The 5 Stages of UpSettler Coping (and some Recommended Treatments) by Tobold Rollo @SettlerColonialTweet
In your social media travels, you will no doubt come across settlers saying and doing inappropriate things. I know. It’s a revelation. As you are aware, when confronted on their actions you elicit certain, shall we say, patterns. Settlers seem to get fairly upsettled by your observations. But the reasons behind these reactions are not always clear.
After some experience in this domain, and being a settler myself, I have diagnosed 5 stages of upsettler coping, some of their underlying causes, and how you might wish to respond. They are as follows…
1. Astonishment. Most settlers will be baffled by your observation that they have said or done something offensive and/or racist.
The reason for is that, although you may have a sense of where your beliefs come from and where they are rooted, settlers do not. The settler education system is by design a program of historical erasure and selective amnesia, not only targeting the history of people and events but also the origins and evolution of ideas. European ideas that reinforce settler colonialism have a history, which, if you understand it, allows you to contextualize and challenge your presuppositions. The settler will most likely have no clue about this history, and so his ideas will feel axiomatic, self-evident, incontrovertible, innocuous, and natural. Whatever they have done, it is obviously your problem.
Treatment: If you have the time and patience, and though you are not obligated to do so, introduce them to the possibility that what they take to be TRUE has not always the case, and is still not the case for many of his contemporary peers. If you have the historical chops, this is where you might provide a little education. Sometimes the term ‘settler’ itself is a good starting point. Other ideas whose histories are worth exploring include ‘nation’, ‘race’, and ‘sovereignty’.
2. Anger. Most settlers will turn from shock to scorn and derision after being confronted.
The reason for this is that settlers are emotionally invested in the stereotypes and patterns of behaviour that you have identified as unacceptable. Your challenge will be seen as an insult to their intelligence, of course. But also keep in mind that settlers, especially men, will have shared some impressionable moments with their fathers and uncles and close friends – perhaps on a fishing trip or sports event – engaging in deeply misogynistic and racist banter. The emotional bonds that buttress settler relationships are forged in part in the fires of racism, and so, for the settler, a challenge to the legitimacy of their actions signals brings into question the sanctity of their intimate memories and relationships. Obviously, you’re being a big meany.
Treatment: If you have the time and patience, and though you are not obligated to do so, highlight the bonds of solidarity they have with non-settler peoples, too, of which they are probably not aware. This includes relationships of mutual social and political identity through treaties, responsibilities to the land, etc. Use this as a framework for re-casting their actions as an affront to the possibilities of friendship.
3. Denial. Most settlers will deny outright having said or done anything offensive for the simply fact that they deny being racist.
The reason for this is two-fold. The first is that no settler wants to admit that they are racist because to do so means doubting their judgement, intelligence, moral character, and the sanctity of their relationships (see above). It also typically entails admitting that their parents are racist, which adds to the already immense effort they have likely put into absolving their parents of moral failings in every other respect. The second and less understood reason is that the settler may not be overtly racist; indeed, they may be a person of colour who has been the victim of racism. What is crucial to note here is that racism is not the only motivator for denying the claims of Indigenous peoples.
Settler colonialism asserts a inviolable claim to land, which requires a denial of Indigenous rights to the land, which requires a denial of Indigeneity as a legitimate basis for rights and claims. In this respect, people of all “races”, who may or may not harbour deep racist views, can nevertheless feel threatened by Indigenous assertions of identity and culture, for they call into question the legitimacy of settler presence on the land and the legitimacy of settlement. Hence, the resistance to being called a ‘settler’ tends to be different (though not unrelated) to being called out as racist.
Treatment: If you have the time and patience, and though you are not obligated to do so, you may wish to follow up your accusation of racism with some information about the history of racialization of Indigenous peoples – how it has been used to justify genocide – but also that, with respect to settler colonialism, there is a ready and available ‘fix’ to the problem of settler presence: the treaty relationship. Though not always possible, it pays strategically, and in terms of conserving energy, to parse out whether the settler denial is rooted moreso in commitments to racialization or in settler colonialism.
4. Projection. Once the fits of upsettler disbelief, rage, and denial are over, settlers typically settle (heh) into a pattern of projection whereby the accusation of racist behaviour is turned back on the accuser.
This defence mechanism is purely about self-preservation, which signals one of two possibilities:
(i) First, the person is not an upsettler but in fact a deeply committed white supremacist who feels the ‘white race’ is under attack. You can usually tell if you are dealing with a white supremacist when they have skipped over the first 3 stages and gone straight to blustering about ‘reverse racism’ and European superiority. These people have been deeply and irreparably damaged by their parents and communities.
Treatment: They are not worth your time or energy. We settlers have a special division for dealing with these guys. Leave it to us.
(ii) You may, however, wish to engage the second set of settlers who simply try to shield themselves in the moment by deflecting the ‘racism’ challenge back to you. These people have picked up the tactic of announcing ‘reverse racism’ from their more racist friends and family without truly understanding its implications.
Treatment: Provided you have already parsed out whether their resistance is rooted moreso in commitments to racialization or in settler colonialism, you may wish to flank the exchange by talking about settler colonial commitments to land rather than getting mired in a volley of accusations and counter-accusations. Remember that projection is an outgrowth of the anger and denial stage, so it may be advisable to return to those specific treatments instead of traversing the terrain of projected guilt.
5. Bargaining. Eventually, the settler may accept that they have done something wrong and ask for education, guidance, forgiveness, etc.
It is important to point out that this final stage should not be confused with a stage of acceptance – there is no pristine stage of settler acceptance and absolution. Rather, there is sometimes a lifelong stage of (re)negotiating recognition of settler colonialism and the responsibilities entailed therein.
Treatment: If you have the time and patience, and though you are not obligated to do so, you may wish to grant the requests for education or guidance. Or not. Ultimately, the bargaining stage is not between settlers and Indigenous peoples, but within and between settler communities as they come to understand their responsibilities on their own terms.