COLONIALISM: A LOVE STORY

By Billy-Ray Belcourt

1. Colonialism broke us, and we’re still trying to figure out how to love and be broken at the same time.

2. The first time he told me I was beautiful, I thought that he was lying. I thought that beauty was a plot in a story I had been written out of a long time ago.

3. What happens when “I love you, too” becomes a substitute for “I can’t,” when his hand finds your body and it feels like he’s taking pieces of it? Perhaps this is what they meant by ‘love requires sacrifice.’

4. He didn’t know a body was something you could lose in the first place, that sometimes bodies don’t always feel like bodies but like wounds.

5. Oftentimes I smell him days later, the residues of a body you could only talk about in metaphors, a body you still write thank you letters to because it helped you love yours, too.

6. He told me he’d take a needle and stitch our bodies together with the thickest thread, and then maybe we could finally begin to heal.

7. We don’t yet have a word to make sense of that initial sense of loss: of a body feeling like it doesn’t belong to you anymore. Sometimes the act of enduring itself becomes too much to bear and you forget how to go on in a world that didn’t want you in the first place. How do you mourn something you can still see in the mirror?

8. ‘Are you femme,’ he asked. ‘Because I’m not interested in that,’ he answered.

9. He lost his body back then, so he searched back alleys and bingo halls for it. But all he found were more Indians like him, ones whose scars told stories dreamt up in the darkest dormitories, stories about an elsewhere so otherworldly you could tell the difference between a wound and a body.

10. COLONIALISM. Definition: turning bodies into cages that no one has the keys for.

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LOVE AND OTHER EXPERIMENTS

By Billy-Ray Belcourt

1. He told me he was into natives, but he couldn’t love the traumas hidden in my breathing.

2. How do you tell a ghost that it’s already dead, that its body is a fairy tale you stopped reading a long time ago?

3. What happens when wounds start to work like bandages?

4. One time I slept with a man who looked like he was dying. Each time his body found mine it felt like he was collecting fragments of it. It was as if I were an elixir, a potion that could extend his life if he just took me long enough.

5. Sometimes love feels like vanishing, like taking apart pieces of yourself and giving them to someone who can’t use them.

6. He was native, too, so I slept with him. I wanted to taste the same histories of violence that I couldn’t get rid of with mouthwash. I wanted to smell his ancestors in his armpits, the aroma of their decaying flesh, how they refuse to wilt into nothingness. I wanted to touch his brown skin, to make a kind of friction so complex other worlds would emerge in our colliding.

7. What happens when ‘decolonial love’ becomes a story you tell yourself after he falls asleep?

8. He was my own kind of drug: the more I used him, the better I felt; the worse I felt.

9. I tell him: you breathe us, we are in you, look at the blood on your hands.

10. Sometimes not loving is the most radical thing you can do.

On ‘Moving Too Fast,’ or Decolonial Speed

This might be a familiar scene: you and a friend are going over the minutiae of a new relationship, the fleetingly spectacular resonances of your being-together, the emerging of a collective sensibility in the interstices between tangled selves, a tangling that leaves you in an emotional wreckage, as it were. It is as if you’ve known him [1] for much longer: the oddities that map his body into your own private elsewhere, the geography of unknowing you’ve willfully wrenched yourself into, clinging to a something whose potentiality is paradoxically both too much and not enough. Perhaps he takes your breath away, converting it into an almost-alien thing your body has to re-adjust itself to. He’s your momentary pause from the ordinary, an ordinary whose background noises are the sinister hummings of settler colonialism, a cacophony of structural attritions that force you to pick up the pieces, again and again. He is a lapse in time whose expressivity is marked by the teleological pull of an otherwise. You’ve attached yourself to an object that magnetizes an assemblage of disparate matterings and affects, ones that carry the prospect of a different temporality, of unabated continuity. On the other hand, you’re also precariously tending to a relationality that threatens to collapse into itself, to obliterate everything – a ‘we,’ a mode of being in the world, a future. Perhaps you’re ‘moving too fast.’

To be told you’re ‘moving too fast’ often has the effect of slowing you down, of stopping you in your tracks. This sort of speech act does its work quickly, chipping away at a relationship that’s trying to make a break for it right out of the gate, that attenuates the regular in its many emotive excesses. In short: one that muddies the rubric for being with properly romantic others. It could be a number of things: having sex too soon, saying ‘I love you’ too soon, spending too much time together too soon. Too soon. How does this ‘too soon’ become a discursive blockage, an ethical interdiction of sorts that stills time, that undoes materialities in the middle of things, that jettisons some intimacies to the space of risk and irrationality? You might be cautioned to gradually detach, to go on with your life, to slow down, to take your time. Go slow.

But butterflies are trying to tell us things. I suspect that this kind of logic – what I want to cheekily call ‘slow love’ – is tethered to a fundamentally racialized capitalist work ethic, one that assumes 1) the ongoingness of the loving subjects and 2) that investing more time and capital into a relationship will yield a more valuable product: a strong romantic bond. But some of us don’t have time to waste. I am suggesting that there is a radicality to loving fast in the battlefield of settler states, that it can be a form of worlding through which new pockets of consensual ethical intersubjectivity emerge. We know that the settler state is bloodthirsty: it hunts, maims, and, with a perverse legality, kills native people. It consigns us to a waning sociality such that we are continuously pushed closer and closer to death – this might manifest itself as obesity, as substance abuse, as mental illness, as incarceration etc. Settler colonialism is war, and native people are enemy forces that don’t have the option of forfeiting. This is a war that the settler state refuses to lose. It’ll apologize to us for wrongs wronged, launching itself into a present putatively bereft of guilt or grievous harm, but one that is nonetheless marked by death, by the aggressive extraction of resources from the land, by what Audra Simpson calls the “normalized crisis” of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. [2] Indigeneity is thus emptied of its symbolic weight vis-à-vis the genocidal teloses of containment, of assimilation, of dying out. Settler colonialism is an epistemic rupturing of everything, a steady bombardment whose intensity is felt unevenly across differently subjected native bodies. In a word: ours is a present that can only bear some of us, not all of us. Resistance doesn’t always feel like resistance, it sometimes feels lonely, it sometimes feels like bleeding out. [3]

Sara Ahmed writes: “Love is crucial to how individuals become aligned with collectives through their identification with an ideal, an alignment that relies on the existence of others who have failed that ideal.” [4] Where Ahmed is concerned with the transference of love from an object to a collective and its coterminous instantiation as an ideal (i.e, white supremacy, nationalism, multiculturalism), I am interested in the substance of ‘love’ as an ideal itself, how some bodies and not others fully enflesh love as such, how indigeneity – rendered through the biopolitical categories of ‘Aboriginal’ and ‘Indian’ – becomes love’s necessary aberration, its antithesis, its failure. Indigeneity is meant to self-destruct, not to love or be loved. What kinds of worlds, then, are possible if we were to move fast, if we were to fall hard?

In sum: I want forms of love in which lifes quickly fold into each other – sometimes lopsidedly – but nonetheless gestating a something that could help us endure, together. And, even in the event of separation, we might know how to love, better, next time. Instead of waiting for something to happen, what if we experimented with others, testing out more capacious intimacies that don’t condense into a trained public sensorium we might call the social. If decolonization, according to Eve Tuck and K Wayne Yang’s reading of Fanon, is “an unclean break from a colonial condition,” [5] perhaps we need more complex and messier forms of love, ones that can, in their otherworldliness, sustain native peoples’ attachments to themselves. Love might be our last hope.
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[1] This post is thought from my position as a monogamous (i.e., I cannot speak to experiences of polyamory), queer native person.
[2] Audra Simpson, “Reconciliation and its Discontents,” (presentation at World of Matter: Extractive Ecologies and Unceded Terrains, Montreal, Quebec, February 19-20, 2015).
[3] Phraseology from Lauren Berlant, “Public Feelings Salon with Lauren Berlant,” Vimeo video, 1:33:06, posted by BCRW Videos, April 25, 2011, https://vimeo.com/22854077.
[4] Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotions, (New York: Routledge, 2004): 124.
[5] Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization is not a Metaphor,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1, no. 1 (2012): 20, http://decolonization.org/index.php/des/article/view/18630/15554.