«The Solidarity Encounter Between Indigenous Women and White Women in a Contemporary Canadian Context by Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis A thesis submitted ...»
Roome (2005), however, critiques Henderson for “extend[ing] these assumptions to other firstwave feminists” (p. 49). Drawing on Janice Fiamengo (2002), she warns against a simplistic reading of a “monolithic racism” on the part of Euro-Canadian settler feminists. Her own research attempts to show how another of the Famous 5, Henrietta Muir Edwards (1849–1931), “occupied an ambiguous position between colonized and colonizer, one riddled with contradictions” (p. 51). Roome (2005) distinguishes Edwards from other settler feminists because of Edwards’s “tolerant and benevolent” (p. 63), if condescending, attitude towards Indigenous women. Nonetheless, Edwards embraced “motherhood and religion, the two pillars of Christian feminism” (p. 68) and tried to instill these beliefs in Indigenous women within her sphere of influence. Edwards retained a (liberal) faith in the Canadian nation-state building project and embodied a constrained feminism that did not fundamentally challenge the status quo: “She never attacked Christianity or blamed the colonial process: she was optimistic that her ‘reformed’ Canada could provide a welcoming home for everyone, regardless of race or gender” (Roome, 2005, p.
Although an evangelical perspective differs from a genetic-deterministic one in not automatically precluding black women or children from being “pure,” the fact that purity was equated with whiteness, and hence indirectly with European culture, made it difficult if not impossible for Canada’s women of colour to identify with the brand of feminism elaborated by the WCTU, and in general by the overwhelmingly Protestant women of first-wave Canadian feminism. (Valverde, 1992, p. 20) These examples lend credence to Uma Narayan’s (2000) contention that the discursive (and hence intersubjective) workings of colonial expansion have been marked by a continual tension between an “insistence on Sameness” and an “insistence on Difference.” I now turn to Sara Ahmed’s (2000) work on stranger fetishism and proximity for insights into how to theorize the actual unfolding of these workings in the solidarity encounter.
Pursuing Liberal/Colonial Subjectivity: Desires for Proximity and Transcendence As discussed, feminist scholars such as Yeğenoğlu (1998) and Smith (2013a) provide rich explanations of the universalising gesture that constitutes post-Enlightenment Western liberal subjectivity. And, of particular note for this study, Yeğenoğlu (1998) discusses the ways in which this gesture is performed by Western women/feminists and the “crucial implications for the subject status these women occupy” (p. 102), namely as ostensibly emancipated (white) women tasked with ushering Other women into (colonial) modernity. As Yeğenoğlu (1998) points out, the power of this discursive or ideological mechanism lies precisely in its hiddenness: “The effacement/erasure of the particularity of Western women in the name of universality has the effect of legitimizing the colonial feminist discourse as an act of generosity and as an act of conferring upon Middle East women the privilege of participating in Western women’s universalism rather than a denial and negation of difference” (p. 102). In my analysis, I assert that a similar discursive mechanism is operating in (white) settler subjectivity.
As a particular expression of Western liberal subjectivity, (white) settler subjectivity is characterized by a desire for legitimacy fulfilled through the simultaneous establishment and occlusion of hierarchal power relations between Indigenous and settler subjects. In Chapter 5, in fact, I elaborate on the specificities of subject production in settler colonial contexts, arguing that they present distinct socio-political and historical contexts “characterised by a persistent drive to ultimately supersede the conditions of [their] operation” (Veracini, 2011, p. 3). In sum, I argue that the materiality of permanent settlement requires settlers to “naturalize their presence on Native land as rightful, final occupants so that the question of conquest can appear to be ‘settled’” (Morgensen, 2011, p. 16). To set the stage for this and other discussions, I turn to the work of Ahmed (2000); her interrelated concepts of stranger fetishism and proximity contribute to our capacity to think about the solidarity encounter as a spatialized encounter of embodied, desiring subjects of the sort described by Yeğenoğlu (1998). In other words, her work helps us to more fully explore how the universalizing gesture of the white settler woman subject operates at the micro level of colonial encounters—in my study, the solidarity encounter.
For Ahmed (2000), colonial encounters are strange encounters that “involve, at one and the same time, social and spatial relations of distance and proximity” (p. 12). The (typically racialized) “strangers” of strange encounters become so only when coming “too close to home, that is, through the proximity of the encounter” (p. 12). Stranger fetishism is both a process and an effect of strange encounters; racialized, classed and gendered power differences between subjects are at once recreated and concealed, and colonial spatialities reaffirmed, when dominant subjects fail “to consider how the stranger is the effect of [historical] processes of inclusion and exclusion, or incorporation and expulsion” (Ahmed, 2000, p. 6).44 Ahmed (2000) adapts Marx’s conception of commodity fetishism to explain this: “strangers” (Others) are produced as “figures” with bodily integrity and a “life of their own,” and thus become cut off “from the social and material relations which overdetermine their existence” (p. 5).
Reminiscent of Yeğenoğlu’s (1998) Western female subject, those (who become) positioned as dominant learn to know themselves only by deeming Others as (inferior) strange/strangers. The
normative “we” of a community is constituted through coming to “know” Others as strangers:
“knowledge is bound up with the formation of a community, that is, with the formation of a ‘we’ that knows through (rather than against) ‘the stranger’ (p. 55). But, these historical and context-specific “processes of social differentiation” or “relations of social and political antagonism” remain opaque, and the dominant subject retains a sense of always already “knowing” Others as strangers. As in the above-imagined scenario, the dominant (white settler) subject is afforded a sense of innocence (and reaffirmed dominance) in relation to her role in (colonial) power relations when Others are fetishized and hierarchical relations thus obscured.
And, as I discuss in relation to the data, in the case of white settler colonialism, it is not only the colonial relation that is rendered invisible, but so too the subject’s status as a member of the settler collectivity: only an autonomous, individual subject remains in view.
Ahmed’s (2000) goal is to provide an epistemology-qua-methodology for revealing the powerladen social relationships that “constitute the boundaries of bodies and communities, including communities of living (dwelling and travel), as well as epistemic communities” (p. 6). Her concern with boundaries, and specifically with linking boundaries of body, community and nation, is shared by Mishuana Goeman (2003, 2013). Goeman (2013), in fact, theorizes Indigenous/non-Indigenous relations in terms of how inequality among subjects is produced through relations of proximity and distance. She “question[s] the very acceptance of colonial spatialities that... look at distance and closeness in terms of dichotomous differences” (p. 7), thus alluding to the hierarchical production of subjects in colonial modernity discussed above.
The relevance of Ahmed’s theory of stranger fetishism (2000) to Indigenous/non-Indigenous relations becomes clear when Goeman (2013), who is Seneca, describes a “spatial schema” from her childhood: “At play here was more than the material location or even more than the present material social relations; instead evident here was the idea of Indians as criminals already, in a long history of colonial/Native relationships” (p. 9). Goeman (2013) also aspires to revealing that which has been concealed by colonial encounters: she uses Native women’s concepts of space to “unsettle settler space,” that is, to expose the “violent history of erasure” (p. 2) effected by a colonial mapping of North America, and to engage in a (re)mapping of that terrain.
In short, strange encounters are deceptive in that they allow dominant subjects in particular to remain oblivious as to how power relations in the present are produced out of the past:45 It is our task to think through the different modes of proximity we may have to strangers in contemporary contexts without assuming that the stranger was distant in the past. We need to ask how contemporary modes of proximity reopen prior histories of encounter.
In Strange Encounters, I analyse globalization, migration and multiculturalism as particular modes of proximity, which produce the figure of “the stranger” in different ways and which, in doing so, reopen such prior histories of encounter as the historical (that is, partial) determination of difference. (Ahmed, 2000, p. 13, emphasis in original) Drawing on Ahmed, I define the solidarity encounter as another mode of proximity (and distance) wherein the “prior histories of encounter” that produce differences (inequalities) are concealed through the techniques of stranger fetishism.
Operationalizing the desire for proximity To reiterate, Ahmed (2000) defines colonial encounters in terms of the material and discursive effects of proximity and distance between subjects. Morgensen (2011) corroborates this thinking
when he writes about a desire for intimacy as inherent to the settler colonial project:
In a settler society, then, the very demand upon settlers to replace Natives simultaneously incites white settler desires to be intimate with the Native authenticity that their modernity presumably replaces. Indigeneity’s civilizational replacement thus is complementary to the settler pursuit of primitivism. Impersonating indigeneity and believing in colonial modernity are noncontradictory acts, given that settlers preserve Native authenticity as a history they must possess in order to transcend. (p. 17) Put another way, the settler’s quest for legitimacy as a modern (i.e., self-determining, universal) subject requires a certain intimacy with/proximity to Native Others and the transcendence of its relation to those Others. Paradoxically, the settler/universal subject must (attempt to) forget the conditions of its own production. Ahmed (2000) greatly enriches this discussion by explaining just exactly how proximity is mobilized in the production of the white settler/liberal subject.
In line with Yeğenoğlu (1998), Ahmed (2000) observes that “contemporary Western culture is imbued with “fantasies” or “narratives of becoming” (p. 119)—numerous iterations of the quest to attain (and retain) the status of universal, self-determining subject. For Ahmed (2000), central to these fantasies or narratives is the fantasy of transcendence. It is this fantastical element of stranger fetishism—the desire and belief of dominant subjects that power relations can be overcome or equalized, and thereby autonomy and innocence attained/retained—that I find potentially revelatory for understanding intersubjective relations in the solidarity encounter.
Dominant subjects employ a number of “techniques” to sustain the fantasy of transcendence and their reinstallation as (all)-knowing subjects. These techniques, as reflective of the desire for
transcendence, often present in combination and involve formulations of proximity or closeness:
calls for friendship or collaboration; the acquisition of knowledge of “strangers” or “strange” communities; and the promise of self-discovery or transformation wherein “the ‘stranger’ is the object of desire” (p. 115). The last category, self-discovery and transformation, involves consuming, becoming and passing, the “three key modalities of going strange, going native” (p.
115) through which the Western subject is constituted as having the “agency to become different, rather than simply be different (the authentic stranger, or the authentic spice)” (p. 118).
In this way, Ahmed (2000) draws on a wealth of literature by feminist, postcolonial and Indigenous scholars such as Anderson (2000), Renée Bergland (2000), hooks (1992) and Yeğenoğlu (1998), who have theorized the desire to consume/become the Other as a classic colonizing move.