Author: Toby Rollo (page 1 of 4)

The Misopedic Order: The Violence of Modernity, Antiblackness, and the Child/Human Binary.

Presentation at the Association of Political Theory, Columbus, Ohio (2016).romuloyremo


I argue in this paper that the violence of black slavery and its afterlife in modern antiblackness  are a function of western misopedy, or a deep enmity toward children and childhood based on the child’s lack of speech and reason. Almost without exception, western intellectual traditions have situated the child as a link between the animal and human and, accordingly, as the degraded object of naturalized violence, subordination, and labour. In the early modern period, chattel slavery of African people came to be understood as both natural and obligatory through their conceptualization as dependant, querulous children. Black skin became a visible and permanent marker of civilizational childhood, the source of black experiences of natal alienation and social death. Although black peoples have been granted formal legal equality, black skin is still experienced by white society as a paternal call to impose order and discipline through force.
In the early 20th century, in an effort to spare white youth from the imperatives of misopedic violence, but also from an association with the undignified condition of the “child races,” white children came to be extended the presumption of innocence traditionally reserved for white adults. In effect, under the rubric of child protection and child welfare, white youth were partially rescued from the misopedic order through their qualified legal and political reconceptualization as adults. Liberatory movements were then tumblr_n6y6p3voeo1rqxd5ko1_1280compelled to affirm rather than challenge the misopedic order, as black people struggled to prove their humanity and capacities for political agency by demonstrating that they, too, are capable of cultivating adult capacities for speech and reason. I conclude that theoretical contributions to abolition and decolonization must include fundamental challenges not just to racial discourses but to their sources, both material and conceptual, in the violent degradation of children and childhood. Challenges to settler colonial whiteness require a rethinking of how we privilege speech and reason in our conceptions of both the political and the human.

Political Theory – “Everyday Deeds: Enactive Protest, Exit, and Silence from Deliberative Systems”

F1.medium2016. “Everyday Deeds: Enactive Protest, Exit, and Silence in Deliberative Systems” Political Theory.



Book Chapter – “Democracy, Agency, and Radical Children’s Geographies”

Freedom2016. “Democracy, Agency, and Radical Children’s Geographies,” in The Practice of Freedom: Anarchism, Geography, and the Spirit of Revolt Volume 3, eds. Richard J. White, Simon Springer and Marcelo Lopes de Souza (Washington: Rowman and Littlefield) (forthcoming).


Settler Colonial Studies – “Feral Children: Settler Colonialism, Progress and the Figure of the Child”

RSET_275_406Feral Children: Settler Colonialism, Progress and the Figure of the Child” in Settler Colonial Studies


Settler colonialism is structured in part according to the principle of civilizational progress yet the roots of this doctrine are not well understood. Disparate ideas of progress and practices related to colonial dispossession and domination can be traced back to the Enlightenment, and as far back as ancient Greece, but there remain unexplored logics and continuities. I argue that civilizational progress and settler colonialism are structured according to the opposition between politics governed by reason or faith and the figure of the child as sinful or bestial. Thus, it is not contingent, but rather necessary that justificatory frameworks of European empire and colonialism depict Indigenous peoples as children. To illustrate how the theoretical link between Indigenous peoples and children emerges not as a simple analogy, but rather, as the source of the premodern/modern and savage/civilized binaries, I trace the various historical iterations of the political/childhood opposition through the classical, medieval, enlightenment, and modern eras. I show how the model of civilizational progress from a premodern and savage state of childhood continues to serve as the model for settler colonial exclusion and domination of Indigenous peoples.


So you want to work in solidarity with black and Indigenous peoples.

So you want to work in solidarity with black and Indigenous peoples. Well, here are a few things you should know but probably haven’t considered.


First, black and Indigenous peoples aren’t homogeneous. They do not hold monolithic perspectives on any issue. There is deep disagreement within these communities. You cannot and should not adjudicate between them. However, you cannot and should not use disagreement as an excuse to avoid accountability. Like it or not, you’re going to have to make some tough choices.


If you thought you could get away with ducking disagreements and fetching coffee, you’re in for a big surprise. Working in solidarity means being accountable, and you are only accountable insofar as you do work – intellectual or physical – for which you can be held to account.


Likewise, if you thought you could simply coast by asking questions and playing the role of student, you’re in for a shock. Working in solidarity means not relying on the labour of black and Indigenous communities to educate you. You will be told that your education is your responsibility.


You are also in for a catastrophic revelation if you thought you are going to be a good ally by being a cheerleader, supporting and amplifying voices at every turn – because there is no single voice. You’re going to have to make choices. Some black and Indigenous peoples embrace capitalism and assimilation into white settler society. Some black and Indigenous peoples reject capitalism and embrace nationhood and sovereignty. Amplifying one perspective means you will be held to account by those who do not hold that perspective. Shifting your support from perspective to perspective makes you look less like an ally and more like an opportunist. Like it or not, working in solidarity means making choices about who you’re working with and sticking to them.


That said, you are nevertheless accountable to all of the distinct and often conflicting voices, so be prepared to explain yourself. Also, be prepared to have those explanations rejected by some and accepted by others. Expect to be accused of talking over and for others. Expect to be accused of being terrible by some and merely good by others. Expect to be told to sit down and shut up and the same time as others tell you to stand up and speak. But remember: these are all reasonable and appropriate responses to your participation. You’re an outsider.


You may be tempted to invoke the names of the black and Indigenous peoples who support you to shield yourself from the inevitable criticism. You do not have a right to do this. Nor should you expect that black and Indigenous peoples who support you privately are going to exacerbate their community’s already existing disagreements by feuding over the work of some white settler. You are alone.


Which brings me to the final consideration. Doing your best work means taking advantage of your talents, privilege, and position within dominant society to change dominant society. Often your most effective work will be in your most intimate relationships where no black and Indigenous people will be present to guide you. Here you will only be accountable to yourself.


So let’s summarize. To work in solidarity is to be accountable, which means you cannot avoid the inevitable disagreements within black and Indigenous communities. Insofar as you remain silent, refusing to stake out and work toward a goal, you are avoiding accountability. Because there are conflicting perspectives within these communities, you are going to have to make tough choices. That said you are accountable (i.e., you must be ready to provide an account) to anyone and everyone in that group, not just those who support you. You cannot use your supporters to defend yourself. You are responsible for your own education. You are responsible for your relationships.

Globe & Mail review of ‘The Winter We Danced’.

The Globe and Mail had a nice review of The Winter We Danced.The Winter We Danced

Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence – “Mandates of the State: Canadian Sovereignty, Democracy, and Indigenous Claims”

CJLJ_Cover_2016_Feb2014. “Mandates of the State: Canadian Sovereignty, Democracy and Indigenous Claims” Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence 27, 1: 225-238.

Ethos of the Ally: Deference, Dialogue, and Distance

Revised: March 2, 2015

I have been asked many times to write about what it means to be an ‘ally’ or work in solidarity with marginalized groups. I am not fond of the term ‘ally’, nor do I think a ‘rule-book’ for aligning oneself with marginalized groups is a good idea. And so I have always declined and referred to what has already been written on the topic by those who have more relevant insight and experience. I won’t rehearse what these activists and writers have already brought to light. There are many common themes running through the various accounts, but where the prescriptions appear to be in tension with each other I have nothing to add other than my commitment to critically engage with them.

Critical Solidarity

This is one of the biggest responsibilities of someone who wishes to do anti-oppression work: to think critically about the diversity and disagreement that naturally occurs within and between groups, and to make judgements about how to proceed given the inevitability of those disagreements. It is inevitable that someone in a group with whom you work in solidarity will ask you to be silent. It is also inevitable that others will ask you to speak up. The worst thing one can do is let a diversity of perspectives paralyze you intellectually or physically, rendering you unable to do the work. Many simply walk away from the role because they assume  disagreement within a marginalized group signals some kind of unreadiness. I think this is a complete mischaracterization of diversity, as I shall explain further. But for now, let us turn to perhaps the most common strategy that allies employ in the face of diversity: uncritical deference.

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Moving Beyond the Indian Act – The Agenda (TVO)

I participated in TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paiken, ostensibly on the topic of alternatives to the Indian Act. Unfortunately, Skype is a terrible medium for remote participation. Worse, the conversation devolved into hearsay regarding Chief Spence.



The Unnecessary Distinction between Reason and the Passions

David Hume (1711 -1776)

The philosopher David Hume famously proclaimed that reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions. Hume was working through the classic dichotomy and philosophical opposition between reason and passion, ideas and emotions. He concluded that belief by itself was insufficient to motivate action; some affective attachment was required in addition to the idea in order to motivate the subject to act. What we call the ‘will’ is merely the experience of this confluence between belief and action.

I happen to think that Hume is on the right track in his portrayal of abstract thought, or what he calls ‘demonstrative’ reasoning, reasoning about relations between ideas. Without some affective attachment to the nature or consequences of information and ideas, our conclusions take the form of idle data and inert propositions. Hume describes another form of reason, probabilistic, which plays a role in action insofar as it determines whether courses of action will result in pain or pleasure. Still, for Hume, it is the aversion to pain and the attraction to pleasure which ultimately motivate us to act on the determinations of probabilistic reasoning.

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