Friday, March 20, 2015

Intoxicating Spaces: Colonialism, Nationalism and Consumption. Presentation of, “Interrogating the Intersections of Colonization, Class, Race and Addiction.

Presentation of, “Interrogating the Intersections of Colonization, Class, Race and Addiction,” by Amelia Saunders as part of the talk, Sobriety As Accessibility: Interrogating Intoxication Culture, at the Reclaiming Our Bodies and Our Minds conference on March 16, 2013.

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For the next fifteen or so minutes, I will be discussing the idea of ‘intoxication culture’ as a colonizing tool that has, over time, been used to hail certain bodies in nation statehood, citizenship and patriotism while damning others to be left in the margins. Also, I aim to look at how this relationship between alcohol, drugs, nationalism and colonization is structured through space. I will be engaging with these ideas through a lens that is critical of colonialism.

My work is drawn upon the research I have done in areas of colonialism, law, race, and space theory. I mainly draw upon the work on Sherene Razack and Nick Riotfag, in tandem with the ideas and theories of Judith Halberstam as they relate to identity and space construction.

The position with which I approach my research is that of a white cis-gender, queer woman from a low-income background. I also come from a background of alcohol and drug abuse and am myself a recovering addict and alcoholic. As I am merely presenting my thoughts and ideas and the research I have done on this topic, I can only share from my position of experience and research.

The main questions of my research are: how does colonialism speak to and construct the addict and a culture of intoxication? How is this produced in time and space? How does intoxication culture continue to oppress certain populations, while rewarding others?
First, What is Intoxication culture and why is it important for the discussion of race and space construction?

I first came across this idea in Nick Riotfag’s anarchist zine ‘Towards a Less Fucked Up World’. This specific zine is titled “Sobriety and Anarchist Struggle”. I consider intoxication culture to be a culture in which intoxication is not only normalized but also expected. For the purposes of my research, I understand intoxication culture to be a culture within which spaces have been constructed in order to normalize the capitalistic enterprise of inebriation, pushing those who do not wish to engage in such a transaction to the margins of intelligibility(9 – 15).

I express that the idea of intoxication culture is important to the conversation of race as it relates to alcohol consumption and space construction, because I take the position that intoxication culture is itself a tool of white supremacy. I argue that this tool aims to encourage the passivity of racialized communities and individuals(Riotfag, 12). I argue that it does so while constructing spaces that structure the relationships with alcohol and drugs with oppressed communities and racialized indivuals as something ‘abnormal’.

Nick Riotfag addresses the prevalence of addiction within oppressed communities. Riotfag discusses drug and alcohol use in Black communities, Indigenous communities and queer communities. Nick Riotfag also acknowledges the role the state has played in the development of a dependant relationship between oppressed communities and drugs, such as the CIA involvement in the introduction of Crack in urban black communities in the United States(12).

As example of a form of resistance, that I would argue position sobriety as a tool of decolonization, the Black Liberation Movement rectified policies of prohibition within their communities; The Zapatista societies of Mexico are dry communities; Indigenous communities across Turtle island ban alcohol from their communities and reserves as a form of identity reclamation and culture regeneration(12). Riotfag quotes Frederick Douglass as stating, “when a slave was drunk, the slaveholder had no fear that he would plan an insurrection; no fear that he would escape to the north. It was the sober, thinking slave who was dangerous, and needed the vigilance of his master to keep him slave”(13). As I have stated, I think it is important to acknowledge these relationships and their utility for state rule and citizen pacification. For the purposes of my research, I have sought answers to questions that pertain to citizenship and patriotic rhetoric which I argue has been instrumental in the development of relationships of dependence and the introduction of drugs and alcohol into oppressed communities. What I find of interest here is the spaces in which the relationship oppressed communities have had with substances that, has encouraged a relationship of dependence, addiction and a larger societal stigmatization. Similarly, I have noticed that the rhetoric of recovery follows similar nationalistic, white supremacist, capitalistic discourses (which I unfortunately will not have time to go into today!).

Drawing from this, I plan to discuss racial categories and identity as a system that deciphers who can access nation, land and citizenship and how this interacts with alcohol, drugs and recovery.

Razack states that race and space are constructed through “Racial and spatial boundaries, as to keep the colonized in their place, which is to be out of place”(61). Razack is stating that the ways in which spaces are constructed specifically in our North American, white supremacist culture, is to reduce the visibility of racialized individuals and communities while selling the idea of assimilation to these communities through various means. I would argue one of these means being the ‘proper method of intoxication and substance usage’. The construction of a proper method of intoxication creates a binarism that constructs an improper method of usage, as Geoff has stated earlier in the presentation. As Razack argues that the prospects of white supremacy are reliant on the construction of space in racialized terms(*), I will, in tandem, argue that ‘improper usage’ or ‘improper inebriation’ within oppressed communities is seen as a complication for nation statehood and as a threat and problem for white supremacy.

Sherene Razack considers the relationship between alcohol policies and land settlement in British Colombia in her book, Race, Space and the Law. In Chapter two Razack states that process of colonizing British Columbia was contingent on the strict enforcement of liquor laws(65). The liquor laws enforced by white settler government dictated who could drink, where and with whom. As Razack suggests, “the regulation of liquor was about space”(65).

As such, alcohol was once only available to citizens of the Canadian state, not inclusive of Indigenous folks, before the idea of the status and non-status Indian came into existence(Razack, ). It was also available only to those citizens who could reproduce state nationalism through a heterosexual discourse. It has become evident through my research that colonialism plays an important role in the establishment and normalization of heterosexuality(Razack, 67). Upon discussing this with my colleague, Clementine she summed it up as such ‘If you control who drinks together, you control who fucks’. At first, I laughed at this thought but then realized its truth and profundity. The relationship that alcohol, colonialism and race have is such to continue a white statehood through heterosexual procreation. It is space construction that insures the continuation of a ‘pure’ white race which would continue the legacy of the nation state.
What I find interesting about this relationship is that the consumption and purchasing of liquor was once only limited to the white, heterosexual patriot subject. Where white settlers were the only ones allowed to purchase and drink alcohol, Indigenous folks and people of colour were not allowed to by legislative rule. We can see these attitudes still prevalent in the marketing of certain alcoholic products, such as Geoff mentioned earlier with a product such as Molson Canadian. Upon watching a commercial for the product, it is almost impossible to not recognize the nationalistic rhetoric prevalent in much of the companys marketing, where Canadian pride is built on the consumption of this beverage, and once having purchased and drank this product, you are able to claim ‘I am Canadian’.

We can see this nationalist discourse manifest in certain spaces constructed for the purposes of buying and consuming alcohol. For example, imagine yourself walking down King Street West on a Friday night. The bars are full, and everyone is trying to get laid. Who do you see? Who is in the bars? How old are they? What colour is their skin? What is their gender presentation? Now, how about if you walk by Queen West and Bathurst at any given time of day or night… Who do you see? How are they drinking? Are they using drugs in a public space? Are they racialized or are they white? Spaces such as these that are constructed with invisible borders, are dictated by race as constructed by white supremacy.

In her research, Razack focuses on the illegality of alcohol consumption for Native folks which defined a racial boundary that was integral to the heterosexual policing of Native folks in British Columbia; the Native identity was constructed as a non-heterosexual, non-white ‘other’ who threatened the white, Eurocentric compilation of nationalistic identity. This, in turn, was concretized as heavily policed liquor laws and laws pertaining to inter-racial sex relations.
As Razack notes in her work, liquor laws, and the construction of spaces and borders are also very much about sex(67). They are about the mixing of cultures, an idea that reiterates eugenic ideas. It is through the colonization of space that race can be managed, heterosexuality solidified and the ‘legacy of white Canadian statehood’ continued(67).

This nationalistic consumption and intoxication is undoubtedly reified through systems of white supremacy. I would argue that, as Geoff stated earlier in this presentation, that the ideology of ‘othering’ is used for people to identify as addicted or non-addicted people. The idea of ‘othering’, as David Goldberg states is used for white supremacy, constructs itself by conceptualizing order anew, and then by reproducing spatial confinement and separation in renewed terms’(*). If we apply this idea to the construct of the addict, we can see this as it relates to spatial construction in urban areas. I think that is important that we question how these spaces have come to exist, and through which process can the invisible borders, tied up in race, addiction and discrimination begin to be dismantled?

In her article, Razack discusses the legalization of alcohol for Indigenous folks in Canada and the “problem of Indian drunkenness” the state was then presented with(66). This was faced with policies that once again outlawed the sale of alcohol to indigenous folks. The anxiety the white Canadian state faced in regards to the “problem of the drunken indian” related to their desire to build and reform a respectable white society, as the pervasiveness of alcoholism and addiction in communities deeply affected and destroyed by colonialism presented a problem to the sustaining of this patriotic imaginative.
I would like to briefly use an example that I have come across in my research. In 2001 John Stackhouse, a journalist for The Globe and Mail, published an article called “Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies”. The article as discussed by Craig Proulx, a Metis professor of Anthropology at McMaster University, claims to be written to empower Aboriginal folks who live in this ‘Harlem on the prairies’, while asking the reader to be the judge of the plausibility of peaceful Aboriginal – Settler relations(143). Instead, what Stackhouse does is utilize what I have discussed here, white supremacist discourse and rhetorics of nationalism and racism, to construct both the identities of racialized folks who he silences, and the white authoritarian settler who he puts on a pedestal(147). Pictures that accompany the article are those of ‘drunk Indians being carried to police cars’ and ‘concerned white police officers looking on’ and doing their duty for the nation state by sweeping the streets of this Canadian Harlem clean of the problem of race integration in the pursuit of maintaining borders constructed around race and alcohol and drug consumption. In the article, the only racialized folks who are given voice are those who work directly for the government through judicial services. Upon investigating this relationship, Proulx quotes Jeanne Guillemin in saying “Since the police and other keepers of the peace in urban and reservation areas have the same values as the rulers of American society, they perceive public inebriation as an ultimate degradation, a fall from civilization. They judge Indians who drink publicly even more harshly than the individual white, because Indians as a group seem to have been born uncivilized with no shame about their categorical degradation”(148). I urge all you to read the article ‘Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies’ by John Stackhouse and draw your own conclusions on what is being said and what it reifies.
The privilege of those who are able to drink in certain spaces, such as at bars on weekends and Friday nights, over lunch with the buddies, or with mimosas at brunch with the girls are constructed upon their relationship within racial borders that dictate who is not allowed to access this privilege. It is this privileged relationship to alcohol and drugs that is a large part of the patriotic imagination, which boasts ‘proper consumption’ as a nationalist duty.
That statement I wish to close with is this: Given the nature of our culture as one of intoxication and seeing the connections that intoxication has with colonialism and racism, how can we work towards a community and a society that operates in a framework of accessibility? This means an accessibility for racialized folks, status and non-status Natives, immigrants, queer folks, and the addicted and the non-addicted alike. I ask what this would mean for you personally? Does this mean you interrogate your own relationship with substances and alcohol? Does it mean you are more conscientious of the spaces in which you drink? Or does it mean that you work with your community to make events dry and alcohol-free and accessible for all?

To interrogate intoxication culture we must truly investigate the ways in which intoxication, alcohol and drugs have shaped our lives and our experiences, as well as how it has worked to construct ideas, identities and the spaces associated with those identities. It has become evident to me, through my research, that to interrogate intoxication culture is to interrogate a deep-rooted racist, nationalistic, colonial discourse. If we truly want to create a culture of accessibility, then we must redefine our relationship with that which aims to render us incapacitated to do so, both individually and collectively.

Work Cited
Proulx, C., “‘An Analysis of ‘Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies”’ in Aboriginal Peoples in Canadian Cities: Transformations and Continuities., pp.,143 – 171, Wilfred Laurier University Press, Waterloo., 2011.

Razack, S., “In Between and Out of Place: Mixed-Race Identity, Liquor and the Law in British Columbia, 1850 – 1913” in Race, Space and the Law: Unmapping a White Settler Society., pp., 47 – 71, Between the Lines, Canada, 2002.

Riotfag, Nick., “Towardsalessfuckedupworld: Sobriety and Anarchist Struggle”. Independent., 199-.

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