Chris Hayes discusses his book, A Colony in a Nation

The image of “a colony in a nation” is not just a catchy title for Hayes. It is central to his arguments about race, policing, and incarceration in the United States. He contends that the American criminal justice system “isn’t one system with massive racial disparities but two distinct regimes. One (the Nation) is the kind of policing regime you expect in a democracy; the other (the Colony) is the kind you expect in an occupied land.” Though he refers to the popularity of the concept of internal colonialism among Black Power activists, he does not discuss its meaning and uses in the movement, beyond the rhetorical power of associating American racism with a recently discredited form of governance. He also fails to endow Nixon’s curious use of the phrase with any political meaning; to Hayes, Nixon was simply “channeling the zeitgeist.” This line is telling: Hayes sees the language of internal colonialism not as a political concept, subject to various and conflicting interpretations, but simply as part of the late 1960s scene.

More importantly, Hayes never conveys a clear sense of the relationship between his versions of the Colony and the Nation. Though he acknowledges the fluid nature of racial categories, his model of the Colony and the Nation is static: two segregated territories and two legal regimes operating side by side, with little explanation of how they might relate to each other. The Colony is associated with disorder, poverty, and blackness; the Nation with order, relative wealth, and whiteness. This model excludes the many people who straddle these lines and exploit the fact that they are deeply intertwined—like a Brooklyn landlord Hayes discusses, who threatens his tenants with hazardous renovations to force them to agree to a below-market buyout. Is that landlord a resident of the Colony, the Nation, or both?

Sam Klug

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