I therefore propose a series of different challenges and questions to you, my white friends – those of you who are already troubled by the politics of city and are moving towards the borderlands. Those of you who feel like you’ve had your feet planted in mid-air, and long to rest in sanctuaries of belonging. Those of you who ask me when we meet: “How do I become indigenous?”
You are already indigenous: There is no need to ‘become’ indigenous. This is the narrative of gaps and distances all over again. It has become popular to think of ourselves as separate from nature. We tell stories about a stylized period in time when we were fundamentally delinked from natural temporalities, from the way the world ‘truly’ is. As such, the ethical imperative of our times – you say – is to re-join nature and, in so doing, become indigenous again. But this narrative suggests that this really happened – and that you really are separate from the world and must return to it. Well, what if you never left? What if your bridges and rockets and buildings and roads and technology and GMOs are just another iteration of nature – albeit one which many now find troublesome? What if you are just as embedded in, and dependent on, land, water and air (even though your particular enactment of indigeneity is about exteriorizing that dependence)? What changes when the anxiety of ‘arriving home’ or ‘becoming indigenous’ is replaced with a studious slowness and a curiosity about where you are?
Interrogate your whiteness: We are not ‘born’, we are ‘made’ and produced and fashioned by material practices, scientific discourses, economic constraints, and political frameworks. Whiteness is also made – first summoned into being by the American industry of slavery. It is often argued that slavery had no respect for colour at first. There were white and black slaves, comrades working in horrible circumstances, under the watchful eye of the prophets of profit. Whiteness became the administrative ruse to appoint mid-level managers over now ‘black’ slaves. The scientific world also became complicit in reinforcing this regime of treachery – by publishing research that showed that black people were three-fifths of proper men. In short, an ethico-politico-scientific apparatus produced whiteness, sustained it on the promises of scarce privilege, and cut you off from the abundance of the world around you. The soul of whiteness is the colours it excludes from mattering, the colours and voices that now haunt you from liminal places.
Saying sorry is not enough: Reconciliation today is often framed in terms of ornate performances of contriteness. Australia even has a National Sorry Day to commemorate and reflect on the mistreatment of indigenous peoples in that country. While this is no doubt important and powerful, seeking forgiveness is just a first step. Saying sorry is more likely to reinvest ‘white power’ with the sort of moral nobility a philanthropist acquires for spreading his wealth. A deeper sort of accountability is needed – one that brings us to the edges of ourselves. One that helps us notice that we are a palimpsest of colours, and that who or what we are is always in the making. Forgiveness is settling debts; reconciliation is troubling boundaries.
Listen: Notice the sacredness of where you are. The mysteriousness of where you are. This is a different notion of indigeneity altogether – not a provincialism, nativism or exoticism that objectifies identity, but a living breathing vocation of noticing the enchantment that is around us, in us, with us, wherever we are.