The “New Violence” of Decolonization

“Born out of sheer political expedience, and out of a laziness about doing any homework concerning these groupings and their common or uncommon characteristics, bureaucrats eventually gave these prison-like institutions ‘freedom’, a budget and autonomy of a limited kind. Nobody considered how to de-institutionalize the institutions and to remove their penitentiary flavour. No one provided training in autonomy. Nobody remembered, or wanted to remember, that the inmates-turned-citizens were often people who had been involuntarily moved or exiled to these places, people who had had to be disciplined or punished, or people who had been rounded up by desert patrols and simply placed there for the ‘social engineering’ experiment of assimilation in the deserts and monsoon lands. Most places were not peopled by a communis or communitas. These people were not a voluntary association, with common tribal or linguistic membership and fellowship, or with common historical, political or cultural heritages. They were not communitarian in their membership and were neither cohesive nor socially coherent. Such cohesiveness as many such places had was institutional and imposed, not cultural, spiritual or linguistic.’ -Colin Tatz

In my ongoing research on suicide I came across a book titled “Aboriginal Suicide is Different: A Portrait of Life and Self-Destruction.” Up until then I had only gotten Western takes on suicide due to Durkheim’s massive presence. The author argues that the suicide statistics in Australia do not accurately reflect what is happening in Aboriginal communities and other indigenous groups worldwide who have their own unique factors that lead to the obliteration of the self, due to their unique histories and present social conditions. He rejects the Western notion that suicide is caused by mental illness and sees this as obfuscating the reality of aboriginal lives which are marked by extreme poverty, enduring legacies of racism including the removal of children from Aboriginal homes, lack of access to services, substance abuse and child sexual abuse/neglect.

Mostly what interested me about Tatz’s book was its discussion of decolonization, its negative effects and its role in the suicides. A critical view of decolonization is something you don’t hear much about in radical circles where decolonization is a hot button topic, even dividing groups during the Occupy movement in the Bay Area. On the surface it seems like something few would be opposed to, but its much more than empty platitudes: decolonization is a process that, like colonialism itself, inflicts violence upon native peoples, this time towards people who have already been displaced. Bureaucrats and other officials, in an attempt to right wrongs, actually bring about more distress. In Australia and New Zealand decolonization forced displaced people to “become ‘communities’ in name, regardless of whether or not there was an actual communitas.” One more reason to be skeptical of anybody speaking on behalf of a “community.”


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