Chapter 11: The Settler Situation

Chapter 11: The Settler Situation
"Stop Line 3" protest march in Minneapolis

This chapter is about "the settler [colonial] situation." The first section of the chapter introduces some of the defining concepts related to settler colonialism, describes the role of rhetoric, and offers several examples of how this "situation" continues to arise within popular narratives today. The second section is a lecture by Dr. Michael Lechuga entitled "Incomunicable," which discusses the ways that the university itself is implicated in an ongoing settler situation.

Watching the video clips embedded in the chapters may add to the projected "read time" listed in the headers.  Please also note that the audio recording for this chapter covers the same tested content as is presented in the chapter below. This chapter has been edited from the original transcript to improve readability and the clarity of the covered concepts. If you are seeking the original transcript used to compose the recordings below, please follow this link.

Chapter Recordings

Correction: Part 1 of the recorded lecture above incorrectly states that the island of Kaho'olawe remains US Federal property and that Indigenous peoples have been banned from traveling there since the 1965 "Operation Sailor Hat" bombing tests. The island was transferred to the jurisdiction of the state of Hawaii in 1994, and the Hawaii State Legislature established the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve to restore and oversee the island and its surrounding waters. As of the time of the lecture's recording in Fall 2021, Kahoʻolawe can be used only for native Hawaiian cultural, spiritual, and subsistence purposes.

Read this Next (for COMM 3601 @ UMN-TC)

Part 1: Defining the Settler Situation

Last week we talked about the rhetorical situation. The rhetorical situation accounts for why what is said is said, what this speech responded to, and its effects. If the rhetorical situation creates a specific historical account of a single moment of speech, then the settler situation describes a specific set of characteristics (e.g. motives, narratives, relationships). These characteristics, in turn, describe a general set of power relations that have shaped communication across a range of contexts. According to Lorenzo Veracini, who coins the phrase "settler-colonial situation":

The settler colonial situation is characterised by a settler capacity to control the population economy as a marker of a substantive type of sovereignty ... [and] is associated with a particular state of mind and a specific narrative form. Under these circumstances, the possibility of ultimately discontinuing/decolonising settler colonial forms remains problematic. (Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview, 12)

According to Veracini, the settler-colonial situation is primarily one that manages a "population economy." This means that settler colonialism facilitates the mass displacement of people and mobilizes them in on behalf of capital. After being displaced, governing this population's "economy" means to discover, extract, and hoard the value stolen from Indigenous lands. After this process is complete and the land is rendered unusable, the settler moves on to a new frontier for extraction and conquest.

Poster for For All Mankind, a television show about a fictional resource war fought over the moon. 

Veracini also explains that the settler-colonial situation describes a long-term and widely-held way of thinking. The settler-colonial mindset has ongoing concerns with existential threats and maintains a paranoid fear of ultimate decolonization. Settler anxieties include worries about the degeneration of the settler social body, apprehensions about the debilitating results of climate, remoteness, geopolitical position, racial contamination, demographic imbalances, and concerns about the possibility that the land will ultimately turn against the settler project.

When we are thinking of the settler-colonial situation, we are also thinking about a moment that organizes our rhetoric. If the rhetorical situation describes an arrangement of exigence, audience, and constraints, the settler-colonial situation describes a different mode of arrangement, sometimes called an assemblage. Unlike the rhetorical situation, the settler situation is not a concept that emerges from the traditional Greek canon of thought. In fact, experts and scholars who study settler colonialism often critique Aristotle because of his documented defenses of slavery, wartime violence, and class elitism. As described below, the assemblage of settler colonialism "arranges" peoples, technologies, psychology, and networks of power. The sections below offer an overview of each of these elements.  

Settler Colonialism Arranges Peoples.

These people include indigenous and exogenous peoples, or the original inhabitants of a place and the people trafficked by settlers. It also includes migrants, immigrants, emigrants as different ways of describing the movement of peoples. Migrant references the general fact of this movement, while emigrant and immigrant are legal terms designating one's status relative to the land left behind or the "new" lands toward which one travels. Settler colonialism also constitutes the identity of the settler, which takes a variety of different forms. The settler may, for instance, take the form of the institutional figures of authority that enact forced migration from indigenous lands, police protests, protects the property of the settler from indigenous claims, and patrol the entry in and out of borders. In American popular culture, the settler also takes the form of "heroic" figures such as the cowboy, the fighter pilot, and the time-traveling father figure.

Trailer for Wild Wild Country (2016)

The above trailer from the documentary Wild Wild Country offers one illustration of how people are arranged by settler colonialism. On the one hand, it shows how the Rajneesh community settled in Antelope, Oregon, where they were received with hostility from Antelope residents. However, as the descendants of European families that displaced these residents ignore their own status as "settlers" and that they occupy lands stewarded by the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, and the Nez Perce Tribe. They are astonished that the Rajneeshis – a group who, as “people of like persuasion,” are like them – would migrate to and settle the Antelope area. According to these residents, the Rajneeshis threaten to “literally wipe out the culture” of the existing white inhabitants. The irony, of course, is that the settler ancestors of these present-day residents perpetrated the very same ‘wiping out’ that they now fear.

Settler Colonialism Arranges Technologies.

The settler situation also promotes the creation and distribution of specific kinds of technology, such as those intended to make migrants and borderlands more visible for purposes of policing. These technologies include databases, drones, cameras, weapons, vehicles, and structures. They involve the support of corporations, government agencies, and political parties. Together, they create a site of significant financial and human investment dedicated to maintaining boundaries predicated on an imagined threat posed by those foreign to the nation. As Dr. Michael Lechuga explains:  

Those living along the border between México and the United States (US) might never see a physical, 2,000-mile long wall between the two nations. If there is a border wall, it will likely be a virtual wall. I say this for two reasons: frst, the US has invested tens of billions of dollars in the latest surveillance technologies over the last three decades, to create a network of sensing devices to track the movements of migrants across that border (Ofce of the Inspector General, 2005; US Customs and Border Protection, 2015a). These include seismic sensors buried in the desert, infrared cameras mounted on Hum-Vs and Predator Drones, and biometric face scanners at ports of entry. With most of that technology already in place, a physical wall that spans 2,000 miles seems both redundant and unrealistic.

Settler Colonialism Arranges Psychologies.

Settler psychologies are developed to justify and prolong colonial governance. One of these psychological dispositions is called disavowal, which takes the form of the statement "I know very well [I am doing X] but nonetheless [I will continue doing it because of Y]." As discussed in Chapter 6, disavowal is a way of cultivating beliefs that give us an escape from the reality that we inhabit. For example, a person may join a company with the intent not to compromise their values. However, when confronted with a situation where those values are tested, they may tell themselves, "I'll just wait until I get a promotion or have greater stability, and then I'll act according to what I know is right." That is disavowal: that person "knows very well [that they are not acting in accordance with their values] but nonetheless [they are able to justify continuing to act in the same way].  

"Follow the Frog" as an example of disavowal

A settler disavowal takes the form of a justification in which "I know that [my actions] perpetuate settler colonial governance, but nonetheless [I will continue acting ways that perpetuate it]." In the "Follow the Frog" video clip above, the brand leverages disavowal as their major sales pitch: their customers know very well that [commerce is destroying the rainforest] but they nonetheless will [continue engaging in commerce because colonialist efforts to help the rainforest are doomed to fail]. The ad presents no other option: either buy more responsibly sourced products or engage in savior-ism to rescue the Earth's precious resources. Because the latter is unreasonable, there is no choice but the former.  

Disavowal can also appear in subtler ways. Choosing to call nations or continents "under-developed" is disavowal: it reveals that the user knows very well that there are deep, entrenched inequalities between different nations but nonetheless situates blame on those countries for a lack of development. A preferable term might be "over-exploited," which puts the onus back upon "developed" nations for their role in producing economic and inequalities.

Settler Colonialism Arranges Networks of Power.

One key function of the settle colonial assemblage is to use the conduits of capital, communication, and power to create and re-create the conditions of its own existence, perpetuating itself into the future. To accomplish this goal, the settler-colonial assemblage will elevate its own narratives about indigenous people to displace their authentic or original culture and traditions.

The video above addresses the public dispute over the former University of Illinois mascot, the fictional "Chief Illiniwek." As the speaker notes, even the indigenous drumbeat is inauthentic and perpetuates colonial myths initiated by Hollywood producers. The settler situation arranges power by seizing control of a dominant narrative and restricting representation to favorable settler types.

What's Rhetorical about Settler Colonialism?

Settler Colonialism is not rhetorical in at least one important way. In "Decolonization is not a metaphor,"  Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang take issue with the way that words like "decolonize" are used in vague or abstract ways. Decolonization is not the same as an institution's equity and inclusion initiatives; classrooms and syllabi cannot be "decolonized" by admitting a more diverse student body or adding a certain number of Indigenous authors. Decolonization, they argue, is about the repatriation of land. For that reason decolonization is not a metaphor; it cannot be the vehicle for a tenor other than the restoration of land to its former Indigenous inhabitants.

The Settler Situation implicates communication in other ways. For instance, Settler Colonialism exercises control over shared cultural meaning-making, elevating the colonist's preferred modes of communication while erasing the traditions, language, and beliefs of the colonized. In The Semiotic Conquest of America, Tzvetan Todorov writes that “the efficient conquest of information was always what brought about the downfall of the Aztec Empire.” The systematic elimination and replacement of Indigenous language by Cortes and European colonizers was a way of destruction of the historical record, forcing it into secrecy. Cortes was motivated “to control the information he received” both in order to eliminate the indigenous knowledge he encountered and to take advantage of “how others [namely Indigenous peoples] were going to perceive him.” The destruction of the archive is evident because Cortes understood the myth of Quetzalcoatl’s return -- and then positioned himself as its architect. For example, “the idea of identifying Cortes with Quetzalcoatl definitely existed in the year immediately after the conquest,” but not before. Negative erasure is the removal of myth, the removal of history from the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas; the destruction of this archive.

Narrative Allegories of Settler Colonialism

The Settler Situation is not just a way to account for the past dispossession of Indigenous lands. It is also a very present element in popular cinema narratives. Science fiction in particular uses narrative elements to recreate fictional scenarios that depict the conditions of settler colonialism. Often, aliens "invade" earth (e.g. Independence Day, Battle Los Angeles) and exact a kind of colonial violence over humankind.  Other times, films depict "the border" or "frontier" as the site of apocalyptic danger (e.g. Terminator: Dark Fate, Logan). The word "allegory" refers to the ways a given narrative may invoke a scenario beyond itself, playing out real-world situations and power dynamics as a fictional re-imagining of our shared future.

Opening scenes of Men in Black (1995)

Allegory is, for instance, what allows the above narrative to play on the double-meaning of the word "alien." In the above clip from Men in Black, border patrol agents pull over a van of migrants, presumably to detain them. As soon as the passengers disembark, a pair of suited men whose jurisdiction exceeds the border agents appear. Seizing control of the situation, one of the men begins to interview the passengers with short greetings in Spanish. After encountering the one passenger who appears unable to understand the agent's greeting, they release the other passengers and detain the "alien." During the interrogation, it is discovered that the odd passenger is an extraterrestrial, and upon charging at the border agent, is promptly vaporized.

The segment carries a number of settler-colonial themes. The agents, for instance, uphold a myth that all the migrants would speak the same language by vetting the true alien based on whether they speak Spanish. In fact, there are a number of Indigenous languages that migrants might speak, including Nahuatl, Maya, Otomí, Mixteco, Zapoteco, Totonaco, Chol, and Mazateco. The agents also illustrate how the settler presumes that "alien" life is inherently disposable, vaporizing the alien to protect the border patrol agent despite the patrol's refusal to take instructions from a higher authority.

The Frontier and the "Settler Hero"

The US-Mexico border is frequently the mythic backdrop for imagining the outcomes of settler colonialism as a technological dystopia. When the threat doesn't come from beyond a literal, physical border, it comes from a temporal (or time-based) border beyond the horizon of present perceptions: an apocalyptic future.

The western is an example of a popular literary and cinematic narrative that features a cowboy as its protagonist. Dr. Michael Lechuga describes this character as a more general type that recurs across different narratives (e.g. Star Wars, Westworld), and calls this frontier figure "the settler hero":

Settlers do not see themselves as extenders of a particular (European or US) state sovereignty, they “see themselves as founders of political orders, they also interpret their collective efforts in terms of an inherent sovereign claim that travels with them and is ultimately, if not immediately, autonomous from the colonising metropole.” Settler identity is characterized by “permanent movement and sovereign capacity.” Settlers reject an imperial colonial persona for a uniquely mobile, individualized, and exploitative sovereignty that is produced in that denunciation of the colonial order. In rejecting the colonial metropole, thus, the settler seeks to acquire yet “unsettled lands” (terra nullius) on which to create a new political and economic formation.
Theatrical trailer for Law and Order (1953)

In the film Law and Order, the "settler hero" is a white and masculine figure who occupies a dangerous territorial town and is self-authorized to use violence in order to bring residents and Indigenous peoples into compliance with his authority. The trailer describes the American West as a "wild," "magnificent," and "untamed" frontier that was also the site of gratuitous danger and violence. It presents "heroes" in the form of "lawmen" who alone are allowed to use violence to quell violence. This iconography, in turn, informs how a subset of American voters have repeatedly projected this role onto political figures such as Ronald Reagan,  who claimed to bring order or balance to the "wild west" of American politics.  

Settler Colonialism and the Future

When the mythic "frontier" of settler colonial narrative is not a literal spatial border (e.g. the border between civilized/uncivilized lands, between nations, or between the Earth and Space), it is a time-border, imagining a dystopic future for the current settler situation. In this case, the settler's imagined "enemy" comes from the future and must be extinguished to ensure a livable human future. Often, the agencies of this dystopia are the technologies developed by the settler themselves, which have spiraled out of control and now threaten the whole settler way of life that birthed it.

Theatrical Trailer for The Tomorrow War (2021)

The alien-invasion genre of science fiction often stages a settler-colonial situation in which an enemy threatens to perpetuate colonial violence against humankind. The proposed solution of these films is that the only solution to human genocide is similar to colonial violence. In the example of The Tomorrow War shown above, the main character travels to the future where he meets his much older daughter, who is fighting the "tomorrow" war against a band of monstrous aliens. Ultimately, to win the war and save his daughter's life, the protagonist discovers that he must kill the alien "queen." The film thus guarantees his daughter's – and humans' — future by eliminating the "alien" other's ability to reproduce and inhabit the planet. This is by no means the only solution presented by the film, which argues that the "future war" begins due to anthropogenic climate change, which releases the aliens from a thawed Arctic glacier. In other words, The Tomorrow War presents colonial violence as a reasonable alternative to dramatic climate action, which it depicts as destined to fail.

Part 2: Incomunicable

A(n Audio) Lecture by Dr. Michael Lechuga from the University of New Mexico. You may also access the transcript of this lecture by following this link.

  • This is part of the required reading. Please listen and/or read this lecture linked above.
  • This lecture is also part of a forthcoming article by Prof. Lechuga. I will post an abstract, link, and citation to this article once it is available!

Part 3: Post-, De-, Anti-, and Settler-Colonialism

In his article, "(Re)Bordering the Civic Imaginary: Rhetoric, Hybridity, and Citizenship in La Gran Marcha," Josue David Cisneros describes reactions to “anti-immigrant, anti-Latino discourse” to illustrate “how protestors enacted US citizenship, simultaneously drawing undocumented immigrants into the US national community and challenging the very process of bordering endemic to citizenship.” ("La Gran Marcha," p.28) Protestors, in other words, used a rhetoric that performed citizenship and questioned the governing way of separating citizens from non-citizens. For that reason, rhetoric offered a way to resist colonialism. As used by the protestors, it established the fact that the protestors belonged as citizens while resisting the definitions of belonging that purposely excluded undocumented immigrants from citizenship.

There are several terms that describe different kinds of rhetorical resistance toward coloniality. These include post-colonialism, anti-colonialism, de-colonialism, and settler-colonialism. Althoug there is substantial overlap between these terms, each designates a unique orientation to "the colony" and the larger system we call "colonialism." As Lorenzo Veracini explains in the quotation below, there are two different connotations for the term "colony." A colony is both (1) a political unit of organization that is ruled by a group originating from outside of the colonized territory (i.e. exogenous) and (2) the self-reproduction of the exogenous group within a colonized territory. Different terms foreground different aspects of "the colony." For example, the term settler-colonialism captures both of these connotations.

"Colony” as a term can have two main different connotations. A colony is both a political body that is dominated by an exogenous agency, and an exogenous entity that reproduces itself in a given environment (in both cases, even if they refer to very different situations, “colony” implies the localised ascendency of an external element -- this is what brings the two meanings together). Settler colonialism as a concept encompasses this fundamental ambiguity. As its compounded designation suggests, it is inherently characterised by both traits. Since both the permanent movement and reproduction of communities and the dominance of an exogenous agency over an indigenous one are necessarily involved, settler-colonial phenomena are intimately related to both colonialism and migration. And yet, not all migrations are settler migrations and not all colonialisms are settler-colonial: … settler colonialism should be seen as structurally distinct from both.”
Veracini, “The Settler Colonial Situation”

Why is it that "not all migrations are settler migrations and not all colonialisms are settler colonial"? On the one hand, migration something distinct from the act of settlement. Whereas migration describes the natural phenomenon of movement across territory and geography, settlement implies an act of possession and dispossession in which territory and geography are improperly claimed as one's own. Moreover, if migration describes a shift in location, settlement describes the additional gesture of displacing and dehumanizing the inhabitants of a settled territory. Displacement and dehumanization are ways of justifying the settler's presence, and seek to craft the settler's identity as native to settled lands while removing the land rights of original, indigenous inhabitants.  

arcGIS animation of the dispossession of Indigenous lands from 1784-1897. Credit to Cladio Saunt, author of West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776. Map animation drawn from

On the other hand, "not all colonialisms are settler-colonial" because the act of settlement adds unique features to colonization, such as the settler-hero and a settler-mythology. Colonialism also takes a number of forms, as does the resistance to it. The sections below (on post-colonialism, de-colonialism, anti-colonialism, and settler-colonialism) describe different ways of thinking about colonialism and the resistance to it. In the United States especially, it has been convention to think of colonialism as a historical era or something which occurred in the distant past (e.g., "the colonists at Plymouth Rock," "colonial Williamsburg"). However, many if not most of the descriptions below imagine colonialism as an ongoing project that has changed forms over time.  


Post-colonialism often describes colonialism as a specific historical occurrence tied to the imperialist expansion of Western European nations and the United States. Colonialism, by this understanding, would encompass (for instance, ) Spanish and British settlements in the Americas, the Atlantic slave trade commonly known as the Middle Passage, and European colonization of the Caribbean, the West Indies, Africa, and India. The prefix "post-" sometimes suggests that colonialism is primarily a historical phenomenon that occurred in the past. For that reason, activists, historians, and critics who identify with the "post-colonial" label are occasionally burdened by the assumption that they write from a point in time after colonization, as if it has already transpired and seek to take stock of its aftermath(s).

This is not, however, the only way that post-colonialism can be or has been defined. The "post-" prefix may also signal a "beyond" to colonialism. This acknowledges that the way colonialism manifests in our present-day goes "beyond" the forms it once took. Post-colonialism is necessary, in other words, because to describe the historical forms of colonialism is not sufficient to account for its evolution and influence. Rhetorical and post-colonial scholar Raka Shome defines post-colonialism in the following way in the essay "Postcolonial Interventions in the Rhetorical Canon: An 'Other' View":

Postcolonialism is the “critical perspective that primarily seeks to expose the Eurocentrism and imperialism of Western discourses (both academic and public). . . .” (Raka Shome, “Postcolonial Interventions” p. 41)

In other words, if we now live at a point in time "after" or "beyond" colonialism, then post-colonialism seeks to capture the residue of colonialism that remains stuck to academic and public discourses. To read as a post-colonial critic means to pay attention to the way that so-called neutral or objective ways of describing contemporary life, politics, knowledge, industry, etc. are still steeped in a Eurocentric perspective and/or imperialist values. For instance, when classes in politics and philosophy only teach thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau, Bentham, and Hobbes, this betrays a Eurocentric bias insofar as it centers European philosophies that gained currency because of the colonial powers that elevated them. Alternatively, if we pay attention to the way that military culture is celebrated in popular culture – or how expensive and deadly military campaigns are justified in the name of America's exceptional democracy – this points to a imperialist bias in which the continued strength of the American empire is supported through common, even ignorable, rhetorical forms.

One frequent (but incomplete) characterization of post-colonialism is that it is primarily an scholarly or academic way of understanding the consequences of colonialism. This is especially true of the way that post-colonial critique has been adopted and applied within literary studies, which maintains that the colonial destruction of culture is morally wrong, and that contemporary institutions' default preference for a Western canon of literature and philosophy contributes to this destruction. Often, this understanding of post-colonialism relies upon de-mystifying or de-bunking celebratory narratives of colonization. Such narratives are primarily designed to assure settlers and their descendants that colonization is justified while diverting attention to the generational traumas caused by this system.

Two prominent and important post-colonial critics who fit this description include Edward Said and Gayatri Spivak. Edward Said famously theorized Orientalism, which refers to a fantasy of otherness projected by white and western cultures onto peoples and cultures considered "primitive" or "foreign," and which often have little to no correspondence with reality. It refers to a patronizing attitude that essentializes societies as static and underdeveloped, enabling "Eastern" cultures to appear simultaneously exotic and threatening. By representing an "other" as feminine, weak, and vulnerable, Orientalism is a fictional lever that allows the Western "self" to imagine itself as masculine, rational, and strong. Gayatri Spivak is a critic of the deconstructionist tradition who most famously theorized the subaltern, or everything that (and everyone who) has limited or no access to the means of speech and/or representation, which are controlled by a system of cultural imperialism. Similar to the concept of the proletariat, the subaltern refers to a category of personhood that exists within a subordinated position within a cultural hierarchy, and whose speech cannot be heard because there are no channels to access it. These theorists enable us to ask questions like:

  • Are there any popular forms of speech and representation that are not influenced by the history of colonization?
  • Are most allegedly "objective" renderings of non-western cultures in the United States actually westernized fantasies about non-western cultures?
  • For whom do we speak when we speak out against the lasting influence of colonization?
  • How do we know that speaking "on behalf of" is not a form of colonial violence?

Decolonization and De-Coloniality

Decolonization refers to the program of undoing the historical harms wrought by colonialism, past and present. According to Walter Mignolo, there are two movements to decolonization: one of "unveiling" the damage done by colonial governance another "simultaneously affirming the modes and principles of knowledge that have been denied" (Mignolo, "DELINKING: The rhetoric of modernity, the logic of coloniality, and the grammar of de-coloniality," p.457). De-coloniality is also interested in the future, insofar as it "means working toward a vision of human life that is not dependent upon or structured by the forced imposition of one ideal society over those that differ" (Mignolo, p.459). It is also different from post-colonial critique because it seeks to go beyond diagnosing the lingering traces of colonialism in contemporary speech, representation, and policy by engaging in specific, goal-directed actions. If post-colonialism is about diagnosing, de-bunking, and de-mystifying the assumption that colonization is just a thing of the past, then de-colonization asks what it is that can and must be done now in order to reverse continuing actions that perpetuate the colonial project, today.

"the programmatic of de-coloniality moves away and beyond the post-colonial. ... The de-colonial shift, in other words, is a project of de-linking while post-colonial criticism and theory is a project of scholarly transformation within the academy." (Walter Mignolo, "DELINKING" p. 452)

One important way to understand decolonization's orientation toward doing is by ensuring that the act of decolonizing refers to something specific, and not an abstraction. According to Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, "decolonization is not a metaphor" because this term cannot be loosely applied. Instead, it must refer to the repatriation of lands stolen from Indigenous peoples. For that reason, a syllabus or a classroom cannot be "decolonized" by adding readings written by Indigenous authors, much in the same way that a land acknowledgment does not "decolonize" but merely acknowledges the fact of colonization, that it has occurred. Decolonization requires an action, one that ensures that the lands that have been seized from peoples are restored to them. As Tuck and Yang write:  

"Decolonization specifically requires the repatriation of Indigenous land and life. Decolonization is not a metonym for social justice." (Tuck and Yang, "Decolonization is not a Metaphor," p.21)

In other words, decolonization cannot be a metaphor, nor can it be a metonym. It cannot be substituted to describe something other than the repatriation of lands; it is not a shorthand for social justice or institutional equity and inclusion practices. Most of all, decolonization is not just rhetoric in the sense of empty speech or flowery language. The point is that it must be literal.

However, this formula also teaches us something important about rhetoric because colonization can and does happen when people seize control of de-colonizal terminology in ways that dilute its meaning or claim it on behalf of the descendants of settlers who merely wish to assure themselves that they are doing the right thing. In other words, when people use the term decolonization inappropriately – that is, without having a concrete action attached that "takes into consideration Indigenous people(s) and the return of their land" (p.7) that rhetorical use language is an act of colonization: it takes a term of art designed to support the territorial and life-giving struggle of Indigneous people and co-opts it on behalf of colonization's historical benefactors.


Like decolonization, anti-colonialism is a position that seeks the available means of dismantling colonial systems and patterns of action. Tuck and Yang describe it as both a way of celebrating empowered, once-colonized subjects who seize denied once-denied privileges from the city, the state, and the nation. It is also a practice of "following stolen resources," keeping track of where and how they change hands among members of a settler class. One useful way of understanding anti-colonialism is by setting it alongside post-colonialism. As Robert J.C. Young argues,

"Whereas post-colonialism has become associated with diaspora, transnational migration and internationalism, anti-colonialism is often identified exclusively, too exclusively, with a provincial nationalism." (Young, "Colonialism and the Politics of Postcolonial Critique")

In other words, if post-colonialism is a term associated with bringing to light the consequences of  removing, dispersing, and re-settling peoples away from their homelands, then anti-colonialism is sometimes associated with the movements of colonized and formerly-colonized peoples to reclaim their homelands, which can take shape as a kind of national allegiance. For instance, rather than colonized French Algeria, anti-colonization might argue for a more Algerian Algeria, one that restores a homeland to the peoples dispossessed of it. Young also calls anti-colonialism "a de-centered network" that exceeds national boundaries and unifies a large number of peoples in a common struggle against military occupation and western imperialism:

[Anti-colonialism is] a complex constellation of situated local knowledges combined with radical, universal political principles, constructed and facilitated through international networks of party cells and organizations, and widespread political contacts between different revolutionary organizations that generated common practical information and material support as well as spreading radical political and intellectual ideas. (Young, "Colonialism and the Politics of Postcolonial Critique")
Among the most famous cinematic depictions of this colonizer/colonized dynamic is the film The Battle of Algiers, which tells the story of colonial France's military incursion into Algeria and the resistance to it.

One example of an anti-colonial theorist is Frantz Fanon, who was an author, movement leader, and a practicing psychiatrist. Fanon devoted his life to treated peoples who were subjected colonization and the psychological effects of racism. In Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon argued that the dominant colonial culture identifies melanated skin with impurity, and spreads this false myth by scrupulously avoiding contact with people of different races. For instance, Fanon's concept of "epidermalization" maintained that "Black children raised within the racist cultural assumptions of the colonial system can partially resolve the tension between contempt for blackness and their own dark skins by coming to think of themselves, in some sense as white." (Fanon, "Foreword," p.ix) For that reason, colonization had material, physical, and psychological effects. The last of these took shape as existential dread and different kinds of neurosis. As a practitioner of psychiatry, Fanon's program of activist engagement took the form of treating people who were subjected to these effects of coloniality, finding lived and practical ways of resisting the forces imposed upon them on a routine, everyday basis.


The final form of colonialism reviewed here is settler-colonialism. Settler-colonialism is unique for the way that the settler plays a central role, writing themselves as a protagonist in the story of colonization. According to Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, "settler-colonialism is different from other forms of colonialism in that settlers come with the intention of making a new home on the land, a home-making that insists on settler sovereignty over all the things in their new domain" (Tuck and Yang, "Decolonization is not a Metaphor," p. 5). It is not a moment in history in the sense of something long past or even that is happening right now. Instead, it is a repeatable pattern that repeatedly organizes narratives, psychology, and a land-economy.

The focus of settler-colonialism upon narratives and psychology makes it similar to anti-colonialism in the sense that it engages both the psychological violence exacted by settler-colonists and the means of undoing or undermining it. Lorenzo Veracini argues that a key aspect of the settler-colonial situation is the way that it installs negative affects (i.e., bad feelings) in both colonizers and those people who they colonize. However, the settler's experience of these feelings is both a way of maintaining their own fictional innocence and establishing their own victimhood. This is because a feature of the settler's psychology is that they imagine themselves as always at risk of being subjected to colonial violence:

Indeed, ongoing concerns with existential threats and a paranoid fear of ultimate decolonisation can be seen as a consistent feature of the settler colonial situation. Besides Indigenous revenge, other neurosis-generating settler anxieties include paranoid fears about degenerative manifestations in the settler social body, apprehensions about the debilitating results of climate, remoteness, geopolitical position, racial contamination, demographic balances and concerns about the possibility that the land will ultimately turn against the settler project.
In the settler colonial situation, therefore, disavowal is also directed at denying the very existence and persistence of Indigenous presences and claims. Sources frequently refer to Indigenous people as 'shadows',  figures lurking in thickets, and the recurring construction of various mythologies portraying dying races should be refered to a specific settler need to finally disavow Indigenous presences. (Lorenzo Veracini, "Settler Collective, Founding Violence and Disavowal: The Settler Colonial Situation," p.368)

In other words, settler colonialism embraces and weaponizes the psychology of disavowal (or the "I know very well but nonetheless"). The settler and their descendants often "know very well" that they are historically the perpetrators of colonial violence. "Nonetheless" their anxieties about the decline of contemporary culture and its causes deflect this historical anxiety and the need to make right by endlessly posing the threat that the current form of settler culture will be overturned or destroyed – often by the very people that settler colonialism has displaced and dispossessed.

A key difference between settler colonialism and post-colonialism, decolonization, and anti-colonization is that it takes the form of a structure. How is this different from the other understandings introduced above?

  • Post-colonialism often understands colonization as a historical phenomenon that has changed over time, with lingering and distant effects on the present-day.
  • Decolonization refers to practices that carry the specific goal of repatriating lands to those peoples who have been historically dispossessed of them.
  • Anti-colonialism refers to movements that seek to dismantle colonialism through strategic maneuvers and assertions of sovereignty on the part of peoples historically subjected to colonial governance.
  • Settler colonialism is a structure in the sense that it is a whole framework of representation that seeks to re-shape and replace understandings of land and indigeneity through a character or persona called "the settler."

is "a structure and not an event" in the sense that settler colonialism has consistent features across different time periods. However, these features materialize differently at different times. For instance, the American settler-colonist in the 18th century who lands at Plymouth Rock is very different from the cowboy who settled American West. However, both concoct false stories about Indigenous peoples as submissive and subservient and at the same time, violent and dangerous.

One example of the false myth about Indigenous peoples that still circulates in the United States today is about Squanto (born Tisquantum) of the Patuxet, who "freely" helped English colonists to survive winters. However, the common telling of that story also erases the fact that before lending assistance to English colonists, Tisquantum had been enslaved by the British, was forced to travel to Spain and Britain, and eventually returned with the British to their colonies as a translator and guide. In the three years that he was gone, diseases brought to the Americas by colonists were estimated to have killed over 90% of the Tisquantum's tribal community. After his return, Tisquantum had little choice in serving as a go-between between Massasoit, who led the Wampanoag Confederation, and the British colonists. 

Settler colonialism is unique from the other categories of coloniality presented here, in other words, because of the way that it theorizes a specific and systematic transformation of Indigenous culture. This transformation consists in labeling  objects and peoples as its 'own', and then codifies these relationships into law as enforceable through policing and state violence. Some of the features of this structural transformation include:  

  • Settler colonialism transforms land into property, restricting human relationships to land to that between a land-owner and property.
  • Settler colonialism restricts knowledge about land and cosmology, either destroying or (literally) burying them, causing a reversal of history.
  • Settler colonialism seeks to make the settler "more native" than Indigenous peoples while erasing the genealogy of Indigenous peoples. It also produces the fictional narrative that the settler is at risk of being displaced or removed from their fictive "homelands".
  • Settler colonialism seeks to make make the telling of Indigenous history impossible and less important than the settler's traditions and histories.
  • Once a territory has been colonized and its resource economy has been extracted, settler-colonists blame Indigenous and (formerly) enslaved peoples for the damage done and seeks a new territory to colonize.

Having come full circle, this chapter opened with a discussion of what a "settler colonial situation" is, offered a reflection on the way that even the contemporary American university system is complicit in this situation, before finally discussing some variations upon scholarly and lived understandings of colonialism. Ultimately, colonialism is complex and sprawling phenomenon, one that is not simple to explain or capture, but which all-encompassing and everywhere, difficult to ignore once it enters your awareness.

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