by Sara C. Motta
Whiteness is the sea not the shark: it is the very onto-epistemological embodied and aesthetic grounds of (im)possibility of our becoming human as racialised and feminised peoples in the current matrix of Power and Institutions/ality. As Sara Ahmed (2007, 150) foregrounds ‘it is what coheres the [modern/colonial]world’.
For a long time, as an Indigenous-Mestiza working class child, teenager and then young single mother I walked with the constant threatening presence of Whiteness slicing me, my kin and ancestors into rajaduras (what Anzaldúa (1987) refers to as cuts/open wounds) from the dispossessions and dislocations, the denials and violences. As Anzaldua continues speaking of Chicana and racialised women more generally (1987: 20)
‘The world is not a safe place to live in. We shiver in separate cells in enclosed cities, shoulders hunched, barely keeping the panic below the surface of the skin, daily drinking shock along with our morning coffee, fearing the torches being set to our buildings, the attacks on the streets. Shutting down. Woman does not feel safe when… white culture, are critical of her; when …[she is] hunt[ed] as prey.’
Such lack of safety as systematically ingrained into the very fabric of Institutionality on the streets, through the state, in the school space led me as Fanon (1961) painfully yet with compassion describes to desire to be read and understood by the oppressor-master (as a means of survival and a legitimate trauma response to the violations myself and kin experience(d) (Motta, 2015: Levins Morales, 1998). It has taken me – understood as always-already a communal and collective self in relation and responsibility to my human, more than human and non-human kin- time, collective ancestral time (Motta and Bermudez, 2019; Vasquez, 2017) to begin to heal these rajaduras in psyche, body, mind, and heart. And to reach a place of no longer searching for recognition by Power and its Institutions because such recognition always costs either denial or assimilation (bell hooks, 1992) and is necessarily constitutive through my/our mis-recognition, betrayal and exile (Motta and Gonzalez, 2021).
In this communal and collective (un)/relearning journey we have learnt about the right to opacity (Glissant, 1990) and on not being made to account in the Master’s terms (Motta, 2018) or with their tools (Lorde, 1991) for such attempts at passing (Ahmed, 1999) always leave us contorted and distorted, spirit weary and soul wounded (Duran et al, 2011) only deepening the rajaduras. In common and collective processes with racialised and feminised women and kin in Abya Yala, Europe and now the so-called lands of Australia we have come to re-member that we have the right to silence and speech on my/our own terms (Motta, 2011, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2021; 2022). We have begun to re-find and cultivate our serpent’s tongues in which we rupture the registers of (in)visibility, speech and knowing-being of the modern/colonial ever-repeating present. We speak now as multiple and, in the plural, reoccupying the space of the lettered city with our grief as refusal, our dancing bodies of joy as dignity, our transversal collective song making and storytelling rupturing the dominant renditions of state, polity and citizen-subject that are premised upon our erasure.
Yet, our rupturing and/as refusal has often remained in relation to Power, still seeking elements of recognition; still swimming in the sea which admittedly is an (im)possibility not not to. A paradoxical violent wounding in which “we sometimes come to long for the approval of our captors, even when we act defiant” (Levins Morales 1998, 40). Or as Fanon (1961, 193) describes, how at first “we produce our work to be read exclusively by the oppressor, whether with the intention of charming him or of denouncing him . . . ‘. And like this we are left split by this (non)translation across borders in which we become hoarse desperately trying to be heard. We become dis-eased as we contort ourselves to be seen (even as refusal) in the vain attempt to become translatable and decipherable into this sea of Whiteness, seated without comfort or holding around the hard square table, attempting to thaw Your hearts and ignite Your rage with us, not for us, not as us, but with us.
I often feel like amongst this refusal I’ve been a translator across the border of the rajaduras of the jagged line- finding myself working on the White side (and here I mean a particular subjectification and institutional logic and (ir)rationality of the Europeanised, bourgeoise, masculinised, heteropatriarchal subject and non-relations), in which, I repeat, it is not the shark but the constitution of the very sea. And there I find myself as communal subject in relation – for to re-read or re-present me in any other way is racist-, bubbling over with resistance, integrity, survivance of Black life…and sometimes eaten by the shark or attempted to be drowned by the ocean, and other times setting up these beautiful oases (Gonzalez, Motta and Seppalla, 2022 (forthcoming)). These beautiful oases which can then become exoticized, fished, wiped out and nevertheless keep on surviving because you see there is a lot more than the visible sea and its coordinates as officially mapped…
And so our translation can be fraught and end up in harm being done to me and my relations and us in relation. As even as we are embodying the right not to be made to account, we are still making ourselves accountable as though we could ever have value or be rendered human within these logics and (ir)rationalities. Yet we are called, yet again, by the ancestras, the abuelas to re-member that we have nothing to inherit for we cannot borrow from , lean into, or rely upon the dominant histories of Reason, Right, Law, Being which “by a kind of perverted logic, turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures and destroy its” (Fanon 1961, 169) legitimizing and producing our dehumanization and/as lostness. We must re-member that they will not break our fall.
And so it came to pass that a wise Black man channelling the elders posed a question to me ‘what would it be like to write/rite on not not being made to account’- so neither being made to account or its refusal but from our spaces of majority Black/Indigenous/Queer women of colour, and those other of us systematically and systemically other(ed). And as and through those (in)visible spaces/places/relations to the White gaze but not constituted by registers of (in)visibility to Power and Institutions/ality but constituted by our own pluridiverse registers of Black flesh and/as the divinity of the senses and the sensual world/subject in relation.
And it is this that beckons us, that we/I yearn for, that is the grounds of the not/unseen and the un/nonaccountable in terms beyond the border, and in the undercommons of the sea. We call this place los manglares/ the mangrove swamps (Motta, 2022a, 2022b; Gonzalez, Motta and Seppala, 2022 (forthcoming)) for here we may piece ourselves back in relation, heal the rajaduras, place a seal around us and protect this meeting-place not only as the grounds of possibility of coming in being-knowing otherwise but of our nurturing of these selves and lifeworlds in relation otherwise.
Here, we might come to speak across the different textures, terrains, histories, epistemologies and cosmopolitics of the experience of living on the exteriority of the modern/colonial divide, beyond the border, dissolving the very coordinates of the hierarchical binaries in which some lives, bodies, territories, lifeworlds and onto-epistemologies are given value and others not. And into this sacred meeting-place we are co-weaving multiple time-spaces and pluridiverse relationalities (Motta and Manning, forthcoming: Gonzalez, Motta and Sepalla, 2022 (forthcoming)); with portals of re-membering, un/relearning and liberatory healing mapped as simultaneously yet distinct sky, cosmos and sea and land Country and territories of the body.
- South-West: Holding (Re)Birth
I looked over the horizon
through the branches
found myself in a place unthought
unexpected, a space of circles
soft grassy floor
a place to gently untangle
the knotted threads
a generosity in heart
hands, of infinite dots
crafted in ways
I couldn’t see at first
a stillness deep, a certain peace.
gestating was always
somehow violent, painful,
a story of abandonment
in creating life
seated in these (un)seen dots
and unthought circles
holding which opens
pleasure in (re)birth
rootedness that allows
a taking of flight
Sara C. Motta
As we move away from the chill of non-inheritance that pierces our bones and we take off the burdens that have never been ours from carrying White life-making and/as anti-life making towards Blackness our birthing becomes ease-full (Motta and Allen, 2022 (forthcoming); Motta, 2018). No longer are we the Black and Indigenous (M)other who is left to die, has her children stolen, her territories violated, her kinship relationships fractured (Simpson, 2017; Hartman, 2008). No, we move into other territories of life making , in which we come to re-root and re-ground and in which we are safe and held by the healing hands of the grandmothers and the warm embrace of the aunties. We re-learn in peace and innocence the wisdoms of our motherlines, re-turn tenderly and erotically to kinship that cannot be contained to heteropatriarchal violating separations and violent intimacies (Motta, 2022a (forthcoming)) and birth in the fullness of the divinity of our sovereign territories in the plural as land/Madre Tierra and as body/ies in-relation .
Sara C. Motta is a proud Mestiza-salvaje of Colombia-Chibcha/Muisca, Eastern European Jewish and Celtic linages currently living, loving and re-existiendo on the unceded lands of the Awabakal and Worimi peoples, NSW, so called Australia. She is mother, survivor of state and intimate violences, poet, curandera, bare-breasted philosopher, popular educator, and Associate Professor at the University of Newcastle, NSW. Sara has worked for over two decades with racialied and feminised communities in struggle resistances/re-existencias in, against and beyond heteronormative capitalist-coloniality in Europe, Latin America and Australia and co-created numerous decolonising pedagogical projects of radical healing and community wellbeing. She has published widely in academic and activist-community outlets. Her latest book Liminal Subjects: Weaving (Our) Liberation (Rowman and Littlefield) is winner of the 2020 best Gender Theory and Feminist Book, International Studies Associate (ISA).
Ahmed, S. (1999). She’ll wake up one of these days and find she’s turned into a nigger. Passing through hybridity. Theory, Culture & Society, 16(2), 87–106.
Ahmed, S. (2007). A phenomenology of whiteness. Feminist theory, 8(2), 149–168.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. (1987). Borderlands/La Frontera: The new mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books.
Duran, E, Firehammer, J and Gonzalez. J. (2011) (2011) ‘Liberation Psychology as the Path Toward Healing Cultural Soul Wounds’ Journal of Counselling and Development, 86:3.
Fanon, F. (1961). The Wretched of the Earth. London: Penguin Books.
Glissant, E. (1990) Poetics of Relation. Michigan Press.
Hartman, S. (2008) Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. Palgrave Macmillan
hooks, b. “Eating the other: Desire and resistance.” In Black Looks: Race and Representation, pp. 21–39. Boston: South End Press, 1992.
Morales, A. L. (1998/2019) Medicine Stories. Duke University Press
Lorde, A. (1991) ‘The master’s will never dismantle the master’s house. Penguin Books
Motta, Sara C. (2011) “Notes towards prefigurative epistemologies,” pp. 178–199 in Sara C. Motta and Alf Gunvald Nilsen (eds.), Social Movements in the Global South. New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Motta, S. C. (2015) ‘Becoming woman: on exile and belonging in the borderlands’ Women in academia crossing North-South borders: Gender, race, and displacement p. 89-116, Lexington Books.
Motta, Sara, C. (2016) “Decolonizing Australia’s body politics: contesting the coloniality of violence of child removal.” Journal of Resistance Studies 2 (2): 100–133.
Motta, Sara. C, (2017) “Decolonising critique: from prophetic negation to affirmative prefiguration,” pp. 33–48 in A. C. Dinerstein (ed.), An Other Politics in the Social Sciences: Women Theorising without Parachutes. London and New York: Routledge.
Motta, Sara C. (2018). Liminal subjects: Weaving (our) liberation. London: Rowman & Littlefield.
Motta, Sara C. (2021). Decolonising Methodologies and/as Enfleshed Reason, University College Cork, Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies in the School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, Public Talk. http://casilac.ie/portfolio-item/decolonising-methodologies-and-as-enfleshed-reason-dr-sara-motta/
Motta SC. Decolonising (critical) social theory: Enfleshing post-Covid futurities. Thesis Eleven. 2022;170(1):58-77.
Motta, S. C. & Bermudez, N. L. (2019) “Enfleshing temporal insurgencies and decolonial times.” Globalizations 16: 424–440.
Motta, S. C. & Gonzalez, Y. T (2021)’ Popular Sovereignty and non-recognition in Venezuela- On the coming into Political Being of el pueblo’ The Palgrave Handbook of Populism. Publisher: Palgrave.
Simpson, L. B. (2017) As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Vázquez R. Modernity Coloniality and Visibility: The Politics of Time. Sociological Research Online. 2009;14(4):109-115