Sara C. Motta
We remain in body and spirit, despite the violence injected in our bones, hearts and wombs by the racist patriarchal capitalist-colonial system.
Our rage is a palpable and righteous response to this violence. But new worlds cannot be built on rage alone. Our struggle to move from survival to flourishing can be nurtured by and through decolonising love.
Why Decolonising Love?
When the Australian state reproduces the violent logics and rationalities of white supremacy resulting in continued Aboriginal deaths in custody, increasing rates of child removal, and the impunity of those that murder Aboriginal children, it is often the women, the elders and children who create spaces of healing which do not pathologise their communities’ traumatized minds and bodies.
When the state and multinationals violently dispossess communities from their land and violate their loved ones, as in the recent massacre of peasants defending their land from encroachment in Tumaco, Colombia it is public rituals of grief which bring us dignity and fuel the flames of our resistance.
When state sponsored corporate gentrification colludes in the abandonment of public housing, and develops active practices of dereliction that in the deaths in the fire at Grenfell Tower, London, UK, it is the community that retains and reclaims their dignity through silent processions and the self-organisation of housing, care and trauma support.
For the police, state and market our communities are valueless and undeserving of love. Care has always been denied us through state repression, child removal, the theft of our lands, the disruptive effect of mass incarceration, and economic and social exploitation, exclusion and abandonment.
And yet we are blamed for the conditions of systemic violence of patriarchal capitalist-coloniality to which we are subject. We are pathologised and represented as criminal, uncivil, deviant, terrorist; black holes of empty nothingness.
The most powerful and soul-destroying reality of such violence is when we come to internalise, and believe, these lies of misrecognition and misrepresentation.
Decolonisation of these logics includes refusing the oppressor’s attempts to colonise our minds, hearts and souls. This means to do the necessary work, with tenderness and compassion, to unlearn where these logics have become ours.
Love comes to the heart of this. It is the key ingredient that helps us to resist these logics which try to convince us we are unlovable, valueless and pathological.
Thus, it is decolonising love that keeps us alive. It is decolonising love that sustains and nurtures the will to act, and to carry on when our bodies, communities and families are under constant siege.
One of our most significant struggles is thus to love ourselves and each other into healing wholeness through our everyday revolutions rooted in care, reciprocity and recognition.
A radical politics without such decolonising love is necessarily impoverished. It simplifies what anti-racist and anti-oppressive politics can be – turning it into just a reaction to violence. It fails to talk about and value the everyday practices of love which sustain and nurture movements, and oppressed communities, in the face of violence. And it keeps us trapped in the violence of the present
The valuing of revolutionary love which I propose is not an attempt to silence righteous rage. Radical politics cannot be limited by the norms of liberal respectability. Nobody involved in radical politics should feel ashamed of the emotions they feel or express in their political actions of refusal and resistance, including when these emotions are angry or forceful.
However, we need to rethink the ways in which our emotions, practices and knowledges are limited by the violence of the dehumanizing system we are in. We need to think about rebuilding the wisdoms and power that can emerge from connection, solidarity and care and which support us to become free.
To rebuild other worlds – to decolonise our lives, bodies and spirits – we need to recreate, recognise and centre in our politics ways of coexisting and supporting each other, and recognising each other as people with complex emotional strategies of survival and flourishing, and with deep wisdoms which come from our experiences of multiple traumas.
Surviving and Resisting a State of Siege
Indigenous people, people of color, and other marginalised peoples, live under a constant, cruel state of siege (Dillard 2016). The police on our streets kill our young people every year, humiliate far more through searches, raids and arrests and continue deeply racialised and classed practices of child removal which negate Black and Indigenous motherhood (Motta, 2016).
At school, our children are more likely to be labelled problematic and violently excluded, and often subject to everyday forms of abusive intervention. At the welfare office and in all interactions with ‘officialdom,’ we are met with the gaze of suspicion already-marked as undeserving and deviant.
Through these daily practices, we are urged to see ourselves as less than human. As Frantz Fanon describes, such systemic negation ‘forces the people it dominates to ask themselves the question ‘in reality’ who am I?’ (1961, 200)
We are treated as incapable of reason and self-government, and therefore of political freedom.
We are treated as lives which matter less.
Our bodies are made visible to those in power. But our own forms of knowledge and social life are made invisible – sometimes even to ourselves.
Such practices turn vast swathes of the global population – mostly Indigenous peoples and communities of color, but increasingly also white working-class communities and other marginalised groups – into objects to be acted upon, rather than subjects with reason, wisdom and agency.
Black, Indigenous, Migrant, Mestiza/Chicana and other excluded communities struggle against such destructive and traumatizing logics of dehumanisation. As we have shown women, mothers, grandmothers, sisters and aunties are often at the heart of these struggles (Motta and Seppälä, 2016).
Every day we enflesh practices of love in order to survive and flourish. We support our children to believe in themselves, and recognise the legitimacy of their fear as much as to experience hope, love and innocence.
We hold each other through the consequences of trauma that pass through our communities like hurricanes, leaving death and destruction in their path. We tenderly and compassionately learn to caress our internalised self-hate and self-negation.
We learn together through sharing our stories, histories, losses and victories to not believe the lies and histories told about us. We bring sense to the untold stories of violences against us and come to recognise how they are the premise of, not a deviation from, liberal respectability.
We come to a place where we can begin to speak with dignified voices of rebellion. We courageously emerge as subjects of history and reason.
An other politics of loving liberation
These practices of decolonising love which feminise the political and foreground the centrality of feminised subjects, are the conditions of possibility to appear on the register of political visibility as subjects at all, but they are much more than this. They are the space and place of an other politics which make it possible for us to see ourselves and one another as fully human.
From these are emerging other worlds, decolonised worlds, with a different kind of everyday politics in which we come together to heal and liberate our communities and selves.
These feminised subjects nurture worlds of reciprocity, mutual support, mutual listening, tenderness towards one another, resilience in the face of oppression, ways to recognise our vulnerability, and forms of self-care and care for each other.
Audre Lorde, revolutionary feminist poet-philosopher, named our self-care as a revolutionary and necessary act and commitment. She spoke from the space of endarkened reason, the space which is rendered abject and empty, but from which emerges our enfleshed wisdoms and existential philosophies.
This space of our purported non-being can become, as bell hooks describes:
a space of radical openness a margin- a profound edge…I was not speaking of marginality one wishes to lose- to give up or surrender as part of moving into the centre- but rather as a site one stays in, clings to even, because it nourishes one’s capacity to resist. It offers to one the possibility of radical perspective from which to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds (1990, 149)
Rich traditions of thought and practice continue to emerge from our struggles standing on the shoulders of our foremothers.
And yet it is often these voices, predominantly those of Black, Indigenous, Queer and other feminised and marginalised communities and movements that are drowned out by the media, party politics and much critical theory.
This is not a coincidence.
These traditions and subjects unsettle the subordination of marginalised people as objects. They disrupt systems of thought and being which attempt to render us as uni-dimensional, dangerous and unworthy.
They thus help us to break out of our containment in subordinate positions, and nurture our emergence as political actors with our own wisdoms and knowledges
These traditions foreground how the violence of living under siege and containment create soul wounds (Duran et al. 2008) which affect our relationship to knowledge and reality. These wounds manifest in complex ways including internalisation of the oppressor’s logic impacting on how we talk, feel and think about ourselves, and how we relate to other people.
We can come to believe in parts of our being–as Frantz Fanon and bell hooks so forcefully demonstrated–that we have nothing to offer, that our lives and experiences lack value, and that we are unlovable.
It becomes essential for our very survival to not only resist the palimpsest of power as an external force, but to decolonise our internal territories of knowledge and social life, and create other decolonised ways of knowing-being.
Here, trauma is centred in our lived understanding of the everyday and repeated realities of violence we experience. Here, healing becomes essential to our enfleshed yearnings for emancipation.
Our new maps and territories cannot be drawn and created as Audre Lorde reminds us ‘with the master’s tools.’ Rather we have been and will continue, to breathe life into new languages and literacies of politics.
At the heart of this is a return to the territories of our being that have been rendered abject, irrational and dangerous. Such a return to the ‘void’ involves a return to our embodied and endarkened wisdoms.
It involves recognition that our experiences when collectively worked with can be kneaded into the metaphorical and material bread with which to nurture our existence, survival, and flourishing.
Such a return involves remembering our stories of survival, dignity and resistance. It makes visible how our stories have always defied and belied the racialised categories which render us abject, and attempt to separate us from one another.
Such a return involves grounding into the herstories of our foremothers and grandmothers, re-connecting with their wisdoms.
It is worth quoting Patricia Hill Collins (1990, 208) in depth here, as she describes:
[We] cannot afford to be fools of any type, for our objectification as the Other denies us […] protection. This distinction between knowledge and wisdom and the use of experience as the cutting edge dividing them, has been key to [our] survival. In the context of race, gender and class oppression, the distinction is essential. Knowledge without wisdom is adequate for the powerful, but wisdom is essential to the survival of the subordinate
By re-rooting into our lived and ancestral wisdoms we become subjects through which a politics of wholeness and integrity might be visioned.
Here, we begin to enflesh a coming to power that is ‘neither white nor surface; [but] dark…ancient…deep’ (Lorde 1984, 37).
To get to this place of love, knowledge and life we, of course, need the space and time to grieve, to connect with our righteous rage. Here, all emotions are welcome, to be felt, expressed, shared, witnessed.
The free expression of these repressed emotions allows their transmutation into the fonts of our courage, connection and faith as opposed to the rotting sores that haunt our dreams and muffle our screams.
We can then embrace multiple forms of resistance to systematic violence as it violates our everyday lives.
Enriching Our Resistances
Many of our resistances are already rooted in an embrace of radical, decolonising love, as the place from which we stand dignified and united in and through diversity against dehumanisation, in whatever form it takes.
Appearing from the silence of negation onto our streets, Black Lives Matter embody acts of radical, decolonising care and love. Elders and healers standing in Prayer Circle around the police lines at Standing Rock, North Dakota, USA disrupt their misnaming and brutalization by state power and unsettle the lines drawn between us.
Public grief ceremonies by Women in Black in Cali, Colombia, make visible the violences against raced and feminised bodies and communities which underpin liberal respectability whilst reclaiming their dignity, agency and right to life.
We turn the waters red in our public parks to make visible the continued brutalization of Aboriginal Australian youth and honour the life of 14-year-old Elijah Doughty murdered by white supremacist rage. In that act, which ripples out through space and time is made present and palpable the survival of Aboriginal culture, knowledges and ways of life.
All of these and the many more, come from a place of deep wisdom, re-connection, emancipatory healing and revolutionary self-care.
Many involve practices of collective, community theorising which are attentive to the complex ways in which experiences are shaped by race, gender and class.
They emerge from those liminal spaces, which as Maria Lugones decolonial feminist describes, exist between subjectification as objects, and practices of active subjectivity in which we become political subjects (2010). Or as bell hooks describes as that ‘meeting place where new and radial happenings can occur’ (hooks, 1990 31).
When we listen to the knowledges of Black, Indigenous, Chicana/mestiza, Queer feminised voices on the margins of political debate and theoretical production, our horizons of anti-oppressive politics and anti-racist struggle inevitably expand.
Without such expanded horizons, we risk becoming stuck in the forms of agency, social life, knowledge and identity which are created by the very systems which dehumanize us.
Let’s honour and embrace our emotional complexities. Let’s honour and embrace the wisdoms of our stories and our ancestors. Let’s honour and embrace those enfleshed liminal spaces in which lie the possibilities of our liberation.
Let’s break the silence and start talking about decolonising love.
Sara C. Motta is a mestiza sobreviviente whose wounding and healing are deeply entangled in the histories of exile and loss, and survival and resilience of her Colombia, Polish Jewish and Celtic lineages. She is a mother, storyteller, poet, activist-theorist, and popular educator who currently works in the Politics Discipline at the University of Newcastle, NSW. She has published widely in academic and activist outlets, including her last book (with Mike Cole) Constructing 21st Century Socialism in Latin America: The Role of Radical Education (Palgrave Macmillan). She is currently visioning, with others, the creation of a radical education collective The Communiversity Newcastle, and cooperative housing community. Her forthcoming book Liminal Subjects: Weaving (Our) Liberation, a decolonising feminist non-manifesto will be published by Rowman and Littlefield in 2018. She is contactable at: [email protected]
Collins, P. H. (1990). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. New York, NY: Routledge.
Dillard. Cynthia, B. (2016) We Are Still Here: Declarations of Love and Sovereignty in Black Life Under Siege, Educational Studies, 52:3, 201-215
Duran, Eduardo, Firehammer, Judith, and Gonzalez, John (2008) ‘Liberation Psychology as the Path Toward Healing Cultural Soul Wounds’ Journal of Counseling & Development 86: 288-295
hooks, bell (1990) Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. San Francisco: South End Press
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Motta, Sara. C, Seppälä, Tiina. (2016) ‘Feminized Resistances’, Journal of Resistance Studies, 2: 1-28
Motta, Sara. C. (2016) ´´Decolonizing Australia’s Body Politics: Contesting the Coloniality of Violence of Child Removal´ Journal of Resistance Studies, 2:2