This piece of writing is inspired in large part by Iris M. Young’s essay, The Five Faces Of Oppression, but is also intensively informed and inspired by several indigenous communities, elders, and radical grassroots on whose ancestral territories I have been living all my life. I have been privileged to learn from their collective knowledge, and they have continually and strongly advocated for the pursuit of self-knowledge as well. I am sharing a collaborative insight that I have assembled independently, and which draws upon both “sets” of knowledge here. This piece of writing is an effort to further promote dialogue about colonialism, all the associated oppressions that came along with it (which are interdependent and almost never exist in isolation from one another, and thus, self-perpetuate continually), as well as precisely where systems of Settler privilege originate from. I personally felt the need to adapt and expand Young’s prior work, on defining the shared nature of all oppressions, to the specific and complex nature of colonialism as a whole. This blog entry is an independent initiative of mine, and my own personal attempt to list and begin to discuss the several faces of colonial oppression. I write in the hopes that it may provide other people with a few basic points of unity, upon which I hope they can either start or continue their own conversations about colonialism. This is a long entry because it’s an utterly enormous idea to tackle in one piece of writing — you’ll probably want to bookmark it and come back to it several times, rather than take it all in in a single reading.
Cultural chauvinism is the belief that one’s culture (and often one’s religion or spirituality) is somehow objectively superior to all other cultures (and religions or spiritualities). It is far beyond a sense of pride in one’s own heritage, as it is actually an attempt to devalue, invalidate, or denigrate others for their heritage. It is measuring all other cultures against one’s own (whether merely assumed or actually one’s culture of origin), in a rigged evaluation process by which no others will ever measure up. Straights exhibit cultural chauvinism towards gay, lesbian, and queer communities, and straight-acting gays and lesbians exhibit the same form of hostility towards non-conforming gay, lesbian, and queer communities. Similarly, this lateral violence of cultural chauvinism permeates throughout white communities and within racialized communities, at various intersections of social privilege, thus cultural chauvinism is rarely (if ever) isolated from several other facets of colonialism. However, it is most frequently coupled with racism.
Cultural chauvinism is also a distinct practice from legitimately critiquing a given culture, especially when one is critiquing the dominant culture as an assimilative, colonial system of interdependent networks of privilege and oppression. It is not necessary to fully honour another person’s culture in order to critique the ways it is systematically erased by an over-arching hegemony. One need only respect the right of the peoples who descended from those cultures, to exist and participate in their traditions, to appreciate the ways cultural chauvinism has cost them connections to their own heritage — an ongoing mental process that can reveal how one’s own connections to his/her ancestral traditions has been severed, erased, or repeatedly compromised by dominant attitudes of superiority.
Cultural imperialism is distinct from cultural chauvinism in that it is the active effort to eradicate or eliminate “inferior” cultures, religions, spiritualities, and traditions. It is an effort to replace those cultures which do not measure up with one’s own, and not merely an attitude of superiority (harmful though, that attitude clearly is). Cultural imperialism has repeatedly become institutionalized into colonial law throughout history — Canada’s Indian Act (still “in force”) is just one current example that hits close to home for this writer. I discuss a much more specific pattern of imperialism in action, below, in relation to the colonization, corruption, and radicalization of indigenous spiritualities.
Cultural imperialism has repeatedly resulted throughout history and the world, even recently and in some cases still currently, in global warfare, mass murder and rape, ethnic cleansing, cultural genocide, attempted eugenics, slavery and wage slavery, the formation of ghettos, concentration camps, the extinction of several languages and peoples, the holistic corruption of many traditional forms of spirituality and self-governance, residential schools and work houses, militaristic and political occupations of entire countries for decades or even centuries in some cases, mass starvation, and mass extinction of non-human organic life. Cultural imperialism very rarely exists isolated from intense racism, as any attentive and adequately informed reading of most Canadian history textbooks used in public schools will clearly demonstrate. The systematic erasure of many of these events throughout Canada’s short history as a country less than 200 years old is a prominent function of cultural imperialism, which continues to maintain and promote racial and cultural intolerance, as well as a profound epidemic of ignorance and historic illiteracy, towards all of Canada’s indigenous peoples.
Colonization, Corruption, & Radicalization of Indigenous Spiritualities
An indigenous spirituality is the belief in a spiritual, immaterial, metaphysical, or sacred component and/or structure to the daily lives of a given people, where that belief is rooted in the land on which the given peoples have traditionally lived. Where I currently live, the general indigenous spirituality is the belief in the sacredness of all peoples, physical places in the world, fish, flora, fauna, waters, land, and air, which are each variously personified, each believed to be imbued with unique spiritual properties such as its own consciousness and memories, and each being honoured through regular ceremonies in which song and dance is equally a form of prayer as is the laying of red ochre and spreading of eagle down. This particular form of spirituality, particular to this geographic location, can be understood equally or simultaneously as animistic as it could be regarded a form of ancestral worship. The indigenous peoples’ relationship to the land and all the life it supports, as shared through oral traditions such as songs accompanied by ceremonial dances, or the act of story-telling; as well as through artwork such as tattooing, carvings, or symbolic indications of clan on traditional regalia, can also be understood equally or simultaneously as literal or metaphorical. Where my not-too-distant ancestors came from, our indigenous spiritual traditions once shared much in common, even though we were separated by some material, linguistic, and cultural differences, entire oceans, vast landscapes, and several mountain ranges. Emphasis on the word once.
Just as in the case of my not-too-distant ancestors, in the case of the peoples who are indigenous to where I currently live, Settler populations arrived, condemned and criminalized indigenous spirituality, and promptly began the process of forcing the indigenous population to abandon their spiritual traditions. Many traditional spiritual symbols, articles, or objects were co-opted by the invading population and promoted as an expression of the religious faith that arrived with them (and many of these symbols, articles, and objects continue to be appropriated by colonial religious institutions into the present day). While animism and ancestral worship became immediately condemned as the empty and uncivilized faith of the “Godless heathen”, “savage”, or “barbarian”, a complex and deeply corrupted narrative centring around the material manifestation of an externalized higher power (rather than the inseparability of the material and spiritual, or indigenous peoples and land) became immediately promoted as the key to salvation and civilization of the colonized peoples. This narrative was most often imposed upon indigenous peoples through language neither shared nor understood by the people being physically and spiritually colonized, and this fact was very deliberately and strategically exploited as one of several means to supplant the indigenous systems of government, establish a currency-based economy through which resources and land could then be seized from indigenous peoples through the creation of debt, and to ultimately subjugate and exploit indigenous populations – if they were even regarded as worthy to be spared from ethnic cleansing, which they were often not. The Settler’s pursuit to spread their idea of an objectively superior religion was enforced with violence and cultural genocide, thus radicalizing indigenous populations while simultaneously radicalizing their traditional spirituality even further, to the point that continuing to participate in this indigenous spirituality, upon very real risk of indefinite confinement or death penalty, became an act of anti-colonial resistance, and continues to be to this very day.
It is quite literally the same general formula, repeated over and over again, all across the world and throughout history. Though the spiritual colonization of indigenous peoples the world over is functionally inseparable from cultural imperialism, racism, patriarchy/misogyny, and several other components of colonialism, it bears describing it as a separate process from cultural, racial, and gendered processes, by virtue of its relatively unique role in relation to all other related and functionally inseparable aspects of the same beast. Not only has this very same process taken place all across Europe, but it is one of the single most important reasons why a Settler population arrived in North America 500 years ago, and why the Settler population has continuously expanded since then. It is one of the most important reasons my own family fled our homelands, as well as how accurately I am able to begin measuring the cost of spiritual colonization to several generations of my blood family, as I continue to participate in and learn about the spirituality and culture that is indigenous to where I currently live. Spiritual colonization of indigenous peoples is now also fully acknowledged by the United Nations as its own form of genocide (and has been since 1948), which may operate independently or function alongside a campaign of ethnic cleansing and/or eugenics. Canada, however, operates on its own narrower definition of genocide, which excludes these processes of spiritual colonization from its classification of what constitutes an attempt to fully eradicate a racial/ethnic group’s unique shared identity from existence — which was also fully institutionalized in Canada through several early revisions of The Indian Act and the Indian residential school system; all the way up until 1951 in the case of The Indian Act, and 1996 in the case of residential schools. And though The Indian Act has not outright criminalized indigenous spirituality since its reform in 1951, it is still very much an outright genocidal and colonialist piece of legislation.
Language extinction is a colonization of the mind. Indigenous languages form, maintain, and transmit a people’s relationship to the land on which they live. Languages tied to specific places shape a people’s cognitive perceptions, and thus directly influence the types of knowledge that are a core part of their traditional culture. I personally am indigenous to multiple geographic locations, exactly none of which were English-speaking prior to colonization. I do not and currently cannot speak, read, or write in any dialect of Hebrew, Gaelic, Polish, Russian, or Danish, and as a result, cannot even form an adequate gesture of what types of knowledge I have lost (several generations ago). I literally can’t even express through body language what I cannot begin to conceptualize in my own mind. I am psychologically and physically paralyzed by the loss of languages connected to the physical places where my blood is indigenous. Even the process of learning this, from the peoples who are indigenous to where I currently live, has been a struggle — to acknowledge and overcome all that is lost in translation from their traditional languages, to that of the colonizer, who is often unaware of how deeply entrenched they are in the very same unspeakable grief. This kind of loss is, in the words of someone close to me, so profound that to even speak its name is to have already understated it.
Our continual attempts at talking around what we cannot name, fighting to openly acknowledge what we cannot even perceive, is further threatened by the mutually reinforced dependence upon the colonizer’s language to speak of it — a language which, by its very presence in this territory, threatens to render indigenous languages extinct. We are forced to rely on metaphor to express what we immediately lose the capacity to directly say, through holes in our translations from indigenous to settler. Even written language itself is little more than an allegory for spoken word. Rich, though it may be, it will always be inadequate by comparison. And that realization is particularly important for this writer, as prior to colonization, indigenous culture here operated without written language. The very act of writing about it, as anti-colonial as that writing may be, is thus inherently colonial. Especially so when that writing is in English.
Racism or racial supremacy is ideologically distinct from cultural chauvinism and cultural imperialism, in that it assumes that there exists a biological foundation for superiority over all other racially/ethnically distinct peoples, who are then regarded as destined to be inferior, for they will never be able to change their blood quantum or skin colour. As with cultural chauvinism, racism or the belief in racial supremacy is far beyond a sense of pride in one’s heritage, as this means that one is measuring all others by virtue of ethnic blood quantum and/or race against his/her own (assumed or actual) blood quantum and/or race, in a rigged evaluation through which all distinctive peoples are immediately dismissed as “objectively” worth less. The very same ideology, which was the founding principle of historically prominent white supremacy hate groups such as the Klu Klux Klan, and is the founding principle of currently active and (occasionally) prominent white supremacy hate groups such as Blood And Honour, runs systemic throughout North American hegemonic culture and is freely promoted (though thinly veiled) in several facets of North American pop culture. It is, after all, one of the many founding principles of our Settler society on this continent.
Racism or racial supremacy frequently emerges in a variety of ways, such as through the unconscious, careless, or even apathetic application of racialized language or stereotypes, during criticisms of a given cultural practice. A highly politically and emotionally charged example of this phenomenon can be readily observed in virtually any discussion of the highly controversial set of practices referred to collectively as “female genital mutilation”, for which the existing dominant discourse is and always has been structured so as to actively promote a transparently culturally imperialist and racist agenda of racially selective criminalization that outright disregards either the presence or absence of consent on the part of women of colour either in or from African and Middle Eastern countries (that is to say, universal non-consent is assumed); while completely ignoring similar practices ongoing, unimpeded, and conducted on consenting (and arguably, socially coerced and therefore non-consenting) white women in North America and Europe, who may “freely” pursue alterations of their genitalia purely for aesthetics. Though the practice in Africa and the Middle East was once rooted in very divergent cultural practices and traditions relative to North America and Europe, continued colonization of the area has significantly obfuscated the issue of who can be properly said to be consenting. And yet, the same process of continued colonization of North America and Europe similarly obfuscates the issue of which white women can be properly said to be freely consenting to having their genitals altered in a plastic surgeon’s office. And yet, the global campaign against “FGM” continues to this day to be focused exclusively on African and Middle Eastern countries. Furthermore, while the issue of consent should be considered central to the issue no matter where in the world alteration of female genitalia is taking place, or what race/ethnicity the subject of concern is, from its very beginnings, the dominant discourse has in fact been focused primarily on the distinctive aesthetic results of “FGM” — thus revealing its namesake (which itself suggests absolutely nothing of either consent or non-consent) — and which it is especially important to acknowledge, is culturally no different than the North American and European industries of surgically altering female genitalia for no functional benefit of any kind.
Thus, the issue of which women have safe and legal access to alterations of their genitalia, when it is so desired (note: not the case when the subject is not consenting or is unable to consent—which I whole-heartedly oppose), is steeped in several layers of racism and white supremacy. Further thought on the subject may lead one to conclude, as this writer does, that Black, Arab, and Persian women living in a social climate separated by an entire ocean from hegemonic, white supremacist, North American beauty standards are literally being policed by a global campaign to aspire to look more like white women; while white women in North America are being policed by a hegemonic, white supremacist, misogynist porn industry to look more like the centrefold spread pink, whose unique shape will have been unnecessarily modified by either an airbrush or a scalpel. Thus, the World Health Organization does not centre the dialogue around the issue of consent, because if it did, it would be forced to acknowledge the cultural genocide it promotes in relation to those women of colour who are consenting. Moving on.
The word patriarchy is often used in anthropological studies to indicate the organization and inheritance of social power in a given society through men rather than via a gender-equitable approach or through women (i.e., matriarchy). A related word is patrilocal, which meant that a newly married woman went to live with her husband’s family (sometimes only once she became pregnant or gave birth to their first heir), and thus, the distribution of her labour also transferred from her natal family to her affinal family — the to-be-husband or his family gives a bride price or dowry to the prospective wife’s family in many cultures, as compensation for a reasonably anticipated loss of labour. But this isn’t the kind of relationship I’m referring to when I suggest that patriarchy is a colonial construct in this blog post, aside from the fact that there is nothing in and of itself about a patriarchal and/or patrilocal society that is misogynistic. Rather, I’m referring to the development of an institutionalized hatred of women, and thus intentionally relate patriarchy and misogyny as though they are one and the same.
Common themes of patriarchy/misogyny as relates specifically to colonialism are the disempowering/disempowered, impotent/powerless, and promiscuous construction of the female gender, especially among colonized/racialized populations. For instance, despite the fact that indigenous women all over the world exercised self-directed control over their own fertility, and thus could be confident in the identities of each of their child’s fathers even if they were partners of a multiple marriage (e.g., women with multiple husbands or women who had either voluntarily or involuntarily married into a polygynous arrangement after becoming widows or through acts of war), European Settlers often thought of indigenous women as particularly promiscuous and child-like in their mental faculties. These ideas are rooted as much in racism and cultural chauvinism as they are in slut-shaming, Othering, and fetishizing of women of colour. These ideas have become institutionalized into colonial law many times over and, though rarely openly acknowledged, are even part of the early history of the successful development of oral contraceptives.
These heavily racialized misogynistic ideas have also become so deeply embedded into constructions of race that their persistence contributes significantly to the racialization of current hegemonic conceptions of sexuality and gender (e.g., Aboriginal and Black women alike expressing that the word “slut” is not theirs to “take back” through SlutWalk for the past two years across North America, as racialized women are all socially perceived as sexually available, simply for existing). European Settlers also incorrectly interpreted bride price as a direct indicator of how much or how little a prospective bride was valued by her future husband or his family; and while this misconception is equally as embedded in capitalism and classism as it is in patriarchy and misogyny, this idea has persisted through time. It is now frequently referenced (e.g., biblical quotes from early on in the Old Testament, or what can be properly acknowledged as the Talmud rather than a scripture accurately reflecting any part of the Christian faith, which is detailed by the New Testament, or “new covenant”) and simultaneously condemned, as Settler society all across North America engages in the battle over marriage equality for LGBTQs, without doing any analysis of what marriage even means in this society or where that meaning originates from. Thus, patriarchy in the sense that I am applying the word, or institutionalized misogyny, is another major component of colonial narratives about gender roles in both colonizer and colonized societies.
Capitalism is an important component of colonialism, that cannot be understated, as it is the primary driving force that perpetuates continual re-colonization of peoples and occupation of lands around the world to this day. Prior to the colonization of most of the world’s indigenous populations, many economic models operated entirely without currency. On the land where I currently live, indigenous peoples operated on a worldview that placed a very high value on personal integrity, and operated primarily through the transmission of various social values and embedded honour codes through the continual learning of traditional songs, dances, ceremonial protocols, arts, oral histories, and story-telling protocols. If a person was honoured with a great gift or ceremony and failed to respond according to proper protocol, or if they agreed to a barter of their labour or materials and failed to keep up their end of the agreement, other people within their extended community would simply avoid making the same error — at least until that individual could demonstrate having learned the proper way to pay their respects or honour their agreements, such as by seeking and following through on the advice of an elder on how to make amends and honour the traditions. They were not held hostage to the idea of a debt, dishonoured, shamed, subject to having their personal belongings or gifts for others apprehended, thrown out of their homes, or forced to work as a slave until they were regarded as having repaid society for their error. Additionally, while the indigenous peoples of this territory did occasionally keep slaves, the only people condemned to slavery by the people of this land were people who had arrived in their territories attempting harm or perpetrating violence. Their slavery sentence was also temporary (as virtually all social roles in their society were), after which they were given the freedom to choose to learn the traditional ways of the people of the land, and live as a full member of their society, or move on to another place such as back to their home territories.
Capitalism operates in a decidedly opposite manner in several respects, the first of which is the existence of and dependence on currency; rather than the reasonable expectation and normative socialization of personal integrity. Capitalism also functions on the principles of ownership and entitlement, whereas in the traditional culture of the peoples indigenous to where I currently live, one does not really own anything, and in fact, it is seen as the greatest possible gift to give up your most prized possessions to another person. When everyone in your society has been socialized to place high value on personal integrity, no one needs to own anything, because everyone is looked after. But in capitalism, you don’t need integrity because you have currency. Currency is the concrete measure of how much money you have, and you don’t need to develop skills if you can just shift money around to different people to get the materials or labour you want out them. And you have money because you profit from pressuring skilled labour to take less money because otherwise you’ll just find someone who will, and you do this because you want to own things so that you can look after yourself. You want to own things and be able to look after yourself because no one is innately motivated to have a strong sense of integrity, except where it can make them money.
And what is money? But debt, of course! In Canada, in order to make currency, resources have to be stripped and ripped out of the Earth. Our right to do this (or the audacity to think we are even objectively entitled to) comes from eleven Crown treaties signed over a fifty year period and a long succession of thousands of land claims initiated by the government of Canada and signed in the many decades following that period. In exchange for the audacity to clear-cut forests, build dams to wipe out all the ones we didn’t clear-cut, and tear open the Earth where ever we can find an empty space, we owe indigenous peoples a cut of all the profits we make from cutting trees down and mining precious metals that we use to make our currency, as well as our infrastructure and virtually every commodity available for purchase on our “Canadian-made” market. So even before we finish making our currency, we already owe some of it to indigenous peoples (this is the short version of why we pay taxes). And since you can’t drink dollar bills or satiate your hunger with coins, you need to turn that currency into money and profit somehow. Since the entire system is designed to not only erode trust but actively prevent it from forming in the first place, it’s almost like you’re being forced to exploit people or, because there’s only so much room at the top, being forced to be exploited, just so that you can feed yourself and keep a roof over your head. And so, we become perpetually locked into a cycle of wage-slavery that is now, and increasingly as time passes, a part of a global network of wage-slavery and exploitation. That network is itself embedded at several intersections of existing systemic inequalities resulting from colonialism, and we just happen to be a relatively fortunate country in the overall scheme of things. If you’re anything like me, you’re already wishing we could just do away with the entire idea of currency, once and for all. But getting rid of currency won’t magically change our relationship to the mindset that accompanies a dependence upon it.
Occupation & Slavery
Occupation and slavery are each forms of forced confinement. Without continuous occupation of indigenous territories; indigenous cultures, peoples, and languages would rejuvenate over enough time and once again thrive. And without the perpetual enslavement of indigenous peoples; either physically, psychologically, spiritually, financially, and/or through other means, Settler populations would be forced to change their relationship with indigenous peoples through acts of continual resistance—even peaceful and/or non-violent resistance. Quite simply, in the absence of a perpetual occupation and enslavement of indigenous peoples by an ever-expanding and continually more demanding Settler population, the effects of colonialism would rapidly diminish. The purpose of occupying foreign territories and enslaving the peoples indigenous to them is to secure a long-lasting or essentially permanent perpetuation of the many forms of institutionalized systemic inequality already described above. The single most effective means of securing that degree and permanence of inequality is to turn the indigenous peoples against each other, for they will begin perpetuating the effects of colonialism against one another (i.e., lateral violence). Thus, internalized colonialism is the positive litmus test for successful colonization of the mind, and it is the very reason European Settlers perpetuated all that had been happening to them for centuries against indigenous peoples on Turtle Island. Once the minds of indigenous peoples are colonized, they will pass that mentality on to their future generations. It is a slavery and occupation of the collective consciousness of a people, when they have so deeply internalized structures of colonialism, that they are unaware of how they are teaching them to their children. It is a silent and invisible form of genocide, for its only logical conclusion is the full eradication of indigeneity.
In what has now been referred to as Canada for just under 150 years, European Settler society expanded rapidly across the landscape, displacing and confining indigenous peoples to patches of reserve lands, and often successively displacing the same indigenous peoples multiple times by invading and occupying reserves shortly after creating them. The children of indigenous peoples were also forcibly removed from their communities until just shy of 20 years ago now, and confined together in residential schools located in remote areas, where many experienced several forms of abuse in addition to being subjected to cultural genocide. Confinement of indigenous peoples also generated a critical vulnerability to the spread of diseases never before seen on their lands. This vulnerability was exploited by the invading Settler society through the deliberate and targeted spread of smallpox (and tuberculosis, which is believed to have already been present on the continent prior to European contact, but which was nonetheless used as a biological weapon against indigenous peoples), or what is a plainly transparent attempt at ethnic cleansing through biological warfare. Meanwhile, in what has now been referred to as the United States for just shy of 250 years, in addition to identical attempted genocides against indigenous peoples, trans-Atlantic human trafficking of African peoples for the express purposes of human slavery also took place (don’t worry, Canada, you were home to human slavery too, and still are). It is everyone’s responsibility in a blended society of Settlers and indigenous survivors—such as Canada and the United States—to never forget that this is what it actually cost, and continues to cost, every single day, for their society to exist in its current state. Occupation and slavery are dependent upon continual renewal and perpetuation of genocide. The only way to change the consequences of our presence as Settlers on a foreign territory is to change the relationship we maintain with indigenous peoples.
When an act or idea becomes institutionalized by a society, this means that the act or idea is one of several governing principles of that society. A colonial society has institutionalized violence itself, from its very first advances into a foreign territory or land. Every single ideology and behaviour already detailed in this piece of writing shares a common root — it is the direct, continual expression and renewal of violence, as both a founding principle and constant function of colonial society. Colonial violence runs systemic throughout all of Canadian Settler society, which surrounds and perpetually attempts to engulf indigenous communities. As a result, colonial violence also runs systemic throughout indigenous communities; though owing to their collective relationship to that violence, individual awareness of it crystallizes daily, even if individual members of indigenous communities struggle to identify, resist, or overcome the causes.
Cultural chauvinism and imperialism, spiritual colonization, linguistic colonization and extinction, racism, misogyny, capitalism, and occupation are fairly self-evident processes of institutionalized violence, when examined in isolation or even treated as functionally inseparable (in that they exist at structural intersections with each other). But what we eat, how we put clothes on our body or a roof over our heads, and the existence of modern infrastructure, are all further examples of institutionalized violence (except for radical food sovereignty and sovereign housing/living communities). I am not engaging from a vegan framework of violence, here, but of a framework much bigger in scale and magnitude. I am writing of the clear-cutting of forests, mining, and dam-building I already referred to when engaging capitalism as a face of colonialism. I am writing of the practice of industrial agriculture, which slashes and burns through indigenous plant life in order to install a permanent fixture of foreign or invasive plant species on the land (I cannot understate the emphasis on industrial and permanent in the formation of that sentence). I am writing of the Chinese slave labour that produced the Canadian Pacific Railway, using materials extracted from beneath reserve lands, and cutting a path through entire mountain ranges with explosives. I am even writing about the very notion of human rights, which — beneficial for all of humankind, though, these have proven to be — institutionalized a fundamental rearrangement of human values; such that the fish, flora, fauna, land, waters, and air we all depend upon were suddenly transformed from entities we considered members of a radical democracy, to objects over which we as human beings are collectively separated, elevated, superior, and the ruling class.
Institutionalized violence is literally everywhere in colonial society. It is at our fingertips, in front of our faces, beneath our feet, in and on our bodies, lathered into and imprinted upon our hair, in our thoughts, in our actions, aired in our speech, built into the very concrete structures of our homes and all of society, embedded in our social and political structures, written into our education, broadcast through our pop culture and mass media, reflected in our artwork, transmitted and trivialized through our religious institutions, conspicuously erased from our history books even though many of us still share half-remembered fragments of our oral histories and thus intuitively know something is amiss. It is expressed directly through the unequal distribution of poverty and wealth, made transparent by both the very existence and implementation of our criminal justice system, and even still continues to be abundant in the structures of Western medicine. Violence is the air we breathe—though we are conscious of the act of breathing, we do not directly observe the individual particles being absorbed into our bloodstream with every breath. We are blind to what sustains us, because it is a constant. It is everywhere. It is utterly banal because we couldn’t possibly bear it if it wasn’t. We are desensitized to it. It is invisible.
The banality of institutionalized violence is a founding principle and primary function of colonialism, just as the violence itself is. If we actually perceived of the fact that what we were doing, as Settlers occupying the ancestral territories of indigenous peoples, we would be moved to change our relationship to the people who are indigenous to these lands. If we actually realized that what we are doing—and have been doing for centuries—to those same indigenous peoples, is the exact same thing that happened to us several centuries ago (and just how much it has cost us) before we started regurgitating it all over foreign peoples and their territories, we would be moved to stop and make fundamental changes to our day-to-day lives to steer the Settler/indigenous relationship towards reconciliation and solidarity. But institutionalized violence is buried deep beneath several layers of distractions, egocentric ideologies, and blind spots in our histories and memories brought about by holes in the language we depend upon entirely because of the many other languages we have long ago been forced to forget how to speak. And in order for colonialism to be at all successful, that is exactly where institutionalized violence must remain. Thus, a core part of the key to decolonization is a radical re-expansion of our collective understanding of violence — as a society, and as a species.
Globalization is the maximum possible actualization of institutionalized violence and the banality of the same. It is the successful institutionalization of world-wide systemic colonialism, flowing in countless directions at once, until it finally reaches its only logical conclusion at the extinction of entire races—if not the entire human species—claiming mass extinctions of numerous other species with it. This is the actual scale and magnitude of the multitude of global crises currently staring all of humanity in the face. Make no mistakes about it: it is far too late to respond with any gesture intended to reverse our damages to the planet and to all of the life dependent upon it. The only things we can do are mitigate the harms we perpetuate, resist against the further expansion and corruption of existing globalization, and continuously challenge the perpetuation and renewal of colonialism. If we can’t even perceive of what colonialism is, these goals are not only all completely unattainable, but logically impossible, for the problem doesn’t even exist.