Redrawing Aesthetics: Decolonial Theory and the Black Radical Tradition

i have been locked by the lawless.

Handcuffed by the haters. 

Gagged by the greedy. 

And, if i know anything at all,

it’s that a wall is just a wall 

and nothing more at all.

It can be broken down. 

i believe in living 

i believe in birth.

i believe in the sweat of love 

and in the fire of truth.

–Assata Shakur, “i believe in living.”


On the brisk morning of April 1st 2021 at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) office in Washington D.C., a protest was on the rise as Indigenous livelihoods, histories, and futures are in explicit danger. The agenda this morning? Build Back Fossil Free. Over seventy Indigenous youth (Water Protectors) traveled to DC for an epic protest against Enbridge Line 3, a 337 mile tar sands pipeline in Minnesota. The protest included a hand delivering of petitions with 400,000 signatures to the ACE, a performative die in by laying in front ACE’s entrance, a 250 foot black snake representing the pipeline that marched to Black Lives Matter Plaza, and ended with a lockdown (chained sit-in). Imperatively, this day is marks the fifth anniversary of the founding of the Sacred Stone Camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation to resist the Dakota Access Pipeline (truthout 2021). As the threat of extinction acquires a firmer grip on all of our realities, the youth’s message to President Biden was clear: stop the pipeline, stop the destruction of our communities and earth, stop the disrespect of treaties, enforce treaties, affirm our interconnected history and the truth and justice it necessitates. The Biden Administration has catastrophically failed to answer these dire calls.  

In this paper, I suggest that Enbridge Line 3, as one of a series of violent attempts, is exemplary of the settler colonial imaginary (SCI) in its neo-iterations. The SCI is fundamentally a logic that creates disposable people and land, and disrupting it requires materially affirming decolonial aesthetics, which are centrally concerned with healing and liberation. I use decolonial aesthetics in this argument because it captures the depth and complexity and revolutionary power of resistance(s) led by Indigenous and Black and Brown peoples. Decolonial aesthetics are the embodiment and praxis of radical imagination, radical action, coalition, radical healing, and transformation that moves to establish a world otherwise domination as it fractures systems of oppression through practices of disruption and making visible, which recovers non-colonial, hegemonic knowledges. Moreover, I argue that decolonial aesthetics are a foundational point of convergence for the liberation movements of Indigenous peoples and abolitionists, and I do so by responding to the question: Why does the enunciated aesthetic matter in a decolonial and abolitionist politic and practice? In short, they are the embodied conditions for a pluriverse. First, I provide more background on the pipeline and expose its connection to the SCI. Next, by tracing the disposability logic of the SCI, I illuminate points of convergence between the Black Radical Tradition and decolonial theory. Lastly, I return to the Indigenous youth to connect abolitionist praxis via their decolonial aesthetics, which are kindred commitments to the pluriverse.  

Section One: Background on Enbridge Line 3

Enbridge Energy is a top oil company headquartered in Calgary, Canada. In 2014, Enbridge proposed a 7.5 billion replacement (expansion) project of their Line 3 pipeline. Line 3 is slated to carry almost a million barrels of tar sands per day from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Washington (Stop Line 3 2021). This means that the pipeline would pass through three U.S. states and three Canadian states, violating several Indigenous treaties including ones with the Ojibwe people created in 1837 and 1854, which protect the Ojibwe’s right to and stewardship of the land (2021). Line 3 would cross 200 bodies of water, including the Mississippi River twice (2021). Enbridge describes their mission to be the leading energy delivering company in North America. What does this mean practically? As a project of innovation, Line 3 aims to carry hundreds of thousands of barrels a day of tar sands crude oil. Such a project, as Kevin Whelan records, would contribute to the equivalent of 50 coal plants worth of carbon pollution to the atmosphere, its “carbon footprint would exceed the entire state of Minnesota’s and like Keystone XL, would extend the economic viability of the ultra-polluting crude oil source in a way that an expert famously called ‘game over for the planet’ (2021).”

This threat, while always generally felt due to the legacy of settler colonialism and the genocide of Indigenous peoples, retained a new dimension on November 12th 2020 when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) issued water crossing permits for Line 3 and the Army Corps of Engineers issued permits on November 23rd 2020 (2021). The role of time in this decision is imperative to reflect on. The turnaround for the issuance of permits was eleven days, four of which were weekends, thereby a total of seven business days were used to grant this monumental decision. While, at the same time, Indigenous peoples have been protesting and demanding their voices to be heard for years, for centuries. What is the rush? Why the sense of urgency? We might make the leap and suggest that the incentive is monetary and more corporate than “democratic.” This comes to be the case when we regard the value of safety and how such determinations depend on consulting those who would be most immediately affected by any mishaps. Consider that Enbridge is responsible for the largest inland spill in the U.S., amounting to 2.8 million gallons (2021). Since 2002 there was reported 307 hazardous liquid incidents to federal regulators, one incident every twenty days on average. In 1991, Line 3 spilt 1,680,000 gallons in the Grand Rapids, Minnesota (2021). Additionally, there was the spill of 2010 that dropped 840,000 gallons of tar sands into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan (2021). The same Michigan that is still experiencing the Flint water crisis. One could argue that indeed more time should have been used to participate in the recognition that peoples livelihoods are at stake and consult those lives. Perhaps with more time taken and intimacy exercised, a different decision could have been made. However, this situation retains more insidious dimensions.

The monetary and corporate incentives are explicitly unveiled when we consider that during these very moves to gain the permit as well the ACE’s granting of the permit, Line 3 had come under litigation after serious errors were revealed in the Public Utility Commissions Certificate of Need and other issues by Friends of the Headwaters, Sierra Club, and Honor the Earth, with the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, the Youth Climate Intervenors and the State of Minnesota’s own Department of Commerce (2021). The analysis conducted depicted that the social cost of climate damage was at $287 billion (2021). The Minnesota Department of Commerce joined the opposition to Line 3 before the Public Utilities Commission, under the Dayton administration (2021). Minnesota governor, Timothy Waltz, with each refiling of the suit, determined that “projects like Line 3 don’t only need a building permit to move forward, they also need a social permit (2021).” And yet, while under litigation, the move to continue to build the pipeline persisted, and, ultimately granted. Pipelines are immense transnational projects that are heavily substantiated by promises made, projected costs, and, importantly, revenue, as well as potential political opportunities. 

With Line 3, the urgency connected to monetary intentions and gains is blunt, especially when judiciary hearings on key concerns and issues raised weren’t scheduled until April 2021 (2021). With the proposed gains and political alliances brewing, as well as the exclusion of particular parties, waiting, discourse, and struggle are less than non-favorable. What, or, the who’s that stand in the way of a colonial project masqueraded in the language of innovation, development, and progress, become disposable. Hence, the upsurge in resistance and protest by Indigenous peoples after the ACE granted permits in November. This is to say that the fall of 2020 was a turning point and all of our efforts to affirm that “water is life,” are needed right now. Indigenous peoples and youth know this because they uphold that land is pedagogy, the very thing the colonial empire seeks to destroy. Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar and artist, Leanne B. Simpson explains that being engaged in land as pedagogy as a life practice inevitably “means coming face-to-face with settler colonial authority, surveillance and violence because, in practice, it places Indigenous bodies between settlers and their money…Being a practitioner of land as pedagogy and learning in my community also means learning how to resist this imposition, it’s a process of learning how to be on the land anyway (Simpson 2014: 19).” Indigenous peoples have been risking their lives for their lives, for the land, and in this vein, for all of us, and we need to listen and act with

On their website, Enbridge highlights their core values as: safety, integrity, respect, and inclusion. They write that these “values represent the north star of our organization, a constant beacon by which we make our decisions, as a company and as individuals employees, every day… staying true to these values that guide us, unite us and empower us, together we can do amazing things (Enbridge 2021).” These values are supposed to be carried through to their “Indigenous communities” section where they state “at Enbridge, we are committed to early engagement and meaningful dialogue with Indigenous peoples along our pipeline rights-of-way, based on mutual respect and trust (Enbridge 2021, my emphasis).” Anyone who was not familiar with the Indigenous resistance to this pipeline and came to find answers and truth on Enbridge’s website, would be fed a false and mystified narrative about the full dimensions of reality. For Enbridge to continue to try and build the pipeline despite the clear “pause” and concern that a course of litigation represents, and especially in light of Indigenous full-fledged resistance to the pipeline, nullifies conditions and attempts at mutual respect and trust. Actions in accordance with mutual respect and trust would have resulted in a distinct and explicit halt on all construction, and through dialogue and court proceedings, partake in a real conversation and struggle with Indigenous peoples. While for many reasons this was not the case, one particular reason is that such talks, if embodied with the full intent to listen to the facts and to demonstrate deep respect, would mean to recognize and affirm Indigenous peoples via the only way possible: enforcing their treaties and giving their land back. 

The failure to disclose the full conditions of the situation represents a fundamental settler colonial tool, that being the mystification of reality. Mystification is a modality that functions as an attempt to mold the narrative of history and actions in prejudiced and malicious ways, of essentially cutting edges, so as to serve and meet the demands and desires of the settler colonial imaginary over and against all other peoples and all other narratives. The settler colonial imaginary (SCI) has several characteristics. First, the SCI is an embodiment, epistemology, and logic that desires and strives for hegemony by universalizing and reifying its ways of knowing and being. This embodiment thrives and depends on a telos relegated to linear progression. The SCI deems its ways of knowing and being as just and the most “reasoned.” As a result, the SCI values and instigates hierarchies via demarcating other ways of knowing and being as less than human and thereby without the same demands for reciprocity, equality, respect, and dignity. In this way, the SCI is fundamentally a logic of disposability, as it makes other ways of knowing and being disposable, which is carried out through violence, exploitation, and domination. 

Enbridge is demonstrative of a settler colonial imaginary as the Line 3 project fundamentally necessitates the disregard and making disposable of Indigenous people and the land, for what is promoted as “delivering energy” in “innovative ways” but is ultimately about profit and economic/political standing through landgrabs. The construction of the pipeline, as a disavowal of Indigenous treaties, is effectively supported by the state as the ACE granted the permits. This means that both the corporation, Enbridge, and the state, sponsor and support racism, dehumanization, and violence towards Indigenous peoples. As we have come to know, pipelines are destructive and perpetuate irreparable harm to Indigenous peoples as their ability to live, to live on the land that is rightfully theirs, and to live safely, is compromised. I argue that the pipeline is exemplary of a neo-iteration of settler colonial tactics that continue the legacy of the colonial past on to the present, not through healing or transformation or accountability, but in the name of empire. Previous tactics to eradicate Indigenous peoples and take the land were ultimately carried out through genocide. Yet, precisely due to elements like corporization, the same violence is being wrought but veiled under the guise of contemporary “innovation” and “sustainability,” rather than the “civilizing mission.” 

In her seminal work, Black Women Against The Land Grab: The Fight for Racial Justice in Brazil, Keisha-Khan Y. Perry interrogates the language of “development” and “urban renewal” in the city of Salvador as being connected to institutionalized racism and the racialization of space. Her book focuses on the ways in which Black women, much like Indigenous women, are the backbone to social movements against forced racial segregation through land grabs and urban redevelopment. She finds that the “racial logic of modernization and urban renewal informed by European models of development nurtures a nostalgic desire for the colonial past on the part of white Brazilians (Perry 2013: xv).” She goes to say that land rights struggles go “unrecognized as struggles around race, reinforcing a tacit agreement that racism is about a lack of cultural recognition or a politics of national belonging rather than citizenship rights and access to material resources (2013: 25).” The racial logic of modernity and of urban renewal are guided by and informed through the telos of linear progression that must always go forward, can never pause, can never find another way, and eliminates multiplicity. There is always a tone of urgency to these projects because they first and foremost are to meet the demands of the SCI. In considering the urban renewal project of revitalizing a dike that ran through a few Salvadorian neighborhoods, Perry writes that the residents “wanted to know why the revitalization of their dike and the displacement of hundreds of families was important at that particular moment in time (2013: 32).” This is reminiscent of the ethnic cleansing happening via the Israeli Occupation of Palestine. And, this is similar to the construction of the Line 3 pipeline, where the urgency is explicitly present with the filing of permits despite litigation, and the ACE permitting the permits despite litigation, all the while Indigenous livelihoods are at stake. 

The harms and violence caused to Indigenous people and land are simply not taken seriously and the gravity of this accusation can be realized in the fact that taking Indigenous people seriously, contending with the demands of climate change, would render the Line 3 project as untenable. As the settler colonial imaginary of Enbridge relies on mystification, thereby distorting the full dimensions of non-hegemonic epistemologies and conditions (mystification is different than ambiguity or opacity as discussed by Christina León or Édouard Glissant), the settler colonial imaginary’s attempt at actual dialogue, inclusion, respect, and integrity fails precisely because it is not in its best interest. This failure is premised in the SCI itself as the inherent logic of disposability. Namely, whatever does not conform or submit to the values, beliefs, and ideologies imposed by the SCI through systems and institutions, become disposable in the name of the preservation of the SCI. A logic and praxis of disposability that, without fail, is always rendered through violence, terror, and death. The settler colonial imaginary is historical, having its roots in “modernity” that has shaped the global capitalist world as we come to know and live it. This is to say that the settler colonial imaginary at work in the institutions of pipelines over and against Indigenous land rights and resistance, harming their livelihoods and futures, which are connected and co-dependent to all non-Indigenous peoples, is the same logic of disposability at work or that influences cases of colonization, imperialism, supremacy, and hegemony around the world. 

A critical example is the colonization and enslavement of Black and Brown peoples, and this connection unearths important characteristics, tendencies, logics, and appearances between different systems of oppression that are fundamentally guided by a logic of disposability that is exercised by iterations of the SCI. Consider vaccine apartheid via COVID-19. Big Pharma is exploiting the monetary resources of the global North versus the global South to gain maximum profit. Rather than equal distribution or sharing vaccine “recipes,” the argument is made that intellectual property law must be upheld, at the expense of human life lost around the globe, despite over eighty countries proposing a temporary waiver precisely due to the circumstances.

Tending to these intersections illuminates the radical conditions and dimensions of possibility latent within transnational and transcultural resistance on the basis of dismantling logics of disposability and the SCI, particularly, I argue, through an enunciation of decolonial aesthetics. Decolonial aesthetics are the practice, lived struggle, and site at which seemingly different liberation movements can and do coalesce in radical solidarity, teamwork, and love, that, as the enunciated and in their enunciations, contribute to weaving the threads necessary to establish a world otherwise that necessitates the thriving of many worlds. In this vein, I now turn to consider the ways in which the Black Radical Tradition and decolonial theory/decolonial movements can and do meet at the level of decolonial aesthetics.

Imperative Convergences Between The Black Radical Tradition and Decolonial Theory

Typically understood, the Black Radical Tradition has cultivated a different framework than decolonial theory as both come from different experiences and contexts. The Black Radical Tradition (BRT) has its roots in the Black Diaspora, from the Caribbean, Africa, South America to the U.S., forming in the resistance to the Atlantic Slave Trade, colonization, apartheid, and continuously transforming in response to Reconstruction, mass incarceration and police violence and state terror. Cedric J. Robinson, a key thinker who mapped a significant portion of the BRT, notes that long before the advent of:

the “madmen and specialists,” the military dictators and neocolonial petit bourgeoisies who in their own time have come to dominate Black societies in Africa and the Caribbean, the Black radical tradition had defined the terms of their destruction: the continuing development of a collective consciousness informed by the historical struggles for liberation and motivated by the shared sense of obligation to preserve the collective being, the ontological totality (Robinson 1983: 171). 

This is to say that from and within the struggle of Black life throughout history has been a project of self-determination, rooted in radical imagination and revolutionary love, committed to the possibility of a world otherwise domination. The BRT captures the diasporic archive of the lives lost in the name of this long striven and long overdue liberation.  

Abolition is the overarching course of action advocated for in the BRT, from slavery to the prison industrial complex and its many sets of relations. Along with critical action of figures such as Harriet Tubman and Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois is known for constructing the notion of abolition democracy. In their article, “On Abolition Ecologies and Making ‘Freedom as a Place’,” Nik Heynen and Megan Ybarra explain that the backbone of Du Bois’ theorizing relied on the time and history of the U.S. Civil War and Reconstruction where revolutionary change was “more than the inclusion of free Blacks into existing social structures, revolution demands a transformation of social structures (2020: 3).” Moreover, Du Bois argued that there could be no freedom until the “ethos of white supremacy that produced U.S. chattel slavery’s brutality and sustained it in the first place was eradicated. He argued that white supremacy was poison, corrupted democratic institutions and needed to be abolished (2020: 3).” Following the epistemologies in the BRT, abolition is a long-term politic and practice that organizes to disrupt and dismantle the modalities of control (such as prisons, police, and surveillance) integral to the maintenance of systems of oppression that produce and perpetuate domination and violence. Namely to dismantle the SCI and logic of disposability. It does this while also generating distinct models rooted in anti-disposability, radical care, accountability, and transnational solidarity.

In example, grassroots abolitionist organization, Critical Resistance has a theory of change with three main tenets: political education, radical imagination, and grassroots coalition. The first tenet, political education, is central to what decolonial theorists describe as delinking from the effects and practices of the SCI, and that PIC abolitionists term as changing common sense practices and forgoing colonial proscribed “defaults.” Political education is a tool to unveil the ways in which the SCI pervades our personal and social lives, and how its modalities of control perpetuate violence and target particular bodies. Political education grounds us in history and illuminates how the prison industrial complex (PIC) not only postulates that caging and imprisonment are apt modalities to achieve justice, truth, and healing, but these very claims are rooted in the PIC’s historic legacy of enacting violence and terror against BIPOC peoples. Policing and prison in the U.S. arose out of chattel slavery and slave patrol. As the 13th amendment never abolished slavery but transformed into the confines of the prison system, a neo-iteration of the colonial past that works to make invisible and eliminate BIPOC peoples. 

The PIC is fundamentally defined and supported by its sets of relations, this means the reach of the PIC is not relegated merely to prisons or police, but are modes that permeate throughout our sociopolitical sphere in explicit and implicit ways. The PIC is connected to the military, to ICE and detention centers, to border patrol, to the state, all of which have had vicious relations to the earth. PIC abolitionists, akin to Indigenous peoples, draw on their rich history for decolonial tools and knowledges of resistance. Two indispensable tools are radical imagination and grassroots coalition. To resist such a complex matrix of systems of oppression, a radical imagination is indispensable to challenge what can be possible, to dream other worlds, and to put them to work in the now through decolonization and grassroots coalition. Activist and writer, Harsha Walia, attests that a transformative politic like abolition requires us to rethink, reimagine, and reorient our work, and that connection is “the anti-theses of commodification and at the heart of a truly transformative politics (Abolition Journal 2016).” In their platform for liberation and climate justice, grassroots coalition, The Red Nation, confirms that change happens “from below and to the left,” since politicians and the state could never do what only mass movements do (The Red Nation 2021, my emphasis). 

From all of this, it is imperative to understand that abolition as the elimination of colonial rule is predicated upon the process of decolonization. However, decolonization is not the same as decolonial theory, these are two distinct notions. Frantz Fanon, a Martinique philosopher and psychiatrist, is a seminal thinker of resistance, liberation, and the terms of decolonization. In his vital work, The Wretched of the Earth, he exposes the ways in which the colonized have been psychologically burdened and ontologically compromised by the colonizer, and maps the central tenets of decolonization, which is a process for liberation. In the very first pages of the book he identifies decolonization as a historical process that: 

sets out to change the order of the world, and is clearly an agenda for total disorder…decolonization infuses a new rhythm, specific to a new generation of people, with a new language and a new humanity. Decolonization is truly the creation of new people. But such a creation cannot be attributed to a supernatural power: The “thing” colonized becomes a person through the very process of liberation (Fanon 2008: 2). 

Decolonization is a historic struggle led by Indigenous and Black and Brown peoples to expel the colonial settler from their land and reestablish their stewardship and right to the land. Decolonization efforts were forged in the Black Diaspora, Latin America and South America in and from Indigenous and Black and Brown peoples experiences of conquest, colonization, imperialism, erasure and mass mutilation, to contemporary strands including xenophobia, gendercide, border and bordertown violence, and immigration detention facilities. Decolonization is ongoing, it is a long term politic and process.

Decolonial theory on the other hand stems from decolonization. Peruvian sociologist and activist Anibal Quijano, following the resistance to the aforementioned experiences, accompanied with the critical attention to the inadequacies of dependency theory, moving as a philosophy of liberation, articulated the notion of decolonial theory. Decolonial theory arises as a “third world” concept from the lived situation and feeling of compromization and harm of, and resistance to, coloniality. Coloniality is distinct from colonization as colonization is a modern concept constructed in the North Atlantic where colonization is the establishment of empire on the American continent between the 15th and 18th centuries. In this way, colonization is not a decolonial concept. Decoloniality names and connects the very notion of coloniality as stemming from and underlying the logic of all European colonization. Coloniality is particularly distinct from colonialism because the logic of coloniality doesn’t require the practice of settler colonialism and is permeates throughout contemporary societies.  

Drawing off of Anibal Quijano, Argentinian decolonial scholar, Walter Mignolo, names the concept and institution of modernity as a fiction procured and perpetuated by the colonial imaginary. Mignolo points to the ways in which the positioning of eurocentric colonial epistemologies as civilized over and against all other ways of knowing and being, marked a moment in history, specifically an institution of a new world order (from many life to one life/epistemology), created through violent praxis and ideology, that can be named the initiation of “modernity.” Decolonial theory demystifies reality as produced from the colonial “center” and exposes its full dimensions as a historical situation influenced by particular acts of violence and terror. Demystification of the narrative of modernity is to compound the concept with the complexities veiled, namely as “modernity/coloniality” and “modernity/coloniality/decoloniality,” which is to say that coloniality is constitutive of modernity: there is no modernity without coloniality and there is no coloniality without decoloniality (Mignolo 2015: 2). Coloniality invokes the theoretical construct known as the coloniality of power or the colonial matrix of power which is a complex structure of management and control composed of domains, levels, and flows (2015: 2). In this way, decoloniality, as a project and process, traces coloniality, to reveal its practices and manifestations, to name it for what it is, and imperatively, to begin the decolonizing work of delinking from the logic of coloniality. Decolonization reverberates through Indigenous people in the “U.S.” experiencing settler colonialism, genocide, stolen land, land mining and resource extraction, to the creation of reservations and boarding schools, accompanied by the seizing of Indigenous youth, and the imposition of borders. Decolonization in this context means dismantling coloniality, settler colonialism, and imperialism, and affirming Indigenous self-determination, most pressingly by enforcing treaties and giving land back. 

The SCI as a logic of disposability, as in the case of the pipeline, is the colonial matrix of power and the coloniality of being. The coloniality of being is capable through the colonial matrix of power that creates hegemony through the establishment of colonial institutions, epistemologies, ideologies, logos, and systems. Mignolo finds that modernity is a discourse that promises happiness and salvation through conversion, progress, civilization, modernization, development, and market democracy (2015: 3). This discourse is woven with the logic of coloniality that circumscribes what it takes to advance modernity within “all domains used to categorize and classify the modern world: political economic, religious, epistemic, aesthetic, ethnic/racial, sexual/gender subjective (2015: 3).” The coloniality of being then is the attempt at the hegemony of colonial settler and eurocentrism epistemology that aims at the erasure of Indigenous peoples connection and relation to the land, to their people, to other people, to history and possibility. Such an erasure implies the purporting of colonial logic and knowledge, as universal and as the only voice that matters, which aids in domination and reification. The same is seen throughout the Atlantic Slave Trade with the forced removal of people from their homes and supplanted in the U.S. among other destinations, as well as in Latin and South America. This hegemony the SCI aims to institute, as the coloniality of being, creates a coloniality of aesthetic(s), especially aesthetics of multiplicity, healing, love, coalition, resistance, and liberation. The coloniality of aesthetics attempts to erase many types of life, being, knowing, and sensing/sensemaking, and of relations that challenge and decenter coloniality and violence.

All of this to say that, while their base of thinking comes from a different place, the BRT and decolonial theory, as we can begin to sense, have similar cadences since what is at stake for both traditions is their past, present, and future. There is the interconnected threat of erasure, not only of Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples, but of our global community and the earth itself. The explicit point of similarity are the forms and ideologies of domination and disposability at work made capable by and perpetuated through iterations of the settler colonial imaginary. This includes the push of the fiction of modernity through and at the expense of dehumanizing non-colonial subjects, otherwise known as the “othering discourse.” The othering discourse works through particular power dynamics of exclusion and inclusion on the basis of certain formulated sets of standards, beliefs/statements, and values. Consequently, the othering discourse, and discourses more broadly, are inherently knowledge and meaning producing mechanisms. Discourses aim to certify what is intelligible and who can be considered as knowers, agents, human, i.e. with or without power. The common discourse known as the “West” and the “Rest” stresses the ways in which the SCI employed particular methods and logics of disposability that ultimately rendered Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples as less than, as the subaltern. Agreeing with Mignolo, Stuart Hall (1993: 277) defines the “West” as a product of modernity and a specific set of historical processes that uplifted particular beliefs and narratives, where in which the very concept of the West and Western identity was conceived through the formation of the “Rest.”

The West utilized the othering discourse to distinguish a “system of representation” (Hall 1993: 278), delineating who and what should be considered the essential, the norm, or the “core” by marking and giving privilege to those who conform to their sets of standards, beliefs, and values especially in relation to (their constructions of) race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, religion, and logos. Those who do not conform are denoted as the inessential, the “other,” or the “periphery.” Which is the defining line that enables acts of disposability such as the civilizing mission, conquest, and genocide, as well as the exploitation and commodification of land and racialized bodies and labor through enslavement and its neo-iterations. Running throughout these situations is the idea that one life can be taken for another, where dispossession, peripheralizing, and ontological and metaphysical violence are contingent, happenstance, or worse, necessary. These are the foundational notions undergirding the settler colonial imaginary and can be traced throughout the systems and ideologies of imperialism, global capitalism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and police and state violence.

Within the fiction of modernity and the othering discourse, the management of the colonial system of representation depended specifically on classification. Classification is carried out with the reification of power dynamics of colonized/colonizer, core/periphery, and human/subhuman via the construction of prejudiced sociopolitical categories that organize and staticize people for control and disposability. The experience of violence and terror, and tools such as classification, while in different contexts, are primary modalities to think through the ways in which the resistance and liberation struggles of BRT and decolonial theory not only converge but are hotspots for interconnected struggle and dispositions for transnational solidarity and liberation. These hotspots emerge when considering the imposed suffering at the level of ontology precisely instigated by malicious classification, often guised in the (eurocentric/colonial) logos of science and reason. Conceptualizations of particular ontologies as “other,” as a mode of dehumanization, created what Frantz Fanon terms a “zone of non-being” where by position of subhuman, i.e. without reason or recognition of humanity, subjects can be completely objectified, commodified, and disposable (Fanon 2008). Moreover, the civilizing mission never had the goal to bring the colonized to the “level” of the colonizer, it was an effort to share language and values so control and domination flowed easier. The classification as “other” and as “subaltern” upholds the telos of modernity and the settler colonial imaginary and creates a continuity of terror that aims to foreclose on the horizons of BIPOC peoples. 

The linear telos of colonial progression and development from the “threat” of the perceived barbarity of the colonized, is represented in the goals of the civilizing mission, as well as the industrial revolution(s), mass incarceration, and gentrification. For this paper, such a telos is exemplified in the construction and imposition of pipelines on Indigenous land. Indigenous treaties are the ever-standing historical documents that continues to emphasize the blatant terror and violence of the U.S. settler state as treaties represent the sovereignty and land rights of Indigenous people. Such settler state violence is exemplified in the SCI’s modes of land grabbing, displacement, and dispossession, from the perils of genocide, the seizing of land and establishment of reservation and boarding schools, to the construction of pipelines. Indigenous people have explicitly said no time and time again and have demanded that their treaties, which have existed before “westernization” and the logics of eurocentrism/coloniality, to be enforced as a demonstration and commitment to recognizing and affirming their livelihoods, for past, present, and future. Yet, pipelines have been built anyways (Keystone XL, Dakota Access Pipeline, Line 3), and with horrible consequences as we have seen in the previous section, that have bombarded Indigenous life with even more threats of erasure as pipelines compromise and harm the land, the food sources, wildlife, and imperatively, the water. “Water is life” is the guiding tenet of Indigenous ways of life and pedagogy and exemplifies the inextricable connection to and responsibility to the earth that gives us our being day in and day out. Water and Land Protectors are examples of the Indigenous tenet that human life are explicit relatives of the earth, emphasizing decentralization and decentering the human. 

PIC abolitionists echo this sentiment in their own rendition as Ruth Wilson Gilmore contends “where life is precious, life is precious” (Williams-Reyes 2021). “Life” here is not simply human life, but all life. Consider Critical Resistance’s campaign, Stop Delano II (1998–2008), which was an effort to stop the construction of a maximum security facility in Delano, California. This prison was entirely unnecessary as there already exists another prison in the area and the incarcerated population was decreasing–it was, at its core, an investment opportunity. Yet, investments can be had anywhere, like childcare, healthcare, employment, housing security, education, etc. Much like the state-sponsored practices of redlining and creation of sacrifice zones, prisons, as a modality of colonial control, are used as a site to dispose of people that the SCI demarcates as dispensable, precisely through prejudiced classifications, all of which are emphasized in the fact that prisons are incapable of rehabilitation, healing, and justice. 

While the construction of prisons are environmental hazards that obstructs the land and our relations to the land, in the particular case of Delano II, an endangered species known as the Kangaroo Rat lived on site. In light of these circumstances, PIC abolitionists, the National Lawyers Guild Prison Law Project, and environmentalists, banned together in coalition to counter the project. After a fervent campaign and effective lawsuits that administered serious halts, Delano II was eventually built. However, this particular coalition, from 1998–2008, alit a PIC resistance in California as this campaign stopped California’s 20-year prison building boom (Critical Resistance 2021). Moreover, Critical Resistance member, Jamani Montague, emphasizes imperatively that the fight for liberation is not only about the wins, it must be equally mindful about the losses as these sites hold radical knowledge about what to do next time and how to do it better. The multi-coalitional campaign against Delano II resulted in a blueprint that has been used in anti-imprisonment campaigns across the country. This example illustrates that the PIC and its myriad sets of relations, as logics of disposability, are a global threat to all life, and dismantling systems of oppression requires coalition that tends to and values the complexities of the interconnectedness of our existences. These coalitions open up and uplift dimensions for radical and transformative change. Which require staying vigilant. Corporations, elites, the state and politicians are all implicated in the perpetuation of the logic of disposability. It is the same logic of disposability that supported the enslavement of African people, the use of plantations, eugenics, the Tuskegee experiments, Jim Crow, the “welfare queen,” redlining, sacrifice zones, gentrification, and police violence. It is the logic of disposability at play in war and the use of nuclear weapons, drones, annexation, occupation, refugee camps, detention centers, border walls and border patrol. There are few differences between slave patrol, border patrol, correctional officers, and the police/military. 

From these connections between the BRT and decolonial theory emphasized via the movement of the settler colonial imaginary, a driving point of convergence in the lens of resistance is the belief that, sooner or later, empires fall, it just takes some time and creativity. This belief is partnered with the praxis of grassroots organizing, political education, and radical imagination. In her reflections on her experiences as an Nishnaabeg person engaging with centuries of gendered violence and the ongoing occupation of her homeland, Simpson affirms that in the face of ongoing settler-colonialism, part of her knowledge base is “both a critical attunement to settler colonialism and generated theories of resistance, as well as resurgence and liberation, both from within my own knowledge system and through the sharing of liberatory politics of Indigenous peoples and other communities of struggle who have also been forced to live through oppression (Simpson 2014: 16).” Both decolonial theory and the BRT aim to rupture systems of oppression and the SCI, namely imperialism, global capitalism, settler colonial, heteronormativity and heteropatriarchy, neoliberalism, white supremacy, antiblackness, hegemony and more. They strive for a pluriversal horizon established through the foundations of decoloniality (Mignolo & Walsh 2020). 

Practically the BRT strives for abolition and Indigenous people in the U.S. advocate for LandBack, which are inherently co-dependent. As Eve Tuck and K. W. Yang name, decolonization is not a metaphor, meaning it is not merely of the mind or some unreasonable ideal. Rather, abolition is a long term practice and politic that will explicitly bring about a world otherwise domination and terror through abolition and LandBack. Following prison industrial complex abolitionist, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, abolition and LandBack are about presence, not absence, they are fundamentally worldmaking projects and practices that uphold liberation as our right. Such liberation means not only a rethinking of the state but a rethinking, dismantling and building something new rooted in healing and radical care that are actually capable of establishing paths for justice and truth to be had. As such, flowing throughout both traditions is the embodiment of radical imagination, coalition, multiplicity, and critically, as well as the inextricable role of women and youth, and feminism/queer feminism. The role of memory, of transgenerational storytelling and rhythm are essential to navigating the now mindfully, with the full power of love and resistance. Both are radically pragmatic as they emphasize the importance of a healthy, reciprocal, and intimate connections to the land and one another. All of this amounts to the rupture of the coloniality of being, a recovery of the multiplicity of our being, which includes the decolonizing of the coloniality of aesthetics. Here we can return to the question raised at the beginning of the paper: Why does the enunciated aesthetic matter in a decolonial and abolitionist politic and practice? 

Section Two: The Enunciation of Decolonial Aesthetics

Aesthetics are imperative because they encapsulate to a great degree the lived reality of domination, violence, resistance, radical imagination, and love. The coloniality of aesthetics is a worldmaking mode rooted in life-denying and disposable logics. My use of decolonial aesthetics is to capture Mignolo’s sentiment that we cannot change the world if the people in it do not change. This includes systems, relations, beliefs, embodiments, and dispositions. Such change demands vulnerability, risk, creativity, coalition, accountability, and decolonization. Decolonial aesthetics and the enunciation of a decolonial aesthetics is a world disrupting and transforming embodied practice that makes visible the invisible, it overturns what the logic of coloniality has deemed “impossible,” and they tend to the multiplicitous dimensions of our reality. Drawing from historical lineages of radical imagination and resistance, the enunciation of decolonial aesthetics are not relegated to speech. Rather the term enunciated is a provocation to recognize, tend to, and struggle with subjects, the people and lived realities who aim to create a world otherwise via decolonial aesthetics. This means the enunciation of decolonial aesthetics have depth–they traverse traditional meaning and sensemaking apparatuses and sites, and call for an intimate attention and more radical imagination at what can be possible, elucidating potential avenues, all of which can and needs to happen now. Indeed, our times are defined by the choice: extinction or decolonization (The Red Nation 2021). An enunciation of decolonial aesthetics are a practice aimed at the recovery of the co-existence of plurality of aesthetics, namely, the pluriverse. As enunciations of decolonial aesthetics are not new but the very practice of resistance and liberation, this paper serves as a place to imagine what comes after decolonial aesthetics, what may be possible in and through the pluriverse. 

What we must understand is that decolonization is about and for everyone. However, decolonization and decoloniality are options as they refute dogmatism. Leanne B. Simpson contends that we cannot “think, write or imagine our way to a decolonized future. Answers on how to re-build and resurge are therefore derived from a web of consensual relationships that is infused with movement (kinetic) through lived experience and embodiment (Simpson 2014: 16).” Catherine Walsh echoes this sentiment explaining that decoloniality is not a new anthropological mode, decoloniality is not about Indigenous peoples, this is not to put Indigenous people as the new center, rather decolonization requires all of us to rethink our very ways and being in the world (Mignolo & Walsh 2020). Decoloniality in this way is not a thinking about, it is a thinking with and from, through struggle and coalition, which requires that we fundamentally challenge ourselves by learning, unlearning and learning again, to create new sense that affirms the livelihoods of everyone and the earth. 

Let’s return to the Indigenous youth activists mentioned at the beginning of the paper. I focus particularly on thinking with the youth because they exemplify the convergences between the BRT and decolonial theory through the expression and importance of enunciations of decolonial aesthetics. I want to argue that the whos the youth represent are multiplicitous and invoke the depth and complexity of decolonial aesthetics. The very term “youth” is indicative of possibility, of the time to be had and that has yet to come. Yet the youth on the frontlines amplify and make visible precisely the opposite. There are no assumptions to be had nor any corners of complicity. Their time to live has been threatened and wounded by logics of disposability. The youth make present almost immediately, in ways adults don’t necessarily command, the webs of relation and lineages that allowed them to stand that very ground in the first place. From the mothers/trans who bore them and the parents and kin who raised them, to the myriad ancestors who have lost their lives in this very same fight for the right to the land, to the right to live, fully, safely, healthy long lives. In this way, the youth bring to the fore the Indigenous tenet of “seven generations,” which is a principle that requires decisions, outlooks, and dispositions to be influenced and motivated by how these very actions would affect seven generations into the future while reflecting seven generations back. While this has been assimilated by various neoliberal agendas, with the pipeline, such a principle would reveal the eradication of Indigenous people and these very youth. The youth employ a radical imagination about what can be.

 Similar to PIC abolitionists, the Indigenous youth are not deterred by what systems of oppression have demarcated as the possible, and know that different ways of managing resources, creating accountability and dealing with instances of violence and harm exist. In fact, much of the LandBack campaign requires abolishing systems and institutions so as to effectively reestablish rightful stewardship and such an initiative depends upon grassroots coalition. The interconnectedness of abolition and LandBack evoke and highlight the possibilities and politics of the world otherwise, the pluriverse. The pluriverse where many lives, rhythms, styles, loves can co-exist in solidarity and coalition. This is not ideal but is necessary for all of our survival. The youth’s radical imagination is conveyed through the different tools of resistance protesting Line 3–the die in, the black snake drawn from Lakota prophecy, the petitions, the lockdown. All of which is rooted in the nondual commitment to political education. Political education to skill up and sharing political education and skills with others, which are in a sense inextricable. While the youth aren’t necessarily saying something new, they are saying it in their own cadences precisely in light of and despite the neo-iterations of settler colonial rule. Their enunciation is imperative, the resonances reverberate throughout dimensions of space and time. What is at stake is past, present, and future, a triple homogeneity of the now. How will we respond?


 This paper has attempted to develop one rendition of coalitional insurgency by tending to the multiplicitous rhythms, cadences, and aesthetics of both the Black Radical Tradition and decolonial theory. I intend, via this reckoning, to inspire blueprints for the pluriverse, and for many more experiments to make themselves visible through their enunciated decolonial aesthetics, and show the world what radical decolonial love, healing, and transformation feels, sounds, and looks like. No more mystifications. LandBack. Abolition now.

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