Iyko Day, “Settler Colonialism’s Hiroshima”

Thursday, October 24 @ 4:00-5:30pm,  AUSTIN 216

It is relatively unknown that in the 1940s, uranium from the Belgian Congo and the Northwest Territories in Canada was used in the first atomic bomb that was tested in New Mexico and detonated over Hiroshima in 1945.  This presentation explores the ways in which settler colonial racial capitalism designates Indigenous lands as non-sights of nuclear modernity, making them available for what Traci Brynne Voyles calls “wastelanding.”  These are sites that are deemed unproductive, backward, and peripheral to the technological superiority of the global north but are nevertheless mined for “resources.”

By honing in on the cycles of accumulation associated with uranium mining that largely occurs on Indigenous lands, the talk grapples with Marx’s theory of “so-called primitive accumulation” as a constitutive, contemporary, and violent extra-economic logic of settler colonial racial capitalism.  Through analyses of visual representations of extractive wastelands by artists of color, it conceptualizes the wasteland as the dispossessed, grotesque other of the pristine colonial landscape.  These artworks demonstrate that the wasteland is also a repository of forgotten, intimate histories of land and labor, whose representation allegorizes the abstraction of human labor.  Moving past what Gabrielle Hecht identifies as a nuclear exceptionalism that remains focused on First World electricity and military production, the project probes the convergence of nuclear logistics and the repressed histories of colonial dispossession that coalesce in the capitalist wasteland.

Iyko Day is an Associate Professor of English at Mt. Holyoke College.  She is the author of Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism (Duke University Press, 2016).  This event is sponsored by UConn American Studies with the generous co-sponorship of the Asian and Asian American Studies Institute.