Settler Psychology & the Deliberate Ignorance of Racism’s Structural Nature

Rainer Shea
This is part three in a series on settlerism. See Part One for how settlerism impacts activist spaces, and Part Two for how it obfuscates the definition of “immigrant” vs “settler.”

Myopia is the essence of reactionary thinking. As described in Umberto Eco’s Ur-Fascism, appeals to the reactionary mindset always encourage anti-intellectualism: “Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Goering’s alleged statement (‘When I hear talk of culture I reach for my gun’) to the frequent use of such expressions as ‘degenerate intellectuals,’ ‘eggheads,’ ‘effete snobs,’ ‘universities are a nest of reds.’” This is the logical conclusion of the settler-colonial mindset, as the basis of settlerism is to deliberately ignore the nature of societal structures. To be aggressively disinterested in examining who has the power and resources, and why they do.

If it’s never considered that “America” only exists due to the theft of indigenous land, that the country’s great wealth exists due to free African labor which still hasn’t been compensated, that the U.S. is the center of exploitation of the Global South, or that these realities shape the country’s racial politics, the alternatives to the present inequities won’t be considered either. Conversely, when you recognize these realities, it becomes easy to imagine what such alternatives will look like. Viewing the United States as an inextricably settler-colonial country, and as the center of global imperialism, makes it seem natural that for the working class to be liberated, decolonization must happen. With decolonization meaning the abolition of the United States and its colonial borders, allowing for the correction of land relations. This meaning the returning of jurisdiction over all of the land to the tribes, like has already happened in the eastern half of Oklahoma during the last couple years of indigenous struggles.

When land relations are returned to their state where the indigenous First Nations decide what happens to the land, billions of people will be liberated, with the benefactors located both around the globe and within what’s currently called the “United States.” The only ones who would stand to lose are the overwhelmingly settler bourgeoisie in the imperial center, and the labor aristocrats who act as their footsoldiers in the police forces and the petty bourgeois militias. As Mao predicted, over 90 percent of the world’s population will ultimately rise up against imperialism. Those remaining few are largely the settlers whose wealth is tied into the continuation of the colonial occupation, the settler state’s ongoing refusal to pay reparations to the Africans or end the racist carceral state state, and the exploitation of the Global South.

Since a post-colonial continent would have to be socialist (given that capitalism leaves a route for colonial rule to continue in economic forms), neo-colonialism would no longer be part of how our society garners wealth. We would be able to build society off of our own labor, instead of meagerly benefiting from the crumbs of imperial plunder as the wealthy exploit both us and the global proletariat. Imperialism would be abolished both externally and internally, freeing the proletariat on both this continent, and throughout the world where imperialism is unraveling, to collectively develop civilization. Dismantle imperialism from within, and so much is solved.

But the settler mindset seeks to prevent this scenario by encouraging us to remain myopic, and therefore to reject these collectivist solutions in favor of reactionary individualism. This is our version of the individualistic thinking that Ho Chi Minh described as being poisonous for revolutionary thought, and that he said capitalism makes prevalent even in exploited countries like Vietnam:

Born and brought up in the old society, we all carry within ourselves, to varying extent, traces of that society in our thinking and habits. The worst and most dangerous vestige of the old society is individualism. Individualism runs counter to revolutionary morality. The last remaining trace of it will develop at the first opportunity, smother revolutionary virtues and prevent us from wholeheartedly struggling for the revolutionary cause. Individualism is something very deceitful and perfidious, it skillfully induces one to backslide. And everybody knows that it is easier to backslide than to progress. That is why it is very dangerous. To shake off the bad vestiges of the old society and to cultivate revolutionary virtues, we must study hard, and educate and reform ourselves in order to progress continuously. Otherwise we shall retrogress and lag behind, and shall eventually be rejected by the forward-moving society.

Settlerism makes this obstacle doubly insidious and hard to overcome. It ingrains individualism into every corner of our lives, conditioning us to be blind towards the structural realities which perpetuate violence. Fascism is naturally what comes of this mindset. The kind of fascism that aggressively reinforces the erasure, annexationism, and racial chauvinism which settler-colonialism is based around. From the “Back the Blue” movement, to the fixation on a gun culture whose purpose is to arm rich whites, our manifestations of fascism makes bare the violence that’s below the surface of the settler-colonial arrangement. In recent years, as our capitalist crises have intensified, Amerikkkan fascism has been metasizing into additional forms: the antisemitic QAnon conspiracy, the effort to portray the 2020 election as having been stolen, Sinophobia, the denialistic attitude towards Covid-19, the ultra-nationalist marches on the Capitol, the glorification of the reactionary vigilante murderer Kyle Rittenhouse.

All of these trends play into settler individualism and entitlement. They form a funhouse mirror image of the world, designed to rationalize the continued existence of the U.S. empire in the face of its mounting contradictions. The reactionaries believe there’s a vast Chinese-tied conspiracy to disenfranchise white voters, destroy their “freedoms” through pandemic measures, and incite racial tensions directed at law enforcement, with our only hope being militarized police and armed vigilantes. The deliberate disregard for the pandemic has the deepest historical significance; the Europeans could only steal the continent due to their weaponization of foreign diseases against the Natives, and the fact that Natives are now dying from Covid-19 at far higher rates than whites is making history repeat itself.

The conspiracy beliefs driving this new wave of mass deaths are nonsense with a purpose: to negate the material realities of our conditions, and rouse settler Amerikkka towards participating in fascist paramilitarism. The reactionaries seek to take the deep ties to individualism that settler-colonialism has created within our culture, and use it to produce an upswell of ur-fascism.

Liberalism is incapable of stopping this growing fascist upsurge, because it’s based in the same rejection of systemic analysis. It foists the blame for racism, the pandemic, and other social ills onto individuals, ignoring that settler-colonialism and capitalism are the sources of our crises. Liberals take the kind of position that Frantz Fanon ridicules in Black Skin, White Masks, which critiques the individualized explanation for racism put forth by the psychoanalyst Octave Mannoni. The case Fanon and Mannoni argue over is apartheid South Africa, but the same dynamics of racial injustice and settler bigotry apply to today’s United States:

Monsieur Mannoni believes that the poor Whites in South Africa hate Blacks irrespective of economics…we could retort that this shift of the white proletariat’s aggressiveness onto the black proletariat is basically a result of South Africa’s economic structure. What is South Africa? A powder keg where 2,530,300 Whites cudgel and impound 13 million Blacks. If these poor whites hate Blacks it’s not, as Monsieur Mannoni implies, because “racialism is the work of petty officials, small traders and colonials, who have toiled much without great success.” No, it’s because the structure of South Africa is a racist structure.

It’s through adopting Fanon’s Marxist analysis of racism that we can overcome blindness towards the contradictions which surround us, and which pervade our own consciousness due to us all being shaped by our conditions. The ur-fascist, and the liberal by extension, seeks to sabotage their own intelligence by refusing to examine societal structures. The revolutionary ruthlessly investigates these structures, and looks for how they themselves have been influenced by the individualism these structures perpetuate. It’s through this process that we can thwart the ur-fascists, who want to keep colonial oppression in place forever by wiping out the very knowledge of what colonialism is.

Rainer Shea: Exposing the lies of capitalism and imperialism. Subscribe to his newsletter on Substack.