Theorizing Queer Inhumanisms: The Sense of Brownness
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Theorizing Queer Inhumanisms
The Sense of Brownness

My recent writing has revolved around describing an ontopoetics of race that I name the sense of the brownness in the world. Brownness is meant to be an expansive category that stretches outside the confines of any one group formation and, furthermore, outside the limits of the human and the organic. Thinking outside the regime of the human is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. It is a ceaseless endeavor, a continuous straining to make sense of something else that is never fully knowable. To think the inhuman is the necessary queer labor of the incommensurate. The fact that this thing we call the inhuman is never fully knowable, because of our own stuckness within humanity, makes it a kind of knowing that is incommensurable with the protocols of human knowledge production. Despite the incommensurability, this seeming impossibility, one must persist in thinking in these inhuman directions. Once one stops doing the incommensurate work of attempting to touch inhumanity, one loses traction and falls back onto the predictable coordinates of a relationality that announces itself as universal but is, in fact, only a substrata of the various potential interlays of life within which one is always inculcated.

The radical attempt to think incommensurate queer inhumanity is a denaturalizing and unsettling of the settled, sedimented, and often ferocious world of recalcitrant anti-inhumanity. Queer thought is, in large part, about casting a picture [End Page 209] of arduous modes of relationality that persist in the world despite stratifying demarcations and taxonomies of being, classifications that are bent on the siloing of particularity and on the denigrating of any expansive idea of the common and commonism. Within the category of human intraspecies connectivity, we feel the formatting force of asymmetrical stratifications both within humanity and outside it. The incommensurable thought project of inhumanity is the active self-attunement to life as varied and unsorted correspondences, collisions, intermeshings, and accords between people and nonhuman objects, things, formations, and clusterings. In trying to render a sense of brownness, a term that is indebted to the histories of theorizing blackness and queerness, it is incumbent to attempt to attune oneself to the potential and actual vastness of being-with.

Decolonizing the Non/Human

I am approaching the call in this special issue, to think through the “promises or limitations of the nonhuman,” at several crossroads. First, as a recent settler of color who moved to Turtle Island at a time of Indigenous resurgence, I am challenged to fundamentally revisit European paradigms of race, gender, and the non/human. Here, the oft-invoked binaries of male/female and human/nonhuman are more than post-structuralist textbook conundrums. There is a keen awareness of how colonial attempts at dispossession, displacement, and genocide have targeted Indigenous peoples in their apparent failure to subjugate land, women, children, and gender-nonconforming people, and in their lack of proper distinctions between genders and species.1 Leanne Betasamosake Simpson writes: “You use gender violence to remove Indigenous peoples and their descendants from the land, you remove agency from the plant and animal worlds and you reposition aki (the land) as ‘natural resources’ for the use and betterment of white people.”2

Refusing a view of colonialism as in the past, Indigenous feminist, queer, transgender, and Two Spirit thinkers have traced the shifting manifestations of gender violence and environmental violence, from reservation and residential school systems to contemporary regimes of adoption and foster care, policing, and [End Page 210] the epidemic rape and murder of Indigenous women, Two Spirit, and LGBT people, which are in turn linked to resource extraction and ongoing land theft.3 Besides highlighting the significance of cis-heteropatriarchy and anthropocentrism to settler colonialism, they have underlined the defense of the land and the revaluing of traditional gender relations as central strategies of decolonization.4

Second, as a result of both chance and choice, my disciplinary investments have shifted from queer studies to environmental studies (my new institutional home) and critical ethnic studies (an emerging formation that has produced interesting interventions on the intersection of gender, race, and the nonhuman).5 All these epistemic formations have privileged some...