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Below the Radar Transcript

Episode 173: Settler Memory: The Disavowal of Indigeneity and the Politics of Race — with Kevin Bruyneel

Speakers: Melissa Roach, Am Johal, Kevin Bruyneel

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Melissa Roach   0:02
Hi, I’m Melissa Roach with Below the Radar, a knowledge democracy podcast. Below the Radar is recorded on the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.

On this episode of Below the Radar, our host Am Johal talks with Kevin Bruyneel about his new book, Settler Memory: The Disavowal of Indigeneity and the Politics of Race in the United States. We hope you enjoy the episode!

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Am Johal  0:32
Hello, welcome to Below the Radar delighted that you could join us again this week. We have our special guests, Kevin Bruyneel, who's recently written a book, Settler Memory: The Disavowal of Indigeneity and the Politics of Race in the United States. Welcome, Kevin.

Kevin Bruyneel  0:49
Thank you much, very much Am. It's great to be here. Thanks for the invitation.

Am Johal  0:52 
Yeah, wondering, we can begin with you introducing yourself a little bit.

Kevin Bruyneel  0:56
Sure. I was born and raised right in a sort of general area, you are, on the traditional territories of the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Musqueam peoples born in Vancouver at St. Paul's Hospital, in fact. Raised primarily in Coquitlam, and did my undergraduate at Simon Fraser University. So a lot of my life was, first quarter of my life, was in Canada, which actually, in many ways, has an influence of how I ended up reading things when I went to the US, and then went to the United States for grad school in 1991, to the new school, and there had many different interests. Got involved in anarchist on the ground politics there.

Kevin Bruyneel  1:33
Also became very interested, intrigued with how, in US political science, I think it's getting better now, but there was almost no attention to Indigenous peoples politics. And that was really what my dissertation and my book, the first book, The Third Space of Sovereignty, was trying to address, how to think about Indigenous peoples politics in relationship to the US settler colonial state, and a framework that was really trying to understand and respect what Indigenous peoples were saying in all the diversity of arguments that weren't simply about being included within the US settler, colonial state, assimilated to it. So that was my first project.

Kevin Bruyneel  2:07 
And then after that, to this project, now, when I'm thinking about the relationship between race, discourse and politics, and indigeneity, so that's my scholarly history. I teach. I'm a professor of politics at Babson College, which is just outside Boston. I've been there for now 20 years, which is really hard to believe at this point. I'm an old man there. And I teach political theory, US politics. But my main courses are around issues of Critical Race and Indigenous Studies. That's the name of the sort of advanced course I teach, radical politics, which is I taught a course on Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock, and a lot of stuff around political theory and injustice, and inequality. So, I've been there for about 20 years. And I sort of live partially in Somerville, and I'm allowed to come down to Brooklyn every so often, and hang out there, here where I am now. So, I'm very much an east coaster now. I'm now a US Canadian dual citizen. And so that's that's sort of this trajectory of my life.

Am Johal  2:59 
Yeah. Kevin, so with this project, in writing, Settler Memory, I'm wondering if you can talk about where the project sort of began for you?

Kevin Bruyneel  3:06 
Absolutely. Part of it is after I finished Third Space of Sovereignty which was really about US-Indigenous relations. In terms of on the ground politics here in the US around, you know, obviously police violence, general white supremacy, issues of mass incarceration, on the ground politics of things we've seen through Black Lives Matter and also teaching in a US context around race, and my own political interests and concerns. It became clear as I started to engage in certain teaching the relationship between race histories, right, especially around white and black relations, and Indigenous politics, especially around issues of dispossession, Indigenous activism, settler colonialism. And also in political movements. There was a, there was almost a disconnect between discourses around race and discourses around indigeneity, discourses around white supremacy, and slavery and discourses around settler colonialism, genocide and territorial dispossession and also the political movements, black radical politics, Indigenous radical politics.

Kevin Bruyneel  4:06
It was not so much that people didn't know especially on the left liberal side, but more so the left, about these movements. But there was no sense of how to bring them together into a conversation to understand how they are very intertwined, not collapsed as the same thing. But very intertwined. And I found this in my teaching, how to teach students to not just sort of say, Okay, we're going to have our week on black radical politics, and then on Asian American politics and an Indigenous politics to understand how we have to think about these things, both with their own histories, but also very much intertwined. That one can understand, for example, slavery in United States, plantation slavery, without looking into where that land came from. And at whose expense. We can't just talk about labour, weather, we need to talk about labour, but we also have to talk about land and the relationship between.

Kevin Bruyneel  4:51
So part of it that came out of this project to understand one is how, sort of more on the right, the conservative side thinks about this, but I was just as intrigued on the left and liberal side, those who are potential allies and comrades both historically and today. And the way in which I say that some of the people who I've learned the most from in terms of frameworks, in terms of theories around race, WEB Du Bois, James Baldwin, who I would not, could not think about the world the way I do without them, both sort of saw, did see and did not see, recognized and then sort of, as they say, disavowed in their own implicit ways, the place of Indigenous peoples, the role of land, in my mind, and also major narratives around Bacon's Rebellion, which is a major, Bacon's Rebellion of the 17th century in Virginia, is this foundational narrative, it's all often invoked. But where did whiteness come as a political identity? How was race used to divide classes? When we had the opportunity for a cross racial class coalition, where the working class works together against the elites, and race becomes a way in which people are divided along racial lines instead of being united along class lines.

Kevin Bruyneel  5:57 
Bacon's Rebellion is often a foundational narrative we teach our students. This is how race comes to have a political meaning that divides people who should be working together in solidarity, we would hope. And the background of that story involves settler colonial attacks on Indigenous peoples and land. And that's that part of the narrative is always there. But it's never incorporated into the meaning of what we take out of this moment. About not just whiteness, but white settler identity, not just about labour and class but also land dispossession. Similarly, the reconstruction era and the post Civil War, when we have this opportunity for, we would hope, building a more politically and economically justice that collapsed and it fell apart and WEB Du Bois thankfully narrates this for us.

Kevin Bruyneel  6:40 
Land has many ways central to Du Bois' own vision of what would mean for a more economically free society for African Americans, understandably, but the place of where that land comes from, and even the relationship to land and of course, Indigenous people is in the background or not there. And, and you know, somebody like Baldwin, who I think is very obviously, is defining figure in terms of thinking about race and the American failures of the American National Project, has many moments, which he very much invokes conquest and colonialism, violence against Indigenous people, at some points very prescient and very observant and brilliant. And other points, he sort of brackets, Indigenous peoples, and these are all fascinating figures.

Kevin Bruyneel  7:20 
And my concern is not so much to critique them, they've given us so much, but we are inheritors of the Du Boisian framework of Black Reconstruction thinking through this, of the relationship between black radical politics and Marxism, right. We are the inheritors of Baldwin. And so as we go back and reread them and reproduce their frameworks, I want to make sure that we are not disavowing the place of indigeneity and the role of dispossession and settler colonialism as we are engaging and trying to figure out what is white supremacy mean? What does anti-blackness mean, if we're trying to think about radical reconstruction projects along the lines of race, class, gender, indigeneity, we have to think about the relationship between labour and land. And I think part of the project is to not just say, well, there's these two narratives that need to be sort of understood in relation to each other, but they shake one another.

Kevin Bruyneel  8:07 
And I want to say, white supremacy is what really white settler supremacy and I bring it building upon somebody like Aileen Moreton-Robinson, who I think, whose great book about the white possessive, really shaped a lot of my way to think about what whiteness means, in relationship to capitalism, racial capitalism and colonial capitalism. I don't think I'm creating something completely brand new. I'm trying to build upon discourses and also engage with, I think, key frameworks and historical moments that I called major political memories, like around Bacon's Rebellion, like around reconstruction, and major thinkers that we all should read, Du Bois, Baldwin.

Kevin Bruyneel  8:40 
And then the latter part of the project or the chapters are on work I've done before on the sports team name issue, you know, the Washington football team name, the Cleveland team name, stuff like that, in which there's some progress being made and getting rid of these names. A lot of the discourse around those have to do with the fact that these names are racist, which is true, but they're all also colonialist. They're about appropriation. They're about a reaffirming a form of genocide and elimination of Indigenous peoples. I mean, there's a reason why you have these names after Indigenous peoples and not other minority groups, who are dealt with in other ways in terms of oppression and violence. But there's something about the appropriation and signification of indigeneity that needs to be understood as not only about racism, all of that too, but also colonialism. So I reread it in that way.

Kevin Bruyneel  9:23 
And another chapter because if you're a political scientist in 2020, writing a book, you are obligated to write about Trump, it's just you have to do it, or else you get kicked out of the field. I have a chapter on Trump, which I say, it's not the whole answer to Trump. But I think if you're trying to understand some of the complexities of Trumpism, including the fact that Trumpism, and we can see this with different forms of right moves, is not, is certainly white supremacist. But it's also, you actually have a racially diverse group of people who do support Trump. And I think that part of it is a form of celebration of conquest and colonialism and xenophobia, that I think you have to, you have to understand Trump's own and also Trumpist, the Trumpist perspective, that is actually not just sort of disavowing and apologetic in some sort of like liberal way about the history of colonialism, but actually celebrates it. Trump openly celebrates conquest, and the domination of lands and peoples and I think that's a part of, and also this very much connects to extractive capitalism, to the relationship and his support of Israeli settler colonial expansion, the role of the borders, and violence against migrants. I think this is this is racist, colonialist, capitalist imperialist. I think it's also very much settler colonialist and about the celebration of conquest.

Kevin Bruyneel  10:33
So I try to offer a way to read through Trump through my perspective, and then the conclusion and a lot of the way in which I'm building upon how do we get out of this, and how do we imagine better worlds, builds upon Indigenous and black activism, working sometimes in tandem? Sometimes not in tandem, and Indigenous and black thinkers. Like Layli Long Soldier and Kim Tallbear, Cristina Sharpe, Cedric Robinson, Leanne Simpson. I try to offer ways, other ways in which my readers can say, where do we look for images of how to bring together black and Indigenous radical visions for everybody. Part of my opening is also to very much signal to white lefties that we have, we have an implication in this, as not just allies, but actually understanding that the fate and the the impact of settler colonialism and white supremacy and capitalism is bad for everybody, us too, maybe not to the same degree, intention immediately. But this is all going to be bad for all of us too. And we have an obligation to be involved in trying to abolish settler colonialism, white supremacy and capitalism and build a better world.

Kevin Bruyneel  11:35 
We're not really engaging with the relationship between different forms of struggles, for example, you know, in terms of police violence, which we know is at a higher percentage targeted towards Black and Latinx people, but also an even higher percentage towards Indigenous people. And this is not an oppression Olympics, it is to say, how do we understand police violence, the carceral state in terms of relationship between race and colonialism? And I think understanding that it's not only just being inclusive and stirring everybody in, but it's understanding like the intense sort of mission and power of the carceral state, around land around labour. And if I think we're not addressing indigeneity, Indigenous people's experiences, and politics and claims, and settler colonial, we're actually not seeing the the oppressive power, but also, I think, the openings for resistance of the carceral state, of the settler state, we're not seeing the full picture or a fuller picture, I don't claim to see give the full full picture but a fuller picture.

Kevin Bruyneel  12:28 
And when you think about struggles over you know, I mentioned team names, but over statues, over the names of universities, that may seem like merely symbolic, but I think actually is people struggling over the meaning of the past for the present and trying to define what's our past and our memory of it is going to define how we collectively articulate what matters to us today and how we move forward. So I, you know, I'm all for knocking down, you know, Gassy Jack, and I think part of it is then we're trying to say that memory is not we're not erasing the history of it. We're trying to say that that does not articulate what we hope to be our vision of community, of care for one another, and a liberating future. And I think those are struggles over a politics of memory, not just history, which history is like, we get all the facts straight, but the facts don't speak for themselves. People do and struggle. And I think the politics of memory are a key part of political struggle. And I want to sort of center on that.

Am Johal  13:21 
So the name of the book, Settler Memory, I'm wondering if you could speak a little bit to how you define it in the book?

Kevin Bruyneel  13:28 
Settler Memory is not so much a forgetting of Indigenous peoples in conquests and colonialism, there's certainly a great significant part of the part of the, say white majority or the say, I'll say the US National majority I'm more familiar with, that is incredibly ignorant, like, so I'm not saying there's not a lot of ignorance out there. But what I'm really intrigued with is the way in which Indigenous peoples histories, sometimes in very caricature form, settler colonialism, are both sort of signaled and present in the larger discourse, the memory of say, this nation of the US at the one time, so it's not completely forgotten, but also disavowed as having anything to do with the present.

Kevin Bruyneel  14:08
So, settler memory, I see is actually just deeply constitutive of, in fact, and I focus on the US, but I'm happy to talk about Canada, deeply constitutive of a US, of an American settler identity of both seeing or recognizing or in some way acknowledging the history of Indigenous peoples in colonialism, and then disavowing the active presence of settler colonialism and Indigenous politics today or in the contemporary period. And that's what settler memory is. I'm very distinct, that it's not simply amnesia, or forgetting or ignorance. And I'm not to say there's not a lot of ignorance out there.

Kevin Bruyneel  14:41 
But as I say, to my students, you know, education is great. I'm an educator, I hope it's great. But education is not enough. I mean, one is to have people read, understand history, but the next step is, how do you then mobilize that to think about our present. And you know, you can have people read the same historical moment and then go off because their interests shaped them to say, they're not going to do anything about what's going on. We have to think about the way in which material interests and the way people understand their present moment is shaped. I think the politics of memory are a key part of that. And not the only part of that. And so settler memory is, as they say, a sort of a remembering, and then a disavow of the history and the present of Indigenous peoples and settler colonialism.

Am Johal  15:19 
You spent a lot of time on the book with James Baldwin, a number of other thinkers, WEB Du Bois, as you mentioned, but wondering if you could speak a little bit to how James Baldwin articulated some of these things and what you found in it in terms of the work that you were doing with settler memories.

Kevin Bruyneel  15:34 
Yeah, Baldwin is in some sense, he's not so much the one who set me off on this path because I've been thinking about this for a number of years, but I teach Baldwin every semester when I teach critical race studies, critical race and Indigenous Studies. For his powerful, I mean, the powerful move that Baldwin did for critical race analysis. And for the centering of whiteness is in the 1960s he starts, among others, he starts to turn around the narrative, say the problem of race in America is not the problem of the Negro Problem, so called, of the other, it's the problem of whiteness. It's you white folks have to get your shit together and that's that. And so he starts to turn the lens around. And I think he's, among the many people, most insightful about the core crime and rot at the core of the American project. 

Kevin Bruyneel  16:16
And so I've constantly been an avid reader and have been edified and shaped by Baldwin's take on things. And he has a moment in his longer letter in the Fire Next Time when he says, and I'm paraphrasing a little bit, but basically got it, he says, the African American man, except for the Native American, it says, no, sorry, not in quotes, in parentheses, the African American, except for the Native American, which he puts, the except Native American in parentheses, is the worst treated person in US history. And for me, I'm like, what is going on with putting “except Native American” in parentheses.

Kevin Bruyneel  16:42 
It's his acknowledgement that there's a history there about conquest, colonialism and violence that shapes this country, as well as the violence towards Native Americans, as well as the violence towards African Americans, of course. He wants to acknowledge that there but he wants to move on to a central topic of the relationship between White and Black, of anti-Blackness and the role of whiteness in relationship to Black Americans. He does this often throughout his piece, sometimes in more subtle ways, sometimes more assertive ways. In, I Am Not Your Negro, the documentary, is based upon Baldwin. There's an important scene where he's debating William F. Buckley, and he talks about when he's a kid, and he's watching cowboy movies. And he's imagining that he's Gary Cooper, the cowboy, and he realized at some point, he's really actually one of the Indians. He's one of the people that is facing the White settler oppressor. And for him, it's not so much that as a Black man growing up in Harlem, he's concerned with the cowboy, the frontier sheriff, he's concerned with cops, right. And so he positions himself as the Indian. Black Anishinaabe historian, Kyle Mays, has written very well about this too, this scene, in, I Am Not Your Negro, he's somebody people should look into.

Kevin Bruyneel  17:49
And so you have various moments in Baldwin's native non-fiction writing, when he is signaling that we have to talk about conquest and colonialism. But he doesn't follow through. And I'm not expecting him to follow through, he does so much. But then I'm like, this is when he sort of engages in a type of settler memory, he sees the problem, he sees the history, but does not fold that history into what is going on in his period of time in terms of how do we understand what white supremacy is. That said, as he moves more into the 60s and late 60s and 1970s. In some of his interviews, Baldwin is incredibly cutting and precise in actually refusing settler memory. At one point, he talks about how Native Americans are the ones who have paid the price for expansion, paid the price for every inch of the frontier that's claimed, for the violence. And he connects contemporary movements of his time, 70s, around Wounded Knee, around Alcatraz, around the American Indian Movement, Red Power to what's going on with black power, he makes these connections and there Baldwin, very insightfully, is refusing settler memory. He's connecting the past of colonialism, the violence towards Native Americans to the contemporary movement of Black Power and Red Power in his time in the 70s.

Kevin Bruyneel  19:05
And so he's a fascinating figure for me, because he's so insightful, but like anybody, has his blind spots. At some point. He's sort of seeing the history of conquest. He's naming it as bad or worse than how African Americans are treated. So he's seeing this relationship. But his project is not that, so he's sort of signaling it, literally putting it in brackets. And then moving on to his central topic. And at other points, especially a little later, in his interviews, and primarily his interviews. He's actually trying to bring this history together of conquest, of enslavement, of dispossession, of anti-Blackness, of genocidal approaches and treatment of Indigenous people, bring them together to actually shape and point to contemporary politics in his time of Black and Red Power. So I see him as somebody who both actually does engage in reproducing settler memory at certain points in his writing and his interviews and then refuses it, he refuses to say, no, we have to look at contemporary black and Indigenous radical politics. So for me, he's a fascinating figure.

Kevin Bruyneel  20:05 
And think about how he's connecting that to how he's seeing the possibilities, because part of what Baldwin struggled with his whole career, I think, is, what do we do with America? Is America a project that can be saved or does have to be abolished? I'm on the abolishment side. But he's like he's trying to figure out and I think he says, in different points, he's not the only person to say, can a Black man be integrated into a burning house, and the burning house is America. And I think he's trying to struggle with the relationship in the 70s, when he's really, you know, Martin Luther King has been murdered. Malcolm X has been murdered, Medgar Evers, since the 70s. And he's the sort of more optimistic or potentially optimistic Baldwin of the 1960s, is sort of dashed by the 1970s. He's pretty pessimistic about the American project.

Kevin Bruyneel  20:48
And then you see him, I think, starting to address and centre, not only Black radical politics, as much as he had a complicated relationship to Black radical politics, and Black radical politics had a complicated relationship to him. He started to make connections to Indigenous radical politics. And so I think, we can, I argue to my students, that we can read Baldwin, in a race studies course, and an Indigenous politics course. I think he can inform us of the relationship to it. And I would love if there was one thing that people who read that chapter might get out of it, is if you're teaching, teaching a Native American studies course, or an Indigenous politics course, you can see the way in which Baldwin can be part of that conversation.

Am Johal  21:27 
You referred earlier on to kind of the solidarities within Indigenous and Black studies, but also tensions and areas of continued discussion. I was wondering if you could sort of articulate from your vantage point where those areas lie. And secondly, in terms of the reception of your own work, you know,  as a White settler, someone from the suburbs of Coquitlam, writing in this way, how has your work been received within academic and political communities, but also, you're in an interesting vantage point, because you're also illuminating to settler communities, these entanglements and perspectives, and wondering if you could talk about that as well?

Kevin Bruyneel  22:08 
The book does not sort of emphasize on the tensions as much, although I do articulate, for example, when I positioned myself, I do want to talk about some sort of popular narratives and, and approaches within, say, race studies right now, such as Afro Pessimism, and so I have a longer piece I think I'll be doing later on this, but I had a short piece when I sort of position my own approach in relationship to say, Frank Wilderson, in which I think there are tendencies and I think, I wouldn't say they're becoming not as dominant because I think there's various ways of thinking about things.

Kevin Bruyneel  22:40
There's tendencies sometimes to see either Black or Indigenous perspectives as the foundational one and the other one has to sort of build upon it. So either we have conquest first and then enslavement, or we have enslavement then conquest. And, you know, we have labour and then one is the more foundational one and the other builds, and Wilderson and Afro Pessimism, place enslavement and slavery as foundational and then Indigenous politics and Indigenous peoples either have to align on it on a line of experience of genocide with African Americans, and the enslavement perspective and the experience of non being or they side with, on the line of sovereignty, with a settler, with White.

Kevin Bruyneel  23:17 
And so Indigeneity does not have its own position, in terms of its own history, of the concept, of political identity and politics and struggle. You also have Indigenous critical theorists, some who will find settler colonialism as foundation and to see anybody who's not native as a settler, right. And I do say in my piece that I think it's a complicated question. I am, as you say, ancestry of White settlers. I'm a White settler. I am not of any native extraction. I am not making any claims. I am, I am a White settler, a cisgender man. But you do have notion that, and I do say in the book, like, you know, I don't see Black people as settlers, because people who have, from the legacy of enslavement, but also constructed in a White supremacist society have never been allowed to settle, to be perfectly honest. It's not to say individuals have not bought property and engaged in forms of settlement, anybody can reproduce forms of hierarchical oppressive relationships. But you know, there's a well established history of African American communities being genocidally treated, violence and lynching and pogroms.

Kevin Bruyneel  24:16 
So for me, one is, I want to provide a framework to talk about how we can bring together Indigenous and Black sort of histories, memories, not collapsing them to the same, but also talking about how they shape one another, and also shape one other in terms of how we think about settler colonial and white supremacy. So I am intervening in the sense that I'm not on the side of a hierarchical view and oppression Olympics sort of things, like one is foundational to the other, because I think they, for one, the history of these lands indicates that one can't understand one without the other. As I said, I don't think you can understand enslavement without conquest and dispossession. And the reverse is the case.

Kevin Bruyneel  24:53 
My optimism is, I think that there's a lot of great work on the ground politically, but in writing, Leanne Simpson and Robyn Maynard's new works, right, are trying to talk about this relationship. So I don't think I'm breaking new ground here. I think I'm trying to build on an effort to, not say that we're going to collapse these understanding of these traditions of, of oppression and politics, and radical struggle, but to talk about the relationship to one another, which certainly talks about potential tensions. I mean, the tensions can be, what does sovereignty mean? If we're recognizing Indigenous sovereignty, what does it mean for people who have been historically oppressed? If we're going to talk about, say, out of Reconstruction, what does 40 acres and a mule mean, for freed African Americans for reparations? That's not to say that I would be opposed, of course, as a white settler, to the notion of reparations. I'm completely supportive of it. But what is 40 acres and a mule mean? What does land relations mean? What does labour mean? I think what we split off run, one group of people's experience of oppression is around land, and the other out round labour, it ignores the way in which Indigenous people have experienced labour oppression. And, and also, African Americans have experienced violence and dispossession and their own claims to land and relationships to land. So I'm trying to not, not only in terms of particular people's histories and contemporary politics, but also key conceptual categories in politics, labour land, not to demarcate them as this is the realm of one group of people, for black peoples about labour, for Indigenous peoples is about land. Yes, of course, there's stunning truth there. But also there is an overlap that needs to be addressed. And as we're thinking about our own political imaginaries, to be able to grapple with that, there's not going to be easy answers.

Kevin Bruyneel  26:29
In terms of my own work, I certainly forefront in the book that I'm a white settler. And I actually am trying to, you know, you never know who your audience is. My audience is anybody who is nice enough to read my darn book. If you want to read my book. You're my audience, like, so I am not going to say you're not my audience, but I don't think I'm necessarily telling things that a lot of like Black and Indigenous critical theorists don't know, you know, a lot of might be like dub or a nail, of course. And I get that, of course, I'm, I try in my book to make sure I'm referencing substantially all the Indigenous and Black critical theorists who have shaped me. And so my audience is whoever wants to read the darn book. But I certainly want to speak to a certain form of white left liberal perspective to see what happens if you know, I think about in the US, they say in the US that we talk a lot about whiteness here, white privilege, and so on and so forth. We talk very little about settler identity, and settler commitments and settler privilege. And what happens if we on the so called White left here, and I don't mean just the US, we could talk about Canada, we can talk about other settler contexts, but this is the one I'm living in for 30 years, talk about what it means to have, say, white privilege, to use that overused phrase, as white settler privileged, relationship, not just to labour, but also land and settlement.

Kevin Bruyneel  27:43 
In terms of how my work has been received, it's a little early, the book came out in November, so I'm still waiting, reviews might come out that take me apart, and we'll see what happens. On the whole, I will say, it's nice to have a book come out in the age of social media, because then you get sort of a more immediate responses. The nicest responses have been people who feel like the settler memory framework provides some way in which they can engage and understand their own work in understanding and analyzing historical moments, and the relationship to the present.

Kevin Bruyneel  28:11 
Because of Third Space of Sovereignty, because of the work I've done in Indigenous Studies, I'm very much part of the larger Indigenous Studies scholarly network. So I know a lot of people who I respect and learn from, you know. The book is published in a Critical Indigeneity series at North Carolina Press, with Jean M. O’Brien and Kēhaulani Kauanui, two brilliant Indigenous Studies and Indigenous scholars as the series editors. And I wanted that because I wanted Indigenous studies scholars and Indigenous scholars to read the work and hold me accountable. And also that was read, the book was also read by Black Studies scholars, sort of peer reviewed, and I wanted that. I think that my honest answer is, I think generally in Indigenous Studies, because I'm more familiar with people in scholarship, and have presented in different contexts, that there is a general receptivity to where I'm going with the book, I was very honored to do a book talk with CIRCLE at University of Victoria, hosted by Heidi Stark, and it was a great conversation and really wonderful. And those who I have had read it in Black studies have been very receptive to the Baldwin chapter and the Du Bois chapter. In terms of the larger framework. I'm still waiting to see what those who are involved in critical race studies, Black Studies, will think about the book, I'm still less familiar with where that's going to go. Because I'm trying to intervene in and I think, open up a different way in which Critical Race studies is done. And even critical Black Studies, also critical Indigenous Studies, but I'm just more familiar with that world because I've been in it 20 years. 

Am Johal  29:41
In terms of a decolonial theorists who are working today, who do you feel like you're in conversation with or who has influenced the work? You referenced a few people already, like Leanne Simpson and others, but wondering, you know, who are your people that you draw inspiration from when you're thinking about writing this book and working through it that, you know, are working on the same terrain?

Kevin Bruyneel  30:03
I mean, I think, you know, Aileen Moreton-Robinson's work on The White Possessive was really influential. I think that Aileen, I'm standing on her shoulders in some sense of the thinking about Whiteness as very much about forms of possessiveness. She means literally property, but also possessiveness over bodies, right. And so when I read her work, and she, you know, her larger piece, which that book covers, primarily Australian larger conceptual stuff, but there's one chapter on US race studies and Whiteness studies.

Kevin Bruyneel  30:29 
But also, there's, you know, when I think about Kim Tallbear's work, for me, I think Kim is really trying to work out this really complex relationship between race and colonialism. For her, obviously, with Native American DNA, the complication relationship with how Native Americans are racialized. And, also in conversation with the racialization of African Americans, I think that's the type of work that shaped me in terms of thinking about having to have a much more nuanced relationship and understanding to what racialization means, its relationship to colonialism, and how Native Americans or Indigenous peoples are sort of produced within those sort of frameworks. So those are two people that put up front.

Kevin Bruyneel  31:07
I mean, in terms of,it's not decolonial, but in terms of critical race and approaches to the relationship between race and class, Stuart Hall is a major influence of mine, in terms of how to, you know, put these together. You know, Hall's famous line is that race is the modality through which classes lived. So we can't understand class experience without understanding race. And for me, I want to include colonialism and settler identity into that very experience.

Kevin Bruyneel  31:32 
So, Kēhaulani Kauanui, I think her reading of Bacon's Rebellion, she and I have been in conversation of her you know, she's does this brief piece, really great piece in a journal issue that's really a memorial to Patrick Wolfe, starts to draw the same issues around what's going on in the memory of Bacon's Rebellion, and the seeing and non-seeing of Indigenous peoples.

Kevin Bruyneel  31:54
So those are a few of the people who I have either personally been in conversation with, but whose work I've been reading and very influenced by, certainly, the other part of it is I found myself in terms of other imaginaries being very influenced by poets and fiction writers. So Layli Long Soldier, Oglala Lakota poet whose collection "Whereas", I think is just brilliant. And for me, I kept coming back to her work. I'm the least poetically inclined person you'll ever meet. But as I go back and I read like Historical Studies and Political Theory which I'm entrenched in, I would return to Long Soldier's own way when she thinks, she talks about what as the title of her collection, the "Whereas", which she's drawing from Barack Obama's so called apology to Native Americans, where it includes, I think it's upwards of 15 sort of legalistic notions of whereas, which is like, we're apologizing, but whereas none of this can be used for any legal case. So it's a symbolic apology and the whereas is a type of settler memory, we acknowledge this happened, but whereas we are not allowing this to be used for you to bring any sort of contention claim to us today, and I think that sort of way in which poetry allows for an opening up that Long Soldier brings in.

Kevin Bruyneel  33:09 
I think, Christina Sharpe, who of course, is a academic, liberal scholar, Black Studies scholar, I think her work in terms of the language of "In the Wake", the framing of "In the Wake", of the past that is not passed of slavery and after, after slavery has been incredibly influential to me for its intellectual rigor and for, I think, it's poetic imaginary. And so for me, folks, like Long Soldier and Sharpe were people I kept coming back to.

Kevin Bruyneel  33:33 
And then, you know, brilliant Indigenous feminist scholars, the recently late Lee Maracle, who I began to piece with. So, I don't sort of have my one canon, I just find that there's so many powerful works, but those are the number of the people who I kept returning to. And the shame of the book, there's a lot of people who I was influenced by, that didn't end up in the book. And some people don't end up in the narrative, who deeply shaped. I think about somebody else like Jodi Byrd. Jodi is like maybe cited one or two times. And that's not because she doesn't shape the way I think about it. It's just the way the narratives are written. And I put it together. But Jodi's way in which she tries to, I think we're in the same page, in many ways. I mean, I think she's smarter than I am. So she puts it better, about this relationship between Black and Indigenous experiences and the positioning in terms of race and colonialism, but Jodi's work credibly influential to me. So those are the number of the people who I go back to, when I'm trying to recenter myself, to figure out if I'm off track, and to think, not that not that I agree with every word they say, nor they would with me, but certainly people who I've learned a lot from in terms of the the notion of standing on the shoulders of like really smart people to do your work. Those are some of the peoples whose shoulders I'm standing on, and I'm hoping I'm not putting too much pressure.

Am Johal  34:43 
Is there anything you'd like to add Kevin?

Kevin Bruyneel  34:45 
The only thing I'd say is sort of my future work. I'm looking into stuff on racial capitalism. I'm actually writing. I'm part of a project on Campuses and Colonialism that is hosted by University in North Carolina, I think, but also Malinda Maynor Lowery, Stephen Kantrowitz, and Alyssa Mt. Pleasant. And we're eventually, there's going to be a volume kind of coming out of it. And I said earlier that I'd written a much longer piece on Afro Pessimism. And Frank Wilderson and what I see to the problematic positioning of Indigeneity, I had to cut most of that out of the book, because I had to focus what I want to say. But that larger argument is going to hopefully be part of that collection. 

Am Johal  35:24 
Thank you so much for joining us on Below the Radar.

Kevin Bruyneel  35:27
Thank you so much Am. It's really an honor to be on the podcast. 

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Melissa Roach  35:35
Below the Radar is a knowledge democracy podcast created by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. Thanks for listening to our conversation with Kevin Bruyneel. Head to the show notes as always to find links to resources mentioned by Kevin and to the full transcript of this episode. If you like our show, hit subscribe to make sure you never miss an episode. Thanks again, and see you next time on Below the Radar.

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Transcript auto-generated by Otter.ai and edited by the Below the Radar team.
May 17, 2022
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