Notes on the Coloniality of Peace

By Nelson Maldonado-Torres, Frantz Fanon Foundation

            The allusion to peace, to peace as a state of harmony within an established order, has long been an indispensable tool in the arsenal of colonialism and racism. First comes the brutal war: people killed, bodies in pieces, raped, and mutilated, subjects subdued, ancestors disrespected, lands taken, rivers with water turning viscous and red.

            High ideals are said to justify the venture: progress, reason, and, civilization are some of the most common. Peace has to take the back seat until a new world is created: one that is made to the measure of the interests of the colonizers; one where war becomes part of the very order of things.

            For this, the violent disorder that puts the lives of the colonizers and their descendants at risk, or that threatens their distorted sense of decency has to stop first. This is what is often called law and order, a necessary moment in the path to peace and its powerful racial and colonial dimension.

            With appeals to law and order—the law and order of the racial state—, the systematic violence continues with a new name. What could law and order mean in contexts where lands continue to be held by descendants of colonizers, and where any notion of reparations appears impossible, exaggerated, anachronic, and out of the scope of important collective problems? What is law in a context where communities are disproportionately imprisoned and where direct violence is mobilized very discriminately towards certain bodies and people?

            Law and order are as much material as symbolic and epistemic. It is therefore necessary to also ask then what can order, decency, and reason mean where even the institutions that are tasked with cultivating knowledge and artistic creativity tend to be satisfied with measures of diversity and inclusion that more often than not promote tolerance to settler colonialism and to racial social, economic, and epistemic segregation? Every measure that seeks to protect, rather than challenge, existing disciplines and methods that fail to capture the gravity of the structural violence in the modern world plays an important role in sustaining the material, symbolic, and epistemic order of coloniality.

            The coloniality of law and order becomes transparent when “law and order” serve to translate systematic stealing into property rights, and when a long history of homicides and epistemicides remain hidden under a rhetoric of civilizational and scholarly advancement. The coloniality of law and order is firmly established when their foundation and horizon become the modern/colonial nation state and where it is operationalized through the state’s institutions: from the police station, the court, and the prison to the school and the university. It is then that we find peace and that we can discern the devastating effects of its coloniality.

            This is the peace that is in the mouths of so many people today who are scandalized by looting and riots in some of the protests against police brutality and the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. The spectacular nature of looting and rioting is often celebrated when it happens in other countries and in opposition to things considered to be “un-american.” Things are different when rioting and looting are said to disrupt “peace.” Everyone then feels strong and comes out in their righteous defense of peace. Every news outlet and every politician—except perhaps the more neofascists among them, who traffic more directly with the advocacy of violence—finds a voice calling for peace and putting in their place whomever they do not recognize as peaceful. The call for and defense of peace in this context are means to declare the law and order that sustains systematic war as not only normal, but also as worthy of protection and respect. In short, peace is war in disguised. This precarious state of affairs makes the coloniality of peace visible and tangible.

            Nothing here means that rioting and looting by themselves are to be celebrated, or condemned for that matter. I myself don’t have much tolerance for those who use looting and riots as ways to advance their own specific political views or agendas with complete disregard or little interest in the long history of struggles of those whose lands were taken and whose bodies appear as criminal or illegal. Having said that, I find defenders of peace and its coloniality, much more problematic and terrifying. The peace that they defend is mounted on brutal war and in its continuation in modern/colonial law and order. This sense of peace serves as a shield for those authorities and institutions that have their collective knees on the necks, chests, creative energies, minds, and knowledges of minoritized and racialized populations. As Mahdis Azarmandi puts it: “For [the true] peace continues to be an impossibility as long as we do not address coloniality.”[1]  The struggle for a truly decolonial and decolonizing peace continues.

            A decolonial and decolonizing sense of peace is found, not in conformity with and tolerance toward the neoliberal economy or toward the modern/colonial state, its neofascisms, conservatisms, and liberalisms, but in the love and rage of those who come together to make visible the war that has been perpetuated by profoundly misguided conceptions of law and order. To be in peace is to move with others against modern/colonial law and order, including its institutional, symbolic, and epistemological foundations. To be in peace is to be intolerant of racism, racist discourse, and racist insinuations. It is also to be intolerant of protections of the order of race and death, including discourses of excellence and civility that continue to offer protection to the modern racial order. In this sense, our day to day lives are marked with a profound absence of peace and the perpetuation of naturalized war.

            Peace is not quietness. Peace does not have to do with using violence or nonviolence in opposition to an unjust state of affairs either. Peace is, above all, an outcome of decolonial maturity: of a firm and wise opposition against war where our relationships with others announce and anticipate the formation of radically different, and truly peaceful, communities and societies. In this moment we are in peace with ourselves because we have become those who we need to be in order to work with others in the effort to end war. We also develop the capacity to be in peace with others with whom we struggle in the effort to build, as Frantz Fanon put it, “the world of you.[2]  Only such a world, a world of you, can be a world of peace.


[1] Mahdis Azarmandi,  “The Racial Silence within Peace Studies, » Peace Studies: A Journal of Social Justice 30 (2018): 69-77.

[2] Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Richard Wilcox (New York: Grove Press, 2008): 206.

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