Decolonizing Sexualities: Transnational Perspectives, Critical Interventions, edited by Sandeep Bakshi, Suhraiya Jivraj, and Silvia Posocco has just been published by Counterpress to much acclaim. CLT are pleased to republish the foreword by Walter Mignolo.
Decolonial Body-Geo-Politics At Large
Colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures and destroys it. This work of devaluing pre-colonial history takes on a dialectical significance today. — Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
‘Transnational queers of colors’ is a recurrent expression in the introduction and in the rest of the volume. For Sandeep Bakshi, Suhraiya Jivraj, and Silvia Posocco ‘transnational’ means building the communal beyond the lack of complacencies that nation-states show towards queers of color. Playing the legal aspect of the State but disobeying (epistemic and aesthesic disobediences within legality) the State concept of Nation. ‘The transnational communal’ is formulated at the same time as decolonial. It makes sense: the nation-state is a constructed modern/colonial institution. It is embedded in the Spirit of modernity that unavoidably carries the Evil of coloniality. You see and feel modernity, it is announced, it is promoted, it is celebrated, it is full of promises. Coloniality is more difficult to see. Modernity’s storytelling hides it. But it is felt, it is felt by people who do not fit the celebratory frames and expectations of modernity.
When you felt coloniality, you felt the colonial wound. Then the question is what to do: to live with it in silence or to find ways to heal colonial wounds. Decoloniality is a path to heal the wounds of coloniality. And since colonial wounds are not physical but mental (which Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o clearly understood in the expression ‘decolonizing the mind,’ as well as Frantz Fanon in the epigraph), and mental wounds are inflicted by words and assumptions that sustain the words, colonial wounds are perpetrated by epistemic weapons. In the imaginary of the modern/colonial world (1500 to now), the two basic epistemic weapons are racism and sexism. Racism and sexism always work together for ‘people of color,’ whether they/we are or are not queers.
However, the racist and sexist perverted logic of coloniality ontologizes both in such a way that it is not unusual to find hetero-normative beliefs among men of color and among white woman. And I mean hetero-normative belief not to be confused with heterosexual conducts. Hetero-normative beliefs transcend gender differences and the racial color spectrum. That is the power of social classifications: a method by which actors installed in specific institutions create and preserve knowledge imbedded in the narratives of modernity, in the very act of building the idea of modernity as an inescapable march of history, social progress, and economic development.
Coloniality you do not see; it is felt by many people who do not fit the Spirit of modernity as perpetrations of wounds inflicted by invisible (until decoloniality made visible) colonial differences. Decolonial healing requires building to re-exist rather than energy to only resist. Resistance implies that you accept the rules of the game imposed upon you, and you resist. Re-existence means that you delink from the rules imposed upon you, you create your own rules communally and, therefore you re-exist affirming yourself as a human being who does not want to be Man/Human (see below my reflections on Sylvia Wynter). This is what I understand is being proposed in these sentences:
Developing the transnational decolonial critique of existing relations in the domain of sexualities can bring to the surface the possibility of our imagined, collective ‘different’ worlds. And yet, we do not know in advance what these communities, these multiple worlds will encompass (Bakshi, Jivraj and Posocco, p. 12; italics mine)
Transnational queers of color march parallel to transnational decolonial critique for the simple reason that, decolonially speaking, the modern distinction between theory and praxis is gone. Being (assuming oneself) transnational queer of color means to engage in transnational decolonial critique. That is living queer/thinking queer or vice-versa, thinking queer/living queer. Thinking is living/doing and doing/living is thinking.
At this point, I need to sincerely and openly express my thanks to Sandeep Bakshi and the editorial team for their invitation to write this foreword. I often said on occasions like this that I am a heterosexual man, born and educated in Argentina, of Italian descent and, therefore, off-white. My encounter and embracing of coloniality/decoloniality comes from sensing what being a Third World person means (particularly when you went to Paris in the early seventies and then to the United Sates in the mid-seventies). Even if you have white skin you are seen as a person of color, both in France and the US, because of your accent, because in Europe you are a Sudaka, because in the US you are, in Anglo-eyes, a Hispanic or Latino (often confused if you have not been made to belong, by dominant discourses, to the said category).
Thus, I am writing the foreword from my experience of coloniality as a Third World, heterosexual male and off-white person. Once in the US, in a workshop, I identified my-self as off-white. A young African American lady addressed me asking not without discomfort and lack of politeness (as I remember her words and tone): ‘What do you mean by off-white? There is only White and Black, Black and White!’ Dialogue was cut-off. I remembered at that moment Frantz Fanon’s sociogenesis. I remembered also an anecdote told often by my Haitian friend Jean Casimir. Jean’s story is the following: ‘If a person like Walter knocks at my house door looking for me, and it is not me who opens the door, the person opening the door would come into the house and say: Jean, someone is looking for you. Who? I would ask. The person would say, “I do not know, a black guy.”’ As we know, according to the Haitian Constitution, in Haiti everyone is Black. Madina Tlostanova also frequently tells her story. She has white skin and blonde-red hair. In Moscow she is considered Black because she is from Caucasus and also a Cherkessian.
Blackness in Russia and Haiti mean different things than in the US. In Haiti, everybody is Black, your skin color doesn’t matter because Black means ‘person.’ In Russia white Caucasians (an oxymoron indeed, for Caucasians are supposed to be the ‘essence’ of whiteness) are Black. You cannot explain this ontologically. What accounts for it is: a) that there is a racial classification made by Man1 and Man2 assuming their whiteness and their Christianity, and b) and that the enactment of the classification depends on local histories. Often ontology is confused with epistemology. Particular racial distributions in one place or another are responses to a belief in racial and sexual ontologies. But what is ontological are not the ‘implementations’ but the categories of fictional classifications (I sustain the oxymoron—ontology refers to existing entities while fictional refers to invented entities here to break away from racial naturalized ontologies). The enactment of classification depends on circumstantial local histories, as the examples above illustrate.
I understand that many of us are living our lives re-existing, although we (the many of us) do it following different paths; paths each of us found by reflecting both on living our lives enduring the system of classification (foundational of the colonial matrix of power) and from/on our disciplines. Even when each of us does, thinks, and acts beyond the academy, the common ground of our doing is disciplinary, epistemic, and aesthesic (sensing, emotioning) disobedience. That is, decolonial.
Storytelling of how this book came about, together with personal narratives inserted in different chapters and re-stated in the prologue, makes us (readers) reflect on what has been done before the book, what will continue to be done after the book, and the doing of the book itself. The book itself is just one moment in a march of non-return: what matters is not only the struggle of ‘anti-’ racism and sexism (two aspects of Patriarchal Christianity and White Masculinity, encapsulated in the concept of Man/Human) but, above all, the celebratory work ‘for, towards’ the affirmation of what Man/Human imaginary and epistemic management devalued, demonized, disavowed, marginalized, downplayed. I, and many others, owe to Sylvia Wynter her powerful argument undraping the perverse logic of coloniality that traps all of us on the planet in the racial/sexual cage (whether you are in the racialized/sexualized side of the line or you are in the racializing/sexualizing space).1 Wynter’s argument in a nutshell is the following: Human is an overrepresentation of Man invented in the European Renaissance and established during the European Enlightenment. She calls Man1 the Renaissance overrepresentation of Man as Human; Man2 the Enlightenment version. The first is weaved in the theological imaginary, even when Man/Human was the first effort toward secularization. Heretofore, Man1 is akin to Patriarchy. Man2 was born when secularization moved away from theology by de-goding reason. Reason moved from Man1 (Patriarchy) to Man2 (Masculinity). Both share Man overrepresentation as Human. Therefore, I write Man/Human. He is the one who classifies racially and sexually. And He is the one who embedded in Christianity, whiteness, and heterosexuality sees His ‘imagination’ of the world as ‘representations’ of the world. ‘Representation’ is a deadly concept of modernity for it makes one believe that the world is there and what Man/Human does is to represent it. Coloniality of knowledge established once the rhetoric of modernity managed to impose the idea that signs represent the world and that modern knowledge (with all its internal skirmish in Christian theology, science, and philosophy), ‘represent’ what there is. So that racial and sexual classifications are not fictions, in this view, but ‘representations’ of what there is.
We, and I mean all of us, queer or not, of color or not, are trapped. The difference is that the creative energy for transformation is coming and will continue to grow, from people racialized/sexualized, not from the side of racializing/sexualizing. And even when it comes, when white and heterosexual (men and women) of consciousness, from and in the former First World, realize that their thoughts, behavior, belief, knowledge have been imposed upon them and they further realize the injustices that such classificatory social fictions have caused, still they cannot sense, know, and experience the colonial wound. And that is fine because there is no, cannot be, universal experiences. When Wittgenstein referred to ‘living experiences,’ he did not have in mind the experiences either of an African from Zimbabwe or the experience of a lesbian Latina in the US. The reverse also obtains, of course. No African from Zimbabwe and a lesbian Latina could experience what Wittgenstein was experiencing in Austria.
‘People of non-white color’ cannot feel, sense and know what ‘people of white color’ feel, sense, and know. I am intentionally talking about ‘feeling and sensing what you know,’ which alerts you to the inverse: you feel and sense in relation to what you know and your knowing is a different dimension of your sensing. ‘People of white color and heterosexual people’ can know and understand colonial wounds, but cannot experience them. That is what experience means: experience is constituted by your reflections on what you remember or acknowledge in your own course of living. At stake here is not only the racial/sexual bio-political (canonical knowledge, the State, the mainstream media), but also the geo-political racialization of regions and areas of the world (e.g. Asia, Africa, Europe, and America; First, Second and Third World; Western and Eastern Hemisphere; Global South and Global North). The responses to these compound classifications are decolonial geopolitics confronting imperial geopolitics, and decolonial body-politics responding to imperial bio-politics. All of these come together in the felicitous formula ‘transnational queers of color.’
Therefore, white, heterosexual sensibilities from the former First World, can accompany decolonial healings, support them, but whomever did not experience the colonial wound cannot heal others even when becoming aware and cognizant of how colonial wounds are inflicted. But they can of course heal themselves, reducing to size the privileges that whiteness, heterosexuality, and First Worldness bestowed upon them. Briefly, we are all involved in the messy situations provoked by imperial (cf. modern/colonial) racial/sexual classification. However, the fact remains that the strong belief of white supremacy, heterosexual normativity (that is, the moment in which heterosexuality equals hetero-normativity) and First Worldness are well entrenched in institutions and actors who run such institutions, from universities to mainstream media. However, it is important to remember that people of color are not excluded from confusing heterosexuality with hetero-normativity and assimilating to First World beliefs and behavior living behind their former Third or Second Worldness.
For all these reasons, there is no safe place when it comes to racism and sexism: it is a constant struggle between forces of regulations and energies of liberation. This volume is a single case of the latter, not only for what is said in the volume but for what is being done beyond the volume by all contributors and editors involved.
The hope of the present towards the future is the growing decolonial Spirit of delinking to re-exist (a basic decolonial move), accepting that Eurocentric fictions in all spheres of life, but above all, racial and sexual fictions embedded in the economy (capitalism), politics (the State), epistemology (the university, museums, schools, the church), and authority (the army and the police) manage and control emotions and sensing of the world.
The volume invites reflections on the concept of ‘politics’ if not ‘the political.’ If politics in Western traditions refers to engaging with issues of the ‘polis,’ it has been restricted to engaging with issues of government and its institutions, the various State-forms. ‘The political’ in Carl Schmitt’s formulation, divides the camp between friends and enemies. Although he restricted his formulation to the sphere of the State and of inter-state law, currently politics and the political needs to be understood in all spheres of living: religious, economic, political, epistemic, artistic, racial, sexual, aesthetic, pedagogical, scientific, disciplinary, philosophical. More than friends/enemies ‘the political’ emerges in the entangled forces of regulation and liberation: controlling and managing on the one hand, and the refusal to be controlled and manage by the arrogance of Man1 and Man2.
The political is at stake in racial/sexual energies of liberation from the forces of regulation. Connecting scholarly arguments with current events that request both politics and the political, the essays in the volume make singular calls to secular State racism confronting religious anti-racism (Charlie Hebdo); to sexual/racial civil society violence against gay people (Latinx Gay Club in Orlando Florida); to, what could be added, the police ‘serial killing’ of Black People in the US, and many others. Notice, however, that all these events, and several others, are taking place in the former First World. Engaging with friends-enemies in these spheres of life means to engage the political but also the ethics of racial and sexual decolonial liberation.
The nation-state is a form and structure of governance created by Man/Human in the sense Sylvia Wynter defines the term; and Man/Human who created the nation-state form of governance in former Western Europe (now the heart of the European Union), during the historical process that went from the Treaty of Westphalia till—grosso modo—the end of the nineteenth century, were just that: Man/Human. It is all condensed in one expression: ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizen.’ After Wynter’s argument we know who is Man/Human and who can be Citizen. Notice also that the declaration is ‘of the rights of Man,’ in singular: Man as overrepresentation of Human. This was Man2. Man2 was/is heterosexual, and because He was heterosexual He assumed that it was the way it is and it should be. He continued, with modification, the racial/sexual classification initiated by Man1. They both belong to a monotheistic cosmology in which God is conceived in the image of Man and, during the Renaissance, updated to fit the needs of Man1. It was not, and it is not like that in many co-existing, non-modern cosmologies.
Let’s take one example—Nahuatl speaker’s cosmology, also known as Aztec cosmology. In it, Ometeotl was understood by Spanish missionaries and described as God, as if Ometeotl was a second-class equivalent of Christian’s God. Well, it so happened that for Nahuatl speakers, Ometeotl was not a God as Spanish missionaries thought. Ometeotl was conceived as Energy, the Energy that created all that exists, including Tlacatl and Cihuatl. The Energy that created the world was the energy that implanted in the world the feature of both Tlacatl and Cihuatl. One could say that Tlacatl and Cihuatl are not entities defined by their features, but words that indicate distinction between features that are embedded in everything that was created by Ometeotl. Thus Tlacatl and Cihuatl. Are not two distinctive and opposed entities, but fluid moieties that invade all of what exists, all entities in their constant movements (ollin, in Nahuatl)? The logic of moieties and the experience of living in a world of moieties and fluidity is that day is not the opposite of night, but that there is no night without day and no day without night. Tlacatl and Cihuatl more than entities, material entities, were two types of energies dispersed and embedded in any existing entity in the universe created by Ometeotl. Ometeotl’s energy was Tlacatl and Cihuatl’s energies.
The Spaniards translated Tlacatl as man and Cihuatl as woman. By so doing they shattered the fluidity between, and complementarity of, moieties, the movement (ollin) and harmony between moieties, and ontologized each moiety into the rigidity of the body. Spaniards, contributed to the affirmation of Western cosmology by putting entities (bodies) before features, fluidity, and movement. They needed to do so because they believed that man and woman are two distinct and opposed entities, each of them defined by well-established ontological features. Briefly, Spaniards did not understand Nahuatl’s way of living and understanding. After the Spaniards came the French and British, and Western cosmology was grounded in the epistemic, economic, political, and military Westernization of the world. One of the major difficulties of Western mentalities to understand many non-Western cosmologies is the privilege of the Noun over the Verb. In many cosmologies it would be impossible to reflect on Being and Time (the time of entities), as Martin Heidegger did. If you start from the Verb instead of Noun, you would easily understand fluidity and energies flowing and inhabiting different entities.
By so doing Spaniards, and all who came after them in the relentless Westernization of the world, managed to impose structures of governance and knowledge that demonized fluidity and complementarity overall. In gender/sexual matters the result was the uncontroversial ‘reality’: a man is a man and a woman is a woman, and that is that. Who was successful in establishing His narrow conception of reality and the world was Man/Human (Man1 and Man2). For this reason Man/Human consolidated His conception of the world not only in the sphere of ethnicities and sexualities but in all spheres of social organization. Man/Human was (and still is) the Christian and White heterosexual, who inhabits the West and later on the First World. Man modeled the State; Man/Human was the supreme epistemic authority manifested in theology and secular sciences (including social sciences) and philosophy (including all the humanities and Western poetic/artistic expressions). Man/Human was and is the one who assumes the privileges and the rights to manage and exploit the living planet to His benefit and for that reason invented the concept of ‘nature’ and of ‘natural resources,’ which spilled out to ‘human resources.’ Man/Human is the master of ‘human resources’ of which He is excluded.
Nahuatl’s cosmology is similar to many cosmologies of indigenous people in what came to be known as the Americas and the Caribbean. Indigenous people from Europe inhabiting Christian cosmology invented these names. Indigenous cosmologies of the Americas have not been lost. Today they are re-emerging, resurging. Two-spirits or two-spirited (as the contributors to this volume very well know) are the expressions used by Native Americans to refer to and describe a person who feels simultaneously in their body the energy of, in Nahuatl terminology, Tlacatl and Cihuatl. When translated into Western imperial languages, the limitations are obvious: imperial language speakers have only two words to indicate closed circuits (man or woman; masculine or feminine). But it is not only the limitations of the nouns. It is the syntax: man or woman; masculine or feminine. If instead it were written man and woman, masculine and feminine, the translation would get closer to two-spirits.2 However, we are all experiencing racist and sexist imperial geopolitics.
The nation-state is the overall and dominant structure of governance today on the planet. There are differences however between secular nation-states founded in Western Europe, and the monarchic states before the French Revolution. There are also differences between the nation-state founded by the Founding Fathers (the United Nation-States of America), the European nation-states, and the nation-states that emerged in the rest of the Americas and the Caribbean, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, on the one hand, and the nation-states that emerged in Asia and Africa from the process of decolonization during the Cold War, on the other. European nation-states were found by the emerging ethno-class known as bourgeoisie. The Founding Fathers were not bourgeois like in Europe. The European bourgeoisie detached itself from the monarchic state and the church. There was no monarchic state and church to detach from in the foundation of the US. The forces to vanquish were the ‘wilderness,’ the land, the Indians and the existing African enslaved population.
Moreover, Western European nation-states and those formed after independence from European colonialisms are linked and divided by geo-body colonial differences. Colonial differences make visible power differentials hidden under the idea that the nation-state form is a global institution that secures democracy and brings into shining light power differentials between imperial state-forms and modern/colonial state-forms that emerged after independences. Colonial differences is a decolonial concept highlighting the irreducible cultural, political, and economic dependencies in the inter-state system and, therefore, between nation and nationalities. The point is that geo-political power differentials are not unrelated to bio-political power differentials: that is of racism and sexism. Bio-politics is, in the last analysis, the mutation of a system of classification from monarchic-theological states (sixteenth to eighteenth century in Europe) to secular-bourgeois states (from eighteenth century on). Bio-politics, in short, is the secular face of theo-politics: the classification of people by blood and religions instead of by biology and skin color.
All the furniture in the basement comes to light when one considers the magic illusion that the nation-state form of governance created. The illusion is that to each state corresponds one nation. It so then happens that ‘nations’ were imagined as a homogeneous Man/Human, an imagined community in which Woman was a surrogate of Man/Human although, at the same time, differentiated from non-European women of color. It was also assumed, non-dit, that Man/Human and Woman were heterosexual. States are legal-administrative institutions. Nations are indeed a heterogeneous mix of ‘proper’ nationals and ‘quasi’ nationals because of how the ‘nation-state’ classifies them/us, by gender, sexuality, ethno-racial, and other nations and languages and religions (thus, the conflicts with immigrants and refugees from the former Third and Second Worlds migrating to the former First World.) In other words, each State ‘represents’ one nation among the pluri-nationalities under a given state.
I bring these considerations forward for several reasons—one of them prompted by Nawo C. Crawford’s Prologue. The Prologue captures from the first paragraph the spinal column of the entire volume: the question of Man/Humanity, that is, the normative fiction of Humanity grounded on the overrepresented image of Man as Human, which is precisely Sylvia Wynter’s groundbreaking argument. Groundbreaking because Eurocentrism is grounded in the colonial matrix of power, an overarching conceptual imaginary upon which knowledge, understanding, politics, economy, religion, art, and the very fictional concept of ‘nature’ and ‘natural resources’ has been established. And the mastermind of the colonial matrix of power was and is Man/Human—His knowledge, His political and economic organizations, His educational regulations; His values and expectations of what humans have to be or become if they are not. All of that (e.g. the colonial matrix of power) was built up by Man/Human, the powerful fictional world of modernity, progress, civilization and development that has done more damaged than good. What are the tasks then?
It is of a great importance to challenge all the walls and barriers that society has built to keep us in the same mental/ emotional space then when they colonized our ancestors. The construction of who we are as LGBT of color in France is very problematic because we are stuck in the frame of assimilation. Assimilation is the form of oppression that considers ‘whiteness’ as the model, the universal model of humanity. In order to be considered civilized and not ‘racaille,’ to be seen as their equals and not barbarians, we have to adopt their notion of humanity, of universality, and since we are living and/or born in France, we have to adopt their unique notion of ‘Frenchness.’ Which means accepting to be silenced and to never ever question the unique model, the unique standard of values, identity, etc. (Prologue, bold letters mine)
‘Assimilation’ is one keyword. Whoever doesn’t fit the fictional edifice built in the image of Man/Human by Man/Human, has either to assimilate or to pay the consequences: humiliations of all sort, colonial wounds of all sort. These are cases in which colonial wounds are the consequences of the invisible work of ‘colonial differences.’ Colonial differences are not ontological; they are not the outcome of ‘natural’ eruptions of the living. It is the work of actors, institutions, and languages. Colonial differences are fictional ontologies epistemically invented. That is, fictions that become ontological appear as having nothing to do with actors and institutions, knowledges, and languages creating them. Man/Human is the fiction upon which normalcy is established and defended, even when ‘change’ appears as a key word reproducing the normalcy of Man/Human. And that is the decolonial struggle at hand: to delink from the fictional categories and classifications installed and instilled in the narratives of modernity and the violence of coloniality. And that is what this volume attempts to do; not by itself of course, but as a single moment in the large march of decolonial liberations.
Two major problems, visible today, emerge from the nation-state form. One that is being explored in this book addresses here Nationals modeled on Human/Man. Therefore, humans (with small letters) are less nationals, quasi nationals or non-nationals (illegal immigrants and displaced refugees). Nationals are accepted in the sphere of the Man/Human imaginary. Queers of color, refugees, immigrants, ‘terrorists’ (yesterday’s communists), are all kept at bay by material and mental borderlines that justify police (domestic) military (inter-state) forces when ‘necessary.’ The other problem with the nation-state has been that it has increasingly neglected the nation in its heterogeneity, in favor of inter-state relations. States struggle to survive in the increasing conflictive power struggles in the inter-state system. Cutting health and education budgets, supporting banks and corporations, increasing military budgets are all measures that are making the ‘nation’ (even in the former First World or developed countries) increasingly dispensable. The target enemy, to use Schmitt’s conception of the political, is Man/Human. And this is not a material and physical giant to be destroyed with bombs. No, Man/Human is an epistemic and fictional construct that can only be dismantled with research and argumentations, creating institutions (as most of the contributors here are doing), working towards rebuilding the communal, engaging decolonial love, and turning our backs (delinking) from the radiations of Man/Human.
All these issues are addressed in the volume at hand with clarity, scholarly poise, conceptual insights, dignified anger, and majestic dignity.
Decolonizing Sexualities: Transnational Perspectives, Critical Interventions is available in paperback from online bookshops and as a ‘fair access’ e-book via Counterpress.
- Sylvia Wynter, ‘Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom. Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation—An Argument,’ New Centennial Review 3/3 (2003), 257–337. ↩
- For a list of terms in Native American languages and translation into English, see NativeOUT, accessed 11 November 2016, http://nativeout.com/twospirit-rc/two-spirit-101/two-spirit-terms-in-tribal-languages/. The translations cannot get out of the English semantic and syntactic trap. If you worked in the etymology of each Native America language, you would find out how different it is. And if you go into the syntax, you would become more acquainted with the limitations of imperial languages as well as their arrogance and pretended universality: ↩