“O my body, make of me always a [hu]man who questions!”
This project responds to the increased visibility of both fascist rhetoric and Black/Indigenous/Immigrant resistance in the global North. Following Aimé Césaire, this is evidence that colonisation is an ongoing force in the present. Following Sylvia Wynter, this coloniality is dependent on a hierarchical relationship between mind, body and cosmos, creating ‘Man’ – in control of not only Others and world but also his own flesh. The White body in turn became machinic and inert; the ‘absence’ of the White body from Psychology and Whiteness Studies betrays the coloniality of these disciplines. In turn, Frantz Fanon’s above-quoted ‘final prayer’ for decolonial revolution perhaps offers one way to begin to uproot this coloniality.
In 2018, Dr Stephanie Davis, Dr Tehseen Noorani and I began thinking about how coloniality affects our bodies and how decoloniality could be a mode of healing. We reflexively entered our own disease as intergenerational dis-ease. We wrote about this in the September 2018 issue of Consented magazine. In 2019 I then spent four months at Whāriki – a kaupapa Māori research centre in Aotearoa New Zealand – where I met with local activists and scholars to further develop this work. I have since published a performative piece asking, What could the White body do for decolonising Psychology?
Below is a brief summary of where my thinking/feeling/imagining is currently at:
In 2016 a fascist leader wins the presidency of the United States, revealing colonisation as an ongoing, organising force for white supremacy. That same year, then living in New York City, I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) – a musculoskeletal condition involving the inflammation of all my joints and gradual fusion of my spine. The rheumatologist told me that the disease is particularly common in people of my ethnicity – Pākehā New Zealanders – as it is passed down through our British ancestry, leading me to wonder whether if one mapped the global prevalence of AS they might also map the British Empire.
Shortly thereafter my participation in a healing ceremony suggested that my bones have come to die in me while I am still alive because they have a story to tell. Around the same time, I learned from a novel that the well-known word for tribe in te reo Māori – the native language of Aotearoa New Zealand – is also the lesser-known word for bone (“iwi”). Spiralling around my slowly disabling body in rapid succession, these three happenings – one science, one pagan, one art – colluded to remind me that my bones are my ancestors. And that my ancestors are whispering, speaking, shouting. I can feel it in my bones.
Told to take steroids every day, I am instead mixing science studies, pagan practices, and art activism to engage in dialogue with my AS about coloniality and decoloniality. To experiment with old and new ways of approaching AS not as something to quiet and kill so much as amplify and animate. A more-than-human collaborator. Specifically, I am entering the fragility, fusion, discomfort and dislocating in my bones to ask questions about the fragility, fusion, discomfort, and dislocating of my settler ancestors in the hope of contributing to efforts for resisting white supremacy.
For example, Fanon (1952) writes of whiteness as an experience of “affective ankylosis” because the “white world” gets in the way of any ability “to liquidate the past once and for all”. In other words, the colonial episteme wraps, traps us in ignorance, making it difficult to move and be moved. Engaging the process of fusion in my bones-cum-ancestors may thus provide a useful muse for engaging the process of fusion in whiteness.
Given that my AS is (from) my British ancestors, I am in particular expecting my bones to speak of the connections between this dis-ease and cosmological violence; my British ancestors were missionaries. In turn, and again following the demands of my bones, this points me to the role of movement/s in healing contemporary conditions of white supremacy – whether individual, collective, psychic, physical, spiritual, political, or all of the above.