RAs I read Another Day in the Colony, I returned to Jackie Huggins’ sister. Not just Jackie: I went back to Aileen Moreton-Robinson. I went back to Audre Lorde. I went back to bell hooks’ Talking Back and Feminist Theory. That’s the beauty of Chelsea Watego’s debut: it puts us in dialogue with work and women we’ve known and loved for years. Or, if you are not familiar with them – to paraphrase the great scholar Alanis Morissette – women you should know.
Watego’s background is in health. Her work is informed by bringing blacks back into the conversations, where they have often been ignored – especially black women.
Another Day in the Colony combines memoirs, philosophy and analysis to tell us quite simply: “Fuck hope”. This invocation is a critique of hope as complacency, the dream postponed.
What Watego is looking for instead of hope is “the emancipatory possibility of not giving a fuck”. “Some people may think that calls to withdraw with hopes of nihilism are irresponsible,” she writes. “But what is irresponsible is to demand that we maintain the status quo of keeping black bodies connected to life support machines that they have never been considered capable of getting off.”
White critics can dance around knowing that this book was not written for white people. But why does it bother? There is power in having non-white people as the supposed audience. There is power in talking to the mob.
For First Nations, this discursive trust is usually considered impossible; as if the marginalized do not have the luxury of making assumptions. But if First Nations is sovereign – if, as Dr. Purple Watson says to Watego in this book, “we have not moved” and therefore “the violence we face for having maintained our position is not our creation” – so should some assumptions not be possible? And should one of these assumptions not be that power and joy are possible now? Our existence – and by extension the existence of joy – is not marginal. Marginal to whom? Marginal to what?
The penultimate chapter, entitled “Fuck Hope,” meditates on this question. It’s a ridiculous laugh. As a critic, my only answer was to stress. I have nothing to add; it’s all true. “Fuck hope,” Watego says: why not? Hope, she writes, is something we can temporarily hold on to, a breath taken before diving: “It does not provide oxygen to your lungs, it just prevents the water from entering.” This murder is not a metaphor.
Removing hope does not mean giving up, Watego adds. It means embracing the idea that if joy and sovereignty do not exist right now, then they have never done so. But they did, and they still do. The power of this idea lies in how it gets under the skin. It speaks to us emotionally; we recognize its truth in our bodies.
It is an idea that Watego, quoting Paul Beatty, describes as: “Unmitigated Blackness”. “Tarneen Onus-Williams ‘burns it down’ a kind of blackness.” Beatty calls it a “nihilism that makes life worth living.” But as Watego goes on to say: “While there is something liberating about no longer giving a ploy, I do not think I necessarily found that freedom in what was promised, for the power of not giving a ploy typically feels most possible. when there is nothing left to lose. “Yet it is” the closest thing to an embodied sovereignty that I have heard formulated. “
The guiding idea behind white supremacy is that whiteness is neutral. That it has humanity, a humanity that everyone else lacks. Those who are not imbued with this humanity, this “whiteness”, are considered to require creation – or, as Watego puts it, paternal benevolence. The money allocated to First Nations “portfolios” is based on colonial control, the fantasy that First Nations, before anything else, is a problem to be solved. It is a concept, Watego writes, “informed by the same racist ideologies that enable them to forget that where they came from is not the country where we became human”.
Two journeys, each separated from each other: a people who remain, and a people who have forgotten – and who continue to forget – their history in order to carve out a new one. Yet this story is never really new. It is cultural memory loss; the white supremacy longing for a homeland that can never admit all the homes it has left behind. The only homes it knows how to inhabit are those belonging to others.
Watson, whom Watego mentions as one of his mentors in writing this book, may agree. Watego writes of Watson’s appeal that we “imagine a future as long as the past that is behind us”. “[T]his living action demands of us a refusal, a refusal to accept their account of things and a refusal to let them deprive us any longer of our joy, our life and our country ”.
“She advised me,” Watego adds later, “that we should never see justice, as we will never have returned to us what they have taken. She then asked me why I should win. Why was my being in the world based? “wringing something from the colonizer’s protagonist, knowing that it would not restore us all? She reminded me that our being on our terms wins, of the daily kind.”
When I came to the end of this chapter – with only a few pages left of the book – I shook my head in recognition. As I read Watego, I was reminded how Mohawk political scientist Taiaiake Alfred and Anishinaabe feminist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson take a skeptical view of the idea of liberal evolution, or what Watego calls the “67 referendum was a sign of progress” kind of blackness. They do not seek inclusion in settler-colonial society, but flourish; a self-determination based on loving and resisting “as we have always done”.
It flourishes on our terms. No sanctions. No permits. No slaves. No masters.