Chat with us, powered by LiveChat What is the role of the imagination and storytelling for decolonization or abolitionism? If identities of color are not automatically radical, where is the potential for radical resistance | WriteDen

What is the role of the imagination and storytelling for decolonization or abolitionism? If identities of color are not automatically radical, where is the potential for radical resistance

300 words. What is the role of the imagination and storytelling for decolonization or abolitionism? If identities of color are not automatically radical, where is the potential for radical resistance rooted within Black Indigenous People of Color or BIPOC imaginations?
What strategies of storytelling and collectivism do artists and abolitionists employ? What do
these images, words make us think, feel, sense about the potential within individual identities for
radical change? Use the list words and resources to answer.
-mourning, monsters, brown, abolitionist, refugee, beauty, debt, decolonial, Chicana feminist,
betrayal, Latinidad, brown trans figurations 

100 words.  What are your main takeaways about decolonization and abolition
based on the readings from this module? What changes can you make to align with
abolitionist and decolonial practices?  (Resources)

Anointed

I’m coming to meet you

I’m coming to see you

What stories will I find?

Will I find an island

or a tomb?

To get to this tomb take a canoe. Take a canoe through miles of scattered sun. Swallow endless swirling sea. Gulp down radioactive lagoon. Do not bring flowers, or speeches. There will be no white stones to scatter around this grave. There will be no songs to sing.

How shall we remember you?

You were a whole island, once. You were breadfruit trees heavy with green globes of fruit whispering promises of massive canoes. Crabs dusted with white sand scuttled through pandanus roots. Beneath looming coconut trees beds of ripe watermelon slept still, swollen with juice. And you were protected by powerful irooj, chiefs birthed from women who could swim pregnant for miles beneath a full moon.

Then you became testing ground. Nine nuclear weapons consumed you, one by one by one, engulfed in an inferno of blazing heat. You became crater, an empty belly. Plutonium ground into a concrete slurry filled your hollow cavern. You became tomb. You became concrete shell. You became solidified history, immoveable, unforgettable.

You were a whole island, once.

Who remembers you beyond your death? Who would have us forget that you were once green globes of fruit, pandanus roots, and whispers of canoes? Who knows the stories of the life you led before?

There’s a story of a turtle goddess. She gifted one of her sons, Letao, a piece of her shell, anointed with power. A leathery green fragment, hollow as a piece of bark. It gave Letao the power to transform into anything, into trees and houses, the shapes of other men, even kindling for the first fire he almost

burned us

alive. 

I am looking for more stories. I look and I look.

There must be more to this than incinerated trees, a cracked dome, a rising sea, a leaking nuclear waste with no fence, there must be more than a concrete shell that houses death. 

Here is a legend of a shell. Anointed with power. Letao used this shell to turn himself into kindling for the first fire. He gave this fire to a small boy. The boy almost burned his entire village to the ground. Licks of fire leapt from strands of coconut leaves from skin and bone and while the boy cried Letao laughed and laughed.

Here is a story of a people on fire – we pretend it is not burning all of us.

Here is a story of the ways we’ve been tricked, of the lies we’ve been told: 

It’s not radioactive anymore

Your illnesses are normal

You’re fine.

You’re fine.

My belly is a crater empty of stories and answers only questions, hard as concrete.

Who gave them this power?

Who anointed them with the power to burn?

,

Monster

Sometimes I wonder if Marshallese women are the chosen ones.

I wonder if someone selected us from a stack. Drew us out slow. Methodical. Then, issued the order:

Give birth to nightmares. Show the world what happens. When the sun explodes inside you.

How many stories of nuclear war are hidden in our bodies?

574 – the number of stillbirths and miscarriages after the bombs of 1951. Before the bombs? 52.

Bella Compoj told the UN she could no longer have children. That she saw her friends give birth to ugly things.

Nerik gave birth to something resembling the eggs of a sea turtle and Flora gave birth to something like the intestines [4]

She told this to a committee of men who washed their hands of this sin – these women who bore unholy things – created from exploding spit and ugly things.

And how these women buried their nightmares. Beneath a coconut tree. Pretended it never happened. Sinister. Hideous. Monster. More jellyfish than child.

And yet. They could see the chest inhale. Exhale. Could it be

human?

Nerik gave birth to something resembling the eggs of a sea turtle and Flora gave birth to something like intestines.

In our legends lives a monster. Mejenkwaad. Woman demons – unhinged jaws swallowing canoes, men, babies. Whole. Shark teeth in the backs of their head. Necks that stretch around an entire island, bloodthirsty. Hungry for babies and pregnant women. Monsters.

My three-year-old likes to hunt for monsters in our closet. We use the light of my cell phone. A blue glow in the dark. We whisper to each other –  did you hear that?

Did I hear what?

The silence of my dreams is severed by her screaming nightmares. And I am a mewling mess turned monster huddled in the corner wide-eyed, wild haired, unable to touch, unable to care, unable to bear the exhaustion, anxiety clawing away at my chest. Am I even

human? Post-partum – easier to diagnose after the fact. Two years later those memories haunt me. When I became the bump in the night. When I realized I needed to protect her. From me.

Did you hear that?

Nerik gave birth to something resembling the eggs of a sea turtle and Flora gave birth to something like intestines.

In our legends lives a monster. Woman demons, unhinged jaws. Swallowing their own babies. Driven mad. Turned flesh rotten. Blood through their eyes their teeth their nose.

Were the women who gave birth to nightmares considered monsters? Were they driven mad by these unholy things that came from their bodies? Were they sick with the feeling of horror that perhaps there was something

wrong. With them.

My three-year-old sleeps next to me. I have lost my fangs and ugly dreams. I watch her chest inhale. Exhale. Know that she is real, she is mine. I try to write forgiveness and healing into our story. Into myself.

In legends lives a woman. Turned monster from loneliness. Turned monster from agony and suns exploding in her chest. She gives birth to a child that is not so much a child but too much a jellyfish. The child is struggling for breath. Struggling in pain. She wants to bring the child peace. Bring her home. Her first home. Inside her body.

It is an embrace. It is only. An embrace. She kneels next to the body.

 

And inhales. 

 

[4] Glenn Alcalay, “The Sociocultural Impact of Nuclear Weapons Tests in the Marshall Islands,” (unpublished field report: 1981) 1-2.

,

INTRODUCTION

The Empire of Freedom

EX-REFUGEE WILL THANK AMERICA WITH

A PERSONAL ROSE PARADE FLOAT

Los Angeles—Madalenna Lai arrived on U.S. soil in May ∞Ωπ∑ after fleeing the

Communist takeover of Vietnam in a boat and staying in a Guam refugee camp.

She was ≥∂, penniless and the sole provider for four children, all younger

than ∞≠.

Lai quickly created a career for herself, starting beauty shops in El Monte and

then in Pomona before opening a cosmetology school in Pomona. She raised her

children by herself, although she jokes that at some point some of her children

began raising her.

The Vietnamese refugee sees the life she has cultivated in the United States as

a gift from the people and country that adopted her, she said. In ∞ΩΩ≥, she

decided to thank as many of them as she could and let the world know how

grateful she is.

On New Year’s Day she will do just that to a worldwide television audience

estimated at ≥∑≠ million people and an audience along the parade route of ∞.∑

million. Amid the floral pomp of the Tournament of Roses will come Lai’s version

of a thank-you card: a fully bedecked parade float that suggests the story of the

boat people like her who left Vietnam by sea.

In a year in which the Rose Parade is expected to be awash with red, white

and blue patriotism—plus University of Nebraska red—Lai’s Vietnam-themed

float will carry a simple message from an immigrant: ‘‘Thank you America and the

world.’’

—TIPTON BLISH, Los Angeles Times

This is not an analytics of truth; it will concern what might be called an ontology

of the present, an ontology of ourselves.

—MICHEL FOUCAULT, ‘‘The Art of Telling the Truth’’

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2 INTRODUCTION

On a clear January morning in Pasadena, a fishing boat in the form of a

golden bird made of a hundred thousand flowers washed ashore. Floating

along a boulevard lined with celebrants, the boat carried refugees to the

new world, bearing with them a message of love: ‘‘Thank You America and

the World.’’ Two tales surface alongside this particular boat—the chronicle

of a refugee grandmother and her profuse gratitude, and the more un-

canny story about its making. Fleeing the war-torn country on a small

fishing boat; raising her four young children alone in a new world, while

her husband remained behind, and missing, for an interminable decade—

throughout the long years, the first story goes, Madalenna Lai not only

endures but triumphs. Now a prosperous entrepreneur operating beauty

salons and a cosmetology school, she wishes to show her appreciation to

‘‘America’’ (and, as an afterthought, ‘‘the world’’) for the gift of her life, her

freedom.∞ For years, Lai had solicited donations in front of local Viet-

namese supermarkets and in door-to-door encounters, even going so far

as to sacrifice her hard-earned wealth in order to convey her gratitude

with the sumptuous, spectacular beauty that America made possible. In

interviews she enthuses: ‘‘I think this country looks like heaven. I have

peace of mind. I didn’t have to worry about the people being unfair.’’≤

‘‘The more I see of this country the more I feel I have to say thank you.

This is a country of freedom and human rights.’’≥ ‘‘The United States

opened her arms to me and my children. We no longer went hungry and

my kids received a good education. I told myself after my children finished

school and I reunited with my husband, I would give my life to thank

America.’’∂

Her gratefulness invites us to consider a second tale, about the powers

through which a benevolent empire bestows on an other freedom. In Lai’s

words, we find all the good and beautiful things the gift claims as its conse-

quence—the right to have rights, the choice of life direction, the improve-

ment of body and mind, the opportunity to prosper—against a spectral

future of their nonexistence, under communism, under terror. That she is

rescued from such psychic death through the gift of freedom as a promise

of care encodes a benign, rational story about the United States as the

uncontested superpower on the world stage today. But the gift of freedom

also discloses for us liberalism’s innovations of empire, the frisson of

freedom and violence that decisively collude for same purposes—not just

because the gift of freedom opens with war and death, but also because it

may obscure those other powers that, through its giving, conceive and

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THE EMPIRE OF FREEDOM 3

shape life. So I begin with a story in which we are invited to know the

refugee’s sorrow, and her indebtedness for its cure, in order to tell us

something meaningful about the genealogies of liberal powers that under-

gird the twinned concerns of this scene: the gift of freedom and the debt

that follows. The present work considers this twofold nature by posing

these questions: How is this act of thankfulness, and all that it implies

about the gift and its giving, a problem of imperial remains? What special

significance does this act carry from a refugee, especially this refugee from

that tarnished war of American ambition? Why are we—those of us who

have received this precious, poisonous gift of freedom—obliged to thank?

What powers oblige us?

One significant challenge to theorizing the powers of liberal empire is the

elasticity of its terms. The coupling of empire with the assumed scenes of

liberalism—human self-possession as the property and precondition for

freedom, especially as the consciousness to act, to enter into contract with

others—has led to triumphant claims to an exceptional power, through

which the tolerant collectivity of the well governed bears a grave duty to

ease the su√ering and unhappiness of others. The contemporary political

life of this empire often goes by the name the gift of freedom, a world-

shaping concept describing struggles aimed at freeing peoples from unen-

lightened forms of social organization through fields of power and vio-

lence. This altruistic self-concept has long been under siege, of course. (As

we well know, the crucible of the United States, christened by Thomas Jef-

ferson as an ‘‘empire of liberty,’’∑ is conquest and captivity.) Noam Chom-

sky, a rigorous critic of the U.S. wars in Southeast Asia, sco√s, ‘‘When

precisely did the United States try to help the South Vietnamese choose

their own form of government and social order? As soon as such questions

are posed, the absurdity becomes evident.’’∏ So critics of our present mo-

ment, wrought through the exception to encompass indefinite detention,

brutal torture, and incalculable death, regard with incredulity and outrage

the gift of freedom that purports to refute the lethal nature of empire. But

the now-familiar ‘‘disclosure’’ that the gift of freedom is an insubstantial

ruse for what might be called a liberal way of war, both then and especially

now, has scarcely attenuated invocations of freedom as an intuition, and an

at-times blunt instrument, for the disposition of hope and despair, life and

death.π The idea of the gift of freedom therefore may capture something

more than bad faith and falsehood, but indeed, an ever-expanding crisis of

confusions and conflicts around the ethics and assemblages of liberal

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4 INTRODUCTION

knowledge and power. This book is an attempt to consider freedom as a

force, one that can indeed humiliate and exclude but also embrace and

inspire—arousing such startling spectacles as refugee thanks spelled out in a

kaleidoscopic cascade of blossoms. Because empires thrive on conceptual

pluralities, it seems so too must our critiques of empire.∫

The Gift of Freedom forwards a partial genealogy of liberalism’s tactile

and intangible consequences as empire, including the densely tangled

assemblages of power and violence that undergird the promise of free-

dom, and the subject of freedom, whose humanity is the moving target of

this promise. The gift of freedom is not a universal value or a formal

structure, but is instead the frequent name for the both familiar and

strange ways in which liberal empire marshals its forces for and against

others and elsewheres. Rather than challenge the gift of freedom through

refutation or inconsistency (which would presume that freedom is some-

thing other than a force, and that the ideal presence of freedom is calcul-

able in truth), this concept inhabits the book as an analytic, a lever of

sorts, for a historical investigation into the forms and events that con-

stitute us as subjects of its imperial powers. These powers constellate

allocations and appropriations of violence with a view toward injury and

death, but also with a horizon for the preservation of life—with disposi-

tions and structures of feeling, to invoke Raymond Williams,Ω within and

between empire’s subjects that rouse and animate love and gratitude, guilt

and forgiveness, and other obligations of care levied on the human heart;

with political and also phenomenological forms of graduated sovereignty

and di√erential humanity that endure beyond the formal exercise of mili-

tary operations or occupation.∞≠ In short, the present moment, such that

we find liberal war regarding the whole world as target (to borrow from

Rey Chow∞∞), in fact warns us that to dismiss the gift of freedom as a trick,

a ploy, would be to deny that freedom is precisely the idiom through

which liberal empire acts as an arbiter for all humanity.

This idiom festoons the parade float that launches this query, three

months after the commencement of another war to free more distant

peoples from violence, from terror. (In a prior time, the enemy was named

communism and postcolonial immaturity; in this time, fundamentalism

and global terrorism.) With the fall of Saigon to communist forces in April

1975, and the abrupt close of U.S. operations in South Viet Nam (years

after Vietnamization and the Paris Peace Accords proposed such endings),

hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese sought haven, or hospitality, else-

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THE EMPIRE OF FREEDOM 5

where, fearful of the regime to come. Multitudes fled over land or by sea,

and of these many fell to brigands or starvation or despair; those who

chanced the perilous voyage on the open water were colloquially dubbed

boat people. This harrowing tale takes a fantastical turn decades later, as a

humble fishing boat is transformed into a mythical bird, ferrying her

passengers to an Eden of abundance and awesome beauty. As refugee-

cum-happy-citizen, Madalenna Lai is similarly converted in the encounter

with America, but because the gift of freedom secures her life in multiple

dimensions—its preservation, convenience, and pleasure—her debt comes

through as literally monumental. Particularly meaningful, then, in these

accounts is their economy of arguably impossible equivalence. On the one

hand, all that Lai gains through her freedom is coupled with all that she

waives in recompense: she sells her home, she invests all her ‘‘free’’ time,

and still (she confesses) she cannot hope to acquit her debt. On the other

hand, this nonequivalence is ‘‘proper,’’ since the philosophical and politi-

cal truth of freedom is paradoxically beyond value. Such impossible calcu-

lations (enduring debt for all that is given) haunt the reception of this

refugee’s homage: ‘‘You’re welcome!’’∞≤

I begin with the particular optimism of this figure of the Vietnamese

refugee, not to recoup a di√erent story about her arrival, but to inquire

about the powers that promise her freedom and demand an enduring

consciousness of her debt. In doing so, I focus on the subject of freedom as

an object of knowledge and a critical methodology that discloses for us the

assemblages and powers through which liberal empire orders the world.∞≥

Each chapter addresses those refugee figurations that do not just indict

imperial powers as premised on devastating violence, but that also ema-

nate through beauty, through love, through hope—in short, the promise

to life—as equally world-making powers, thus allowing us critical pur-

chase on the protracted nature of liberal imperial formations found in

both ‘‘minor’’ and major events and encounters.∞∂ Especially because

structures of race and coloniality, as well as organizing forms of gender

and sexuality, are at the center of this simultaneous promise and duress—

granting access to some intensities of happiness and virtue while imped-

ing others—the gift of freedom emerges as a site at which modern govern-

mentality and its politics of life (and death) unfolds as a universal history

of the human, and the figuration of debt surfaces as those imperial re-

mains that preclude the subject of freedom from being able to escape a

colonial order of things.

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6 INTRODUCTION

The Gift of Freedom queries just how an empire of liberty, and the

contemporary United States as an exemplar of this beautiful, sinister re-

gime, brings into being the world as a target across the twentieth and

twenty-first centuries. If the gift of freedom is no untruth, but instead

coexists with violence, or because of violence that appears as something

else, then the concept of the gift of freedom must encompass all those

forces that promise new subjects as well as new forms of action, new

events, a new order—such as a grateful refugee or enduring war.

The Gifts of Freedom

In what follows, I give a brief overview of the political and theoretical

problems the gift of freedom raises for consideration. I draw on multiple

critical genealogies of those powers that claim to care for or protect life

and liberty to argue this concept. First, in observing that both terms

named by the gift of freedom are complexly wrought through asymmetry

and calculation, I look to the works of Jacques Derrida, who argues that

the gift (especially the gift that announces itself as gift) incriminates an

economy of exchange and obligation between giver and recipient, and

Michel Foucault, who suggests that liberal government proposes to man-

ufacture freedom, and in turn, that freedom is never anything more than a

‘‘relation between governors and governed.’’∞∑ Second, I consider how

structures of race and coloniality underpin modern concepts of human

freedom and progress, and the government the human deserves. Post-

colonial and other critics aptly observe that though imperial expansion

promises enlightenment and civilization, these are themselves violences—

and that through such a cluster of promises, we encounter at least one

violence as an ontology of time (through its measure, organization, limit).

If, as Derrida argued, ‘‘a promise must promise to be kept, that is, not to

remain ‘spiritual’ or ‘abstract,’ but to produce events, new e√ective forms

of action, practice, organization, and so forth,’’∞∏ postcolonial and other

critics query just what events, new e√ective forms of action, practice, organi-

zation, and so forth, the gift of freedom, as an object of desire and domi-

nance, holds out—or circumscribes—as possible futures. These critical

genealogies inform this book’s naming the gift of freedom as the workings

of liberalism in its imperial form and as a metaphor and a medium for

grasping continuities and innovations between operations of power and

violence. Enfolding Derrida and Foucault with postcolonial and other

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