Dreadlocked Logics of Impossibility : Janine Jones

Janine Jones-Katie Hutchinson / ukube…, ngabe…  kobe/kaba  ukube…, ngabe, etc. ([trans. from IsiZulu] if…, then…thus if…, then, etc.)

Dreadlocked Logics of Impossibility : Janine Jones


“I do not believe that genocide and slavery can be contained.”1  Due to ways in which Indigenous and Black peoples’ subjugation has been co-produced through land dispossession, logics of elimination, and the abjection of Black people through Black disvalue, Indigenous genocide and Black enslavement cannot be contained.2  Thinking about this claim led me to wonder why it holds and what some of the repercussions or consequences of its truth might be. In this paper, I argue that because of this non-containment, the intercession of Western hegemonic power, laws, or structures with respect to one group could spell the elimination of both. I refer to this type of situation as a “dreadlocked logic of impossibility.” I analogize the material reality of a knotty dreadlock, e.g., a Peter Tosh dreadlock, to elucidate the problem of possible dual elimination in the context of intercessional intervention and non-containment. Dreadlocked logics of impossibility and its manservant-handmaiden, intercession, are key concepts in the articulation of my view.

Loss of sovereignty, land dispossession, and genocide have sometimes been used in the literature to describe and theorize Indigenous peoples’ grammar of suffering, while accumulation, fungibility, and rock-bottom abjection have been used to describe and theorize Black peoples’ grammar of suffering. On the face of it, these conceptions point to difference and distinction between Black and Indigenous people. Below, I propose that within these conceptions reside Black-Indigenous commonalities. I explore the material-physical reality of a knotty dreadlock to elucidate both the threat and the promise of non-containment. Through the concepts of dreadlocked logics of impossibility and intercession, this paper names and elucidates a key feature of Western civilization’s capacity to attempt to impede unity and solidarity, and yet “kill two birds with one stone.” Commonalities discerned in Black-Indigenous non-containment suggest the possibility for “birds of distinct feather” to flock together.3

This account begins with an encounter between the Hegemon and non-Western peoples, a confrontation which ushered in a modernity that saw the subjugation of the latter at the hand of the former. I use the term “the Hegemon” to denote a constellation of Western civilizational forces orbiting a hierarchy of values that

created the distinction between facts and fictions, fictions and truths, fiction and reality as if these pairs were two independent entities and not pairs that sustain Western cosmology (narratives of the creation of the world and of the species that tells the story of the creation of the world and of the species) and epistemology (basic assumptions and legitimization of knowing and knowledge within the cosmology of a species that imagine itself as universal).4

The Hegemon is a master artist who creates dynamic controlling images of subjugated peoples that dominate environments through perceivable repeated inferior segregated built spaces and symbolic content that colonize not just minds but whole beings, governing what and how they become into who they are and their sense of themselves.5  Just as significant, the Hegemon possesses the technological prowess to conquer through force and he does. Through its epistemic and technological positioning, the Hegemon is involved in an ongoing project, which sets the terms for who has land and who does not have land; who labors and who leisures and thrives, who lives and who dies; whose life is worth living and who should die. I use “the Hegemon” to signal the continued existence of Western hegemonic oppressive, civilizational forces over the long durée, regardless of the Hegemon’s geo-political center (e.g., French, English, American, a combination, etc.) at a particular moment in time.

Indigenous and Black people have been subject to different regimes of oppression. Their oppressions have been co-produced through land dispossession, logics of elimination, and Black disvalue, amongst others. Theorists sometimes conceptualize Indigenous and Black peoples’ oppressions in terms of grammars of suffering. Here, I understand “grammar of suffering” as the glue (the syntax) that holds a people’s suffering together, making it coherent to themselves and giving it a form potentially perceivable (which is not to say comprehensible) by those exterior to that group’s positioning. I make a provisional distinction between primary and secondary modes of grammars of suffering, such that if loss of sovereignty, land dispossession, and genocide are Indigenous people’s grammars of suffering,6  then on my view these are their primary modes of suffering. Accumulation and fungibility would be their secondary modes of suffering.7  Similarly, if fungibility, accumulation, and rock-bottom abjection describe Black peoples’ primary modes of suffering,8  then Black peoples’ secondary modes of suffering would be loss of sovereignty and land dispossession. Losing sight of the significance of each group’s secondary modes of suffering, which may be enfolded within their primary modes, means losing sight of a crucial site of inter-related vulnerability-holding potential for solidarity between Indigenous and Black people. Perception of secondary modes of suffering may help Indigenous and Black people to become or remain aware of fault lines when stepping on each other’s secondary modes of suffering. For in the knot of the dread, those forms of suffering are our own.

Some subjugated positionings may fall outside of the Hegemon’s hierarchical order altogether. This is the view of Afropessimists, but it is also the view of Hegel, who famously cast Black people outside of history. It is also the view that I hold: Those who are positioned outside of the Hegemon’s hierarchy are not subordinates, properly speaking. They are not subalterns. They are subjugated outsiders: interlopers. Subordinates, by contrast, fall within the Hegemon’s civilizational vertical structure, in inferior positions. Each position—subordinate and outsider—is situated differently with respect to the superior apex position of the Hegemon, which subjugates them both. These positionings make a difference. For if the Hegemon’s politics are to be compatible with the requirements of order, and a condition of its order is that Black people are outside of it, then the very idea of Black people as an order within the Hegemon’s order would threaten it with destruction.

Interestingly, words associated with subordinate include “accessary,” “partner,” and “associate.” Words associated with “interloper” include “outsider,” “noncitizen,” “stranger,” “guest,” “intruder,” “invader.” This division of associations would jibe with Wilderson’s understanding of an unstable relation of Indigenous people to what I am calling the Hegemon and Wilderson’s understanding of the non relation between Black people and the Hegemon. Those terms do not, however, jibe with the ways in which Indigenous people experience sovereignty through the Hegemon’s sovereignty. Black and Indigenous peoples’ different relations of subjugation to the Hegemon can be a cause of conflict between them. I believe, however, that the degree of conflict between subordinate positions and outsider positions depends on the context and what the groups in those positions are able to make of context and forge within it.

Sometimes when realities (or perceptions of realities) have been wrapped around each other and locked up together we no longer discern the strands that have gone into the wrap, let alone the strands that make up a strand. In this paper, I strive to reveal some of the strands that have gone into the knotting together of primary and secondary modes of grammars of suffering of Indigenous and Black people, in the context of the United States. The strands I am concerned with include land dispossession, sovereignty, Black disvalue, logics of elimination, fungibility, and Indigenous understandings of self-identity. Continual wrapping and knotting of these strands are part of the ongoing process of re-creating Indigenous and Black peoples’ oppressions in ways that contain the capacity for impeding unity and solidarity.

Dreadlocked Logics of Impossibility

Dreadlocked logics of impossibility present oppressed groups with two (or more) undesirable alternatives—undesirable because any of them undermine or challenge the survival or well-being of the group: Do or die or don’t do and die. Do and die together or don’t do, and still die together. The force of the impossibility is conceptual and physical, but may be spiritual, in some cases. Consider the fictive world in Octavia Butler’s novel Fledgling.9  The world we live in is, in many respects, fictive-real like the world of Fledgling in some key ways. Binaries are naturalized in our world and in Fledgling. The naturalizing process, a type of socializing process, transforms binaries into something that can be conceived as real, i.e., as given, for example, in the way that berries are, or numbers, if one is a Platonist about mathematics. The reality of binaries is perceived sensuously via the reality of the members who instantiate them through exemplifying their associated socially constructed criteria. Thus, the perception of the physical reality of instantiating members and the conceived givenness of the binary binds conceiving the abstract category and perceiving its members into an integrated type of apprehension with the capacity to captivate (and capture) people through various aspects of their being, including affectively, conceptually, perceptually, muscularly. All aspects can be captured simultaneously.10  Thus, when a binary is thusly socialized it can permeate a social environment, thereby coming to constitute part of institutionalized and perceptual practices used to order and direct behavior, and determine the ontology of events and structures, and their character.

In the world of Fledgling, that which falls in-between a binary cannot be an object of knowledge because it is thought, especially by those at the head of a hierarchical order, that such “things” do not exist. This is the dominant view in our world. Evidence for being one kind of thing as opposed to another may be thought to be given, as it is in our world by physical evidence. Hence, if such evidence is not forthcoming then game up: there’s nothing to know or perhaps even to understand.

The reader may have to grapple with the idea that Shori, the protagonist in Fledgling, is in-between the categories of Ina and Human, and that she is Ina. This might be incoherent to some readers because our norms regarding binaries are very much like those in Fledgling. Values on either side of a binary—Ina or Human—are objects of knowledge. Shori has to prove that she is Ina to the Ina and to humans. That which falls in-between is not real and, hence, cannot be known. That she is in-between (and in at least one of these categories if not both) is therefore illegitimate, illegible:  literally unthinkable. (However, one drop of “Black blood” is all it takes to know that Shori—who might turn out to be nothing—is Black).11

Allegedly all Ina feel great grief when their symbionts die (a symbiont is a human who lives in a symbiotic relationship with an Ina after being injected with its venom). One of Shori’s symbionts died, and a question arises as to how much grief she felt. During a trial over her identity, Shori was tasked with passing the grief test. If she could pass the test this would mean that like all Ina, she should be so mentally incapacitated that she would be unable to be interrogated at all! If she did not pass the test, then this would be evidence against her. Hence, in order to tell the truth, Shori must deceive! She must represent herself ‘falsely’ in order to provide an appearance of truth. But this strategy—being deceptive—is diametrically opposed to what Ina and human beings assert as their civilizational values. Thus, if Shori tries to appear to be more Ina than the Ina in her grief, she would not be believed to be Ina: what real Ina would do that? But being deceptive, she would also be untrustworthy. If she does not try to be deceptive, she would not be believed to be Ina, because her grief would not be evident. Whichever position Shori adopts, she is deceptive about being Ina and she would not be believed. She is stuck in a dreadlocked logic of impossibility, which is conceptually constructed from the concepts of what it means to be Ina (and to be human)universalizing concepts regarding what all Ina (and humans) must be like—and concepts about the nature of the kind of physical evidence which must be forthcoming for knowledge. Getting out of this dready knot is physically and conceptually impossible without something in the world changing conceptually or physically, or both. Something some people call spirit might be necessary to effect any kind of change.

I use the symbolic power of dreadlocks rather than that of interwoven threads. Dreadlocks, like interwoven threads, can invoke the idea of different strands, representing different groups’ oppression being knotted together. But dreadlocks can allude to something happening on a single scalp, on a single head. The head can be understood as the land on which the dreadlocked, oppressive, and life-giving realities are rooted. The land of Indigenous people, the land belonging to them—some of which was cleared and rendered valuable for capital by enslaved Black people—is required by both groups of embodied beings to live, to survive, to thrive, and for dying.

Further, dreadlocks grow on the scalp, which can be blocked off into sections. In this way, the scalp can represent (contested) areas, plots, territories, or enclosures on the head, which is the land. Subdividing a scalp into patches or plots can provide the image of a scalp that ceases to be the scalp, thereby obscuring the enduring presence of the head (tshe land).

Of great importance, knotty dreads, and their material-physical reality, e.g., the dreadlocks of Peter Tosh, are not constituted by a soft, loose weave which might, with a little manipulation (and perhaps some conditioner) be unwoven and combed out. The only means of dissolution for a knotty dread is excision. A knotty dread cannot be unraveled.12 Therefore, speaking of knotty dreads rather than interwoven yarn or threads can bring more readily to mind the idea of the physical impossibility of undoing something (i.e., its necessary non-containment) and the possibility of excision as a (non)resolution.

Knotty dreads, it should be noted, can grow in different ways: a single strand might be twisted around itself. (The oppression driving intra-group struggles—which is not the focus of this paper—might be represented by a single strand dread.) A dreadlock might be constituted through a double-strand twist, or through the dreading of double with a single strand, or through various other combinations of strands of hair growing in close proximity on the same scalp, on the same head (i.e., on the same territory on the same land).

Now let’s suppose that we begin with two strands of Peter Tosh’s hair wrapped around each other and dreading or locking together. The two strands can be used to represent two groups, whose oppressions are wrapped around and dreaded into each other. The scalp, unless completely blighted (for example, through chemical devastation or through debilitating traction, both of which are great destroyers of many Black women’s hair, scalps, and heads—the result of life in the Hegemon’s aesthetic outfield) will offer up new growth. The new growth might be worked by someone’s fingers into a dread that is already growing. Or it might be left to grow its own way, some of it growing into the dread in question, some of it forming a new knotty dread, which might knot and dread with other new growth, outside of the workings of fingers that could have a masterful (i.e., intercessional) hand in bringing it together into the old dread. In fact, this is the way that some dreadlocks grow in the first place. I conjecture this is the way Tosh’s hair grew: i.e., that plots never carved up his scalp.13

Finally, I invoke the concept of a knotty dread because knotty dreads have no edges; they cannot be contained. Yet, each, through its historical location and the timing of its growth on the scalp, remains distinct, no matter how knotted and perceptually indistinct they become through non-containment. Interwoven threads of yarn may not have edges either. But they do not grow into each other. Knotty dreads allow us to hold in mind, simultaneously, the impossibility of non-containment and the possibility of meeting within it.


Western hegemonic intercession has a history. It can be traced back to how mediation worked in Western theological-political thought. In L’invention du sujet moderne, Alain de Libera discusses mediation in Western theological-political thought.14 I convert or translate mediation into the problem of intercession, within the context of an anthropological-philosophical-political situation in which the Hegemon transforms some groupings of people into subordinates and others into Civilizational-outsiders. Libera frames mediation within the discussion of a problem that is well understood by those who seek freedom from hegemonic power. Namely, the rejection of mediation. Here I translate Libera freely:

Two significant ideas enter into confrontation and parasitize the Middle Ages, or rather the one parasitizes the other: conversion parasitizes hierarchy. What does this mean? Namely, that Augustine introduced . . . a virus in the hierarchy, which turned it completely upside down with respect to medieval thought. The link between the political and the psychological can be grasped by considering their logical connection. A hierarchical vision is first of all logical: it is a vision where there is a superior and an inferior, and in which no inferior—except for one—is in direct relation with the superior of all superiors. In order to access the superior of superiors, non-exceptional inferiors must go through an intermediary, directly superior to it. (ISM 22)

Libera argues that at a moment in European history, this structure of hierarchy is shaken by “the Augustinian conversion” (ibid.), marked by a struggle for supremacy in the university amongst theologians, philosophers (at the time, those who taught the “arts of language,” grammar, and logic (rhetoric having long been relegated to the position of poor cousin) and natural scientists. In the thirteenth century a controversy erupted concerning what the supreme ethical value was—magnanimity, as proposed by the philosophers, following in the footsteps of Aristotle, or humility, the Christian value par excellence?15 Who would decide this seemingly irresolvable question?

A non-authoritarian alternative was offered by the German, Dominican theologian, Meister Eckhart. As a philosopher and a theologian, Eckhart redefined “humility” in a new way by arguing that real humility consisted in the rejection of all intermediaries. Through an attitude bespeaking a sort of philosophical and theological contempt of the world, one elevates oneself above the world, above all creatures, in order to be subordinated to God alone. Thus, one enters into direct, immediate relation to God. The notion of “conversion” comes from the idea of turning directly toward God (ISM 22–23). The law of conversion is the law of immediacy. Intermediaries—e.g., the church, ecclesiastical structures, the sacraments—are thrust aside (ibid.).

Neither the Church nor religion died in this revolutionary battle. However, a hierarchy was overturned. After conversion had become a fait accompli, and the Church’s mediation became, at most, facultative, real mediation was no longer absolute. Ultimately, Libera elucidates the hierarchical structure that was overturned in terms of the European Medieval imaginary of the hierarchy of angels, composed of triads of angels, each of them constituted by three types of angels. According to Libera, hierarchy in the strict sense does not refer only to the entire angelic order but, rather, to the structure of each order. In other words, each order of the overall Hierarchy is a hierarchy. The overall Hierarchy is composed of a top or superior order, a middle order, and a bottom order. Each order manifests the three dimensions of the divine supreme, thearchic activity, which reigns at the summit and receives thearchic illumination directly. This illumination appears with less force in the middle order, and even less in the last order, because it is not directly received, being further away from the source. Further, its reception is mediated by the mediating group in the hierarchy. This light becomes ever more obscure the closer it descends to human beings. The last order of angels relays the light to human hierarchies. But the virus introduced by Augustine meant that man could receive the Word, the light, of God directly, rather than via the mediation of a hierarchy of angels. What this meant, according to Libera, is that humans were elevated above the angels (ISM 33–34). While the position of angels in the hierarchy is fixed, human beings had the capacity to receive the gift of God through transcending all receptivity defined by a position in the heavenly Hierarchy. Thus, humans acquired an over-capacity relative to the angels, because they were, in a certain way, without a place. According to Eckhart, this situation of “free vacuity,” empty freedom, free emptiness, was atopic: it was synonymous with annihilation and nothingness. Thus, through their capacity for annihilation, for nothingness, humans can, in a certain way, bring about nothingness and thereby surmount the angels. Eclipsing the angels, humans overcome all mediation, and all created mediation. Having thus established their cause on nothing, their return to God and in God is made immediately (without mediation), in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye (ISM 34).

I propose the following two ideas for consideration, which correspond to the strategies of Man 1 and Man 2, presented in Sylvia Wynter’s “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Toward the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation—An Argument.”16  Contrary to Eckhart’s view, Man 1’s situation of empty freedom (of free emptiness) is mediated. The vehicle of mediation is the emptiness provided by Indigenous land and the non-being of Black people. Let us place this idea in conversation with Pico della Mirandola‘s treatise on The Dignity of Man:

Now the highest Father, God the master-builder . . . took up man . . . and placing him at the midpoint of the world . . . spoke to him as follows: “We have given to thee, Adam, no fixed seat, no form of thy very own, no gift peculiarly thine, that thou mayest feel as thine own, have as thine own, possess as thine own the seat, the form, the gifts which thou thyself shalt desire. A limited nature in other creatures is confined within the laws written down by Us. In conformity with thy free judgment, in whose hands I have placed thee, thou art confined by no bounds; and thou wilt fix limits of nature for thyself. . . . Neither heavenly nor earthly, neither mortal nor immortal have We made thee.17

Man 1’s discovery of Indigenous land as terra nullius creates the nothingness that makes Him free to name reality into and out existence with legitimacy. “I found it so [I am free to do with it] as I will.”18 As Audra Simpson observes in her discussion of Locke’s On Property, “the wild Indian” of then-“America,” “knew no enclosure”19   and therefore could not perceive the property which, in fact, was not there, then. My point here is that Locke, an excellent representative of the Hegemon relating to the U.S. context, could not perceive the Indigenous commons, from which it followed, by hegemonic reasoning, that it was not there. There was nothing there. From this nothingness Man was free—ethically, legally, physically—to take that nothingness and make something out of it. Something that he could possess. Thus, if Robert Nichols is correct that the settler-state (a socio-political-economic arrangement of the Hegemon) “transforms nonproprietary relations into proprietary ones while, at the same time, systematically transferring control and title of this (newly formed) property,”20 I would add that it does that through the required medium of nothingness, which the Hegemon’s perception creates through perceiving nothing where there was something.

Through His discovery that African and African-descended people (Blackened through the discovery) are flux and, therefore, necessarily lack the permanence of being and hence cannot be perceived as being, Man was free—ethically, legally, physically—to create something out of that nothingness—namely, interchangeable laboring fungibles—and make the enslavement of this new transformed material a matter of (and a condition for) Western Civilization’s freedom: property and the possession of property.

When God died—around the time that Nietzsche proclaimed him dead—Man 1 also died. Man 2 was resurrected in His place. But even with seeking access to God no longer the order of the day, Man 2 continued to enjoy the capacity for being free to be. Through the inheritance of Man 1, originally gifted by God, his place remained unfixed. God was dead and Man was no longer the center of the universe, but He continued to create His nothingness through reproducing Black non-being through accumulations of laboring fungibility and new (accumulating) discoveries of Indigenous terra nullius21: inter-related, ongoing projects. Creating His place from, allegedly, nowhere, He could have a view from nowhere from which, in perfect neutrality—including moral and epistemic (i.e. objectivity)—, His freedom to name and fix things, i.e. create reality, and obliterate realities through misnaming, continued.22 Black non-being and diverse Indigenous terra nullius, the world over, continue to provide Man’s nothing(ness), which He uses to mediate His freedom. Thus, during modernity, mediation (in one sense) becomes the flip side of intercession.23 Mediation occurs when the nothing(ness) of Indigenous and Black people (through their land or through their very being) is created by the Hegemon and leveraged for the creation of various forms of freedoms for Himself, which he then possesses. The initial freedom to so create the world was granted by Man 1’s God. Subsequently, Man 2 uses his inherited freedom in an ongoing project of something-to-nothing-to-possession-of-something transformations. Indigenous and Black peoples’ movement often require the Hegemon’s intercession in the world formed from their dispossessions.

Western hegemonic intercession is a structure that is activated when hegemonic legitimation, valuation, permission, (mis)recognition (even grace) is required in order for Indigenous or Black people to move in certain ways—usually ways that serve their desires and interests. Generative and creative, intercession’s form holds an indeterminate number of enactments. The iconic symbol of the eighteenth-century British abolition movement—an enslaved Black person kneeling and beseeching a White man (whether the White man figures in the picture or not)—is emblematic of intercession. But genuflection can take on various forms, and so can the Hegemon to whom genuflection is given. Intercession can take the form of Frederick Douglass, making the argument to the Anti-Slavery Society in 1869 that “the negro is more like the White man than the Indian, in his tastes and tendencies, and disposition to accept civilization. The Indian . . . rejects our civilization. . . . It is not so with the negro. He loves you and remains with you, under all circumstances, in slavery and in freedom.”24

An interceding hegemonic White liberal can look like Joe Biden expressing support for Black Lives matter and for democracy during his campaign for president, while “true support would have meant ending U.S. meddling in Haiti’s affairs.”25 As The Black Alliance argues, the assassination of president Jovenel Moïse “relieves the Biden-Harris administration of the embarrassment of having to reconcile the contradiction between pretending to respect Black lives and democracy and supporting a dictator who had reigned after his term had ended on February 7”26 thereby reinforcing a structural enabling condition for the appearance of hundreds of Black people at the U.S. embassy seeking out (pleading for) the Biden administration’s intercession.

Now, Moïse is dead and the United Nations has decided who will be the new president of Haiti. We see the racist irony. The people of Haiti have not been allowed to weigh in. The white rulers have made their decision.27  

Not only does the Biden administration’s moves illustrate how intercession can work, it shows how intercession can play out when the interceder does not wear the face of someone thought of (from a liberal perspective) as a conqueror but, rather, as someone in an authoritative position simply mediating and settling affairs: a settler. The importance of the name “settler” is discussed below.

Intercession can also take the form of responding to the resistance of a Native woman, as when a White American border guard—a woman—refused Audra Simpson’s naming and understanding of her own identity. The border guard let Simpson pass from Canada into New York only after insisting that Simpson hear her willful misrecognition of Simpson as an American. During a long interrogation, Simpson told the woman “I was born down there; I don’t need a green card; I am not an immigrant; I am not an immigrant; I am part of a First Nation, and this card proves it!” The woman’s attitude changed. She told Simpson that she was an American. Simpson said that she was not, that she was Mohawk. The woman continued to yell after Simpson as she walked away: “You are an American!” Simpson continued to deny the name. Simpson spoke on her own terms. But the border guard’s letting her pass—that is, the guard’s intercession—was necessary, in that moment, in order for Simpson to go through.

Intercession can take the form of internalized Western hegemonic civilizational morals and aesthetics, as when a Cherokee delegation rejected removal on the basis that it would force them to “wage war with the uncultivated Indians’ west of the Mississippi” (IBH 17).

As a young man, Peter Pitchlynn, a future chief of the Choctaw Nation, visited Indian Territory in 1828 on a scouting mission. Of meeting these Plains Indians, he wrote in his journal, “You never saw such a people in your life. Their manners and action are wild in the extreme. They are in a perfect state of nature and would be a curiosity to any civilized man.” (Ibid.)

Here we see how the Hegemon—nowhere in (external) sight—can be the enemy within, who may sometimes be spotted through the kind of double-consciousness theorized by Du Bois. Douglass, above, expresses a similar form of internalized intercession. Both Douglass and Pitchlynn are acting within the violence of the logic of imitation.28  

A master intercessional move by the Hegemon involves wrapping strands of oppression of Indigenous people and Black people around each other, but also included in the wrap are strands of what they hold dear: being alive, living on their own terms, defining their own identities, living with the land. To get a sense of how a wrap might be fashioned, let’s turn our attention to the making of a strand of oppression on property that was once Indigenous land.

Strands of a Dread—Property on top of Property

A certain general situation of many formerly enslaved Black people within the United States in the south can be understood through the words of Oluale Kossola (renamed Cudjo Lewis), who, in 1860, traveled with 110 other enslaved Africans from the west coast of Africa into Alabama’s Mobile Bay on the last known American slaver, the Clotilda, discovered by reporter Ben Raines in 2018 in the Tensaw Delta.

In his narrative, recorded by Zora Neale Hurston, Cudjo recounted that the Yankees said “Y’all can’t stay dere no mo. You free, you doan b’long to nobody no mo.” “Where we goin’?” Cudjo asked the soldiers. The soldiers did not know. “Dey told us to go where we feel lak goin’, we ain’ no mo’ slave,” Cudjo narrates. He then went to his former master and said:

“Cap’n Tim, I grieve for my home.”
[The master replied] ‘But you got a good home, Cudjo.’


“Cap’n Tim, how big is de Mobile?”
“I doan know, Cudjo, I’ve never been to de four corners.”
“Well, if you give Cudjo all de Mobile, dat railroad, and all de banks, Cudjo doan want it ‘cause it ain’ home. Cap’n Tim, you brought us from our country where we had lan’. You made us slave. Now dey make us free but we ain’ got no country and we ain’ got no lan’! Why doan you give us piece dis land so we kin buildee ourself a home?”
Cap’n jump on his feet and say, “Fool do you think I goin’ give you property on top of property? I tookee good keer my slaves in slavery and derefo’ I doan owe dem nothin. [sic] You doan belong to me now, why must I give you my land?” (Ibid.)

For a Black formerly enslaved person, not belonging to anyone (not being owned) means not belonging anywhere. Not belonging anywhere means that you cannot stay or reside anywhere. It also means that you cannot go anywhere. But if you cannot go anywhere, then you cannot move, freely or otherwise. Emancipated, and with bodies that exist in and through time and “take up” space, Black people are enjoined to live in freefall. Freefalling Black people are not free to land, anywhere. (Might a great turtle offer its back as a place for Black people to land and rest, while other nonhuman animals seek mud to spread over the turtle‘s back to grow new land that Black people could call home? Nonhuman animals‘ ancestors had done such a thing for Skywoman, who fell from the skies. Muskrat died retrieving mud lying beneath the water. Skywoman spread the mud over the turtle‘s back, and the inter-relationality of their communal concerted efforts and heartfelt sacrifices grew land, which created a home where many came to live. They called their home Turtle Island).30 If Black people cannot ever land then what Hegemonic deals might they be offered to get over, which in their very design would take Black and Indigenous people under?

This situation of land dispossession, and the grammars of suffering linked to it, represent a strand of oppression primed for dreadlocking, for a people perpetually in the grip of a Lapsarian-like fall—who cannot land—could not be conceived, from the perspective of the Hegemon’s imaginary, as possessing so much as an attenuated sovereignty. Black people on this view could have never been land dispossessed. Perpetually falling, they could only be unfree. It is only through capture that they can be brought into Order: to heel. But here is something to consider. If the Hegemon understands Black people to be perpetually freefalling, then like the Hegemon, they have no fixed place. This perceived fictive reality might be felt as a threat to the Hegemon from a perspective that understands the act of creating as rooted in lacking a fixed place.

Strands of a Dread: This Land, Our Land—Who We Are—Is What We Say It Is

In “Territory as Analytic: The Dispossession of Lenapehoking and the Subprime Crisis,” Joanne Barker analyzes the erasure of Indigenous people in the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011.31  Part of her analysis focuses on John D. Márquez’s argument in “The Black Mohicans: Representations of Everyday Violence in Postracial Urban America.”32 On Barker’s reading, Marquez relies on a methodology that constructs the good versus the bad savage in James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans, to argue that “‘ghetto violence’ in Chicago has been deployed to justify militarized responses to Black and Latino/a gangs, as well as the decision of the Obama administration not to help the ‘greedy and illiterate’ Black and Latino/a borrowers defaulting on their mortgages” (TA 24). Locked in struggle, only the bad savage fights White colonization. The good savage is complicit.

Barker argues that Márquez’s framing of Black decolonization “serves to normalize an ongoing history and culture of U.S. imperial-colonial violence, genocide, and dispossession of Indigenous peoples” (TA 25). Her point is not that Márquez or the American Quarterly issue “‘gets it wrong’,” and that inclusion would be a corrective. Rather, her claim is that “the normalization of Indigenous erasure from an analysis of the U.S. empire reinscribes the Imperial and racist relations and conditions through which that erasure is cast as a fait accompli” (ibid.). My concern, here, is to underscore the fungible use (also observed by Barker) of Indigenous people. This type of fungible use of Indigeneity and Indigenous people reveals their figurative and metaphoric value in White settler contexts. It should be noted that Indigenous peoples’ fungibility is here implemented through one of their primary modes of suffering. Namely, being genocided, an assumptive idea which shows up through their erasure in Marquez’s article, and the volume as a whole, according to Barker, not to mention the Occupy movement.

Wrapping and Locking Two Strands of Oppression

Barker’s article does not begin with the erasure and fungible use of Indigenous people. Before the analysis of the erasure and fungible use of Indigenous people in Marquez’s text, Barker discusses the Occupy Wall Street movement. Unwittingly she may have used the fungibility of Black people to represent the threat being made to a series of Indigenous teach-ins (TA 20).

Indigenous people called for Occupy Wall Street to change its name to Decolonize Wall Street. In fact, the organization of teach-ins was a direct response to the challenge this appeal received. At an Occupy Oakland General Assembly that addressed the possibility of a name change, the assembly passed a statement of solidarity with Indigenous peoples. However, they accused Indigenous people of trying to “‘guilt-trip’ them into some larger-than-life demand for Indigenous land reparations that went far beyond, they argued, the urgent issues of the foreclosure crisis and the militarized crack down on Occupy Oakland that they cared about” (TA 23).

Barker explains that initially the teach-ins attracted a diverse range of people. According to Barker, almost immediately Indigenous people, especially the Ohlone, stopped attending, “because of the hostile resistance we experienced against the historical links we argued existed between the foreclosure crisis and the dispossession of Ohlone people” (ibid.). Barker writes:

The most severe expression of this hostility occurred when a man who identified himself to me as a “member of the Black community” accused me of having a “hidden agenda” to move ‘Indians’ into the “family homes of Black people” that the banks had foreclosed on.
Accused of attempting to hijack the Occupy movement and Oakland efforts under some nefarious secret agenda, many Indigenous people retreated from Occupy Oakland. (Ibid.)

One member of the Black community made a claim—a claim that, arguably, is embedded in a history of land dispossession and loss of sovereignty—and that was the thing that provided the most severe expression of hostility to Indigenous people!

Barker’s way of telling the story might suggest that the comment functioned as the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.” However, the characterization of the Black community member’s statement as the most severe expression of hostility gives pause (ibid.). I do not deny Barker her experience. But experiences—including how they are felt and the meaning we give them—are shaped and constituted by societal and cultural meanings antecedent to the experiences one has. Black voices, in this anti-Black world, are constructed and understood as more violent and angry than voices coming from racial and ethnic locations. The rock-bottom, abject outside positioning of Blackness in White supremacy’s hierarchical order marks it as the threat. Moreover, some perspectives that imagine the scene structurally, in terms of historical positionings of subordinate and outsider with respect to the Hegemon, could lead to crisis in a structure of feeling. Descendants of enslaved Black people, never having been recognized by The Sovereign as even quasi-sovereign or as having possessed land, in freefall with no land of their own, speaking freely with Indigenous people about their own land and as part of a protest movement, with White settlers (their being part of the 99% notwithstanding), that enacts the erasure of Indigenous people as part of the protest. The scenario could cause ontological, epistemic, and conceptual confusion, summed up too easily as antiblackness alone.

But the scenario could also stimulate the kind of clarity that Tuck and Yang present when they wrote “Because settler colonialism is built upon an entangled triad of settler-native-slave, the decolonial desires of White, non-White, immigrant, postcolonial, and oppressed people, can similarly entangled in resettlement, reoccupation, and reinhabitation that actually further settler colonialism.”[1] The entanglement they refer to is a knotty dread. Resettlement, reoccupation, and reinhabition can take the form of intercessional invitations. And when non-White, Black people, or Indigenous people, for that matter, accept or seek the intercessional invitation, the result works against Indigenous land and relationality, and “furthers settler colonialism” which, in turn, works against the oppressed people who took up the intercessional offering in the first place.

Adopting Intercessional Tools the Hegemon Uses to Kill Us to Kill Each Other

Indigenous Relationality

This section provides conceptual material for the imagining of a dreadlocked logic of impossibility. Imagining what is really possible is a strategy for planning for eventualities rather than finding ourselves caught out in entrapment. The form of entrapment in question concerns the coming together of an Indigenous people’s understanding of who they are in relation to their land and Black people using Hegemonic intercession in the form of U.S. law to gain access to Indigenous citizenship they see as rightfully theirs.

In “Land as Pedagogy,” Leanne Betasamosake Simpson recounts a version of the child, Binoojinh, and the discovery they make one day while walking in the bush. Binoojinh found sweet water in a tree. Simpson uses the story of Binoojiinh “as a theoretical anchor whose layered and diverse meanings are revealed over time and space within individual and collective Nishnaabeg consciousness . . .  in the same way it is used within Nishnaabed intelligence.”34

The land, Aki, is both context and process. The process of coming to know is learner led and profoundly spiritual in nature. Coming to know is the pursuit of whole-body intelligence practiced in the context of freedom, and when realized collectively, it generates generations of loving, creative, innovative, self-determining, interdependent, and self- regulating community- minded individuals. It creates communities of individuals with the capacity to uphold and move forward our political practices and systems of governance.35

Theorizing Indigenous land through Simpson’s theoretical anchor, Joanne Barker expresses the fundamental idea that “Indigenous land is not a property or a public commons; it is a mode of relationality and a related set of ethics and protocols for lived social responsibilities and governance defined within discrete Indigenous epistemologies” (TA 21).
Land dispossession is one way of dispossessing such a group of themselves. Destroying the terms of their modes of relationality, with related set of ethics and protocols for lived social responsibilities and governance—even if Indigenous people remained on “the land”—is another. Undermining Indigenous relationality might be viewed as a way of putting an enclosure around Indigenous land: a tangible, invisible one. “What happens when the understanding of the land and its relation to indigeneity encounters Hegemonic intercession?” Below I consider one type of possibility.

An African American, Johnnie Mae Austin and her grandson, Amario Solomon-Simmons, sued the Muscogee Creek Nation to fully restore their citizenship as Black Creeks, a citizenship they claim through their great-great-great grandfather Cow Tom. Cow Tom may have been a Black enslaved person, although some dispute this. In any case, like other Black enslaved people owned by Indigenous people he traveled the Trail of Tears from Florida to Oklahoma. Cow Tom, “a jet Black man of medium build” became extremely successful. His success was “measured by his seemingly ‘unlimited supply of cattle.’”36 Black people who began as slaves of the Creeks gained their freedom through the Treaty of 1866 with the United States and were then made citizens under the Constitution of 1867. “The US government compelled Native Americans to ‘sign treaties allowing their former negro slaves to share in their landed inheritance’, meaning Black former slaves were given plots of land in the Creek community.”37

In the late 1970s, in Oklahoma, Austin regularly received mail from the Creek Nation, including news, ballots for voting on tribal matters, as wells as checks for shares of the revenue and cattle dealings. It appeared that the Creek considered Austin and his family as Creek citizens through their ancestor Tom Cow. The mail stopped coming in 1979. “This was the result of a 1976 federal lawsuit, during which the Creeks had manage[d] to shake off some of the paternalistic reach of the US Government. Creeks then voted to reconstitute citizenship parameters, kicking out many Black people who had enjoyed citizenship since 1866.”38  Citizenship became limited to those who could locate ancestors registered on the 1906 Dawes Rolls. If perceived as being of African descent, Black people were included on the freedman roll, regardless of potential Indian ancestry. Austin’ case rests on the 1866 treaty between the U.S. government and the Creek nation, which states that persons lawfully residing in said Creek country or even those who temporarily left, as well as their descendants, “may return within one year from the ratification of this treaty,” as can “their descendants and such others of the same race as may be permitted by the laws of the said nation to settle within the limits of the jurisdiction of the Creek [N]ation [sic] as citizens.39

Solomon-Simmons, the attorney, believes that the 1979 decision is “racist,” “erroneous,” and “100 percent anti-Black discrimination.”40 The Creek tribe’s decision stripped Black citizens of “health care, education, housing, scholarships, cash assistance and more.”41 Solomon-Simmons observed that the Creek Nation is “not a race but a political entity. And that, as such, they’ve got obligations.42 Solomon-Simmons’s main claim is that the treaty is “still good law and hasn’t been abrogated.”43 Solomon-Simmons anticipated that the Creek would argue that they “have a right to determine who are citizens.”44  While agreeing with this claim he added: “I believe that it is your right to determine citizenship like any other sovereign nation—but just like any other sovereign nation, not a race, you [the Creeks] signed a treaty.” 45  

Forcing Indigenous nations to make treaties and then breaking them has been an ongoing essential part of U.S. federal and state policy, as well as commercial business. Barker recounts how the Lenape—the Nation “Indigenous to the territory they called Lenapehoking (Lenape country), which included parts of what are now the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware” (TA 26) were defrauded of their land. She further observes that “understanding the [subprime] crisis in relation to the dispossession of Indigenous territories de-exceptionalizes the crisis as a crisis: predatory lending and foreclosures are a method of dispossession” (TA 33–34). Understanding that the United States government has failed to uphold treatises it has made with Indigenous people over land de-exceptionalizes the ways in which the U.S. government “loses sight” of the obligations it does not hold itself to and should undermine the credibility of Solomon-Simmons’ statement. As for his belief that it is the right of Creek Nation “to determine citizenship like any other sovereign nation . . . just like any other sovereign nation, not a race” he had rather be making this argument to the United States court system, including the Supreme Court, rather than to the Creek or any other Indigenous nation.

Mark Rifkin argues that Native sovereignty his been severely curtailed through the U.S. court system, which conceives of Indigenous people and nations through an ambiguous racialized concept of Indianness, whose continuity over time (intergenerationally) and across peoples, is imagined as occurring through heteronormative sexual reproduction.46 This family conception of Indigenous people and nations, which Rifkin calls enfamilymennt, undercuts the idea of Indigenous nations as genuine polities, like any other sovereign nation. Unlike any other sovereign nation, Indigenous nations are treated as a race of people who biologically transmit Indianness. But even when tribal courts render their own decisions, as Rifkin writes: “the line of thought privileging inherent sovereignty seems at odds with the opinion’s running reiteration of Congress’s plenary power over Indian affairs.”47 “Dating from U.S. v. Kagama (1886), this doctrine holds that essentially Congress can do whatever it will with respect to Native peoples without any of the restraints present in other aspects of U.S. law.”48

The limits of tribal sovereignty, which are decidedly not like that of any other sovereign nation, are well summed by Justice Thurgood Marshall in the decision he rendered in Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez (passed in 1939), a case that concerned Santa Clara Pueblo’s membership code. Marshall’s decision highlights the precariousness of tribal sovereignty. In one breath he spoke of “strengthening the position of individual tribal members vis-à-vis the tribe”49  and manifesting “a congressional purpose to protect tribal sovereignty from undue interference,”50 which should make the court reluctant to “interfere with a tribe’s ability to maintain itself as a culturally and politically distinct entity.”51 In another breath, he expressed the view that “this aspect of tribal sovereignty, like all others, is subject to the plenary control of Congress.”52

In the case of Mashpee Tribe v. Town of Mashpee, the Mashpee sued to recover land “that several Indians had conveyed to non-Indians in violation of a statute that barred alienation of tribal land to non-Indians without the approval of the federal government.”53   In order to get the land returned, the Mashpee had to prove to a U.S. court that they were a tribe at the time that the land had been alienated. To determine the matter, the judge used a standard from a previous case, according to which a tribe is “a body of Indians of the same or similar race, united in a community under one leadership or government, and inhabiting a particular though sometimes ill-defined territory.”54 According to the judge, the Mashpee had not been a tribe at the time of conveyance because they had intermingled with Europeans, runaway slaves, and other Indian tribes. Their tribal identity had been legally eliminated. Hence, the Mashpee plaintiffs lost the land, which they could not recover. Understanding their self-identity by “their continued relationship to the land of Mashpee; their consciousness and embrace of difference, even when it was against their interest; and their awareness and preservation of cultural traditions,” the court ruled that the Mashpee were “incapable of legal self-definition.”55

       Dreadlocked Logics of Impossibility: A Grounded Thought Experiment

Imagine the following situation. A substantial number of Black people use the intercessional mechanism of the Hegemon—the U.S. courts—to sue a particular Indigenous nation for citizenship. The nation in question is in fear of losing their tribal identity should it look, from the U.S. perspective, that their tribe was not “Indian.” Suppose the suits were successful to the point that the number of Black people would equal or outnumber the members of the tribe whom they sued, and the tribe’s fears came true: it was no longer perceived from the point of view of the U.S. legal system to have an Indian identity, a perspective (operating as a fact) that would undermine the benefits they received, which could negatively impact their claims to their land.

This scenario—a hypothetical instance of a dreadlocked logic of impossibility—is possible through the landlessness and always-contested citizenry of Black people (forever and almost everywhere perceived as interlopers) and through the power of U.S. courts to grant them Indigenous citizenship and to racialize Indigenous people according to their own racist, heteronormative schemes; to break treaties; and to engage in ongoing practices of land dispossession, with the assistance of the plenary powers of Congress. Even before the color of the land would have come to look Black to the White nation, in refusing Black citizens, perhaps out of fear for their own survival (even supposing that, historically, the Black people in question did have citizenship) the Indigenous tribe would have not only enacted forms of antiblackness. The tribe would have been coerced into acting through a racialized understanding of their own nation, thereby undermining their understanding of their own self-definition. This in itself is a form of erasure or elimination: self-erasure.

Further, if the tribe was legally disposed of its self-identity through the U.S. courts and lost its land and benefits, due to its no longer being deemed to be Indian, the Black people who would have obtained tribal citizenship, would lose out as well: the tribe would have been eliminated. Hence, the result would be a double-elimination. For as Shanya Cordis writes “the logic of hypodescent continues to be a powerful ideological force mobilized against and within Black and Indigenous communities . . . as a structuring force of US social and political consciousness, the Black-White binary, real and imagined, not only ensures Indigenous erasure from the landscape, but also those who embody the spaces between,”56 for example, a Black Indigenous person such as Cordis. But also Black non-Indigenous people.

The hypothesized scenario points to a Black-White binary that ensures the segregation of Black people through their removal from space slated to become or intended to be White space or non-Black space. Richard Rothstein argued that when Congress adopted the Fair Housing Act, sight had been lost of “the fact that housing discrimination did not become unlawful in 1968; it had been so since 1866”57  and that, therefore, the segregation of African Americans is de jure, not de facto. Be that as it may, in the case of anti-Black segregation, the expectations of the White citizenry back which laws are in effect. (See notes 27 and 32). Removal can be enacted through destruction and death as in the Wilmington massacre of 1898, or the Rosewood massacre of 1923, or by taking back urban space after forays into White flight through gentrification processes.58

As Kristie Dotson writes: “Gentrification requires destruction and replacement.”59  Consider the ongoing attempts to completely erase any trace of Tobytown (Montgomery County, MD), established in 1875 by three families of formerly enslaved Black people. The remaining 100 or so residents in the twenty-first century descended from members of the founding families. The article “Talking about Tobytown” provides a brief but clear picture of its dire situation:

Most, if not all, of its resident households are believed to have incomes near or below the federal poverty line. Life in Tobytown was never easy; even though it’s less than 20 miles from downtown Washington, D.C., the community had no running water, no sewers, and limited utilities until the county’s public housing entity demolished all the “blighted” housing, brought in water and sewer lines, and built a townhouse community of 26 subsidized rental units in 1972. Until 2016, the nearest bus stop to Tobytown was 5 1/2 miles away, in the commercial heart of Potomac, Md.

The first sentence of the next paragraph in the article begins “Here’s why Tobytown doesn’t exist.”61

In the final analysis, if the Indigenous tribe refused the Black citizens, they arguably denied themselves their own self-definition. This is a form of erasure. If a significant number of Black people won their suits and became citizens—refusal or non-refusal notwithstanding—and came to share the land, first, the U.S. courts could deny the Indigenous group their tribal identity, because it would no longer be perceived as Indian by these courts. As for Black people, the new “citizens,” they would no longer be on Indigenous land. They would be on land that had been blackened. Without even a breakable treaty to prop them up, they would stand to lose the land as soon as it was desired by White interests.

       Intercession Reconsidered

During Reconstruction, the U.S. government forced sovereign Indigenous tribes to emancipate their slaves and to adopt them. It forced Indigenous nations to give land to their former enslaved Black people—Freedpeople—the claim being that it was punishment for some groups having fought on the side of the confederacy, and allegedly as reparation to the Black people who had been their slaves.62  When thinking about this forced reparation and punishment, we should keep well in mind that Captain Tim and his ilk were not forced to hand over “property on top of property, ” or to “adopt” former property.

The material and spiritual-psychological treatment of Captain Tim by the U.S. government, after the confederacy lost the war, is neither incidental, anecdotal, nor personal. Following Mahmood Mamdani’s understanding of nation (“a political community whose boundaries are determined by its members”),63 I understand such differential treatment as the objective expression of affiliations of White people in relation to those who belonged to the White nation—in contradistinction to those who do not, including Indigenous people, Freedpeople, and African Americans.

It has been part of the Hegemon’s White supremacist politics and ideology that the land conquered by White people belongs to the civilization of White people.64 It belongs to the White nation. It would be a mistake to take actions of intercession, on the part of the United States, which assisted some Black people on occasion against the Plains Indians, as indication of the U.S. hegemonic nation having relinquished, to any degree, its understanding of to whom the nation belongs. Deciding who gets land—when, where, and how, and how the land received is to be organized—strengthens the U.S.’s levers of control over subordinate and outsider groups.65 Alaina E. Roberts claims that because the Five Tribes, Freedpeople, African Americans, and White people all used settler colonial mechanisms and appeals to the U.S. government to intervene on their behalf they were therefore all settlers (see IBH 1–11).66 I disagree. All, excepting White people, sought intercession from the nation, as non-members of the nation. As members of the nation, like inferior orders of angels, White people sought mediation from the nation. Hence, categorization as colonial settler cannot reduce to whether or not White civilizational tools were used.67   Non-members of the nation could only use the U.S. government’s intercession as a contingent, provisional tactic, their knowledge or understanding of this matter notwithstanding. White settlers could use their Whiteness (the stamp on their membership card) as part of a broader strategy open to those who belong.68 Roberts’s discussion is elaborated through the concept of choice. The scare-quotes she includes around “choice” indicate that neither this concept (nor its helper, “agency,” which Roberts deploys in her notes)69 can do the work she needs it to do. Subordinate and outsider groups could not be settlers. They do not possess the structural-positional wherewithal to be so categorized.

But categorization and name-calling go hand-in-hand in this particular would-be family affair. The one falls with the other. Tiffany L. King writes that “Under relations of conquest, Black and Indigenous people’s encounters were often mediated by the violence of an evolving humanism organized through their captivity and death. The terms of survival—or said another way, the circumstances under which you as a Black or Indigenous person lived—were often tethered to the death of the Other” (BS ix). What King describes here is one movement of the White-settler conqueror (who King names as the conquistador-settler) wrapping the strands of oppression, of a future dread, around each other, at the root (of the scalp). King maintains that this conquistador-settler “established the violent terms of contemporary social relation. Further, the conquistador-settler also mediates Black and Indigenous relations through the nation-state, press, academic discourse, and even leftist politics” (BS xi). In my terms, King is talking about intercession. She then makes the following point: “Even if over time people of color (or non-Black and non-Indigenous) can occupy the structural position of the ‘settler,’ then critical social theory needs another name for the position previously held by the White settler. If postcolonial subjects, former ‘Natives’ and racialized others, can become the settler, then the White settler has continued to occupy the structural and ontological position of the conquistador, and should be named as such” (BS xii).

King’s statement is formulated as a conditional. Let me state clearly that I do not concur that in the time of which we are speaking—or in any time in which the categories in question hold in the world—Indigenous people, Freedpeople, and African Americans occupied (or could occupy) the same structural position, or that they could become “the settler” or the “colonialsettler.” Mamdani’s discussion of the nation makes this point clear (but so does Charles Mills’s work in The Racial Contract, specifically his argument that “as a political system White supremacy can illuminatingly be theorized as based on a ‘contract’ between Whites”70). Whatever their diverse relations are to the state,71 members of these groups do not belong to the nation: the categories under which they are subsumed are not subsumed under the nation’s categories of group-belonging. Historically, their not-belonging to the nation has, in the case of the United States, been enforced by the state, at the insistence of the White nation—its White citizenry—and the institutions that exist through them and on their behalf.72

I think that King’s move to change the name “settler” to “conquistador” or “conquistador-settler” is legitimate. However, I would go in a different direction. King provides another reason for replacing the term “settler” with “conquistador.” She argues that “‘settler’ does not explicitly name its relationship to the ongoing violence of genocide that continues to be enacted on Indigenous bodies. The term ‘settler’ also entirely disavows the relationship that White settlers have to the institution of slavery, its afterlife, and ongoing practices of violence. ‘Conquistador-settler’ invokes both the violence enacted on the Indigenous and Black body and the possession of the land” (BS 212). Here, King’s reasons for replacing “settler” by “conquistador” are intimately connected to why I seek to retain “settler,” “colonial settler,” and “White colonial settler” as terms of engagement in these stories of conquest. Both terms do work. “Conquistador” and “Settler” are located in different conceptual sites. “Conquistador” travels through the terminography of “vanquish,” “defeat,” “subdue,” “reduce,” “overcome,” “overthrow,” amongst others.73 “Settler” takes us down the path of “lay,” “sediment,” “clear,” “clarify,” but also “arrange,” “decide,” “fix,” “set,” “mediate,” “moderate,” “negotiate,” “prosecute.” In other words, the of terms of intercession.

The conditions of intercession are always in play, whether Indigenous or Black people seek intercessional assistance from the Hegemon or not. Sometimes intercession may be all that a Black or Indigenous person or a group can use to hang on. The results of the hypothetical situation described above—double elimination—could occur if an Indigenous nation, remaining in harmony with its self-definition, invited Black people to join them on Indigenous land. It seems that the removal of the Hegemon and His interceding hand are required for dreads to grow their own ways (on a scalp, on a head).

But if the Hegemon were to be removed would excision of the dreads be required in order for new growth to grow its own ways? Or must the head, which carries the “legends, stories, history, and especially the historicity74 be beheaded, if embodied Indigenous, Black, and Black Indigenous beings are to stand a chance of recovery? Would epistemic decolonization require beheading? (But then would not the bodies, minus the head, still carry and enact or perform mind-traces?) Or could something happen (what and from where?) that would bring it about that the already growing dreads could come to grow in their own ways, on a scalp, on a head, just as though the scalp had never been allotted (the way Indigenous land had been before the Dawes Act, or the way Tosh’s dreads may have grown) and the dreads had never been plotted to grow in directions set forth for them (e.g., in the way of growing individuals, through individually-owned plots, for individual stakes in the market): the way my dreads grew during a year of Covid-19 confinement.

A Freedom Dream

Through sustained awareness of the physical/material possibility of double elimination via actual and possible situations of dreadlocked logics of impossibility and through sustained awareness of commonalities across modes of grammars of suffering, Indigenous and Black people are called to work with their imposed (and sometimes chosen) inter-relatedness towards being softly assembled together within knotty dreads, so that as birds of distinct feather they flock together, navigating and leveraging gaps and tensions between U.S. law, congressional powers and their illusions, not to rob them of their reality, but of their legitimacy. Such sustained awareness most likely requires what some call spirit. The spaces of tension are where new growth emerges on the scalp, which is on the head. These loose emerging roots, not yet becoming into a dread, may hold the potential for changing the perception of the impossible permanence of being that a dread may convey. Whether they do or not could depend on spirit.

But there is another shift in spirit, which must take place. Here, I refer explicitly to a shift from the spirit of property, ownership, individualism, and an exclusive possession and access to anything and everything in the world based on individual and group-affiliated superiority, imagined or not, to the spirit of gifting, where there are no gifts that keep giving, because gifts are not endless resources. Moreover, the spirit of gifting understands that gifts do not give what has not been offered up as, for example, fossil fuels deep in the earth. Following circles of reciprocity, a shift to a spirit of the land as gift, rather than land as property, asks something of us (which is not reducible to what “we” feel like giving). It implies sharing and gratitude within relations of mutual flourishing.75

It is possible that such a shift in spirit could eventually be forced through the fires and floods the land and its atmospheric environs are now providing in abundance in response to what was stolen, i.e., as a consequence of what was taken as an endless resource with disregard for the repercussions of interdependencies and finitude. It could be that wholesale mutual destruction is promised through the fires and the floods this time, rather than only disproportionate death to those whom the Hegemon has made hyper vulnerable. If gifting follows “the circle of reciprocity and flow[s] back to you again”76 then it may be possible that stripping, depleting, exhausting, draining, and dispossession follows a similar type of trajectory and flows back to its network of authors, as a matter of course.77 Such a backflow could perhaps clarify for Human Beings, subordinate humans, and those outside of the Human, that any concept of the human denotes an abstract fictive-real category, whose fictive-real members are subject to the constraints of land-air-water gifts and, as such, no Man could have ever been free. Indeed, even His unfreedom would have always been mediated by interdependencies rooted in gifts of life.

Footnote to artwork

The artwork was conceived by J. Jones, who owns the copyright. Conception included the provision of all the elements used in the piece, conveyed through prototypes Jones searched for online, and which K. Hutchinson modified so as not to plagiarize any element. The color coding, spacing, and positioning of all elements were conceived by Jones and realized through trial and error-execution by Hutchinson, using an iPad and Protease software, and revised following Jones’s instructions, until Jones saw what she needed to see. Finally, an element that was needed had gotten lost in revision. It could not be saved. Thus, Jones cut and pasted different printed versions from the revision process, collaged them until she found the shape she wanted, photographed them, and adjusted the color on her android phone, until she got the colors, shading, brightness, etc., she desired.

Published on July 28, 2023


Janine Jones is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro


1. Tiffany L. King, The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019), p. xi; henceforth BS, followed by page number.

2. A different though related statement is that Indigenous enslavement and Black genocide cannot be contained. It too is true and opens up further discussion for the repercussion of non-containment, which cannot be addressed in this paper.

3. It is not the aim of this paper to elucidate the various modes through which a dreadlocked logic of impossibility can occur, such as, for example, strands of oppression pertaining to gender and sexuality or neurodiversity “disability.” My aim is to elucidate a concept that pertains to undoing of two groups—Indigenous and Black—when either tries to use hegemonic intercessional to orient themselves toward survival or even thriving. My interest is in showing a type of situation. It may then be taken up to show how it works, or doesn’t work, when theorized through the lens of other strands of oppression.

4. This quote from Walter D. Mignolo captures a great deal of what I hold to be true about the Hegemon (see “Racism and Coloniality: The Invention of ‘Human(ity)’ and the Three Pillars of the Colonial Matrix of Power [Racism, Sexism, and Nature],” in On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis, ed. Walter D. Mignolo and Catherine E. Walsh [Durham: Duke University Press, 2018], p. 463). However, this does not mean that I follow Mignolo’s account wholesale. For example, I do not believe that the Human is the point of reference above any other concept of human. It is not the point of reference for South Africans who have not assimilated the Christianization of Ubuntu into their understanding of Ubuntu. See Mogobe B. Ramose, “The Philosophy of Ubuntu and Ubuntu as a Philosophy,” in The African Philosophy Reader, ed. P.H. Coetzee (London: Routledge, 2003), pp. 271–279 and Ndumiso Dladla, “Toward an African Critical Philosophy of Race: Ubuntu as a Philo-praxis of Liberation,” in Filosofia Theoretica: Journal of African Philosophy, Culture, and Religions 6:1 (2017), pp. 39–68.

5. See Janine Jones, “Anti-Black Racism: The Greatest Art Show on Earth,” in The Routledge Companion to the Philosophy of Race, ed. Paul Taylor, Linda Alcoff, and Luvell Anderson (London: Routledge, 2017), pp. 392–394.

6. See Frank B. Wilderson, Red, White, and Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010).

7. I say provisional above. In another space, I would argue that sovereignty and land dispossession have been ongoing primary grammars of suffering for Black people, across the globe. One may want to argue that other secondary grammars of suffering should in fact be classified as primary grammars of suffering for a particular group. 

8. Hortense Spillers’s and Hartman’s works provide the foundations for theorizing Black fungibility. The central idea they advance is that no restriction is placed on what a fungible Black body can be exchanged for. It can be exchanged for a commodity, for an idea, or even for space, as Tiffany L. King argues in “The Labor of (Re)reading Plantation Landscapes Fungible(ly),” Antipode 48:4 (2016): 1022–1039. According to Hartman, it is Black fungibility’s “abstractedness and immateriality” that makes it possible for Black people to serve as vehicles for “white self- exploration, renunciation, and enjoyment” (Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America [New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997], p. 26). Hartman further states that “The fungibility of the commodity makes the captive body an abstract and empty vessel vulnerable to the projection of others’ feelings, ideas, desires, and values” (ibid., p. 21). Spillers’s scholarship addresses “Black bodies as open spaces of shifting ‘signification and representation’ which humans use to make meaning of their lives” (Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe,” 1987, 75, cited in King’s article, “The Labor of (Re)reading Plantation Landscapes Fungible(ly),” p. 1025). Thus, on my view, the core features of Black fungibility are (1) its abstractedness and immateriality, (2) the commodity-like/empty vessel status of Black bodies, and (3) the exchangeability of the Black body for anything White people can imagine (see Janine Jones, “Disappearing Black People Through Failures of White Empathy,” in Feminist Philosophy of Mind, ed. K. Maitra and Jen McWeeny [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2023]: 86–101, ibid., p. 91). For further elaboration of the development of fungibility in Hartman, Spillers, and King, see King’s essay article, mentioned above.

9. Octavia Butler, Fledgling (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011).

10. This is a reason why we are misguided to think that we can just change people minds, or even their hearts and minds, about certain kinds of things, such as binaries, in Western or Western-captured realms. Peoples’ whole being literally vibrates when changes threaten a binary structure that orders their society, down to their very own embodiment. 

11. On my view, in the context of Fledgling, the category of the human corresponds to Man 2 in our world. Some evidence suggests that Black people fall outside the concept of human in Fledgling. For instance, their blood possesses the same hypodescent magical powers as it does in our world. The Ina are whatever the term “Ina” refers to. The Ina seem to take themselves to be a natural kind. Textual evidence suggests that they understand themselves as gendered in such a way that while physical anatomy may be important to gender status, education, by Ina of the same gender, is no less so. Humans may confuse Ina (at least prima facie) with the vampires of their literature, similar to ways in which some Westerners might confuse, say, Middle Eastern people with fictive non-real people in Western Orientalist texts. Ina are not vampires and are not evidence that vampires exist.

12. Pieces of knotty dreads do, however, break off.

13. Most likely, his hair grew and knotted and dreaded, perhaps with some guidance, but not too much.

14. Alain de Libera, L’invention du sujet moderne: Cours du Collège de France 2013-2014 (Paris: Vrin, 2015); henceforth ISM, followed by page number.

15. De Libera bases his reading of this controversy on multiple works. See, e.g., Étienne Gilson, Introduction à l’étude de saint Augustin (Paris: Vrin, 1949); Maître Eckhart, Sur l’humilité, trad. and ed. Alain de Libera (Orbey: Éditions Arfuyen, 2005), and R.-A. Gauthier, Magnanimité. L’idéal de la grandeur dans la philosophie païenne et dans la théologie chrétienne (Paris: Vrin, 1951).

16. Sylvia Wynter’s “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Toward the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation—An Argument,” in Coloniality’s Persistence, special issue of The New Centennial Review 3:3 (2003): 257–337.

17. Pico della Mirandola, “Oration on the Dignity of Man”; cited in Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom,” p. 260.

18. Kristie Dotson, “One Way to Decolonization in a Settler Colony: Re-introducing Black Feminist Identity Politics,” AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous People 14:3 (2018), p. 194; parenthetical remark added.

19. Leanne Betasamasoke Simpson, “Land as Pedagogy,” As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020), p. 111.

20. Robert Nichols, Theft is Property! (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019), p. 8.

21. See the introduction to Mark Rifkin’s The Politics of Kinship: Race, Family, Governance (Durham: Duke University Press, forthcoming) for a discussion of the ongoing accumulation of Native land by settler states, such as the United States and Canada.

22. See Maudemarie Clarke, who quotes Nietzsche as stating, “What things are called (i.e., how they are interpreted) are unspeakably more important than what they are” (Nietzsche on Ethics and Politics [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015], p. 2). In the realm of racialization through White supremacy and its logics that produce fictive realities with normative, legitimizing force, Nietzsche’s claim is arguably quite true.

23. Another sense of mediation is opposed to intercession and has to do with the ways in which White people, e.g., in inferior class positions, seek to obtain freedoms and the satisfaction of their desires through the Hegemon, of which they are an inferior “part.” Appeals for the Hegemon’s mediation by lower classes of White people and subjugated Black and Indigenous appeals to hegemonic intercession may look the same to some. This might account for the view some hold that all groups—Indigenous, Black, Whites, poor and otherwise—are settlers. There are few key differences, however. Here is one. Hegemonic intercession for the subjugated requires the violence of a pressure to imitate, with the understanding that it is always an imitation that can never be. I owe this point to Mickaella Perina, who presented it in her paper, “Opacity against Violence and Domestication,” at the PhiloSOPHIA conference in Charlotte, NC (June 3, 2023). White people who seek hegemonic mediation are not necessarily required to imitate those in the upper echelons of the Hegemon’s realm. They can be celebrated as the people, thereby providing another standard for hegemonic excellence. But even when required to imitate (as in the case poor Whites in South Africa’s legal apartheid era (on this point see Tiffany Willoughby’s Waste of a White Skin), successful imitation is not deferred eternally.

24. Alaina E. Roberts, I’ve Been Here All the While: Black Freedom on Native Land (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021), p. 83; henceforth IBH, followed by page number.

25. See “Haiti’s White Rulers Have Spoken on Haiti’s Political Future,” The Black Alliance for Peace, July 9, 2021; available at https://Blackallianceforpeace.com/bapstatements/haitiswhiterulers.

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid.

28. See endnote 17.

29. Zora Neale Hurston, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,ed. Deborah G. Plant (New York: Amistad, 2018), pp. 98–100.

30. See Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and Teaching of Plants (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2013), pp. 3–5.

31. Joanne Barker, “Territory as Analytic: The Dispossession of Lenapehoking and the Subprime Crisis,” Social Text 36:2 (2018): 19–39; henceforth TA, followed by page number.

32. John D. Márquez, “The Black Mohicans: Representations of Everyday Violence in Postracial Urban America,” in Race, Empire, and the Crisis of the Subprime, ed. Denise Ferreira da Silva and Paula Chakravartty, special issue of American Quarterly 64:3 (2013): 625–651. 

33. Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, and Society 1:1 (2012), p. 1.

34. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, “Land as Pedagogy,” p. 151.

35. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, “Land as Pedagogy,” p. 185.

36. Caleb Gayle, “The Black Americans Suing to Reclaim Their Native American Identity,” The Guardian, November 2, 2018; available at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/02/black-americans-native-creek-nation.

37. Ibid.

38. Ibid; emphasis added.

39. Ibid.

40. Solomon-Simmons’ lawsuit is cited in Nicquel Terry Ellis and Brandon Tensley, “Black Creeks Expelled from Tribe Finally Get Their Day in Court, 43 Years Later,” December 1, 2022; available at https://www.cnn.com/2022/12/01/us/Black-creeks-citizenship-race-deconstructed-newsletter-reaj/index.html.

41.  Ibid.

42. Cited in Caleb Gayle, “The Black Americans Suing to Reclaim Their Native American Identity”; emphasis added.

43. Ibid.

44. Ibid.

45. Ibid; emphasis added.

46. Forthcoming in Mark Rifkin’s The Politics of Kinship: Race, Family, Governance. .

47. Ibid. 

48. Ibid. 

49. Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez 436 U.S. 49 (1978). The text is available at https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=8956958372276107542&q=santa+clara+pueblo+v.+martinez+436+u.s.+49+(1978)&hl=en&as_sdt=6,34&as_vis=1. 

50. Ibid. 

51. Ibid. 

52. Ibid. 

53. Cheryl I. Harris. “Whiteness as Property,” Harvard Law Review 106:8 (1993), p. 1764. 

54. Ibid. 

55. Cheryl I. Harris, “Whiteness as Property,” p. 1765. 

56. Shanya Cordis, “Settler Unfreedoms,” American Indian Culture Research Journal 43:2 (2019), p. 12. 

57. Richard Rothstein, The Color of the Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (New York: Liveright, 2016), p. ix. 

58. For further discussion of the destruction of black communities see my “Moonlight Riff: Examining Rifts between Presentations of Black, Gay, Male humanity and Representations of Black, Gay, Male, Non-Humanity in Moonlight,” in Moonlight, special issue of The Western Journal of Black Studies 43:3/4 (2020): 90–103. 

59. Kristie Dotson, “One Way to Decolonialization in a Settler Colony,” p. 194. 

60. Chris Zelilinger, “Talking about Tobytown,” January 12, 2023; available at https://ctaa.org/talking-about-tobytown/. 

61. Ibid. 

62. See Alaina E. Roberts, “Whose Racial Paradise?” (IBH 72–95).

63. See Mahmood Mamdani, Neither Settler nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2020), p. 7.

64. There are orders of White people, as there are orders of angels. Some are on the bottom, e.g., poor White settlers, and some are their interceders, e.g., business elites. But they are all members of the nation. For further discussion see David A. Chang, “The Battle for Whiteness: Making Whites in a White Man’s Country,” chap. 6 of The Color of the Land: Race, Nation, and the Politics of Landownership in Oklahoma, 1832-1929 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010), pp. 2916–1924.

65. The U.S. government-imposed allotment on Indigenous people, and also when an individual could sell a plot depending on the individual’s race, class, ethnicity (gender intervening in all three), as understood in the White nation’s conceptions, e.g., those determined to be “full-bloods” were restricted by long terms, as they were seen as childlike and needing protection from White people, conceived in terms of adulthood and cupidity. So-call “half-breeds,” i.e., those Indigenous people with White ancestry, were understood as being as capable of understanding markets as White people. See Chang, “Policy and the Making of Landlords and Tenants,” chap. 4 of The Color of the Land for further discussion, especially of Black Freedpeople and African Americans, who had shorter terms to contend with than “full-bloods.” In this context, especially the latter, were conceived as being capable and crafty than “full-bloods.” Through the U.S. government’s allotment scheme, seemingly privileging Freedpeople and African Americans over ‘full-bloods,” a great deal of Indigenous land was sold off. A great deal more was lost through sales when “full-bloods” could sell. With individual plots sold away, and the commons legislated away, Indigenous people, Black people—Freedpeople and African Americans—became impoverished and landless.

66. Roberts seeks to reinforce this claim throughout the book.

67. If we understand a tool or a means as a relation between position within (or outside) of the hegemonic order, the kind of tool in question, e.g., civilizational logics, membership or non-membership in the nation, and membership or non-membership in the state, then Roberts would not have shown that these different groups used the same means, or the same tool. White settler mechanisms, such as erasure of the group currently on the land, were used as a means to access land. As Joanne Barker states, speaking of Indigenous people in relation to settler authority in “Territory as Analytic: The Dispossession of Lenapehoking and the Subrime Crisis,” Social Text 36:2 (2018): 19–39, “While they may assert rights against that authority in terms that the authority understands and conditions, rights are a tactic and not the strategy of lived responsibility to the land” (ibid., p. 135).

68. If material gain was not directly or immediately forthcoming, it could nevertheless be achieved by White mob rule, as in the case of Tulsa, Oklahoma, when in 1921, the city conspired with White citizens in the massacre of Black people and destruction of Greenwood, an area of Tulsa, which had attained a certain degree of wealth. If White business elites pushed poor White people out of land ownership inclusion in White mob rule over Black people reveals their inclusion in the project of White intercession (see David A. Chang, “The Battle for Whiteness”). That is, poor White people could, de facto, through force sanctioned by the larger White hegemon, determine where Black people could live, how much wealth they could and could not accrue or possess. Their particular intercession helped circumscribed Black people’s place. When we begin to see long-term patterns of Black people, of any class, who can determine,by force, and with impunity and actively encouraged by the White Hegemon—where groups of White people of any class, in the U.S., can live and how much wealth they can accrue then, other things being equal (and they may not be!) we might begin to call these groups by some same name—whatever is appropriate to the circumstances of a situation, whose light is nowhere on the horizon in the twenty-first century.

69. Alaina E. Roberts, “Whose Racial Paradise?” (IBH 72–95).

70. Charles W. Mills, The Racial Contract (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), p. 7.

71. Mamdani writes that the state is “a legal form in which membership (citizenship) is determine by law” and is necessarily incompatible with the nation (Neither Settler nor Native, p. 7). This incompatibility does not mean, however, that the state does not enforce the will of the nation. Where White supremacy is concerned, we might understand the will of the nation in terms of satisfaction of White expectation, as theorized by Harris in “Whiteness as Property,” pp. 1758–1764.

72. See, for example, The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide, ed. Meizhu Lui, Bárbara Robles, Betsy Leondar-Wright, Rose Brewer, and Rebecca Adamson (New York: The New Press, 2006).

73. See https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conquer.

74. See Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (New York: Grove Press, 1967), p. 92.

75. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, pp. 381–384.

76. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, p. 381.

77. See Janine Jones, “Imagining Radical Entanglement for Social Change,” in Making Citizenship Work: Culture and Community, ed. Rodolfo Rosales (London: Routledge, 2022): 31–46.