no, james clear, i will not remix.

i’ve been attending Writers’ Hour almost every morning since mid-November. it is a supportive space to come to weekday mornings to “either do nothing or write. ” having this group and routine has encouraged me to have discipline around writing like never before in my life and has helped me write more than 100,000 words toward a book i’m working on. every morning, the hosts share an inspirational quote. generally they’re by other authors encouraging us to bloom into our writing and are a little snack to get us going. however, today’s quote landed differently for me: today’s “words of wisdom” came from james clear, author of a new york times bestseller, and i’ll share my responses.

“Italy is known for tomatoes. Thailand for chilies. Germany for sauerkraut.

But tomatoes originated in Peru. Thailand imported chilies from Central America. Sauerkraut started in China.

Everything is a remix—and the world is better for it. Share what you know. Learn from others.” – James Clear, as shared in Writers’ Hour, Apr 26, 2021

THIS SHIT PISSES ME OFF. how a lie can pass as truth. how these seemingly innocent, *white* lies serve to manipulate and eventually serve a violent, extractive, historically inaccurate status quo. anger bubbles from my chest through my throat and is transformed into rapid keystrokes.

first, tomatoes are from mexico. which is to say that indigenous people here on the land currently known as mexico cultivated an intentional, multi-generational relationship with this plant in these soils to produce what is now known as jitomate or tomato. these relationships are not ignorable or irrelevant. the existence of italian tomato sauce is due to thousands of years of human relationship with this plant — but not any humans, and not in any place. indigeneity matters. roots matter. that this work was done in a specific place by specific people matters. and to ignore that is to ignore the sacred, to ignore history, to erase relationship.

second, the reason these fruits arrived to italy was through a process of intended (and failed) genocide, a process that killed millions of people and affects their surviving descendants to this day. this pomodoro pasta dish is not free of its heritage of violence, rape, destruction, desecration. let us not forget that christopher colombus, one of the first people to set foot upon this land as a colonizer, was of italian descent. that next to his tomb in sevilla, spain, there is still a “treasure room,” full of stolen gold, locked away within the walls of the church.

finally, the construction of this lie is not only of direct and convenient benefit to its author (a man who gains his wealth from writing), but also serves to further justify appropriation en masse. appropriation, as i’ve come to understand it, is a cutting off from the roots. yoga practiced as exercise, a series of stretches completely disconnected from a deep spiritual tradition. indigenous community-made textiles stolen and sold to be marketed as fashion. your remixing is not inherently innocent, nor necessarily of benefit to the world. some remixings perpetuate harms that began on this landmass currently known as “america” (also an italian namesake) 500 years ago.

as a writer (and as a human), i am angry that “truth” seems to not mean anything anymore. that a few select people have been granted power by a fictional worldview and thus can proclaim lies as truth. some of these lies-masquerading-as-truths are deadly. that “truth” that indigenous people no longer exist supports continued exploitation of land and labor to fuel an ongoing colonial process of development. that “truth” that Black people are a threat maintains a population captive for 500 years, under penalty of death by simply driving, walking, even while sleeping.

so no, james clear, i will not remix. i will not mix and match where it serves me in convenience. i understand the power i have been granted by these oppressive systems that would allow me to cut the fruit from its root and i reject that power. instead, we must seek another way. we must seek a truth with roots. we must seek to return to our own roots and tend to them.

Land as Investment

This post was originally written while I was part of Regenerative Finance.

Take-away points

  • Remember to broaden frame of investment/wealth beyond cash assets
    • SRI and impact investing will tend to focus on cash.  Continuing to ignore other types of assets is colonial.
  • Investment in land seen as “safe.”
    • Doesn’t depreciate, doesn’t require maintenance, tangible asset
  • Investing in land is reliant on historical and continued genocide, forced assimilation, colonization.

Commodification of nature

Capitalism rooted in colonialism erases or downplays the importance of land and “natural resources” as foundational to growth.  One of the major ways to turn land into a natural resource is called commodification — or the process of turning something into a commodity by converting it from its original form to a value that can be measured in dollars.

Take a tree for example, a complex living being that can do many amazing things: turn what we breathe out into oxygen; produce a huge variety of delicious tasting fruits, nuts, syrup, and berries; provide a home for birds, mammals, and other animals; can induce a sense of awe in us if we pay attention (see: redwoods, live oaks in the south of the U.S., bristlecone pines that are 5,000 years old); I could go on.  In his book Cradle to Cradle, architect William McDonough illustrates this point too:

“Imagine this design assignment: design something that makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, fixes nitrogen, distills water, accrues solar energy as fuel, makes complex sugars and food, creates microclimates, changes colors with the seasons, and self-replicates.

Why don’t we knock that down and write on it?”

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that trees are – for a variety of reasons – magical.

Capitalism takes these magical beings and turns them into something that can be traded on a market – paper, lumber.  Occasionally, economics can understand “environmental services” – more of the things that McDonough was getting at – the valuing of sequestering carbon, and then complicate the tree’s value, as well as make a stronger economic argument to keep it alive and healthy.

By the way, this is all reliant on a lot of separations within nature.  Trees are separate from birds that live in them, separate from the soil and water and fungal networks that nourish them.  We are separate from them.

So…commodification turns parts of nature into things that can be traded on markets, and made money from the sale of, based on an agreed upon value.  “Raw materials.”

This relies on separating us from nature, from our other ways of relating, and the interrelatedness of its parts.

Other related ideas include water investment and privatization, carbon trading and treating land itself as property.

If you’re interested in any of these things, I highly recommend watch Tom B.K. Goldtooth’s video on Youtube:

History of the land under the United States

United States history is different than the history of the land that the U.S. currently occupies.  Who was here before the “start”?  How is their deep history erased by current narratives that start history at 1776?  How does our understanding of the U.S. as one nation erase the hundreds of other sovereign nations that also currently inhabit this land?

Here’s a quick timeline to illustrate the 1.5% of history since European settlement of the land as contrasted with a conservative under-estimate of total human habitation of the land, 20,000 years ago. It also includes what our current timeline calls “0.”

“Counter to the western stories that we’ve been here 12,000 years, we’ve been here over 60,000 years, likely over 100,000 years, and there is a great deal of evidence to support that,” says Paulette Steeves, director of the Native American Studies program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

A more complicated understanding of history that many of us did not receive in school is necessary to understand the depth of relationship that indigenous people have had and many continue to have with this land currently called the United States for thousands of years.  In contrast, the colonized period of this land is relatively small, a few percent of total peopled time.

Land as Investment

Investing isn’t just about money.  All capitalism relies on commodification of nature and land and the genocide required to do those things as well as direct investment in land.

Wealth redistribution tends to focus on dollars and donation of money.

International land grabs are kind of a big deal too.  The Oakland Institute has some great resources on that topic.

It’s imperative that our interpretation of investment be broadened to also encompass land.  Investment in land doesn’t have to look like owning a real estate property, there are lots of ways to invest.  And certainly all of capitalism happens on land anyway.

The process of commodification – turning trees into paper, into an abstract commodity that can be bought and sold – is the process of disconnecting ourselves from place, of literally uprooting ourselves and nature and abstracting it into something else.  In its very nature, this is colonial — it is void of a sense of place, a sense of context, history, and connection.

There’s a strong connection to present-day gentrification and displacement – these are not new concepts.  This is also super connected to the gentrification that’s happening around the country (and many parts of the world) as people move around.  The idea that people are movable, easily displaced, that a value connected to a place will drive people out of being able to live there — rooted in racialized colonialism.

Land Reparations

Land is not arbitrary.  Things like “equal redistribution of land” or “land as commons”  are colonial concepts that continue to erase deep relationships of indigenous people to *specific* places.

For a really basic idea of what I mean here, think about a place you call home.  About how it smells, about the plants that live there and how they change over the course of a year.  About all the people you are connected to in that place.  That place can’t be anywhere, it’s a specific place to you with many histories.  Multiply that by 20,000 years and then it might be similar to indigeneity.

One example of a land reparations project I’m familiar with locally is an indigenous women led project called the Sogorea Te Land Trust. It asks settlers on Chocheño Ohlone land to pay a “tax” to fund the purchase of land to be stewarded and used in ceremonial practices.  There are several other indigenous led land trusts around the country.

Finally on a related note, it can’t be left unsaid that this country’s histories of slavery and (forced) immigration complicates our relationship to land in the present.  (For more on this, see my summary of an academic paper called Decolonization is not a Metaphor.)

I’m going to leave you here with a few resources, some questions to consider, and let you know some of the questions we’re currently holding as Regenerative Finance.  Want to be in conversation with us?? Far out!  Drop us a line.

Some Resources

Questions to consider

  • Do you have investments in land? What does that look like? REITS, a home you live in, homes you don’t live in, relationships to real estate developers, buildings, infrastructure, …?
  • Do you have investments that are involved in the commodification of land?
  • Whose land are your investments on or in? What’s your relationship to those people? What’s your current relationship and ideal relationship?
  • What has your family’s historical relationship to land been?
  • All of our wealth was extracted from land, what were the steps in that process, and how does that feel? What are you going to do about it?

Questions we’re dealing with as Regen

  • How does land fit into regenerative investing?
  • If a project we work with is not indigenous-led, what would it need to do to be decolonized?
  • Given that so much wealth is accumulated through direct investment in land, what are we doing about that?
  • How do we take this message as settlers to other settlers?  How do we continue to bring this topic up in the impact investing scene?

Thoughts, questions, and responses to “Decolonization is not a metaphor”

“Decolonization, which we assert is a distinct project from other civil and human rights-based social justice projects, is far too often subsumed into the directives of these projects, with no regard for how decolonization wants something different than those forms of justice.” (pg. 2)

Reading this article shifted my perspective in 3 ways:

  • Really? Beginning to think about how decolonization is different and not overlapping with other social justice frameworks.
  • Beginning to think of how I and we want to alleviate our guilt – or “move to innocence” – around the violent issues that come with being a settler, benefiting from it, and continuing to perpetuate settler colonialism.
  • Learning to hold incommensurability, unsettling as it is.
cactus flowers in arizona, hopi land

First: Understanding our “moves to innocence” is part of interrogating our privilege

“Directly and indirectly benefiting from the erasure and assimilation of Indigenous peoples is a difficult reality for settlers to accept. The weight of this reality is uncomfortable; the misery of guilt makes one hurry toward any reprieve.” (9)

Understanding our own privileges often brings up a lot of guilt associated with our part in oppression. As part of human nature, we want to alleviate this guilt – to get to a state of cognitive consonance – we want to feel better! Things like developing a critical consciousness (ahem) of privilege/oppression, donating money to a cause, dedicating your career to it, claiming a distant (perhaps not real) native ancestor, are actually “diversions, distractions, which relieve the settler of feelings of guilt or responsibility, and conceal the need to give up land or power or privilege.” (21)

These are what Tuck & Yang call “moves to innocence,” ways we can rid ourselves of this pesky thing called guilt.

“Settler moves to innocence are those strategies or positionings that attempt to relieve the settler of feelings of guilt or responsibility without giving up land or power or privilege.” (10)

However, these strategies don’t actually remedy the thing we’re feeling bad about.

In particular, we can see our moves to innocence, engage with them, and transform them:

“We provide this framework so that we can be more impatient with each other, less likely to accept gestures and half-steps, and more willing to press for acts which unsettle innocence…” (10)

In other words, our guilt carries potential. Guilt is actually good in that it tells us that we know something’s wrong! However, most of our strategies to alleviate guilt claim to be finite — I donated, I’ve done my part, now I can resume whatever I was doing — and don’t really address the wrong we feel. On the other hand, the uncomfortable position of guilt is home to rich discussions, new ideas, and hopefully, transformation. It reminds me of a quote I just read:

“Our job is not to make young women grateful. It is to make them ungrateful so they keep going. Gratitude never radicalized anybody.” – Susan B. Anthony

Learning to embrace these very real feelings that come with privilege is important and necessary in moving toward decolonization.

redwoods in california, miwok land

Second: Decolonization is not a subset of social justice: “incommensurability is unsettling”

“The promise of integration and civil rights is predicated on securing a share of settler-appropriated wealth (as well as expropriated ‘third-world’ wealth.)” (7)

Tuck & Yang point out that much of social justice is based on the existence of a settler colonial state. Often, remediating the wrongs done to many people of color, rely on colonialism.

In particular they point to three movements that neglect decolonization or turn it into a metaphor. Here are simple summaries:

  1. Third world decolonizations we often forget about what is happening and has happened here (where ever that is) in order to focus on imperialism/colonialism globally or abroad, elsewhere.
  2. Abolition of slavery and deconstructing the prison industrial complex rely on taking land from natives to give to previously enslaved peoples.
  3. Critical pedagogies like place-based knowledge situate our experiences upon land but do not move to include land itself as active, only as receiver/passive.

For each, Tuck & Yang provide the start of a “bibliography of incommensurability.”

Further, they suggest that real solidarity and collaboration arise from acknowledging our differences rather than smearing them together in order to construct makeshift coalitions:

“We argue that the opportunities for solidarity lie in what is incommensurable rather than what is common across these efforts.” (28)

“We offer these perspectives on unsettling innocence because they are examples of what we might call an ethic of incommensurability, which recognizes what is distinct, what is sovereign for project(s) of decolonization in relation to human and civil rights based social justice projects.“ (28)

prairie in illinois, winnebago land

Third: Now what? Holding incommensurability, guilt, and other unsettling feelings

“An ethic of incommensurability, which guides moves that unsettle innocence, stands in contrast to aims of reconciliation, which motivate settler moves to innocence. Reconciliation is about rescuing settler normalcy, about rescuing a settler future. Reconciliation is concerned with questions of what will decolonization look like? What will happen after abolition? What will be the consequences of decolonization for the settler? Incommensurability acknowledges that these questions need not, and perhaps cannot, be answered in order for decolonization to exist as a framework.

We want to say, first, that decolonization is not obliged to answer those questions – decolonization is not accountable to settlers, or settler futurity. Decolonization is accountable to Indigenous sovereignty and futurity. […] The answers will not emerge from friendly understanding, and indeed require a dangerous understanding of uncommonality that un-coalesces coalition politics – moves that may feel very unfriendly.”

So:

How can we start and hold spaces within ourselves for this unsettling feeling without moving straight to a way to alleviate our guilt?

How can we hold spaces that are problematic at a group level that create discussion and do not end with something that claims to be a solution? In other words, how can we create spaces that also hold unsettling discussions, and even the “dangerous understanding” that comes with it?

Moving Beyond Marx: Some introductory resources and actions on decolonization

Intention

This document was created to serve as an introduction to the ideas of colonization and provide a glimpse into what decolonization means.  In particular, it is useful in broadening our thinking about classism beyond Marxism to also include indigenous people and their struggles.  It’s not exhaustive.  Please (please!) share your thoughts, questions and suggestions!

A little by way of background

Generally, in social justice circles, I hear Marx’s ideas as one of the primary and fundamental ways of understanding class-based oppression.  To put it simply: classism exists because certain people take advantage of others by exploiting their labor.  That profit is only possible when labor is under- or not paid.

However, this perspective continues to invisiblize native struggles: it ignores how nature and land get turned into natural resources and commodities to be traded.  These are huge parts of how profit gets generated within capitalism!  Furthermore, the violent transition from nature to natural resource isn’t a quick and easy shift, but rather often requires dispossessing native people, severing connections with land that have (in many cases) existed for several thousand years, and constructing histories that do not include these struggles.  For example, in thinking about any natural resource, is it part of our consciousness to include just where it comes from?  Where did the tree live that became a piece of paper?

For work around undoing classism to be successful – to move to a more just, equitable society – we must not only think about how people are turned into workers to be exploited, but also how trees must be turned into natural resources to be exploited and how natives must be erased to control land.  What follows are a few entry points into further understanding about these dynamics.


First steps

1) Learn about which people lived where you do before you did.  What are they called now?  What name(s) do/did they have for themselves?  What were their crafts, social structure, homes, types of food?  Are there any descendants still around your area?

2) Check out: Decolonize Myself & Shit people say to natives for some young people thinking about liberation

3) What thoughts, feelings, sensations do you have about living on land your people aren’t from (i.e. being a settler)?


Sensitizing readings & media

sen·si·tize: to make (someone) more aware of something


Indigenous media/information projects


Indigenous groups to get involved with or “follow”


UPDATE: A Google doc with more resources

Here is the link.