Last night I listened to Leanne Simpson explain why Indigenous women are so disproportionately targeted for rape and murder. She spoke about how Indigenous women’s bodies–her body– is an affront to colonial order. Just existing, just walking down the street, is an instance of disorder that must be addressed. The fancy academic way to say this is: “social order is ascribed a corporeality [a body], so that an Other may be cast as polluting or superfluous, dangerous or expendable; violent acts thus become positive means of social purification and protection” (McFann 2014).
For some of this, this has been going on since Columbus invaded in 1492, and since the massive expansion of the slave trade soon after. For others of us, this is new. Today, amidst a wave of violence against people of colour and 2LGBTQ people only a few days after Trump’s election, the vast majority of people in the United States became disposable. About 63% of Americans are white. Roughly half of those are men. Assuming a conservative 10% of those men are not perfectly heterosexual, only ~28% of American citizens who answered the census are not an obvious affront to white, heteronormative, sexist supremacy.
What does that mean? As an affront to order, it means we are pollution. It means we must be aggressively ignored, ordered, or erased. We know this. This is part of why so many of us have been grieving since Wednesday.
For those of us who have been here before (or have never left), we know that the only way to deal with this is in groups, as part of collectives, as part of movements. It isn’t hard to find them. I was just on a google doc with 99 strangers that outlines “Concrete Suggestions in Preparation for January” that range from coordinated community action to self-protection. Mass sit-ins and marches are occurring across the United States. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has vowed to protect civil liberties. People are walking their Muslim neighbours to work.
In cosmopolitan cultures, the meanings of pollution and dis/order are contested. Anthropologist Mary Douglas, who theorizes social pollution, writes about what happens when there is an anomaly to order. You can read it both as a schema for the violence that has already begun, and you can also read it as the stages of the social movement that is starting to rise.
There are several ways of treating anomalies [to order, aka pollution]. Negatively, we can ignore, just not perceive them, or perceiving we can condemn. Positively we can deliberately confront the anomaly and try to create a new pattern of reality in which it has a place…Attributing danger is one way of putting a subject above dispute. It also helps to enforce conformity. (1966:49)
For Douglas, the first stages are to ignore the anomaly, then to avoid it and call it dangerous. Next, it can be physically controlled or contained. Finally, it is folded into social orders that can either handle it, or the social order changes so it is no longer an anomaly. Let’s go for the former.
Douglas, M. (2002 ). Purity and Danger. New York: Routledge.
McFann, H. (2014). “Humans-as-waste,” Discard Studies Compendium, Discard Studies.