Here’s a piece I wrote for the latest issue of No Fun City!, a new publication on music, art, and politics in Victoria. The second issue is now available for FREE at Camas Books, and this issue is even better than the first one.
Also, we’re gonna be discussing colonialism this Wednesday, 7pm, at a workshop at Camas Books. Get the details here.
Of Monarchist Demons and Manarchist Angels
I’ve been a Settler on Coast Salish territory for almost four years now. Lots of Settlers here in Victoria are thinking about colonialism as a problem, and trying to think through their relationships and obligations to Indigenous peoples, the history of colonization, and what all that means for Settlers like me. Colonialism shifts from an “Indian problem” to a “Settler problem.” For me that’s encouraging, because I’ve never lived in a place where colonialism is actually something discussed and debated, where Settlers see colonialism as a problem that involves us. That said, I think there are some sedimented habits that have been built up, and not just among people who haven’t thought about colonialism. A lot of what follows is a reflection on my own learning about colonialism: I started out as a monarchist, became a manarchist, and now I’m trying to be neither.
“I would like to acknowledge the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations in whose traditional territories we live and work.” The mayor of Victoria acknowledges Indigenous territory in his speeches. Let’s call this the monarchist response to colonialism: say the right names, mouth the right words, move on. Civilized political correctness. Don’t call them Indians anymore; call them First Nations, aboriginals, or Indigenous peoples, and everything will be OK. The mayor is not the only one: monarchism is everywhere, including radical communities. I’ve been to dozens of meetings where we take 25 seconds to solemnly acknowledge territories, and then get on with the agenda, never to mention colonialism again.
The monarchist response to colonialism is dull and empty, glossing over colonialism so that we can get on with our business. In radical circles, monarchism is often rejected in favour of bright, shining, righteousness: proper anti-colonialism. Denounce colonialism, express solidarity, and make sure everyone sees you doing it. Condescend and correct people who aren’t aware. This is the manarchist response to colonialism: carve out a space of moral purity, command others to enter, bash those who don’t, educate those who do.
The monarchist and the manarchist aren’t people. They’re positions that people take up, often unconsciously. We become possessed by colonial demons (or anti-colonial angels). The monarchist helps us brush past colonialism in a civilized way, and the manarchist helps turn anti-colonialism into a badge of honour that raises us above ordinary Settlers who don’t recognize the Truth.
As Settlers, we all have some monarchist in us, and the manarchist is always waiting to take over and proclaim a revelation. White, European-descended Settlers are more prone to being possessed by both forces. The manarchist possesses men more often than women. I find myself possessed by the manarchist more times than I’d like to admit.
The monarchist is the official demon of Victoria, helping to ensure that we’re all respectful and civilized. The manarchist proclaims that he’s been exorcized: now he sees things clearly. But if you’ve seen a manarchist in action, you know he’s just as predictable as the monarchist: a pious angel come to reveal our sins and show us The Way. Usually white, usually a man, always sure of himself.
These metaphors of angels and demons are a way of naming two, contradictory ways of relating to colonialism. They seem opposed, but they actually reinforce each other. Both have become deeply ingrained habits, and both make it difficult to have meaningful conversations about colonialism, let alone take meaningful action.
I’m doing my best to ward off the manarchism as I write this, so I don’t have any solutions to this problem. But I’ve been inspired by a few folks I’ve met who seem to have found different ways of relating to colonialism, who seem to have escaped angels and demons, and I think there are some common traits:
Vulnerability and accountability: these folks have cultivated a way of having conversations about colonialism where they don’t set themselves up as the ones with the Truth. It doesn’t mean that they don’t challenge colonial attitudes; it means they do it in a way that opens conversation and questions, rather than shutting them down. They make it clear that they’re questioning, they’re doing their own learning, and they haven’t figured it out. They’re also open to being challenged, by Indigenous people and Settlers, and they learn more because folks feel like it’s safe to challenge them.
Individual and collective education: they’ve dedicated time learning about colonialism by themselves and with others. They’ve tried to understand the history of colonialism, how it works, and what that means for us today. But they don’t hold this knowledge over other people, and they’ve found ways of sharing it that are humble, making colonialism into a massive open-ended problem rather than an issue of guilt or truth. One example of this in Victoria is the “Free Knowledge Project:” a popular education project on the relationship between anthropology, colonialism, and the Canadian legal system.
Patience and courage: they actively seek out conversations about colonialism in unlikely places, with their families, friends, workplaces, and other spaces where those conversations don’t normally happen. And they approach new conversations with compassion, even if they’ve heard the same colonial responses (“we can’t go back” – “it’s not my fault” – “it’s human nature”) a hundred times before. If people are unreceptive or dismissive, they don’t reject them as colonizers; they see the intervention as part of a long process, and leave space for future conversations.
Those aren’t instructions or answers; just behaviours in others that have inspired me because they confront colonialism while avoiding manarchist tendencies. The manarchist often drowns out these folks, because Righteousness and Truth are a lot louder than uncertainty and vulnerability. I think that’s a major reason why so many people have walked away from the problem of colonialism in Victoria: they have only encountered the manarchist, and they don’t want to be his disciple. Manarchism is simpler than vulnerability. It’s easier to have a radical anti-colonial circle-jerk than to engage with monarchists who might be angry or dismissive.
But colonialism relies on the monarchists to perpetuate itself. Willing Settlers are required to destroy SPAET (Bear Mountain), to continue consuming and gentrifying, and to build Enbridge’s pipeline. And monarchists are immune to manarchists: they become even more convinced that colonialism is inevitable and people resisting it are ridiculous. This is not a call to shower colonizers with peace and love. Clear opposition and intense conflict is always part of struggles against colonialism. But the manarchist leaves no space for monarchists or front-line colonizers to become unsettled, to start questioning things, or to have conversations without knowing where they’ll lead. All the more reason to refuse angels and demons, and work on developing alternatives to both.