The brilliant author and poet Fred Moten came to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in October of last year to give a talk entitled, “Insovereignty and Cinema.” During that talk he made a distinction between “sovereignty” (as invulnerable and unaffected subjectivity) and “insovereignty” (as constrained and entangled relationality).
He posed the question, are indigeneity and sovereignty compatible? He argued not, because “home” (i.e. indigeneity) doesn’t make sense except in the context of violation, of dispossession, genocide, diaspora. “Sovereignty” as defined within the context of the modern nation-state structure is a concept, process, and relationship established by and centered in “whiteness” (used here as catch-all term for white supremacy and its many counterparts). Sovereignty is a form of redress to a state we were never actually in.
So. What happens if we go back before “subjectivity,” as Moten invites us to do, before this unaccountable concept is transplanted into foreign soil. What if we attempt to imagine and understanding ourselves and our relationships to one another on much older terms, relating to each other in a way that de-centers whiteness and emphasizes interdependency and concern for how our “freedom” is bound up in the freedom of other beings? What does “radicalism” look like or sounds like, then? What were our ancestral practices and traditional ways of doing politics, economics, and health care that actually made sense in holistic context?
Where are we sourcing our radicalism?
Is it effective? Is it going to produce the desired result? In the time needed? Of what nature is it? What stories and vocabulary are we using? How has our language constrained or expanded aspects of our imagination? What happens to the future when we liberate our imagination, histories, and identities from the circumscriptions and re-inventions of toxic whiteness and Euro-centrism? “It is the indigenous narrative that tells us we are as big as our world”(min 6:10). What is possible for our revolutions must be more than merely what we are told our resistance and liberation ought to look like, and who we are (and were) within that picture. The proper steps laid out for us are done so only to suit the comfortability of whiteness within a wholly unsustainable narrative.
If the means are the ends, if the process defines your destination, is this not what the politics of refusal is about? I don’t pretend to know much about traditional forms of warfare in Native American societies, for example, but I have read enough about the eastern tribes to at the very least be intrigued by the possibilities of sourcing lessons about liberation movements from the kind of ceremonial warfare that prioritizes kinship and relationality rather than notions of oppositional power. I don’t know that it’s possible to engage in “righteous warfare” with a party that doesn’t know what healthy relationships or principled action even look like. Are we not compelled to disengage as we would from an unhealthy, violent, or codependent relationship? Are we not compelled to refuse to engage in a process that reinforces self-serving, inequitable power relationships? State violence and white violence appear to be the only justifiable violence in mainstream culture, while all other forms of violence or retaliation are abhorrent and met with endless advice about “better” ways to resolve conflicts and achieve freedom or justice.
This past week’s celebration of Black Futures Month and the Honolulu African American Film Festival with two of the Black Lives Matter co-founding Queens, Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza, had me taking an intimate look at my own relationship to the movement and my interest in the discussions brewing about why black lives matter in the Hawaiian Kingdom, particularly in the context of the deoccupation movement in Hawaiʻi. How else could internationalism and joint-struggle look? How are we defining “radicalism,” or “militancy”? Can we have a robust, historicized conversation about the definition and role of violence in struggles for justice? Are these the right or wrong questions to ask, and why? How can we rekindle our radical imagination without accounting for all our history and all our language?*
For me, any movement for deoccupation, climate justice, racial justice, etc. that isn’t intergenerational and doesn’t honor a continuity deeper and fundamentally radical in the sense of its grounding in land(-based practices) and genealogy (as the sources of the knowledge systems that house the tools for our survival and our thriving), is a movement that doesn’t make sense. If we reproduce systems that are damaging (unwittingly or not) or find ourselves fighting the same battles in the same ways generation after generation, this tells me we haven’t truly learned about ourselves through our history and haven’t been able to draw creatively enough from that in our imagining of new systems and ways of being in the wake of globalization, which is not necessarily through our own fault. But I’m open to imagining new possibilities that will allow us to win.