Youngblood Henderson (2016). Postcolonial Ghost Dancing: Diagnosing European Colonialism. (Learn, Teach, Challenge: Approaching Indigenous Literatures.)

Youngblood Henderson, J. (Sákéj). (2016). Postcolonial Ghost Dancing: Diagnosing European Colonialism. In D. Reder & L. M. Morra (Eds.), Learn, Teach, Challenge: Approaching Indigenous Literatures (pp. 169–187). Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

“These colonialists saw themselves as continuing the work of the great seventeenth-century European thinkers who created the idea of an artificial society. In remote places, they constructed colonialism on their heritage of Eurocentrism, universality, and a strategy of difference. In the process, they either rejected or overlooked the Crown’s vision of treaty commonwealth in international law.” (p 169)

[“Eurocentrism” (p 170) …]

“Among colonized peoples, the cognitive legacy of colonization is labelled ‘Eurocentrism.’ Among some Indigenous peoples, Eurocentrism is known as the twin of the trickster or imitator,2 or the ‘anti-trickster.’ Similar to the trickster who emphasizes Aboriginal thought and dramatizes human behaviour in a world of flux, the ‘anti-trickster’ appears in many guises and is the essence of paradoxical transformation. The ‘anti-trickster’ represents a cognitive force of artificial European thought, a differentiated consciousness, ever changing in its creativity to justify the oppression and domination of contemporary Indigenous peoples and their spiritual guardians.” (p 170)

“At best, Canadian universities define Aboriginal heritage, identity, and thought as inferior to Eurocentric heritage, identity, and thought.” (p 171)

[“Epistemological Diffusionism” (p 172) …]

“Blaut argues that diffusionism is based on two axioms: (1) most human communities are uninventive; and (2) a few human communities (or places or cultures) are inventive and thus remain permanent centres of cultural change or progress. On a global scale, this gives us a model of a world with a single centre — roughly, Europe — and a surrounding periphery (12).” (p 172)

“The dualism of an inside and an outside is central to the ultra-theory (14).4 The basic framework of diffusionism in its classical form depicts a world divided into two categories, one of which (greater Europe, ‘inside’) is historical, [page break] inventive, and makes progress; the other (non-Europe, ‘outside’) is ahistorical, stagnant, and unchanging and receives progressive innovations by diffusion from Europe.” (p 172-173)

[“Universalism” (p 175) …]

“… Eurocentric thought claims to be universal and general.8 Noël summarizes the function of universalism in colonialism: ‘To present himself as the ideal human type, the dominator often invoked irreducible laws sanctioned by Nature, God, or History. In his view, the power he exercised over the oppressed was not so much the result of undue reliance on force as the effect of uncontrollable imperatives, if not a Higher Will.” (p 175)

“This quest was an outgrowth of the ‘wonder’ that Aristotle found at the beginning of all thought and of the talk in which Socrates sought to engage each person willing to listen. Every discovery was examined for its universality, and life was to be tested by questioning its universal good.” (p 175)

“The other reason that Europeans could not rest content with perfecting their own part of the world is the messianic prophecy of monotheistic religions.” (p 175)

“The executions of Socrates and Christ were both legally sanctioned and, indeed, have served to make subsequent generations suspicious of legal order and doing justice.” (p 176)

[“Differences” (p 178) …]

“In contrast to universalism was the strategy of differences. Universal humanity was a key idea, but the dominants did not apply it universally. Because colonizers consider themselves to be the ideal model for humanity and carriers of superior culture and intelligence, they believe that they can judge other people and assess their competencies. … Using the strategy of differences, colonialists believe that they have the privilege of defining human competencies and deviances such as sin, offence, and mental illness. They also believe that they have the authority to impose their tutelage on the colonized and to remove from them the right to speak for themselves (Kennedy).11” (p 178)

“Memmi goes on to identify four related racist strategies used to maintain colonial power over Indigenous peoples: stressing real or imaginary differences between the racist and the victim; assigning values to these differences, to the advantage of the racist and the detriment of the victim; trying to make these values absolutes by generalizing from them and claiming that they are final; and using these values to justify any present or possible aggression or privileges (186).” (p 178)

[“Stressing Real or Imaginary Differences” (p 179) …]

[“Assigning Negative Values to Differences” (p 180) …]

“Since the first encounter with different people in the medieval crusades, Europeans have sought to prove the inferiority of those who do not share their supposedly superior value system and civilization.” (p 180)

“Armchair Eurocentric theorists did not have to live among Indigenous peoples to present an authoritative opinion about them.” (p 181)

“… through taking identity against their construction of ‘Indians,’ Europeans and colonialists become bound in their own being by the terms by which they oppress others (Hegel 19).” (p 181)

[“Making Values Absolute” (p 182) …]

“Colonial thought asserts that all differences are final, thus confining Indigenous peoples to alienation in perpetuity.” (p 182)

“The inviolability of that ‘other’ against which European identity is formed was secured by elevating some kinds of knowledge and suppressing others. All [page break] Indigenous peoples are viewed as people in the state of nature, and collectively they suffer from defects. Because of these defects, they are doomed to extinction in the face of an imported civilization.” (p 182-183)

“By basing their power on the supposed superiority of their culture and technology, the dominators denied themselves the right to fail. By creating the myth of the ideal, they condemned themselves to eternal perfection.” (p 183)

[“Using Values to Justify Privileges” (p 183) …]

“The final essential element of colonialism relied on the deficient, dehumanized victims and their cultures to explain and justify the racists’ aggression and privileges (Memmi, _The Colonizer and the Colonized_ 137).” (p 183)

“Developing difference relied on logic or causal thought and not on empirical evidence. This legacy created most elements of Canadian law and policy, particularly the false description of the lawless nature of the savage and the idea that society and law emerged with agriculture.” (p 184)

[“Consequences” (p 184) …]

Selected References

  • Blaut, James M. The Colonizer’s Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History. New York: Guilford, 1993.
  • Hegel, G. W. F. Phenomenology of Spirit. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977.
  • Memmi, Albert. ‘Attempt at a Definition.’ Dominated Man: Notes Toward a Portrait. Boston: Beacon, 1969.
  • Memmi, Albert. The Colonizer and the Colonized. Trans. Howard Greenfield. 1957. New York: Orion, 1965.
  • Kennedy, David. ‘A New Stream of International Law Scholarship.’ Wisconsin International Law Journal 7.1 (1988–89): 1–50.
  • Noël, Lise. Intolerance: A General Survey. Trans. A. Bennett. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1994.
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