«The Solidarity Encounter Between Indigenous Women and White Women in a Contemporary Canadian Context by Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis A thesis submitted ...»
Sara Ahmed (2000) emboldens my premise that the solidarity encounter is a microcosm of broader colonial relations. The same asymmetrical power relations permeate both Canadian society in general and the solidarity encounter in specific. The particular, in other words, must
be understood in relation to the general and vice versa:
I want to consider how the particular encounter both informs and is informed by the general: encounters between embodied subjects always hesitate between the domain of the particular—the face to face of this encounter—and the general—the framing of the encounter by broader relationships of power and antagonism. The particular encounter hence always carries traces of those broader relationships. Differences, as markers of power, are not determined in the “space” of the particular or the general, but in the very determination of their historical relation (a determination that is never final or complete, as it involves strange encounters). (Ahmed, 2000, pp. 8–9) Ahmed’s framing suggests that the solidarity encounter “always carries traces” of broader, historically-produced colonial relations. Moreover, the solidarity encounter can aptly be considered part of the “contact zone,” defined by Mary Louise Pratt (2008) as the “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today” (p. 7). The idea of the contact zone establishes that unequal power relations can remain long after any such initial encounters between two (or more) societies. I join a plethora of scholars such as Derek Gregory (2004) who speak not in terms of aftermaths, but rather in terms of the “colonial present” where “the constellations of power, knowledge, and geography... continue to colonize lives all over the world” (p. xv).7 This seems even more clearly the case in settler colonial contexts.
Citing Arif Dirlik (1999), Grande (2004) stresses that US colonialism is still salient:
“Today Native Americans struggle not only with colonial histories but also with postmodern and cultural critics who take for granted that nations are ‘imagined,’ traditions are ‘invented,’ subjectivities are ‘slippery’ (if they exist at all), and cultural identities are myths.” While such theories rightfully call attention to the myriad “collisions” between the once discrete worlds of the “colonizer” and the “colonized,” their facile reasoning ultimately serves to occlude the brut reality that twenty-firstcentury America fosters internal colonies. (p. 5) Along similar lines, Bird Rose (1996) refers to the “deep colonizing practices” that occur in a context of ostensible equality under Australian law (i.e., where formal inequalities have been purportedly undone). Canadian-based scholars also emphasize the ongoing nature of settler colonialism (see Alfred & Corntassel, 2005; Coulthard, 2014). Thielen-Wilson (2012) shows how Canadian jurisprudence does not even dispute the fact of ongoing colonialism, but instead uses liberal accounts of human rights, and truth and reconciliation as strategies for balancing competing (racialized economic) interests in the face of two facts recognized by law: first, the fact that the sovereignty of Indigenous nations pre-existed European arrival and continues today, and second, the fact that Europeans (the British/Canadian Crown) (merely) asserted sovereignty over Indigenous lands. (p. 310) By stressing the continuity of colonialism into the present, I join an interdisciplinary scholarship that insists “earlier periods of history continue to deeply influence how we understand who we are individually and together, and indeed what it means to be a ‘we’ to begin with” (Szeman & Kaposy, 2011, p. 418). I conclude, therefore, that solidarity encounters between Indigenous women and white women occur in a white settler colonial contact zone, replete with historically-derived and ongoing structural power disparities between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous settlers. Given contemporary colonialism’s deep historical roots, to explore the solidarity encounter between Indigenous women and white women requires reflecting on how collective gendered (and racialized) colonial subjectivities have been fashioned over time.
In Strange encounters: Embodied others in post-coloniality, Ahmed (2000) develops two interrelated ideas that have proven vital to this research: “stranger fetishism” and its operative mechanism, the desire for proximity. She theorizes social relations (and hence intersubjectivity) in terms of embodied encounters both metaphorical and literal. For Ahmed (2000), as for Pratt (2008), intersubjective encounters in the “contact zone” are not discrete, one-off occurrences, but rather connected phenomena marked by relations of force and contestation: “The face-toface meeting is not between two subjects who are equal and in harmony; the meeting is antagonistic. The coming together of others that allows the ‘one’ to exist takes place given that there is an asymmetry of power” (p. 8). The concept of stranger fetishism accounts for how asymmetrical power relations between subjects are obscured in these encounters and thus perpetuated in the present. Moreover, the related notion of proximity contributes to our capacity to think about the solidarity encounter as a spatialized encounter of embodied subjects and also of desiring subjects along the lines described by Yeğenoğlu (1998). I develop this argument at greater length below.
The Gendered Colonial Subject
My next task is to map the historical production of the white settler/imperialist woman subject as a way towards mapping the contemporary production of that subject in relation to her Indigenous Other. I seek to contextualize contemporary encounters within historical power inequities and thus to make transparent or “reopen [those] prior histories of encounter that violate and fix others in regimes of difference” (Ahmed, 2000, p. 8). With that aim, I discuss the casting of white women as simultaneously subordinate (as women) and as dominant (as the white saviours of Other women)—the “split” subject who yearns to acquire modern liberal subject status.
The “double positioning” of white settler/imperialist women For several decades, feminist postcolonial scholars such as Anne McClintock (1995) and Ania
Loomba (2005) have identified a major limitation of postcolonial theory as initially postulated:
the neglect of gender as a constitutive element of imperial/colonial projects (see also Lewis, 1996; Ray, 2009; Razack, 1998; Stoler, 1995; Ware, 1992; Woollacott, 2006).8 This study has benefited from the insights of this literature, which brings the complexities and heterogeneity of women as subjects on both sides of the colonial divide—and those who by intent or accident straddled that divide—into focus. With regard to white women in particular, Loomba (2005) states that “within colonial spaces, white women participated with varying degrees of alienation and enthusiasm in imperial projects; as teachers, missionaries, nurses, and the help-mates of colonial men, their roles varied both structurally and ideologically” (p. 144). This depiction suggests the importance of resisting the simplistic conclusion that white settler/imperialist women were in unequivocal positions of power vis-à-vis colonized women at all times.
Certainly, life in the “contact zone” (Pratt, 2008) was (and is) rife with contradictions, paradoxes and ambiguities in terms of power relations, particularly at the level of personal dayto-day interactions (McClintock, 1995). Following these scholars and others who write on the Canadian context (see below), I recognize the importance of avoiding essentialist approaches that can obscure power differentials among colonizers, reify subjects and/or contribute to recreating the violent, hierarchical binary relationship of colonizer–colonized9 (L. T. Smith, 1999).10 There is also the importance of acknowledging the agency, however proscribed, of Indigenous women in colonial/imperial encounters.11 In short, I see the need to complicate understandings of how subjects are interpellated into and implicated in neo/colonial processes, i.e., to displace an “either/or” depiction of the pure, unwilling female colonial agent versus the “self-conscious [male] oppressor” (Lewis, 1996, p. 21).
That being said, the recognition of complexity, ambivalence and even transgression at the level of individual subjects, and vigilance about the limits of binary thinking and homogenized categories should not lead to a denial of the structural power imbalances between subject positions that infuse ongoing colonial relations. After all, as I explain more fully in Chapter 2, “dominant subject positions are implicated in relations of ruling” (Moreton-Robinson, 2000, p.
xxii). The reality of structural power differences between subjects/subject positions suggests the need to retain “settler” as an analytical category of difference; Anna Johnston and Alan Lawson (2000) argue, “the ‘settler’ subject cannot be made to disappear in this project of [acknowledging] difference [in postcolonial cultures]” because it “emerges from the material and textual enactments and enunciations of imperial power as a crucial site for the investigation of colonial power at work” (p. 368).12 Retaining “settler” and by extension “Indigenous” as contingent subject positions helps account for the workings of power in white settler colonial nation-states such as Canada.
McClintock (1995) rejects “a commonplace, liberal pluralism that generously embraces diversity all the better to efface the imbalances of power that adjudicate difference....
[Because] power is seldom adjudicated evenly—different social situations are overdetermined for race, for gender, for class, or for each in turn” (pp. 8–9). For example, and importantly for this study, the ascendancy of racial discourses often overdetermined the colonial encounter for women (and men) in that those who could lay claim to whiteness enjoyed a greater degree of power, however circumscribed, than those who could not.13 As I discuss more fully below, patriarchal constraints notwithstanding, white settler/imperialist women were conferred power through their assertion of racial difference (Lewis, 1995; McClintock, 1995; Mohanram, 1999).
In fact, there is a consensus in postcolonial literature that bourgeois (colonizer) subjects in both the metropole and colonies were produced in relation to the colonized Other14 “through a language of difference that drew on images of racial purity and sexual virtue” (p. 10).15 Importantly for this study, white women settlers/imperialists were interpellated into a “double positioning” where socially constructed differences around race and gender interlock: “Women on both sides of the colonial divide demarcate both the innermost sanctums of race, culture and nation, as well as the porous frontiers through which these are penetrated. Their relationship to colonial discourses is mediated through this double positioning” (Loomba, 2005, p. 135).16 How would this have unfolded in a white settler context? Johnston and Lawson (2000) describe the ascendancy of the (male) settler’s contradictory self-perception as “colonized and colonizing.” In other words, because presumably white settlers were “subject to greater constraints upon their freedom and their ability to participate in governance than the citizens of the ‘home’ country [they had] the feeling of being colonized” (p. 363). It stands to reason that white women’s double positioning would have caused an intensification of this effect. Subjected to British patriarchal constraints, white women would have had a greater sense of “being colonized.” This study considers if/how the historical double positioning of white settler women as both subordinate and dominant matters to the solidarity encounter: Do white settler women conceptualize our subject position in such dualistic terms, and if so, does one or another identity prevail at any given time?
Ann Laura Stoler (1995) argues that colonialism in the mid- to late nineteenth century “was not a secure bourgeois project,” but rather a tenuous and contingent one in the making (pp. 98–99).
Given their double positioning as embodiments of empire’s “porous frontiers,” (Loomba, 2005), white women had a prescribed role in solidifying that project, which was “the reproduction of Empire—biologically, culturally, and politically” (Johnston & Lawson, 2000, p. 372).
Imperialist/colonialist narratives of the time depicted colonies and metropole as under threat by the “degenerate” forces of both the “lower” classes and “lower” races (McClintock, 1995;
Stoler, 1995; Valverde, 1992; Burton, 1994). An illogical fear of the “spectre of miscegenation” was the logical result (Loomba, 2005, p. 134).17 It was hoped that the influence of proper white bourgeois femininity would thwart the impulse toward miscegenation and stem the tide of degeneracy. White women were to be the reproducers of empire and secure this status by modeling racialized thinking and “middle-class morality, nationalist sentiments, bourgeois sensibilities, normalized sexuality, and a carefully circumscribed ‘milieu’ in school and home” (Stoler, 1995, p. 105). Put differently, in their main role as “mothers of the race” (Valverde, 1992), white women were to abide by the “cult of domesticity,”18 which infused the racialized,
classed and gendered dictates of colonial/imperial projects, according to McClintock (1995):