Essay

Playing in the dark archive

Confronting the global legacy of slavery

Interviewer: Describe your aesthetic in five words.
Jasmine Togo-Brisby: Can. You. See. Us. Now?

IN JUNE 2021, in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests in the United States and a wave of similar Australian protests – conducted in solidarity with African Americans and to draw attention to Aboriginal deaths in police custody – Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned against ‘importing the things that are happening overseas to Australia’. Morrison conceded that Australia has ‘issues in this space’ but implied the effects of anti-Black racism in the past and present were less serious than in other nations and regions. One week later, he said during a talkback radio segment that ‘there was no slavery in Australia’. The next day, Morrison apologised for the remark, saying he misspoke and meant only when the colonies were established there was no intention for legal slavery to exist. When pressed specifically about the practice of ‘blackbirding’ – the coercion of South Sea Islanders into indentured labour on Queensland plantations – he responded: ‘There have been all sorts of hideous practices that have taken place, and so I’m not denying any of that,’ reiterating, ‘Okay? I’m not denying any of that. It’s all recorded.’ (Our italics.)

Mixed-media artist Jasmine Togo-Brisby would beg to differ. In common with artists such as Tracey Moffatt, Fiona Foley and poet Natalie Harkin, her outpouring of arresting work probes such credulous accounts of ‘the archive’.

Born and raised in northern NSW and Queensland, Togo-Brisby traces her ancestry to the Ambae and Espiritu Santo islands of Vanuatu. She is descended from at least two people whose early life of coerced labour barely figures in the documentary archive, but they told their own stories openly within family and communities. Her great-grandmother was taken from a beach in what is now Vanuatu when she was just eight years old. Her great-grandfather was taken in the same year, 1899, probably as a teenager, though he was never certain of his age. Neither ever had indenture papers, though they were both put to work in the household of a wealthy Sydney family, the Wunderlichs, and they later married. Togo-Brisby’s photography, sculpture, video and installations focus on the history and legacies of forced labour, including meditations on broader questions of belonging in Australian society. Based in Australia for much of her early career, she moved to New Zealand in 2015 to complete her degrees in fine arts and take up a residency with Tautai Pacific Arts Trust. With this support and immersion in the art of Māori and Pasifika communities, her brilliant work has continued apace: she produced five solo exhibitions in 2019–20 alone.

Togo-Brisby’s art and activism confront the history of plantation labour in Australia by grappling both explicitly and implicitly with representations of Atlantic slavery. While much of her oeuvre evokes strategies and iconography familiar from other prominent visual artists whose work probes the history of the transatlantic slave trade, Togo-Brisby does not ‘import’ this history to Australian soil. By conversing with these artists through her work, she rather demonstrates that histories of coerced labour have always been enmeshed and entangled. In three specific ways – her use of plantation imagery, her representation of ‘tall ships’ and of her familial history of domestic labour – Togo-Brisby’s art equips viewers to see the connections between Atlantic and Pacific worlds and to reflect on the legacies of colonialism and enslavement we all share. 

 

IN 1847, SCOTSMAN Benjamin Boyd, whose wealth came largely from the trade in enslaved Africans, dragooned close to 200 adult South Sea Islanders onto ships in two violent excursions. But his scheme to extract the labour of these men and women for his NSW properties failed; urban liberals and radicals opposed pastoralists’ high-handedness in importing non-white people as labourers and passed legislation to prevent it. In the 1860s, Captain Robert Towns (for whom Townsville is named) tried again, importing sixty-seven people to farm cotton. While this crop proved unviable, sugar became profitable, and most of the 62,000 South Sea Islanders who were subsequently ‘recruited’ worked as indentured labourers on Queensland’s sugar plantations. South Sea Islander importation, always controversial, was finally outlawed with the 1901 Pacific Island Labourers Act as part of a suite of legislation known collectively as the White Australia policy. Some 7,500 people – many of whom were now part of established families and communities in Australia – were deported. Others, perhaps up to 2,500, remained.

So-called ‘blackbirded’ labour used to appear in some states’ school history curricula, but only in a way that consolidated the erasure of Australian South Sea Islander (ASSI) communities’ ongoing presence in Queensland and beyond. In recent years, this history has been conjured into public consciousness, largely through the determined efforts of descendants of those South Sea Islanders who remained. Togo-Brisby herself is explicit about her twofold aim: to redress widespread ignorance about the history that brought her ancestors to Australia and to make space for the expression of present-day ASSI life. The multistranded nature of this history and its legacy is another key theme: continuing racism has compounded inherited trauma from the displacement, enslavement and disavowal of her ancestors. The legacy also includes a complicated interweaving of South Sea Islander descendants with Indigenous communities. While there has been some success in restoring public awareness of this history, as evidenced by Morrison’s retraction of his statements, his public flailing about what is and isn’t part of Australia’s historical record spotlights the movement of coercive machineries of labour across national boundaries and the way these moves have been disavowed by some and memorialised by others.

Togo-Brisby is not alone in positioning this spotlight. There is a long, shared history of resistance among Black and Blak people to the experience of forced labour in the US and Australia and an intertwining of representations of that experience. The hegemony of US popular culture – and the key role played by African Americans – ensures that most Australians know something of slavery in America, whether it’s through Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, the Academy Award-winning 12 Years a Slave (2013) or, going further back in living memory, the miniseries Roots (1977) or the ever-popular Gone With the Wind (1939).

For a great many Australians, the first image that comes to mind when they hear the word ‘slavery’ is one located elsewhere: cotton farming in America’s ‘Deep South’, which took place only in the last two generations of US slavery. For artists exploring forced labour in other arenas, then, Atlantic slavery and US slavery are key reference points. In responding to and reorienting images of Atlantic slavery, Togo-Brisby’s art illuminates the way racialised, coerced plantation labour was embedded in the historical development of the Queensland colony, contesting the widely held narrative that there was no slavery in Australia.

In doing so, Togo-Brisby puts into creative form the insights of Tracey Banivanua Mar, the late historian of labour and race in Australia and the Pacific whose work addressed a long debate in this country as to whether indenture amounted to slavery. Laws provided that South Sea Islanders as young as six years old could legally be indentured for several years at a time. Enslaved people in the Atlantic, by contrast, were enslaved for life – and, from the 1660s, women’s children were similarly enslaved, or, as the law of the colony of Virginia put it, ‘all children borne in this country shalbe held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother’. Rather than draw a direct analogy between enslavement and indenture, Banivanua Mar argued for the structural similarity of the two brought about by the nature of the sugar market. Queensland sugar production could compete in a global market that ‘still in part used slave labour’ because of South Sea Islanders’ ‘expendability and the cheap conditions under which they could be kept’. Her 2007 book Violence and Colonial Dialogue traced what she called the ‘myriad impacts of this catastrophe’, showing the human cost of the demand in Australia for land, resources and labour.

It’s this ‘expendability’ that raises the spectre of the Atlantic plantation here, as defined by the presence of labourers whose legal status turned at least informally on race. As scholar Saidiya Hartman argues in Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, by the end of the seventeenth century ‘race established a hierarchy of human life, determined which persons were expendable, and selected the bodies that could be transformed into commodities’. Togo-Brisby’s work explores how this hierarchy, which was global and from which Australia was not immune, structured the conditions of life for her ancestors and other transported South Sea Islanders. In the words of Faith Bandler, perhaps the best known ASSI activist of the twentieth century, ‘I maintain that it was a form of slavery. It is true that some people in the later years signed a contract to work for three years. But my father didn’t, neither did his brother and neither did their sister. They were paid nothing whatsoever.’ Hartman’s work on the ‘afterlife’ of enslavement draws attention to the ‘skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration and impoverishment’ facing African American people in the present, while Banivanua Mar described the ‘innate continuity between the colonial past and its ongoing future’. Togo-Brisby’s works suggest that this hierarchy continues to govern life today.

 

TOGO-BRISBY IS VERY open as to what motivates her. When asked to summarise her aesthetic, she replies with a pointed question about her political commitment to amplifying South Sea Islander histories in Australia: ‘Can. You. See. Us. Now?’ This emphatic challenge refracts a longstanding theme in African American letters about the blinding or veiling effects of racism. Such examples include Ralph Ellison’s National Book Award-winning novel Invisible Man (1952) and, more recently, filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s series When They See Us (2019), about five young Black men falsely convicted of a 1989 rape.

Togo-Brisby’s staccato remark also reflects frustration at the invisibility of ASSI history and a demand that contemporary Australians recognise the role of South Sea Islanders in Queensland’s history and the culpability of those who transported and enslaved them. It also underscores that repair is morally necessary and should be instigated by those who suffer from neither the inherited trauma nor present-day racism. Forces beyond their control mean ASSI are always compelled to explain themselves to white Australians ignorant of the history of forced labour or simply astonished to find that descendants of ‘the kanakas’ still reside in Australia. Alongside many Australians’ refusal to acknowledge the violent dispossession of South Sea Islanders lies the imposition of what Togo-Brisby calls an assimilation into Indigenous identity simply because this unacknowledged past meant there was no space for South Sea Islanders’ descendants in the present. Of course, after 1901, when all Pacific labourers were supposed to be deported from Australia, many mixed with Indigenous and white people; there were myriad reasons to opt to identify another way. If that were not enough, Togo-Brisby also notes ASSI feelings of distance from other Pacific Islanders. Like Bandler before her and (Waskam) Emelda Davis and others today, she is determined that ASSI visibility – both in Australian history and in the present – be increased. Indeed, it was only in 1994 that the federal government recognised ASSIs as a distinctive group. Queensland followed in 2000.

To address this traumatic history, Togo-Brisby uses images of tall ships in much of her recent mixed-media work. In around two dozen photographs, three women in voluminous outfits pose very deliberately in the style of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century studio photography. In some images, all three stare at the camera; others feature just one or two of the women posing. The recurring motif is a model of a three-masted barque, the type of ship known best in Australian iconography via the Endeavour, helmed by James Cook, or the Scarborough, a convict transport that sailed in both the First and Second fleets. These ‘tall ships’ figure prominently in Australian and New Zealand national narratives of origin and have come to stand for particular character traits associated with the idea of endeavour: perseverance, self-reliance and resilience. Togo-Brisby uses the model of the tall ship to link eighteenth-century Pacific voyages, still often celebrated as ones of exploration as much as of colonisation, to nineteenth-century voyages of exploitation.

By posing alongside her own mother and daughter and by using collodion on glass, a method popular at just the time the trade in Pacific Islanders to Australia was at its height, Togo-Brisby evokes her ancestors and suggests that the enduring legacy of their transportation is embodied in her own family. In her titles, too, Togo-Brisby conveys her preoccupation with history and legacy. The photographs are arranged in series: Inheritance, South Sea Heiress, Post-Plantation Heir, Tidal Transitions, The Sea is History and Trapped at Sea. One series title – Adrift Amidst the Middle Passage – nods to the enmeshed experience of ASSI people and those ensnared in the Atlantic trade. The ‘middle passage’ has long been the phrase used to convey the experience of transport from Africa, whether the coast or the interior, to the Americas. That ASSI people were and are situated ‘amidst’ that better known trade demonstrates Togo-Brisby’s point that global structures of capital and globally engineered ideas about race made both trades possible. Some of the same ships were repurposed from the Atlantic to the Pacific and many of the men and women who owned Queensland sugar plantations and staffed them had fortunes either derived from the Atlantic trade or direct experience of sugar production from their time in the Caribbean. In these series, Togo-Brisby makes abundantly clear that for her, as for many other artists in Australia and around the world, histories of forced labour are of a piece.

Even more tellingly, an earlier version of these images from 2018 is called simply The Ships Stole Our People, a title that gestures emphatically to the trope of the slave ship that has been central to many foundational artistic treatments of transatlantic enslavement. African American artist Betye Saar, for example, turns time and again to the well-known diagram of the eighteenth-century Brookes slave ship. Its horrifying representation of the overcrowded lower decks of slavers made it one of the most widely known images of the traffic in African people. In one of her best-known works, I’ll Bend But I Will Not Break (1998), Saar mapped an imprint of the Brookes over a wooden ironing board, signifying the intimate relationship between enslavement and Black women’s labour, tracing a continuum between the past and a present in which Black women continued to perform domestic tasks in white homes. By April 1787 the diagram of the Brookes and other ships like it had already been widely deployed in abolitionist activism. In May of that year, the First Fleet of tall ships left Portsmouth to establish the colony of New South Wales, well and truly launching the signifying chain of affective investments in such ships that began for white settlers in the Antipodes with the Endeavour and are maintained to this day in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.

In her use of the tall ship in these works from 2018 and 2019, Togo-Brisby also signals the difficult history of loss of connection to Pacific culture that the trade wrought on its victims and their descendants. ‘Between other Pacific artists, and our [ASSI] work,’ she says, ‘it’s a real point of difference, because we are using the colonial ship, as opposed to a waka [the double-hulled Polynesian canoe]. And I intentionally do that, over and over and over again, so that our narrative doesn’t slip into the other narratives, because it’s not the same.’ Rather, Togo-Brisby evokes a legacy of displacement from the ocean, a complex geographic inheritance.

Togo-Brisby’s work simultaneously conveys a legacy of struggle and pride based on kin and communal networks. Her repeated representation of three generations of women in her own family conveys constancy amid the deracination represented by the tall ship. The consistency of the matrilineal line is reinforced by the three women always appearing in the same clothes and in similar poses, straight-backed and with steady gazes. But in Post-Plantation (2017), Togo-Brisby hammers the point home by using a portrait of each woman – in familiar nineteenth-century garb and with the tall ship as a headdress – in a triptych of lightboxes. Each portrait is superimposed on a bright, even gaudily coloured background: blue, mauve, turquoise. Unlike the images produced with collodion, these are unmistakably contemporary. By remediating her own work into a recognisably pop-art form, Togo-Brisby conveys not only that aspects of the past repeat in the present but equally that her ancestors have bequeathed resilience alongside trauma and creative connections to traditional cultural practices alongside dispossession.

Moving to New Zealand in 2015, Togo-Brisby learnt of the Don Juan, a slaver whose ruined remains languish in shallow water in Deborah Bay, near the South Island city of Dunedin. Long after it was wrecked, the ship was found to hold 300 hidden pairs of shackles used in the Atlantic trade. In the ship’s later life, it was the very first vessel to take indentured labourers from the Pacific Islands to Queensland and Robert Towns’ cotton plantation.

Working again with her mother and her daughter, Togo-Brisby used a drone to create a moving-image work of about ten minutes’ duration titled Mother Tongue (2020). Exhibited alongside manacles retrieved from the ship – previously displayed in a local museum, devoid of context – the film offers a bird’s-eye view as Togo-Brisby rows out to the wreck, where her mother blesses it with oils. ‘This place is surreal,’ Togo-Brisby has said. ‘This [artefact] should be further away from me in time and space. I felt like I had fallen into Kindred,’ a reference to African American science-fiction novelist Octavia E Butler’s most famed work, in which a 1970s Californian woman is transported to a pre-Civil War plantation in the US South. Creating this piece was thus an opportunity for Togo-Brisby to go from asserting the enmeshment of the trade in people in the Pacific and Atlantic through associative, evocative images to guiding the viewer’s encounter with history in palpable ways through presenting material traces of this trade.

 

THE TECHNIQUE OF deploying recognisably ‘historical’ artefacts to bring about encounters with materials usually hidden away in temperature-controlled libraries and museums is also at work in Togo-Brisby’s 2017 and 2018 series Recruits Unknown and The Past is Ahead, Don’t Look Back. In these images, Togo-Brisby inserts herself, her daughter or, in one instance, both women on sepia photographs of Queensland sugarcane workers. Some are in the fields, one is shot indoors alongside the plantation owner and one is on the deck of a slaver. Although dressed in nineteenth-century styled clothing, by playing with perspective and depth, Togo-Brisby uses her presence and that of her daughter to unsettle the original images.

Here, Togo-Brisby shares with many other contemporary artists – not least controversial African American artist Kara Walker – a desire to shake up our sense of the relation of past and present by calling attention to the political and partial nature of the assembling of archives. Togo-Brisby’s disruption of the paper archive evokes Walker’s famous silhouettes, but she makes one further, playful and yet serious disruption of any sense that our understanding of the past – if based on existing archives – is settled. She takes the phrases or titles given to items in archival collections, whether photographs or other material, and assigns to her own artworks the same name. Thus, the series The Past is Ahead, Don’t Look Back, commissioned by the State Library of Queensland, comprises the three photographs described above, each with prosaic titles – such as South Sea Islander Women on a Sugar Cane Plantation – that match the listing titles of the original photographs as they appear in the library’s online catalogue.

As writer and curator Ioana Gordon-Smith has said of Togo-Brisby’s work: ‘When paper records fail and monuments are silent on stolen ancestors, the very existence of South Sea Island descendants offers a bloodline lineage.’ Togo-Brisby and Walker also seek to materialise this embodied archive in their choice of media. Togo-Brisby’s work Bitter Sweet (2013–15) and Walker’s A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby (2014) both call to account the foundations of the global sugar industry in the expendability and exploitation of non-white people’s bodies.

Walker’s A Subtlety was installed in the Domino Sugar Refinery in Williamsburg from May to July 2014. Subtitled an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant, the exhibit comprised a monumental sphinx figure with the face of the stereotypical African American ‘mammy’. Constructed out of eight tonnes of confectionary sugar layered over polystyrene, the work was a multisensory experience overwhelming in both size and smell. Alongside the sphinx were displayed five-foot molasses-coated resin sculptures of Black children. Their molasses coating disintegrated over the months of the installation, turning their bodies into grotesques signifying the violent history of sugar production in the Americas in which the enslaved, as critic Valérie Loichot puts it, ‘left their blood, sweat, fingers, hands, and ultimately, lives, in the plantation machinery of sugar-cane slavery and sugar processing.’

Togo-Brisby’s work, alone and in concert with Walker’s, further lays bare the way forced labour in Australia was enmeshed with Atlantic slavery. As historian Emma Christopher’s very recent work demonstrates, both white British and formerly enslaved men transferred their expertise in the complicated process of cultivating sugar from the Caribbean to the Australian colonies, making riches for landowners and the colonies. They also brought with them a keen sense of how to maximise profit: by exploiting the labour of people deemed by the new science of ‘race’ to be inferior – perhaps not even, or not quite, human.

Togo-Brisby’s sugar sculptures do not engage the pointed treatment of racist caricatures or stereotypes that are often the hallmark of Walker’s work, but Bitter Sweet captures the expendability of Black labourers on Queensland plantations no less trenchantly. Responding to the 2012–13 discovery of unmarked mass graves containing the bodies of South Sea Islanders around Bundaberg, a key location of sugar production, this installation is made of heaped human skulls, painstakingly cast from resin and sugar. Gordon-Smith, who curated an exhibition of Bitter Sweet at Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery in Auckland alongside Indo-Caribbean artist Andrew Ananda Voogel’s artistic meditation on Indian indentured workers in the Caribbean, described the work involved in this casting process. She noted that the ‘intimacy that the artist shares with the works…counters the disregard for human life expressed by plantation owners’. In amassing identical, faceless skulls, Bitter Sweet also brings to the fore the ever-growing body of evidence pointing to the widespread massacre of Indigenous people in British frontier wars. In evoking this kind of settler-colonial violence, Togo-Brisby’s work goes further than either Walker’s or Saar’s in indexing the dispossession of Indigenous people of their land on which plantation slavery is founded.

 

TOGO-BRISBY’S PRACTICE of naming her works to match the titles of material objects in archival collections became even more profoundly personal after her aunt found in a university repository a letter written to the great-grandmother who had been kidnapped as a child from a Vanuatu beach. The letter revealed to the family that their ‘granny’ had been a household slave in Sydney for the Wunderlichs, who made their fortune in the 1880s and 1890s by importing and then manufacturing ornate pressed-metal ceiling panels for well-to-do middle-class homes. The panels fell out of fashion in the 1950s, but the designs can still be found in many buildings across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand and are now painstakingly preserved as heritage materials. In Wellington, Togo-Brisby learnt that as part of a refurbishment of the Town Hall, the ceiling panels and roses, produced by the Wunderlich company, were being carefully packed away and stored. She was struck by the contrast in the care taken with these interior design pieces compared to the evident lack of care in curating any trace of her ancestors’ life.

As a retort, Togo-Brisby created lightbox works that illuminate blown-up versions of the original ceiling roses with silhouettes of three generations of family women in the foreground, once again holding a model ship or wearing one as a headdress. The figures are cast into the dark by the brightness of the backlit ceiling rose, just as traces of her great-grandmother’s life are eclipsed by decisions made by generations of people who regarded one life as more significant than another. In Togo-Brisby’s own words, ‘I’m questioning how we value our histories, illuminating the disparity between preserving their ceilings, and the invisibility of their participation in the slave trade…the designs [of the ceiling rosettes] shape our poses and with it, the enormous disparity between the visibility of concurrent narratives.’

Indeed, Togo-Brisby pored over the entire Wunderlich collection at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia’s premier repository of industrial and manufacturing history, but could find no mention of her great-­grandmother there, nor of any other people on whose free or underpaid labour the Wunderlich fortune rested. To emphasise this point, when these works were exhibited just two blocks from the Wellington Town Hall in 2019, Togo-Brisby called the show If These Walls Could Talk, They’d Tell You My Name.

To explore further the relationship between the capital generated by industry such as the Wunderlich manufacturing house and the unpaid domestic labour of women such as her great-grandmother, Togo-Brisby turned to the ceiling roses themselves. Using plaster, oxide and fibreglass, she moulded 500-millimetre ceiling centres of her own, which she then stained black. She replaced the usual floral motifs of such interior design pieces with images familiar from abolitionist activism against the Atlantic slave trade, especially the Brookes slave ship. In Ceiling Centre, I (Blak), the cast features five three-masted ships sailing around a cluster of fourteen tiny objects. From a distance, these look like clothes pegs. Up close, they reveal themselves to be the caricatured bodies of Black baby dolls, arrayed as were the bodies in the famed image of the Brookes. Once again, Togo-Brisby brings together the anti-Black racism of the past, represented by the Atlantic trade, and that of the present, represented by the caricatures.

When browsing the web for further Wunderlich materials for her next project, Togo-Brisby realised that her own artworks were appearing among the search results. She became, she explained in a recent presentation, ‘very determined that I was going to continue that way of inserting us within them…the titles of the [new] works are their archival titles, because this is the way that Google works, right? Everyone researches on Google. If I can get [the Wunderlichs’] archives to come up with my archives, side by side, again, [searchers are] being forced to know both sides.’

Her most recent works have titles such as Panel No. 856 (Holding Crow) and Panel No. 856 (Holding Ship). These 2021 creations feature a white enamel silhouette of Togo-Brisby with her chosen prop, painted upon replicas of Wunderlich panel 856. These black pressed-metal squares featured in the company’s 1908 catalogue, which is held in the collections of the Powerhouse Museum and that you too can Google and view online. That year was just about the time Togo-Brisby’s great-grandparents married, though data about that is much harder to find than the ceiling panel replicas themselves, which are widely available for purchase in Australia and New Zealand.

Togo-Brisby’s ingenious method reflects the technique of resisting power that critic Henry Louis Gates Jnr years ago called ‘signifying’ – a term brought into conversation with what Goenpul scholar Aileen Moreton-Robinson calls ‘talkin’ up to the white woman’ in her book of the same name, which powerfully demonstrates the ways that white women benefitted from the dispossession and exploitation of Indigenous women in Australia. As Moreton-Robinson succinctly puts it: ‘White women civilised, while white men brutalised.’ The powerful visual puns in Togo-Brisby’s ceiling roses riff on the term ‘blackbird’, inextricably linked to the adornment of white middle-class homes. Her use of ‘Blak’ in the series title forges solidarity with those Indigenous women, who, like her great-grandmother, were torn from their families and pressed into domestic service. She’s talkin’ up to Mrs Wunderlich.

By amplifying ASSI visibility, Togo-Brisby reminds white settler Australians that their histories can never be complacent. To be ‘relaxed and comfortable’, as John Howard hoped Australians would feel when they thought about what he said was a relatively benign history, is to be ignorant and smug. To imagine that bad things were and are ‘happening [only] overseas’, as Morrison said, rather than also in Australia, as Togo-Brisby’s work insists, is to deny reality. The British colonies and, after 1901, this nation were always already a part of a world in which structures of accumulation relied on structures of racism and exploitation: of twelve million Africans transported in the Atlantic trade, of 62,000 South Sea Islanders indentured in this part of the world, and of the violent disruption and dispossession of untold Indigenous people and their lands.

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