Pat Parker (1944-1989), poet, teacher and activist, wrote this poem: For the White Person Who Wants to Know How to Be My Friend and had this wonderful line:
The first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black. Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.
For any social difference that exists in any society, we can place it there, in the space of “Black.” In any case, color-blindness, gender-blindness, mixed-space blindness, sexual orientation blindness, socio-economic class blindness, neighborhood blindness, body-size blindness, nationality blindness etc. etc. — we have to pay attention to how quickly we may subsume, make invisible, refuse (ignore), make trivial, something that makes a difference. Sameness is too valorized in the globalizing society. It’s not about any particular choices we have in holding on and letting go—-because even this is an action and a series of action (holding or letting go, that is), that come from political positionings that rely on privilege, luck, ability, amount of trauma, fear, violence, and a host of other things that come from oppression and social constructions of society.
Let us not forget how completely and utterly different we are from each other. This way, we truly understand diversity. If we “understand,” then perhaps we do not understand difference at all. We just consume, co-opt, and bring into our own history and culture and language and values, that OTHER. This is a violence to that Other.
But in saying they are different, do we automatically become AFRAID? Or do we automatically become ANGRY? Do we automatically IGNORE? Do we assume we can translate, communicate? Yes we can communicate, but understanding its partiality is important.
Honor you. Honor me.
In our difference. Utterly different. Utterly ourselves. Yet somehow, we are related as humans, as that who has experienced pain.
Perhaps other things. But do not assume equality.
There . . . . . . Can we allow difficulty, struggle, powerful connection and dissonance?
I cried this past weekend, from seeing and hearing the African-American singer JERO in San Francisco on the night of April 8th at the Mini-concert he gave for the Hapa Japan Conference held at UC Berkeley.
I cried because of one song in particular called “Harebutai.” This song, which can be named “Gala” but has the concurrent meaning of a Performance Stage that is a wide-open, sunlit, clear sky. Please refer to my earlier posting which addresses who Jero is, in the history of traditional Enka music in Japan. He is a huge star at present, in a genre that was relegated to the dust-heeps of Japanese music history, as something passe. Much like how we treat elders increasingly everywhere, Japan–even as people like to think of it as a nation that reveres elders, is increasingly forgetting and with this forgetting goes history.
Jero performs this song, dedicated to his grandmother, with a sensitivity that records an inter-generational intimacy, where he wants to acknowledge the painful past in Japan (and also in the present) that Japanese women endured, when marrying western men, and in particular, African-American men. Like my own mother who protected me often from racist brutalization in Japan when I was growing up, the hardships that these women, our mothers and grandmothers endured, are ‘forgotten’ because they are too traumatic and unacknowledged by most of our young. with it goes knowledge and history that could help us, as human beings, get through our struggles with race, sexuality, socio-economic class and gender relations, among other violent hierarchies of identity, that continue to determine much of our social relations, silences, rage, grief, and international politics, not to mention how these are reflected in our family and communal dynamics.
I cried when I experienced this song. At the evening get-together after the day’s conference events, Jero was there, offering his quiet, gentle, yet strong presence. I had the opportunity to tell him that he was living out my own dream as a dark-skinned singer in Japan, considered ‘foreign,’ singing the Enka music which kept me alive and comforted through many dark times in Japan. These songs, often of sadness and longing, are soulful for me, of my generation, growing up as outsider in Japan. In addition, the song “Hare-butai” was written by Nakamura Ataru, for Jero, with Jero’s thoughts and sentiments regarding his singing as a way of an offering to his deceased grandmother, who did not get to see him perform on the ‘Kouhaku Utagassen’ show that runs every New Years’ Day in Japan since the Postwar era, celebrating the best of Japan’s popular singing stars. This show is a testament to artists who have ‘made it’ in Japan and Jero’s grandmother would’ve been proud.
I have included my version of the English translation of the lyrics to 晴れ舞台 “Harebutai”. You can see get a glimpse of honoring and care and inter-generational respect that has gone into this song. It is no wonder that folks like me, and especially the older women of that generation alive today, cry upon hearing this song. It is healing. And even those of the younger generation now, who had forgotten about the Enka and considered it stupid, are now listening.
Jero’s popularity is not only that he is such an anomaly as a race and nation outsider, who has now been considered legitimate as a singer in Japan, especially in a genre not dominantly considered “American,” ‘Modern” or “Black.” His singing is actually outstanding and nuanced emotionally in perfect pitch. His Enka singing is really really good!! It is not just that. He is also known for his good character. But it is also true that many young people in Japan are increasingly identifying and admiring Blackness as a way to resist their homogenization into the general Japanese identity-systems and are creating fewer ways in which the youth of Japan can exist with difference. This dynamic creates problems as well, because the notion of challenging racism is a fairly new aspect of reality that is only in its infancy in regards to dominant Japanese society. Histories of racism are complex because of European race-science and its role in the rise of Japan as a nation that could be seen as legitimate by white societies in history, and also its relation to the tightly woven caste system that has ruled Japan for hundreds of years.
I give to you the song and translation with notes, of Jero’s song “Hare Butai.” The Music video here, of the song “Hare Butai” is *NOT SUNG by JERO* but by a pretty good singer. Because I could not find the music video of the song online, I have included this version (with the original music background) by another singer, to give you the song. The other videos are of Jero’s performances, including the popular ‘hip-hop’ moves that are a part of his Live performances.
“Hare Butai” was written by Ataru Nakamura for Jero, both of them contemporary singers in Japan.
The song’s composer is Ataru Nakamura, who writes beautiful melodies and lyrics from the standpoint of her marginalized and often brutalized experiences as an outsider in Japan as a MtF (male to female) transsexual, especially during her middle and high school years.
Jero (Jerome White, Jr.) is a computer engineer/English teacher, African American and Japanese, who decided to fulfill a promise to his deceased Japanese grandmother that he would perform enka – the traditional popular music of Japan – on the big stage.
When Jero performs this song in Japan, many people of my generation and older, especially mothers of the mixed-race children, or who were from poor families, for instance, who went through the tremendous hardships in war-time and postwar Japan where generational experience was dislocated and displaced by forgetting, cherish this song and often cry openly.
Indeed, during the recent mini-concert Jero gave in San Francisco at the Hapa Japan Conference at UC Berkeley on April 8, 2011, I cried, and almost the entire row in the concert hall who could understand Japanese, cried when we heard this song. As I have been working on publishing a manuscript about my relationship with my mother, as a mixed Black-Japanese boy being raised in 1950s Japan, I had begun to realize how much my mother has gone through in order for me to be able to live and how often women’s and other marginalized peoples’ and communities’ experience is relegated to the backroads of history. In hearing this kind of song, there is a healing and inspiration. I hope that other young people, who understand those whose backs we stand on, can take inspiration from Jero’s example.
Other videos to begin: a Reuters introduction in English, of Jero and a video of his live performance, complete with the hip-hop a la Japan moves, of his Debut Hit “Umi Yuki” which means “Ocean Snow.”
Here is a Link to an Interview with him from the Discover Nikkei website:
Live Performance of is DEBUT song "UMI YUKI"
Note on English translation of HAREBUTAI:
I have taken a bit of liberty with the translation to show the emotion that would be lacking in a literal English translation. I have translated ‘Oira’ as ‘young-one’ or “ol’ me.” It could be “Me—the young bumpkin” or something like this. It is a term used by people in the informal form, and is a term used often by people in the rural areas of Japan to refer to “I” and “self” and “we” and “us.” It is a very intimate, tender term, most often used by youth. So in other words, ‘oira’, all simultaneous include all meanings of Me, I, we, your children, your child, us young ones, we the outsiders, the younger generation, the forgotten generation or people (the rural people), little ol’ me, etc. in this context.
The Term “Hare” is also difficult to translate. It is usually translated as ‘clear weather.’ It is used to refer to a sky that is blue and open and sunny (as opposed to a rainy day, cloudy day, etc.). It connotes most adjectives in western languages that may describe the state of a clear blue, expansive, sunlit sky: unfettered. I have translated it as “clear sunlit, but we must include all other qualities simultaneously: Sunlit, clear, expansive, cloudless, blue, bright, etc.
In Japanese language, much like many languages, the meanings are embedded in the words themselves, unlike dominant forms of English, for instance, where it must be ‘inferred’ or ‘alluded to’ as a ‘metaphor’ or ‘simile’ etc. In Japanese, many of the words carry multiple meanings simultaneously. Therefore, in my translation, I played with the many meanings to give more of the texture of the song in my own interpretation, rather than giving a literal translation, which is always contested when crossing languages, cultures, histories, etc.)
The below is a Link to the video of his performance of ‘Hare Butai’ at the Japan Society in New York City.
Remember: This is *not* Jero singing the song, but is a well-done cover because I’ve not found this done by him in video online.
Understand the particulars and rejoice in them. Most are afraid.
I say I am ‘black-japanese’ or ‘afro-japanese’ or ‘african-american japanese’ or ‘blasian’ or ‘blackanese’ or ‘japanegro.’ These are racial terms. Meaning: we create race-terms to point to differences. We use the language and cultural milieu of our locations. In the UK, or the Netherlands, Germany or Argentina…..wherever….the terms and meanings will change. However there is one fact: without it, there is the ‘color-blindness’ that makes many people disavow their racism and the racism of the national systems that perpetuate it. ‘Normal’ is infused with ‘race.’ Racialization!
Periods and times make differences. I think we have to dialogue between and across generations and social classes, gender and national and cultural locations, sexualities and orientations, size and occupation, abilities and other differences. Being a ‘Konketsuji’ — which is the old terminology for Mixed-blood people in Japan in the 1950s through the 70s, is no longer in use and that is why I use it for myself. To designate and point to the intense stigma and ostracization that has passed for Japan’s democracy, while hiding racism in the US against those like me in those days.
In the present, the multicultural movements have offered spaces for empowerment. But as I have mentioned in previous postings, whenever there is a black-mix somewhere, it is seen as tainted. Taintedness may not mean direct hate or condescension. It could be as inocuous as subconsciously expecting a black-mixed-race person to be ‘better at playing drums’ or more athletic or a ‘mix’ of chitlins and the ‘other’ culture. And black individuals may see that person as tainted (not black enough) with another ethnicity and/or race or just ignores that aspect and continues to see them as a threat if that person doesn’t say they’re ‘black’ and only ‘black.’
In being ‘accepted’ in multliculturalism, there is the tendency to think of the humanist definition of a ‘fully-arrived’ human– which is usually very whitened. Even though people may look different due to anthropomorphic features and skin color, the behavior signifies an upward mobility and/or perfection, or a downward mobility and a ‘tainted-ness.’ The European and American colonization that passes for ‘globalization’ is also quite hybrid and has mixed with elite governing peoples globally, joining the wishes for social control and wealth production in localities. Transnational capital continues to also make things more complex. In this, racialization plays a huge role in the positioning of a person, nation, community, area, people, group, corporation, business—–all in very minute and diverse shiftings that include the other ‘isms’ of difference (gender, size, socio-economic class, etc.). So history is always with us in the present, as much as we would like to think that we are progressing and the past is past. But the past changes as the present changes, which then guides the future.
This is where ‘change’ comes into play. Change may influence the past, present and future. How we see the past and how we act in the present and how we change, affects the future. There’s lots to be done. Racializing must be seen as a way we see difference through the prism of 16th to 19th century scientific discourse developed in order to justify colonial rule and social engineering.
If we talk about cultural inheritances, legacies, then it’s different. We can be proud of our people, but see it as socially contingent and resting on the problematics of social and cultural dominations, technologies of ‘difference-making’ in relation to domination and institutionalization, and is often the measure of how much and how far we ourselves are willing to shift in order to maintain or change these things.
I, will continue to racialize in the name of social justice. But I understand that categories of ‘race’ are contingent, dependent on who I’m speaking with, and my own continual education on what ethics I bear in the world in relation to my wish for the lessening of purposeful and meaning-making structures that force a face-to-face clarity and negotiation toward working TOGETHER to alleviate suffering.
Nowadays some people still feel that majorities are ‘allowed’ more power and control, that the majority makes the rules and the minority must suffer. I hope we begin to start understanding, at least, that suffering in some form, is a fact of life, but that decisions on the welfare of humanity cannot be expected to be democratic when the parameters of these decisions will FAVOR a few or even most. Instead of deciding in relation to what WE KNOW, we should enter more complex and ethical forms of communication, understanding that tension and contradiction and conflict are inevitable. Right now, capitalist finance controls and effects decisions. What in the future? Where are the questions? What do we ask ourselves?
We must struggle to do it. Here lies the issue in modernity. We want it comfortable, safe, secure. These three things are contradictory to social justice.
“From the mid-1960s until the early 1990s, Texaco (now Chevron) dumped 18 billion gallons of oil and toxic waste into the Amazon rain-forest of Ecuador, creating a 1,700-square-mile “cancer death zone” the size of Rhode Island.” – from wikipedia
This movie is of the quest of activists to bring accountability and conscience to our world. The plight of ecology and the people of the world who have not severed human relationship to earth and creatures, should not be something sensational but should be seen as something we have chosen or willed to forget, or do not understand as having been ‘forgotten out of us’ –meaning that sometimes our forgetting is not personal, so much as having been a strategy by larger forces, so that we may drive our cars and keep our lights on and party in all-hours of the night without a thought to the violence this attests to.
Our world, a neo-colonialist world, has made natural the exploitation. Of each other, of others, of ourselves. We make the abusive corporatocracy unapproachable in our self-hatred. Our ignorance is a child of self-hatred and ineptness. We shrink and sometimes feel paralyzed and small. That’s what many of the elites who are exploiting our earth and communities want us to do. Are we that obedient? Are the indigenous people just people with colorful clothes that we think are behind us in history? I am certainly not. I have Cherokee heritage. All of us are indigenous. The indigenous communities who still lived as linked with the earth thrived in all of Europe and Asia and the Americas and the Middle East. Those ties have all been systematically severed in one way or another and at different speeds and intensities that usually mirror the amount of modernization that has accumulated. The Irish and Welsh Celts and the Ainu and the indigenous of Okinawa and others continue to battle. Are the indigenous people of the Americas indigenous? All of us come from earth. Why is it that the ‘brown people’ with colorful clothes are left to fend for a life on this planet that doesn’t equal plunder and genocide while the rest of us have ambivalence about all of it? We are humanity, we are earth. Do we ignore our mothers and foremothers and forefathers as a ‘progress,’ as some kind of maturity? Who taught us these things?
Instead of guilt, there needs to be a reckoning. A courageous facing, shifts in behavior, but not a reconstitution of a heavy punishment-as-morality, but a compassionate turn, a vigorous turn to actually care for our ancestors, for our planet. Not just in our own recycling projects and moral superiority in not driving SUVs. I’m talking more about working with those, like the gentlemen, women, children, ladies, lawyers, and all others who are struggling and need our creativity, alliance, knowledge, privileges. Act. And hopefully movies such as this, can inspire, inform, shift you and those you know, with a ruthless love of life and diversity.
This post is dedicated especially to those who struggle to live in a world dominated by heterosexism, patriarchy and its various violences (i.e. everybody).
Link to Joss Whedon’s excellent post follows my commentary.
Joss Whedon is perhaps most famous for his show-runner/creator role in the US for television shows such as ‘Angel’ and ‘Buffy the Vampire-Slayer.’ He enjoys a large cult following globally. I feel he is an excellent producer/writer. In a blog post he wrote May 20, 2007, entitled: “Let’s Watch a Girl Get Beaten To Death,” he speaks strongly about heterosexism and the control of women in the world. His words are sparked by the broadcasting of the stoning-death of a 17-year old Yezidi Kurdish girl from Iraq.
Dua Khalil Aswad, a 17-year old Yezidi Kurdish girl from Bashka Ninawa in Iraq, was stoned to death on April 7, 2007. Her death was broadcast on the internet via recordings from a mobile phone. Her stoning has been said to have sparked several ‘reprisal’ attacks and massacres by Sunni Muslim fundamentalist extremists against certain Yezidi villages. Dua Khalil was a girl from the Yezidi culture/worldview, which pre-dates Islam. Much like Alevism, Yezidism has also been a persecuted religion by certain more fundamentalist Sunni and Shi’a groups. The division between Sunni and Shi’a has also sparked some violent antagonisms through history. Let us not forget that fundamentalism and extremism create these licenses to torture and kill. For women and children, this is even more pronounced.
Fundamentalism and extremism exist everywhere and in many forms. In the US and Europe, most of it is hidden behind closed doors and plays out violently in domestic spheres hidden from the public or inter-personally, and in the more poverty-stricken neighborhoods where most news programs and citizens of wealthy countries do not spend much energy or time. Much of it plays out unseen to the public in policy-making wars in government. Exclusions and dominations are everyday aspects of our lives.
When I was doing research on Kurdish groups in Europe, the United States, and in their traditional homelands in the Middle East, I often questioned my Kurdish friends on ‘honor killings.’ I was always mindful to not blame or speak from a feeling of being ‘better’ as an American or Japanese, which is always the risk in bringing these things up when one is ‘a westerner.’ In most cases, most Kurds think of honor-killings as horrendous and needing to stop. In many cases, Muslims who did not agree with honor killings, were correct in understanding that certain tribes, pre-dating Islam, practiced these killings, much like certain tribes in Christian areas. Those traditions have been carried on in certain families and Islam cannot be the blame. In a few cases, there were those who were quite open with their anti-female attitudes and told me that if they are dishonorable, they should be punished. They sounded the same as some of my American friends who felt that all gays should die or that the ruin of the world was when women were allowed to vote and work alongside men. One can imagine the non-heterosexual boys and the girls who are being raised by these men. We, the other people, know what goes on.
Intensifying the questions and investigative energy that I acquired when asking my Kurdish friends about honor killings, various kinds of anger and blame had to be side-stepped in the name of academic research and my own willingness and desire to get through to depths beyond the superficial and the spectacular of such horrific actions as honor killings in society. In the west, sudden gun-shooting rampages, Columbine, and daily rapes and tortures unseen and unreported, are also questions I have spent the last decades on deciphering. I do not believe in original sin, so the sickness of humanity, as far as I know, is not because we are born sick and twisted and violent. Things develop. But things also have pre-texts, histories, traditions, legacies. We are born into these. My thinking/feeling is that as long as they have been developed in history, they can also be undeveloped, shifted, constructed differently, albeit most of the time, in slow trajectories through our small, urgent, and sophisticated actions.
When asking leaders of certain Kurdish, Islamic, or Persian organizations regarding the traditions of honor killings, they were quick to blame ‘poor’ and ‘uneducated’ people on this. It was interesting, then, to discuss how, in certain cases, their own family members practiced this on a sister, or a niece, or another female member. In some of my friends’ cases, they may have grown into certain middle-class wealth but originally came from poor villages. Others, had come from wealthy families where perhaps one or two of the boys participated in honor killings. In some cases, I have also heard of honor killings against men, most for being homosexual. This points to another aspect of the violence of our societies. Our heterosexism also plays into the ignoring of male-targeted violence and publicizing anti-woman, anti-girl violence. The invisible killings of gays in culture, whether spiritually or physically) and male-to-male violence are normalized and therefore unattended to, while in the western nations there is a certain glorification of our horror at violence against girls and women. This system keeps everything in tact.
When speaking of these intense issues of violence, what we hear cannot always be assumed to be ‘truth’ or ‘lies.’ It is difficult, at this juncture, to get a feel for when things were down-played or made to ‘sound’ democratic and caring, when in fact, they did not believe their own words in wanting to dispel honor killings; or whether they truly wanted it to end. After all, I was an American and they wanted to be seen in the best light. I have questioned US Americans on their gay-bashing weekends where they tortured a gay boy behind a bar, and they were sometimes apologetic but I did not believe them. I am sure in some cases, they did change their thinking on this, but one can never be sure in the reality of face-to-face politics. However, in knowing most of my Kurdish friends and being with their families, I am certain that they held nothing back in their belief in the respect of women, simply by watching the consistency between their actions and beliefs while I spent time with them and to watch how Kurdish girls and women responded to them.
One Kurdish political figure I interviewed, became angry with me for questioning her (yes she was a woman) on honor-killings among the Kurds. She accused me of being an American who always wanted to present Middle Easterners in a bad light. She said she was tired of it, and began to name events and attitudes of the Americans that would qualify as the same–the denigration of women and its structural elements in the present world society. She was a strong woman who worked among the Kurdish and Middle Eastern elite and worked for human rights, gay rights, women’s rights, and Kurdish rights in the diaspora and in the Middle East. She was right in the sense of the ‘honor killing’ concept to be barbaric, yet propped up differently in the West and often ignored. Women in the US are often killed ‘spiritually.’ Internalized oppression also plays into how women play these dynamics out themselves.
This brilliant political woman, also told me that honor killings was a general Islamic problem in certain areas and was not a ‘Kurdish problem.’ I found this comment to be half-true. Yes, it is not a Kurdish problem. I responded back: “But Kurdish girls, women (and some boys and men) are dying from this. So don’t you think Kurdish leadership should work on it within the Kurdish community?” She agreed but she said that it is at the risk of being accepted by the West. In her logic, she said that if they began to work on it as a Kurdish issue, the four countries that rule the Kurds at the moment, as well as Europe and the US, would use this as a way to demonize the Kurds in world politics, just as they were trying to form more Kurdish empowerment in the community. The West, she believed, would quickly allow the Arab countries to continue what they do, while they could get more oil from them, while blaming the Kurds for honor killings and strengthening Turkey and the other Middle Eastern countries in their efforts to annihilate the Kurdish culture. I would also add here that for Yezidis, Alevis, Dersimians, Christians etc. who are also Kurdish, there are even worse pressures to consider. Mainstream Sunni and Shi’a Kurds would also join with Turkish, Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian mainstream Muslims in the denigration of them as ‘other.’ There is, in many cases, violences visiting them from other Kurds because of mainstream Islamic domination. In my experience, this was intense, as well as meeting many Muslim Kurds and Turks who felt that religion should be about peace and that those forcing violence on non-Muslims were wrong. In working on sexism and violence against women, as well as against gays and lesbians and non-heterosexually identified peoples in conflict zones, how do we respond?
She is right about the political strategy, I feel. But also, she was side-stepping the honor-killing issue. In the middle-class oriented culture of state-making, and elitisms, the honor-killings continue to work in many societies. It is not just a moral sexism issue. It becomes geopolitical, which holds racism and nationalism to be at play in this.
It is indeed easier for a westerner to criticize quickly and to not think of history and relations when intervening. Certainly we must criticize honor-killings and violence against women. But as a westerner, we must be respectful of painful family histories and politics. We can easily get someone killed even for speaking with us about these issues. We are easily racist and nationalist in having condescending attitudes toward those who practice honor killings. It has been a long road of violence. When a culture or community faces annihilation by western nations, dominant local nations (n this Yezidi case we can speak of the Middle East and Central Asia, as well as diasporic communities around the world) how can we intervene without the communities feeling encroached upon (western racism and moral high-grounds)? Do traditions easily change by our wishes in other communities? If not, do we just let things be? How do we work together? How can we empower stateless communities such as the various Kurdish cultures including the Yezidi, who are also oppressed by local communities? These are not easy answers. We must work urgently yet compassionately. Understanding histories and power-relations and thinking creatively would be a good start.
Photo of Du’a Khalil Aswad
In the West, women are, on the most part and often, still acting as objects of patriarchy and violence. This also allows male-to-male violence to be seen as ‘normal’ and ‘boys-will-be-boys’ continues unspoken and rarely paid attention to. At the point when the gun shoots, or the knife is wielded or the fist is thrown, it is too late. Hundreds and thousands of hours have constructed that moment. What I mean to say is that what people consider ‘violent’ is just the final act. Violence is in words, thoughts, motions, worldviews. Women also play into their own subservience through internalized oppression. Just today, I heard the ‘I’m sorry’ by women twenty times!!! For just stepping past me in the elevator or some other act I consider everyday. I consider this to also be a form of internalized oppression, internalized violence.
I remember a woman-friend in college who was always speaking of men being violent and macho and that just once, she would like sensitive caring men in her life. However, one day when she saw a man crying because his dog died, she called him a ‘fag’ for crying. I pointed out to her that a sensitive man was perhaps the last thing she could take. What would happen to ‘womanhood?’ When women take the place of the man in an already-patriarchal and violent system, do they become like men? What would be the requirements for de-violentizing our society? What would be required to live differently in a world not propped up by our own internalized oppressions and legacies? Our fears? And as we, perhaps, back-down from dreams and actions toward change and hope, we re-create the violences and oppressions. What are our choices? Can we respect women while disrespecting men and boys? How does this need to be shifted?
Joss Whedon’s excellent post from 2007, is an excellent example of admonishing ourselves to step-up, step-forward; not succumbing to brutalizations that happen through us in the largely heterosexist-dominant world systems into which we have been born. We have the power to change things. We must.
Mikail Aslan (on the left of the photo) and Ahmet Aslan (on the right of the photo), although unrelated to each other by family heritage, are among the elites and considered amongst the most precious modern artists who work to tell, preserve and empower the people of the Dersim region of what is considered ‘Tunceli’ in eastern Turkey today. Through their songs, both modern and ancient, traditional and roots-fusion, the historical/cultural memory of spiritual traditions, loss, genocide, mourning, isolation, stigmatization, marginalization and state destruction, are woven into the hearts and minds of whoever will listen.
Their music is usually accompanied with the stories of the elders who’ve experienced the 1937-38 events that should be considered an aspect of the continual genocidal actions against the culture and people of the region. Or they would be songs of the displaced who fled the government forest and village burnings and purges during the 1990s, and the continual repression of its people and the collectively grieving population of Dersim, the music also tells their stories. Many of their songs are traditional songs, slightly modernized to adapt to the modern times, while other songs are left as they were sung centuries ago. Many of their songs are songs of mourning that would be sung by everyday people on the streets and roads of the villages while their relations were disappeared, imprisoned, and/or killed by government forces.
The Dersim region in Eastern Turkey, was told to the public to be the land of terrorism and propaganda had been created to present the region as dangerous and of outlaws. Certainly those who practiced non-Muslim worldviews such as Alevism and Christianity, often fled to the Dersim region, where the rugged mountainous territory was easy to protect from encroaching forces. The Ottoman governments, before the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, tried for centuries to subjugate the Dersim region. The people of the region refused to live via modernizing state laws and the Islamicization of their worldviews, They refused to pay taxes and send their sons into the Ottoman military forces because they felt the the government wanted to control them through these means. The Dersim region was very poor and because they were isolated, their subsistence also included banditry, while others we wealthier–benefiting from working the the Turkish state.
During the height of the Armenian pogroms and genocide, many Dersim Kurds helped thousands of Armenians by taking them into their homes, as they lived amongst them for centuries, in harmony. During the 1915 intensification of Armenian genocide, many Kurds assisted the American Protestant missionaries form an underground railroad to help Armenians escape out of Turkey into Russia. Other more fundamentalist groups in Dersim took advantage of the pogroms and participated in assisting the Turkish state in the Armenian cleansings. Today, some Turkish officials used Dersim’s Armenian connection as some sort of ‘negative’ trait, which shows the long history of animosity against the Armenian Christians who were a threat to mainstream Islamic officials. For the most part, in Dersim, the Armenians and the Dersim Kurds lived side-by-side without issue.
The Dersimian languages were mainly Zazaki and Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish dialect) and they practiced a form of Alevi worldview and ritual that was distinct from the Bektashi Alevism that is being mainstreamed in Turkey today. Many Dersim Alevi religious terms have Armenian words and forms of worship, as well as pre-Christian, pre-Islamic forms, including Zorastrianism and Shi’a Islamic forms as well. The Dersim region was distinct in its cultural forms, held together by strong bands of men who knew the mountains well and were ruthless in defense of the region. However, they believed in diplomacy and negotiation and proper mediation in conflict. These were all betrayed by the early Turkish state. As early as 1925, plans to transform eastern Turkey and to split families and destroy the region, was planned. In the rest of Turkey, people learned of a ‘rebellion’ in Dersim and the need for the subjugation of the region. There was really never a ‘rebellion’ in the traditional sense of a wholescale anti-government movement. The early Turkish government used such terms to give it the go-ahead in a genocidal campaign that would destroy its leadership and split the villages and families apart and to assimilate the young into a particular brand of state Turkishness that even for many Turkish-identified people, has outgrown in its ‘cover’ and its place in modern Turkey.
Through their fine music and personalities, Mikail Aslan and Ahmet Aslan bring us the realities of grief, joy, mourning, memory, the strength, and the courage of the Dersim people and their efforts toward cultural survival.
For more information in English on Dersim, I have included a website that is Armenian. I include this because most of the information written about Dersim in the English language, begin with official state claims and versions, such as a ‘suppression of a rebellion’ which was a state propaganda version and pretext for ethnic/cultural cleansing for state-building. Please be careful when reading any historical texts, of cultures that we are not familiar with, as even well-meaning people may tow the state version of events and lives.
Many of the world’s issues come from ignorance. Indeed, that is what the Buddha was to have said according to the Buddhist religious doctrines. The self, the world, suffers due to ignorance. The self, itself, is also the world because of it being ‘one’ (interconnected realities). In this sense, I would like to link this perspective on social change and social justice, with postcolonial and post-structural frames of mind and action. The structures through which we find ourselves living, are largely followed and we navigate in some way, shape or form, through the maze. We resist, we dominate, we proclaim, we reflect, we pause, we run, we build, we destroy. Every moment is like this.
I feel that we must pay attention more, to what we discard and ignore. In a more intense way, I would like to put forward that our laziness in our middle-class wanna-be (or are) ways of living and goal-setting, we oftentimes don’t have the capacity to realize we set ourselves in boxes. Furthermore, the boxes can be realized, seen, and felt, and that we can step to places outside of a certain box, into other boxes eternally. There lies the significance of thinking and imagining with a certain intent.
In most first-world, wealthier countries, we have been taught through our schooling and through contact with the world, that there is a truth of things and that we can access. Usually, however, we don’t realize that these ‘truths’ are political. No matter how lofty in principle, this truth that we attempt to access or ignore, interrupts and disrupts life and we beg to struggle with how it acts upon us and through us, against us and with us. So for social justice and social change matters, it may be helpful to look at the mechanics of box-making, or to put it in other words, to look at our our processes of making truths and certainties and categories, identities and structures that cohere together and seem real and isolated and true. If not, we just re-create the issues.
To make it more complex, I feel that as we begin to want to ‘deconstruct’ and to understand how deconstruction may work in the world, we must confront the fact that there is no ‘outside.’ Many spiritual people approach the world through the idea of ‘transcendence.’ Indeed, the enlightenment project of the western world in the colonial period, has continued to emphasize this mode of expansion and conquering and overrunning as the modus operandi of capitalism and globalization. I, for one, love contact with difference. However, not all of whatever we contact, is pleasurable, desirable, and/or necessary. But in normal US American, European and Japanese worlds, touring and co-opting others’ ways and other countries is a given. It is a privilege. It has never entered our mind that the locals do not want us there.
Our assumption of eternal identities and histories, and of ethnically and racially categorized nations and cultures, is in fact, a dangerous and very limited way of living and seeing and judging. Cultures are not static. Cultures move and change and grow and adapt. There are some that move faster than others. Movement, is not always positive. In the first world, movement and change is a hidden tactic of domination. As this kind of thinking dominates, then actions such as displacement and destruction are normalized. It is ‘normal’ to move and change. We say things like ‘get over it, it’s time.’ Or we get tired of a certain place and we move and say ‘it’s time for a change.’ Just for the fun of it. When we were infants, we did not say these things. We have learned to say and think these things in particular cultures. Then we assume it’s ‘human’ and ‘good’ and ‘natural.’ Just because something is familiar and forceful in our lives, does not mean it is good or having to do with human nature. Just because many or even most people think and do it, doesn’t mean it is ‘human nature’ and therefore ‘good.’
The map of the world that we live in today, is politically structured through centuries of violence and subjugation. All of the strongest nations were built through some form of slavery and exploitation, marginalization and destruction of pre-existing cultures and peoples. There is no ‘prettiness’ about it. Our beautiful buildings and cultures and things are, in fact, based on blood and fire and mutilation, tears and grief and the labor of others. The people who enjoy the fruits of the most beautiful things on our planet have done the most exploiting.
Europe, the United States, China, Japan, the Middle Eastern and Eurasian regions, the African continent, and Latin American regions, are fraught with tensions of memory and displacement. Many people around the world think that this is because brown people are ‘by nature’ more violent or troubled or poor. However, more and more people have begun to wake up to the historical roots of our maps. They are fictitious and based on violence. Anyone who has visited Latin America, the Middle East, Transcaucasia and Eastern Europe, China and the African continent, and who have studied and have spoken with elders and the young, will understand the tension and troubles that are the present. These tensions and troubles are from the domination of foreign and local links that have visited them through history.
We have asked for peace and yet peace seems far. There cannot be peace unless our maps begin to dislodge themselves from the intention of maps and map-making. Linked with control and boundaries, isolation and manage-ability, coercion and exploitation, these maps are just continual reminders of the fictions that the most dominant elites of the world, want us to proceed from. It is no wonder that others want to violently destroy the figures drawn on these maps and the separations and hierarchies forced upon them. Our imagination of ourselves and the world are castles of ignorance.
For us to move into new realms of cooperation, compassion, wisdom, ethical actions of difference, new forms of education based on the ignorance-eradicating processes in continual modes (because life continues and so must its processes), where will we begin the path toward it? In what ways? Of course there are many who are already doing the work toward this. There is no one way or one action. Indeed, ideology is a huge problem. Not everything is an ideology. Some have claimed that ‘freedom’ is an ideology. If this is the case, then we know our road ahead will be clashes of ideologies. If we do not think in terms of warfare and universalizing ideology as some natural force, where can each of us begin the work. First we must understand that we must do individual transformation. But this cannot be something that we rest on. We must do our work in communities and movements.
The map of our minds, the map of our communities, and the map of the world, must shift. We’ve gotten ourselves here–from our ancestors to the present. We can move out of it. How long will we live in exile from ourselves, each other? That is what colonialism and nation-states have done for us. Some of it has been good and necessary. The processes, however, of mutilating our pasts and our communities, have been unnecessary. What forms of self-governance must we construct? Painstaking it may be, but what are the choices? What are you living for?
I include two (2) wonderful, brooding, pointed music videos here in relation to my theme.
The first thing I want to put forward about my thoughts on oppression and continuities and activisms in order to change the course of oppressions, transforming life into more liberation-oriented possibilities, is that I do not think there are origins. Certainly, things seem to originate somewhere, but there has to have been a set of techniques, thoughts, circumstances, situations, histories, cultures, persons, skills, labor, and countless other things there–just there–at that moment when someone, some author or speaker says: “this originated at….” or “this was invented by….” etc.
Oppressions come from people and systems. Oppressions rely on sets of structures that come together and can be used oppressively. Often, a word, act, policy, gesture, law, technique, philosophy, ideology, system, etc. is not seen as oppressive or considered as such. This may be for several reasons. First, one can imagine that if one thinks of something and people like it and are excited by it, and it offers a seemingly different, new and effective way to do something or get somewhere, but we are far from those affected by it, then we can ignore or not even acknowledge or consider such a place that we cannot see, hear, touch, sound or smell. Indeed, much of our present realities and issues as far as ecological and social crises, can be considered through this lens.
One legacy of oppression can be said to be a strong origination-point for the multitude of oppressions is ADULT-ism. This is the first oppression that all of us learn. It is there, without question, and is across cultures, places, things, histories, races, ethnicities, etc. It is where we learn who gives orders, whose world this belongs to, who is large, who is small, who is considered, what is right, what is wrong. In some cases, these laws do not coincide or match across neighborhoods or even within a nuclear family, or a community or nation. In one minute we are told to do something by a parent or a principal or a schoolmaster or a trainer or a teacher or grandmother or manager, in the next minute, this may change, or be different for someone else. We begin to shape our own identities around these thousands upon hundreds of thousands of messages throughout a single day. We learn to become ‘ourselves’ through the prism of what we learn, how we are punished or not punished, how we are to think of what has happened and how we must proceed. This, with the whippings, the yellings, the ignoring, the absence, the stern looks, the hugs, the kisses, the spankings, the warnings by masters, the being teased and the being bullied. It starts as we are infants and children, in the web of the game of being so-called ‘adults.’
The games of adults are continued because we must survive and we must feel some sort of power (or not). We hide, we negotiate, we prioritize, we make invisible, we show concern, we ignore, we become mean, we become confused, we want certain things, we don’t want certain things. The legacy of the bombings, colonizations, slavery, the invasion of western economic global systems into non-western local system; the globalizing of food and health economies, the stipulations for control and mandates for depending on the wealthier countries; the thousands of people starved from economic embargos, the refugee camps, the firebombings and chemical bombings of poor villages by multi-million-dollar jet planes and millionaire salaries of corporate heads, the control of people that larger bodies deem expendable; etc. etc. are all done while our clans and villages and ways of life have been twisted into nuclear family lives, tearing us away from community life and into smaller units that are then made dependent on escalating money and costs and bureacracy.
And we learn to wear oppressions like crowns, or our arrogance as entitled and self-evident. In the name of the oppression of children, teaching all of us what we are worth, then feeds the business of ‘finding meaning’ and ‘following our deepest yearnings’ and ‘finding our purpose’ and ‘stopping to get our of our own way’ and other such psycho-social ways that keep us occupied. This pre-occupation is called ‘our daily life’ or ‘life as it is’ or ‘just the way it is.’ Well………..it has been MADE to become this way. And as this happens, more and more people globally, begin to follow the same steps. We are like sheep. But not totally. There has been resistance. There continues to be resistance. In the making of ourselves is how the powerful and uncaring and greedy, want us to make ourselves into. We think it is our own idea.
In many cultures, ‘finding our life purpose’ is a ridiculous idea. Why not enjoy our families, our friends, enjoy nature, enjoy life and deal with our relations and take care? What is there to find? Well……..in a system of nations where everything is taken away, where banks own homes and hardly ever actual people, and our schedules and lives are told to us by the jobs we get–which are owned by people who make much more money than us………..and we want those same kinds of things our bosses have and we aspire to have those things and then we think we will be happy…..or we are satisfied NOT doing those things and we ignore those that do……….we are participating so well in this system of oppression. Remember what our childhoods were like? For some, it may have been closer to idyllic. There were no troubles. But we had been trained well. People who are good at obeying and/or acting, having to pretend or having to ignore, having to be dishonest yet pretend to be honest, to know how to navigate the unfair and violent system, are rewarded.
The playgrounds of our childhoods are where we begin to learn how to socially play-out the oppressions we learn to take and give out. It is not just that our own sets of parents, most likely in a nuclear family set-up or one of an extended nuclear family set-up, or a wider community teach us everything. We learn from our classmates and what their parents and relations and schools and cultural differences and religions etc, have been lived through them. The disciplines and punishments, rewards and resistances are then combined with ours and with other adults in a web of shame and glory, silence and privilege, smallness and largeness, tears and laughter.
We don’t think of them as such, as they are now important in order to survive. Then there are the parents who are too permissive, perhaps. They will deny. But those children grow into adults, invariably, who think they deserve everything they get and do not handle being blocked from those things desired, very well. Through silence, through passive-aggression, through finding another way, through transferring aggressions to something or someone else, etc., are all the ways in which we may, perhaps, not see this as a continuation of the things we learned from adults. As we become big people, the oppressions are bigger and perhaps ignored or seen as normal, or not seen at all as oppression.
The Playground Martyrs, is a wonderful song by David Sylvian, Steve Jensen, and Thomas Feiner. This is a short song of beauty, saying something to us. The legacies of our violences and our militaries and our ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ realities are learned and made solid. The song gives us a glimpse into trying to account for this. Perhaps we can glimpse, not a dream of a future unknown, but the acts we take in the present to change our present and future through seeing the past in the present and changing effects. This song also points to patriarchal structures. ‘The sins of our fathers’ is appropriate because this has and still is, a ‘man’s world’ in many ways. So what shall we do? Where shall we go? There are answers.
I have also included Thomas Feiner’s fine piece ‘Yonderhead’ which is another angle on the same theme of the legacy of our oppressions and liberations.
Lyrics included beneath both videos. Both of these songs come from albums which are fantastic.
To listen to more of these artists and to buy MP3 downloads and CDs, visit:
It is not a secret that the wealthier receive the best medical care. The poor receive the least in amount, type, speedy-ness, and quality.
I am a person who is in a low-cost health care program called ‘Healthy San Francisco.’ No doubt, this service is better than nothing and I am grateful. I am very privileged to be in the US. At the same time, I am afraid for my life and others’ lives (that are not rich).
Individual nurses and doctors at both South of Market Medical Clinic, where I was first received for my emergency care; and then at St. Francisco Medical Center where I would stay for six days for this particular ailment, was pleasant. The individual nurses, on the whole, were mostly pleasant, engaging, and listened well and took care of me as best they could. Particularly at St. Francis in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) where I was first rushed to for my treatment, the care was top-notch and comforting, aiding in my recovering, I feel.
The problems I saw, were in the system. I think there are several reasons for these ‘problems’ that I saw. On two occasions, I could’ve died from ‘mistakes’ if things would’ve been just slightly different. I feel that my stay at the hospital was made more stressful, and therefore NOT conducive to healing and empowerment and comfort, because of politics and the organization of treatment. What the nurses, especially, must navigate in order to do effective work, is largely shut down. The system is supposed to work in favor of all: the patient/client, the various nurses (RN; the aid; floor manager nurse; etc.) and the doctors and specialists. What really makes the organization worse, are the intentions of the administrators and bureaucrats of hospitals. These administrators want the best hospital around so that money would come in and continue its flow through the halls and into the medical journals and cocktail parties. Reputation comes from receiving high merits and having less trouble. Most of the administrators never see patients on a regular basis, and rarely do they speak to the staff, unless there is crisis. Crisis management is what ‘management’ has become. It is no longer about everyone being on the same page, so to speak. The client/patient and what is best, is the furthest thing from that arena. Its link with capitalism is the tightest and closest, and therefore, cannot afford to pay too close of attention unless there is some financial benefit. The care is left up to the nurses and doctors and specialists, but they are deeply affected by the organization of things.
In my six days of stay in the hospital, I went through 42 different nurses. Three different nurses on staff= one day shift group of three nurses (an RN, an aid, and the floor manager nurse), and a different set of three for the night shift. Everyday they would diligently come in and write their names on the white board so I will remember their names.
At various points along the way, one nurse would refuse/ignore reading the chart that has my treatment, and would actively contradict what the last nurse told me. Even as I insisted, they ignored and talked down to me as if I were a child. In all fairness, I know that for most people, when they take care of others, they speak in a tone as if they are taking care of a child. This would be the only reference many people have as far as ‘taking care’ and how to speak to people. But to assume that patients don’t know what they are talking about is the biggest crime of most all of mainstream dominant western medicine anyway.
My mother was a medical student in Japan, in the postwar period. Japan has had centuries of its own medicine system, combined with indigenous and Chinese and Korean medicines, Ryukyu and Ainu systems, and Dutch and Portuguese medicine. The one thing my mother told me was that after World War II, the American doctors actively shamed the Japanese doctors in front of patients and their families. It had to be done in a western way with ‘western medicine.’ Japanese doctors were used to using a vast array of medicines and treatments that did not rely on surgery, pills, and shots. But she remembers that everything began to be turned into one of those three material things, giving the companies who owned those things (the fluids, the implements and technologies, etc) money. My mother also said that one of the best things she remembers about Japanese medicine is that the doctors and nurses listened to the patients about their own ailments and feelings and thoughts and adjusted and discussed. She said that the Western doctors just wanted to know where things were wrong in the body, then that would be the end.
This is certainly what I experience in US hospitals. It is very violent, from my point of view. The patient (in this case, me) is an object of the doctor’s technology. The doctors’ careers rest on their using technologies and medicines that they are brainwashed into loading into their career package, and their own package of techniques of being the identity: DOCTOR.
The doctors decided, according to one nurse, to take out my IV (intravenous) needle. The next morning another nurse started putting another back in, even after I told her the doctor and nurse said I didn’t need one. She didn’t even look at my face during the whole time. The other nurse at night, said that she had a talking with that nurse and asked why she didn’t read the order that was written on my chart? The nurse said ‘she didn’t bother.’ This is scary!!
Many things happened during my visit in the hospital. What I come away with is that the foundations of our American society are based on being dependent. People talk about being independent but it’s hogwash. There is no power or even acknowledgement when it comes to leaving our health in the hands of ‘experts.’ We do need medical people and people who care. But ‘care’ in the US, at least in the medical field but most likely in many places and sites, has become just something an individual does with their tone of voice and asking the same questions over and over and then we’re supposed to give them an answer, even though they already know the answer and will contradict you anyway. Even if we tell the nurse or the doctor such and such, the nurse or doctor may do what they want anyway.
At one point, the fluids going into my body (in this case, heparin–which thins the blood) is supposed to be at certain levels and was not happening. The nurses changed the machine and did things. I asked one nurse what was going on and she told me not to worry about it. Not to worry about it???????? Then a few nurses came in discussing with each other in front of me and were tinkering with the buttons and levers on the machine. Obviously something was up. Then the one nurse honestly told me that the wrong level of heparin was going in because the wrong bag was replaced with the other fluid. She said that luckily the levels became too low and would not have harmed me as much as if it were tweaked the other direction by mistake. Apparently the wrong buttons were switched on and off (there were two different fluids going into my body and they were reversed). I, apparently could’ve died if it was the other way. How comforting.
The nurses were irritated. With each other. How can they care for me effectively? With 42 nurses in a six-day period, they rely on paperwork for information, if not actual dialogue with each other. They clearly did not trust each other’s words either because there seemed to be some nurses who don’t even read patient daily reports and instructions on the job!!!! So there is fear and irritation. Most of the time, when the nurses visit, they were in a hurry to get to all of the patients in their rounds. Doing their jobs. Healing is not their job. Healing is seen as ‘giving medicine’ and doing the appropriate technologies. The individual nurses understand the patients more and understand that other things are needed. But they don’t have time. They must fill a quota on their rounds and do huge amounts of paperwork and administrative work. The managing floor nurses have the worse jobs. At St. Francis, the reason there are so many nurses is that all the nurses rotate through all of the different nursing jobs so that there is no burn-out. It is disconnected from patient care. But they have to do this to keep their jobs.
Why, would the rotating of nurses be done this way? Why not continuity? I know for one fact, from being anthropologist of social change and violence, that a tactic of administration in dominant first-world nations now, is to not allow too much time for workers to fraternize and share information and to ORGANIZE. So there would be no time to organize against grievances and injustices if the workers were kept working on crazy shifts that went against their own interests. This IS A TACTIC. Instead of acquiesing, I always feel that resistance must also become creative.
Western medicine is not about healing, or even preventing illness. It is about feeding the drug companies and the technologies of western medicine. When acupuncture was not taken seriously, it was off-limits. As soon as the western establishment learned how to incorporate it into the system, that is when there was more so-called ‘open-ness’ to acupuncture, albeit slowly. It is racist and capitalist. It effects what we need to care for each other.
My feeling is that we are living in a degenerating USA and it will not get better in the short term. Our economies continue to collapse and the richest of the richest will fly their health care people privately into their rooms or resorts via their private jets and they will be the cream of the crop with the latest in technologies. They may even have a Peruvian, Ainu or Yaqui or Hopi shaman and a indigenous visionary healer from Kurdistan or Finland to heal them. The rest of us must be disempowered enough to totally in the hands of the capitalist doctors……or begin combining old medicines with new, or leaving western medicine altogether, and other such ways. Also, I know quite a few people who have undertaken paths to ‘know our own bodies’ to resist the disempowerment of the current western systems.
Memory can perhaps serve us, and also not just to co-opt and use, but to understand what has been lost. Some of it can be recovered but we must know what can work in these times even though they may have worked in another cultural and historical context. We have differences and similarities. We need discussion. We need negotiation, we must also pay attention to our own colonial personalities that wish to co-opt without understanding or respect to history, etc. We must also not think of ourselves as biologically and culturally determined as well. In taking care of ourselves, what does this mean?