilized today? (While this week’s reflection assignment will focus on problems and potentials of mobilizing indigenous identity against political, social, cultural, and economic exclusion, feel free to reference it here. Students who opt to do this week’s reflection assignment are welcome to cite discussion boards).


My aim for engaging students in Postcolonialism 101 is to show the global scale of colonialism (if not coloniality). Much literature has been written on what decolonization and liberation entail while many relationships of power derived from colonial exploitation have not changed. Struggles change according to time and context and unique to each community.


What is Fanon’s discussion of national consciousness and national culture?

And here’s a question I am hoping NAMS students can elaborate on to build a class discussion (anyone can answer though!): do you see a disjuncture when it comes to Indigenous peoples? For instance, Corntassel and Witmer (2008) problematize the language of ‘sovereignty and self-determination’ as emphasizing manners distinct from Western definitions of the term. They believe that a traditional indigenous concept of nationhood is “more inclusive and accurate for its emphasis on political and cultural relationships that indigenous peoples maintain with homelands, relatives, clans through their languages, ceremonies and sacred practices, which are all interrelated (xvii). “Peoplehood,” a concept defined by Tom Holm (apud Corntossel and Witmer, 2008: xvi) is also intertwined into their discussion: on one hand, communities have inherent political, economic and cultural powers while, on the other, identity (both collective and individual) is dynamic and interconnected with sacred histories, ceremonial cycles, and ancestral homelands as well as the maintenance of social practices and knowledge systems-–contrary to static political and legal definitions.


There is no singular approach. Last week, students engaged on the question of violence versus nonviolence. Additionally, while Fanon and Césaire leaned towards and utilized Marxism, they also saw a distinction between the European proletariat/class struggles and those of colonized peoples/nations in Africa.

What makes Indigenous struggles different? What can we take from thinkers such as Fanon and Césaire? What are our points of interception with broader anti-colonial struggles? (This can also bring us back to and be used in a critique of Indigenous of the Republic in France)

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