We don't need another hero

Chapter 3: The trials and tribulations of national consciousness

We don't need another hero

I often see people saying that they want to uplift marginalized voices and it sounds nice. It sounds like something people should be doing, but as Zora Neale Hurston has said, not all skinfolk are kinfolk. Fanon would agree, in chapter 3 he continues his detailing of the ways that Indigenous leadership fails the people and what those who would lead our movements should be doing. In Chapter 2 we saw how colonial powers co-opt our leadership by finding some they can work with and then giving them legitimacy and funding so that they become beholden to the oppressors rather than their own people. In Chapter 3 Fanon shows us how well these co-opted leaders have absorbed the lessons; decolonisation is reduced to a change in ownership while the structures of oppression remain in place. So it isn’t just about holding up Indigenous or Palestinian voices as if we are a monolith of justice. You can uphold Indigenous voices that support colonial projects and many people do. We need to think about what collective liberation looks like, and uphold the voices that bring us to that place.

For the bourgeoisie, nationalisation signifies very precisely the transfer into indigenous hands of privileges inheirited from the colonial period.

Wretched of the Earth, p 100

When some theorists write about a post colonial, or decolonized world what they mean is that the nations they are talking about are no longer controlled by the metropole: the homeland or state that exercises control over a colonial empire. Fanon was writing from within the fight for Algerian independence from France in the midst of a continent filled with such nations. One of the themes of his book is how incomplete that vision is. You don’t just throw a revolution, cast off colonial leadership, and call yourself independent when all you’ve done is taken the privileges of the colonists and given it to Indigenous leaders. Particularly when the structures and economy that remain in place continue to enrich the metropole.

The fight for decolonization in Canada and the US is complicated in that there is no longer a foreign metropole. England, France and Spain have all withdrawn and left their countries in the hands of their heirs, not the Indigenous people. Another complicating factor is that we are vastly outnumbered (we are 2-6% of the population depending on if you are in the US or Canada) and expected to fight a pan-Indigenous battle, all of us together against the state. Which isn’t to say that we can’t, or aren’t. Standing Rock was a display of solidarity across many nations, but it’s still a complicating factor that we need to consider in our organizing.

still from the final battle of end game. hundreds of characters from the MCU charging towards Thanos' army (offscreen)
final battle from Avengers Endgame. I know it’s cheesy but that scene gets me every time, all those characters from the MCU coming together to defeat a common enemy. Like in Lord of the Rings where everyone pledges their support to Frodo.

Fanon is speaking from a much different context, something I’ve noted before, but as long as we understand those differences we can still find important lessons in his words. We’re not going to expel the colonizer, which was Fanon’s fight, but we can undermine colonial ideologies and force political leaders to abandon the policies of colonialism, two of three possible outcomes for resistance to settler colonialism identified by Rashid Khalidi in his book, The Hundred Years War on Palestine. I reject his characterization of the third outcome. He says that here in North America we have been fully subjugated or eliminated and not only are we still here but we are not fully absorbed into the body politic either.

When we’re talking about decolonization in this context, we must talk about the withdrawal of the metropole from our communities, as INCITE! notes in their book of the same name, “The revolution will not be funded.” We can also reject colonial hierarchies and ideologies from within the organizations that we build. And maybe that’s helpful for us because it forces us to think beyond just putting the English and French into boats and sending them back across the ocean. I know that some people do talk about that but what with all the intermarrying that’s gone on, that’s neither workable nor realistic. And I don’t even think that it is helpful because as Hurston and Fanon have noted: not all skinfolk are kinfolk anyway. The ideologies of colonialism and captitalism have invaded our communities and leadership so it would stay in place long after we deported everyone we decide is a settler. Let’s not even go down that eugenic road, ok?

[the leader] repeatedly endeavours to lull them to sleep and three or four times a year asks them to remember the colonial period and to take stock of the immense distance they have covered. … the masses are quite incapable of appreciating the immense distance they have covered. The peasant who continues to scratch a living from the soil, the unemployed who never find a job, are never really convinced that their lives have changed, despite the festivities and the flags … the masses are hungry and the police commissioners, now African, are not particularly reassuring.

Wretched of the Earth, p 114

This makes me think about Michelle Obama, giving one of her speeches about how far Black people have come in the US and pointing to herself and her husband as an example. Sure, it’s significant that in 100 years the country went from legislated Blackness and the segregationist policies it enabled to having a Black family in the White House, but did the whole country go? What about those who continue to scratch their living, who are un or under employed, who fill jails and prisons? Have their lives changed despite the festivities and flags? Aren’t their lives a more useful metric than whether or not some Black people have achieved power? Because that’s the crux of what Fanon is talking about in this chapter. With the Indigenous people having achieved power, what is the material change in the lives of the vast majority of people?

bus driver from the simpsons says "don't make me tap the sign"  He taps the sign which reads: “Racism, specifically, is the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.” ― Ruth Wilson Gilmore
This definition is so useful as a metric for how we assess change. Will achieving our goals make a difference in that group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death?

I think it’s easy to see why so many middle class people of any race would be drawn to her story, or any of the many Black and Indigenous “success stories.” Most of us aren’t deluded enough to think that we all have equal access to the white house, but we may reach for or applaud some form of social or political power that we think will help. And of course it is a short leap from believing in what may be possible to blaming those who scratch their living, who are un or under employed, who fill jails and prisons. To blame them for holding the rest of us back by being Bad Minorities. You hear that in her speeches too. Just need to try harder, stay out of trouble, acquire an education. Why do we value success on colonial terms anyway? Didn’t we read chapter 2? If we did, then we would know that success on colonial terms is dangerous.

the unpreparedness of the elite, the lack of practical ties between them and the masses, their apathy, and yes, their cowardice at the crucial moment in the struggle, are the cause of tragic trials and tribulations

Wretched of the Earth p97

Khalidi makes this point in his analysis of the Palestine Liberation Organization. He notes that among their many political failings, PLO leadership fled Beirut for Tunis and when they were negotiating at home and abroad for a resolution to the 1987-1995 period of Israeli violence, many of the leaders hadn’t even been to Palestine for 20 years or more. They had little understanding of what life was like for those who scratched a living or were unemployed in Gaza and the West Bank. Later, from within Palestine, when everyone else had to apply for permits and wait in innumberable checkpoints, they “sailed through” with VIP cards. He writes about their self-imposed isolation at the UN, a strategy that Khalidi says willfully ignored Palestinian people as well as the elites of Washington, the UN, and the media all of which Israel made good use of. The PLO was eventually co-opted, as we saw in Chapter 2, and having agreed to the Oslo Accords they effectively became an arm of the Israeli government. Israel, Khalidi notes, kept full power over the land, the population, and the water and the Palestinians were the deciders of nothing. So it should not surprise anyone that as Fanon observes on page 115:

the militant runs out of patience ..

Hamas emerged in that vaccum, a grassroots group of Palestinians who felt betrayed by ineffectual leadership. The PLO had denounced violence, but for these militants violence must be responded to with violence and only armed resistance would achieve anything. Given how little non violence had achieved this is understandable that militants, those who see the co-optation of their leadership and the complete lack of change for those who live day to day with the violence of oppression while leaders sail by with the VIP passes. Sure they stop by the rez periodically, see how the little people are doing, but we don’t really factor into their decisions and it gets frustrating. Vicky Osterweil wrote a book, In Defense of Looting: A Riotous History of Uncivil Action, that I read a couple of years ago in which she makes a good argument for the kinds of direct action that take direct aim at the ideologies of property and ownership. We like the idea of non violence, but history is not exactly replete with examples of how non violence resulted in transformative change.

“A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle, and the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor. At a point, one can only fight fire with fire”

―Nelson Mandela , Long Walk to Freedom

That being said, I support critiques of violence that targets people rather than things as long as those critiques include an analysis of state violence. If Hamas is guilty of war crimes, and Khalidi wrote long before October 7 that their actions likely do rise to that threshold, Israel doesn’t get a pass just because they’re a state. The day to day violence of incarceration, checkpoints, and encroachment on land as well as the less obvious violence of surveillance, control of economic activity, and political erasure are all predicated on the desire to rid the land of Indigenous people. And you can miss me with “Israelis are Indigenous too.” They are not the only people to emerge in that land.

Indigenous is, as Troy Storfjell has pointed out, an analytic. It is not an identity. It does not even refer necessarily to the peoples who emerged in a place. It refers to the people who are present when colonizers invade and occupy a place. It refers to the relationship between the settlers and those who are already there. So it isn’t a matter of going back 100 years, 500 years, or 2,000 years to see who has dibs. And remember, appeals to ancient authority like divine rights to a place are an indicator of a genocidal regime. What limits are there when God himself said it was yours? Every genocidal despot has used that argument to justify the horrors they unleashed on anIndigenous population.

There were already people living in that land when Zionist ideologies developed in the heart of European empires and a political decision was made by the very Imperial powers (who were withdrawing or being made to withdraw from their own colonial states by the way) to carve up the newly defeated Ottoman Empire and disburse it among various political and ethnic groups. There were already people there, some of whom were Jewish. But when the new state was created it was created as an ethnonationalist state that welcomed Jews and Jews only. Yes, other people were able to hold citizenship, but it is a tiered citizenship with different rules for non Jews. Kind of like how the US initially reserved rights like land ownership and citizenship for white men, but in the 20th century when we thought we knew better.

So what do we do. We leave the metropole, or we push it out of our organizations. We get rid of the idea that the party or the leadership of an organization are the authority.

For the people, the party is not the authority but the organization whereby they, the people, exert their authority and will.

―Wretched of the Earth, p 128

Like many tribes, and I’m starting to like that word more than nations because the more anarchistic my thinking gets the less I like the connotation of that word and tribe just feels more loose and porous, the Anishinaabe have a system of governance that does not rely on central authority. As my oldest has observed, we were an anarchistic bunch and if a leader said irresponsible things we’d just wander off and find somebody else to follow. To the early colonists our plurality of leadership must have looked disorganized if not chaotic, but it was rooted in the clan system which meant it was rooted in the people itself. The party, the leadership, needs to be the place where the people themselves exert their will, not the place from which the will of a few is imposed on the people no matter how well intended.

Fanon writes that the more people understand the more they realize that everything depends on them and that salvation comes from solidarity, from recognizing their interests and identifying their enemies. From understanding what is at stake. That means listening and educating, for everyone. Not just the leaders educating the masses, but the masses educating the leaders too. Reciprocal. The work of rooting out the colonialism that has gotten inside our heads is hard and that’s why reading groups are such an integral part of movement building. We read together, or listen to podcasts together or something. Maybe pick an idea that you want to explore and provide the group you have convened with a multitude of resources for various learning styles. Fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Documentaries and podcasts, tv shows and movies. Invite the creation of art and zines and web based responses. There is so much we can do to raise consciousness and then transform that consciousness into action that is meaningful.

I think often of that winter we danced, the teach ins and round dances. The actions that drew people in and then the opportunities to teach. It may be true that Idle No More did not accomplish what it set out to do, that is to stop the omnibus bill. But it did create a political identity among Indigenous peoples in Canada that has not existed before. And it drew in allies and accomplices. The work that I do is deeply indebted to that movement, I build on the foundations they laid. Foundations they laid on top of the work of others who have never been idle. The idea of reading circles and consciousness raising goes back through slavery, furtive and illegal efforts to teach enslaved people to read so that they could learn for themselves and share that knowledge. Knowledge which became action and eventually lead to the abolition of slavery. It would be a grave mistake to credit white, Christian abolitionists for this work. They were part of it, but if you pay attention to the historical record the Civil War was, in part, a slave rebellion.

We must not cultivate the spirit of the exceptional or look for the hero, another form of leader. We must elevate the people, expand their minds, equip them, differentiate them, and humanize them.

To politicize the masses is not and cannot be to make a political speech. It means driving home to the masses that everything depends on them, that if we stagnate the fault is theirs, and that if we progress, they too are responsible, that there is no demiurge, no illustrious man taking responsibility for everything but that the demiurge is the people and the magic lies in their hands and their hands alone.

― Wretched of the Earth, pp 137, 138

We don’t need another hero. The great epics of western history from Gilgamesh to The Matrix focus on The One, a singular hero who somehow manages to transform the world. We look for a saviour as the central character around which the rest of us revolve as bit players in the cosmic battle between good and evil. I don’t think that narrative has done us any favours, and worse, it’s allowed us to become complacent as we wait for another MLK or Mandela or whoever to emerge. With complete disregard for what Nelson Mandela actually did or stood for, Piers Morgan asked where were the Palestinian Mandelas? Twitter user @Nettlesbrown responded “Well, they are in Israeli prisons, and all 7,000 will be executed.”

We don’t need another hero. We are heroes. The resistance to colonialism here and elsewhere succeeds or fails with us. All of us. In our thousands, in our millions. We are all Palestinians.