RReading Another Day in the Colony led me back to Jackie Huggins’ Sister Girl. Not just Jackie: I went back to Aileen Moreton-Robinson. I went back to Audre Lorde. I went back to Talking Back and Feminist Theory from bell hooks. That’s the beauty of Chelsea Watego’s debut: it puts us in dialogue with work and women we’ve known and loved for years. Or, if you don’t know them – to paraphrase the great scholar Alanis Morissette – women you should know.
Watego’s background lies in health. Her work is informed by bringing black people back into the conversations where they have often been ignored – especially black women.
Another Day in the Colony combines memoir, philosophy and analysis to tell us very simply: “Fuck hope”. This invocation is a critique of hope as complacency, the delayed dream.
What Watego is looking for instead of hope is “the emancipatory opportunity to not give a fuck”. “Some people may think that calls to withdraw hope for nihilism are irresponsible,” she writes. “But what’s irresponsible is to demand that we maintain the status quo by keeping black bodies connected to life-support machines that were believed never to get rid of.”
White critics may dance around the fact that they know this book was not written for whites. But why bother? There is power in having non-white people as supposed audiences. There is power in talking to mafia.
For First Nations, this discursive confidence is usually considered impossible; as if the marginalized don’t have the luxury of making assumptions. But if First Nations are sovereign – if, like Dr. Lilla Watson tells Watego in this book, “we are not moved” and therefore “the violence we encounter because we have held out is not of our making” – then could some assumptions be possible? And shouldn’t one of those assumptions be that strength and joy? are possible now? Our existence – and by extension the existence of joy – is not marginal. Marginal for whom? Marginal to what?
The penultimate chapter, entitled “Fuck Hope”, meditates on this question. It’s a no-fucks-given laugh. As a critic my only response was to underline. I have nothing to add; it’s all true. “Fuck hope,” Watego says: why not? Hope, she writes, is something we can hold onto temporarily, a breather before diving: “It doesn’t oxygenate your lungs, it just stops the water from getting in.” This murder is not a metaphor.
Shedding hope doesn’t mean giving up, Watego adds. It means accepting the idea that, if joy and sovereignty don’t exist now, they never did. But they did, and they still do. The power of this idea lies in how it gets under the skin. It appeals to us emotionally; we recognize its truth in our bodies.
It’s an idea Watego, quoting Paul Beatty, describes as “Unmitigated Blackness.” “The Tarneen Onus-Williams ‘burn it down’ kind of Blackness.” Beatty calls it a “nihilism that makes life worth living”. However, as Watego goes on to say, “While there’s something liberating about not giving a fuck anymore, I don’t think I’ve necessarily found the promised freedom in that, because the power of not giving a fuck is usually the most possible.” feels like there is nothing left to lose.” Yet it is “the closest thing to an embodied sovereignty I have heard articulated”.
The guiding idea behind white supremacy is that whiteness is neutral. That it has humanity, a humanity that all others lack. Those who are not imbued with this humanity, this “whiteness”, are seen as rectification – or, as Watego puts it, paternal benevolence. The money allocated to First Nations “wallets” is based on colonial control, the fantasy that First Nations is primarily a problem to be solved. It’s a concept, Watego writes, “informed by the same racialized ideologies that allow them to forget that where they came from is not the country we became human beings in.”
Two journeys, each separated from each other: a people that remains and a people that forgot – and continues to forget – its history to plot a new one. Yet this history is never really new. It’s cultural amnesia; the white supremacist who longs for a homeland that can never give in to all the homes it has left behind. The only house it manages to inhabit is that of others.
Watson, who cites Watego as one of her mentors in writing this book, might agree. Watego writes of Watson’s call that we “imagine a future as long as the past is behind us”. “[T]the act of life demands of us a refusal, a refusal to accept their account of things and a refusal to let them rob us any more of our joy, our lives, and our land.”
“She advised me,” Watego later adds, “that we would never see justice, in the sense that we would never have given back what they took. She then asked me why I had to win. Why was my existence in the world based on taking something from the colonizer’s protagonist, knowing it wouldn’t make us whole again? She reminded me that we win, of the everyday kind.”
By the time I got to the end of this chapter—with only a few pages of the book left—I was shaking my head in appreciation. When I read Watego, I was reminded of how Mohawk political scientist Taiaiake Alfred and Anishinaabe feminist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson took a skeptical attitude towards the idea of liberalism. evolution, or what Watego calls “the ’67 referendum was a sign of progress” from Blackness. They strive not for integration into the settler-colonial society, but for flourishing; a self-determination based on loving and resisting “as we have always done”.
This thrives on our terms. No sanctions. No permission. No slaves. No masters.