Race-Nation-Gender-Class-Nation: Forget it. Never Forget it

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.

Be human.

There . . . . . .  Can we allow difficulty, struggle, powerful connection and dissonance?

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‘The Lazy Sunbathers’ – Morrissey: Realities of governance & our own accountabilities

One of my favorite Morrissey songs.

He writes about the bourgeois; the middle-class that are wanna-be elites; the elites, who become detached and are confined to their own pleasure.  I think even if we are not necessarily on the beaches, we are often willing accomplices to violence and extinction and the socialization of these things as ‘normal’ while we pay attention only to small worlds and our so-called ‘personal’ situations and lives.  It’s often a clever way that lives are situated along the freedoms and confines of a life structured for us by historical power-relations and struggles, with their dominances and resistances.  I think, always, of Michel Foucault and others who have written along his thinking, such as Judith Butler for instance, in that POWER is not just a dominance ‘over’ things and people and events and everything, but also produces, creates, makes.

Jaded? Stagnation?  I don’t think so.  I call them sociopaths. And there are too too many in this world.  Most of them are running our governments and transnational corporations.  The large group in the world want to be like that and they work hard at having enough and acting just right in order to access it.  There are activists who are wanting the whole world to become that way and they call themselves social justice workers.  I’m sorry but Freedom is NOT middle-class elitist.  Freedom and empowerment in relation to resources, in relation to attitudes, differences, cultures, etc.  are not about accessing the privileges of the violent.  Let’s *not* do this.  Let’s *not* wish this upon us.  If so, why not change directions, concerns, priorities, worldviews?  Small steps, big steps, steps.

But who am I to say?

Lyrics are below the video.

THE LAZY SUNBATHERS – by Morrissey

A world war was announced days ago
But they didn’t know, the lazy sunbathers
The lazy sunbathers
The sun burns through, to the planet’s core
And it isn’t enough, they want more

Nothing appears to be between the ears of the lazy sunbathers
Too jaded to question stagnation
The sun burns through, to the planet’s core
And it isn’t enough, they want more

Religions fall, children shelled, children shelled, that’s all very well
But would you please keep the noise down low?
Because you’re waking the lazy sunbathers
Oh, the lazy sunbathers, the lazy sunbathers

Fear is not the culprit. It is a Buffer from our Beauty

Being afraid is also prominent in our analysis of why people may be prejudiced, outright hostile to different ‘others,’ or why they are xenophobic.  Homophobia, is interestingly enough, the only word that describes anti-non-heterosexual violence in the US English lexicon.  Heterosexism is seen as a precursor but is only used in social sciences classes and anti-oppression circles but is not part of the popular language.  First, homophobia is a psychologized word.  Psychology itself is a problem when it is the only lens through which we see violence and social exclusion playing out toward particular persons and ways of living and loving.  Being afraid of Muslims–Islamophobia, is also prevalent nowadays, in speaking to anti-Muslim sentiment and action.  This language allows us to ‘treat’ and ‘fix’ the offender who lashes out at, kills, maims, or socially ostracizes those who are deemed Muslim.  In some cases, this extends not just to Muslim religious people but all people from the Middle East and/or South Asia regardless of whether they practice Islam.  Many people from the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and East Asia are not Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist.  But for prejudice and allowable social exclusion to work, Islamophobia plays out as something inside a person who is afraid of Muslims and those who may look supposedly like they are.  This, however is legitimized by the current political climate of the US and certain western European governments applying their plan for colonizing Iraq in a more open fashion, using propaganda to do it.  In this case, ‘terrorism’ and ‘anti-terrorism’ are two terms that are used to legitimize and de-legitimize people, groups, ways of thinking.

If it is labeled as such, or is thought to resemble, have the possibility of, then it is.  At this point, the state officials (police, government officials, the military, the judicial systems, etc.) have the right to detain, question, torture, disappear, whatever it sees fit to do.  After all, the public does not know who these people are so the state functionaries can do at will, what they do with permissions from us, the public.  Or more accurately, the inactive and somehow in-agreement public.  For the general public, it is left to be an individual to individual, group to group everyday affair,  left to fend for ourselves.  The general public is also given permission to enact this prejudice that the state practices.  Although the President and others can say it is ‘bad,’ it is still already present and is not stopped or curtailed by the state.  Only in speaking, in gesture, as if this is where violence begins.

In an anti-intellectual culture, where children and teenagers are bombarded by images of violence and sounds of snappy unkind speech in practically all comedies and dramas on television, inundated with police and secret agent shows and video games of gore and conquer, and movies of either romance or super-hero men and women, lives become constricted.  In schools, critical thinking skills are not taught and it is not an accident.  We also traverse within a nation where metaphysical thinking in relation to spirituality and religion and rationality are played out.  There is no thinking outside of these systems to any large degree.  There is also the proverbial war between rationality and faith.  We go so far with rationality, but then excuse all sorts of thoughts, ideas, behaviors and ways of being when rationality is no longer working to present ourselves to others as ‘good.’

The other aspect of this being-seen-as-good syndrome in the US and most other rich nations, is the lack of attention paid to the underclassed peoples.  Each socio-economic class, each race and ethnicity, each gender, each sexual-orientation group, each nationality, hangs out increasingly with each other and at the same time, people are more willing to be ‘good’ by befriending outside their group, or marrying outside the group as these desires become sexualized.  Becoming the exotic feminine: pliable, desirable, and mysterious and WEAKER, is the way defeated and/or smaller countries are portrayed  in the ways we speak about them.  They must be conquered, entered, manipulated, taught how to behave, taught how to be civilized and modern.  Taught how to be violent in the ways the dominant are violent.  We can feel sorry for them too!  After all, we are good.  Where there is no critical thinking, there are automatic moves, motions, gestures, thoughts, and behaviors that move in these ways.  Our actions and thoughts are very limited, controlled by dominant factors.  They are dominant by both being enacted purposefully for control by the more wealthy and powerful and also by much of the general populace because it is easier and more familiar, more comfortable.  It is even more so when one thinks that this is ‘human nature’ and that people have always been this way.  People have been all kinds of ways!!  Why are people limited to the ways of thinking and behavior that are controlled by propaganda or by our neighbors?  In this way, all talk of human rights, love, social justice and social change, also become limited.  It is transcorporate capitalist power-play that wants increasing territories of the self-same, in order to be able to extract resources and increase wealth.  It is the supreme capitalist system which relies on exploitation.  Now, as violence arises in most of the wealthy nations in the streets, between the classes and races, and divorces and domestic violence increases, and unhappiness becomes drugs, alcohol, addictions, numbing out, gnawing dissatisfactions, surely we must understand that we have learned to exploit ourselves and each other, or aware of it and are so disempowered we think we can do nothing about it.  It is truly amazing how brainwashed people can be.

In an anti-intellectual climate, and where psychology is the only way to see the human being, there are not societies or people outside of these boxes.  Fear is the way violence and exclusion and violence is languaged.  If it is a riot or racism, then perhaps we call it racism or unhappiness or rage or being uncivilized.  In this way, the expression of being dissatsified in a certain way is further  controlled by the dominant language and is made easily ‘fixable’ by the dominant.  Sometimes, the dominant is just extracting wealth from you.  Why should we assume that they care?  If we are fearless, then we can admit that we want THOSE people away, gone, disappeared.  If we are not afraid of them or their religion or race or sexuality or way of walking or size, or color, then we are afraid of the possibility.  IF we are truly not afraid, and we are GOOD, then one cannot possibly look at our racism or heterosexism or our nationalism and patriotism, and the other isms, in the face in our hearts.  We don’t know what to do.  We don’t even want to admit it to ourselves much less others.  We don’t want to be seen going to an anti-oppression workshop, I’m not an oppressor!  The self is important to us, at the cost of others. Extreme individualism has begun to have effects in the world as alienation and self-hatred, self-disgust, violence and sadness.  Sometimes these things don’t look the way they traditionally do.  Sometimes the rage and sadness and self-hatred looks like ‘going shopping’ or ‘watching eighty hours of television,’ or making ourselves feel only so much, then stopping ourselves so we can be ‘normal’ or the opposite: becoming ‘crazy’ and ‘spontaneous’ when it’s really not spontaneous at all.  It’s alot of acting out.  But I don’t want to say that these things shouldn’t be or not.  I’m just pointing out ways we can see ourselves and become more creative.

The worldview that humans are like this and that we really don’t change, is the most dangerous one flying around.  Even though we have seen plenty of people in our lives change throughout their lifetime, we somehow forget and make them anomalies.  Our fear is more comforting.  It does not start from fear.  Fear is a BUFFER between reality and violence.  Our historical legacies are violent.  Violent. Violent.  And most of it has been CREATED, constructed, subjected onto us and this is not just some natural, or normal.  If you believe it is normal, you have stopped thinking.  This is perfectly in keeping with anti-intellectualism.  We don’t like thinkers, they mess things up.  In so-called spiritual communities, sometimes they are told that ‘they’re not in their bodies’ or ‘they need to become embodied.’  The intellect is already assumed to be separate from the body.  It’s the perfect trick.  The perfect slavery to the capitalist leaders who make our food and control increasing amounts of water and destroy our bodies in order to make us go to doctors and make us dependent and also further distanced from each other so that creating communities becomes increasingly futile–so we think.

It is true that the traditions of academia, which are western in this globalizing world, have created thinking that leaves the peoples’ concerns in favor of theories and postulates.  What is worse, these academics and the cream of the crop have worked for the most powerful people and organizations in the world in order to maintain that elite status in the world, controlling populations around the world.  We don’t even see them.  They are invisible among us.  They do not care about the populace.  They should, but they don’t and haven’t.  They have amassed more resources and controlled more areas increasingly, around the globe.  It has cost us.  But in the mean time, they have set-up systems of knowledge and learning but not critical thinking and engagement.  That would be too dangerous for them.  They must keep most of the population from thinking.  That would mean their own destruction.  Unfortunately, there are many smart people who do not think critically.  If they do, it’s favored toward the demise of certain communities, ideas, ways of thinking, people.  This means that certain smart people have the resources to control and kill and twist and turn, without us knowing this is what they are doing, and they have resources to protect themselves and the rest of us become to busy fighting for our lives or maintaining our privileges.  IN fact, those fighting for their lives become at odds with those maintaining their privileges.  It becomes a war of survival.  Does this sound familiar to you?  ‘Only the strong survive?’ etc.  This leaves out the fact that usually, in nature, the strong protect the weak.  In our current system, the weak must fend for themselves and punished, or left as an afterthought  if not.  Certainly, if we are not wealthy in our old age, what happens to us?  But we don’t care or want to see, or don’t have time.

Fear is a buffer.  Fear of death.  Fear of living.  But it’s not really fear.  It’s disempowerment.  Disempowerment is a social phenomena that is not new, certainly.  But the different ways of being disempowered have increased since globalization and nation-making.  Globalization and nation-making cannot be possible without militarization and the exploitation of others.  These cannot be done without most of the populace being made to believe certain things.  In social science, it is understood that we are created, as much as our own self-making is done in the context of being made by larger forces.  To think there is nothing we can do about all of it, is the success of the current mode of domination since the beginnings of nation-making and intensifying exponentially since World War I.

Can you get past the fear that has been placed before you?  Can we learn to think instead of react and assume?  Can we learn to think outside the boxes we think exist.  Do we understand that many of us act and think the way we do because we’ve been trained to?  Do we understand that our uniqueness may be in the ways we respond and change instead of conforming to non-comformity and conformity?

We are afraid of our own power.  But it is a buffer from our beauty and power and togetherness, individualities, loves.

Ethan Zuckerman speaks about ‘Imaginary Cosmopolitanism’ & breaking it

Ethan Zuckerman is a writer and internet technologies activist.

Although I have spoken critically of globalization, I have critiqued, not criticized, many aspects of the neo-colonial aspects of globalization.  The world has been interconnected for centuries.  In most areas connected by landmass, there has been an incredible diversity of trade and trade routes, and the encounters between different peoples and groups, ways of living and thinking, ways of conflict, ways of resolution, ways of continuity, ways of destruction.  In the present incarnation of globalizing intentions, there is that continuity of colonial expansion which continues the legacy of entitled exploitations, the destruction of diversity, homogenization and assimilation, and the complex and contradictory elements of cultural contact and the residues of ‘whiteness’ that create neo-liberal formations mixed with local intentions and power relations.

At the same time, the decreasing of time/space through faster transportation, telecommunications and computer and future technologies, has made global contact in more frantic and easier pace.  This has given the illusion of an increasingly global world, but in fact, as Ethan Zuckerman points out, the elites are the ones who do most of the contact and travel towards traveling and face-to-face contact.  In addition, he points out that there is an illusion of increased contact because in reality, as we have been developed in nation-state mentalities, which separate and form nations based on race and ethnicity and controlled by socio-economically more privileged, we tend to do everything, including internet searches and research, along the lines of our ‘flock.’  This points to the re-tribalizations that happen in globalization, where we tend to find those who think like us and have common interests, and depend on them for information that is ‘other.’  The ‘other’ is not just a person/body.  The ‘other,’ in the case of the internet and these modern visual/audio technologies, is also ideas and thought formations, news events and issues that are not within our own ‘flock’ way of doing research.  Even simple things like doing ‘searches’ will be done in a culturally familiar way for most of us.  This leaves out that which is outside of our domain.  For many who think of themselves as global, it may not be so ‘global’ at all.  Our patterns of in-group ways of acting in the world, performing ourselves, include aspects of xenophobia, possibly.  Put in another way, we are largely informed and shaped by society and culture(s).

Ethan Zuckerman points to the sad fact of US American media and the historical trajectory of the information we receive.  It mentions that nowadays, many US Americans prefer UK news because many feel that the US media is very limited.  He points to the decrease in international news and the fact that most news, especially in the US, is about local news and the news of countries the US has invaded (i.e. Iraq, Puerto Rico, etc.)  He also mentions that internet search statistics reveal that most searches are done across first-world (the richest nations of the world) news and those of  areas the US has invaded.  Also, in search patterns, there are some areas that are hardly touched in search patterns on the internet, and they are usually smaller countries, the Middle East and the former Soviet states in Central Asia and the Caucuses, and Africa.  These lands happen to be where western and first world interests have shaped their governments and have created turmoil.  It is understood that it is not just an accident that news and searches and general knowledge of these areas are kept out.

The colonial nature of our ‘freedom’ must be questioned.  We must question our own thought patterns and what ‘turns us on’ as far as news media, entertainment, activism, and world events.  We must question the terms through which we must become interested.  This is what Ethan Zuckerman would ask us to do.  He has been attempting to form new ways where citizens who want a globally more understanding and knowledgeable world, to actually begin going ‘outside of their known patterns’ and to be able to go outside of their language/culture, to think differently, and to break the patterns that we have been living  in order to access a more global, instead of imaginary global.  He asks us to do this to become different people, with a more varied and multiple array of stories in which to make a difference in the world and to not succumb to nation-state and corporate brain-washing when it comes to information and important issues.  We should want to go to unfamiliar places and try some serendipity in order to think differently.

My critique would be that this is a continuation of the co-opting of various cultures and knowledge for exploitative intellectual/cultural gain, personal enjoyment, without a concern for alliances, justice, friendship, political involvement, curiosity, peace.  My hope is that this is not a continuation of that energy and that is broken to create more spaces for creative thought and discussion towards alliance-building and a better understanding of our place in power-relations and history.  I think this is what Ethan Zuckerman also would want……..but I’m not going to speak for him.

General overview of who he is:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethan_Zuckerman

http://ethanzuckerman.com/

http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/

Question: What is the difference between ‘criticism’ and ‘critique?’

A continual issue that I run into when speaking with people, especially in nations such as the United States, where anti-intellectual postures, defenses, and attitudes are heavily dominant, is that people identify with their thinking as their own and that it is of the ‘soul’ and of utmost importance. As thoughts become identity, then it must be defended. An idea or thought or view may be defended as a matter of ‘faith’ and ‘strength’ and ‘knowledge-as-power’ in this kind of gathering and creation of identity. This is an aspect of identity-making in the US, where individual lives are thought to be born of our individual souls, created by God, or perhaps by past-lives in the new age way of thinking. Nevertheless, in either case, our ideas and views are not to be undermined or criticized.

Criticism is a cutting-down, or diminishing of a self. That self, is an idea, thought, creation, circumstance, ways of life, a word, a gesture, the way we dress, etc. It is an atom, an individual object. This ‘me’ is/ becomes, in the social realm in the United States and other places, an object of scrutiny compared to a ‘normal.’ To be an anarchist, in mainstream US thinking, is to go against, that normal. The going-against identity, then, becomes created. So either you are one of them, or you’re one of them-others. You’re one of us, or you’re one of us (the other ‘us’. Everything and everyone, every gesture, every nuance, becomes another object. And since being AFFIRMED in life, to be recognized, to be acknowledged, is almost a sacred meaning of life to US Americans, we spend our lives navigating the treacherous terrain of perhaps being criticized for what we do and who we are and it is bad. The world, then, often becomes that of avoiding criticism. This, then, could be linked with my earlier posting on ‘positive thinking.’ Positive thinking is a reactionary form of relating to ourselves and each other and the world, where the constant reality of being ‘negative’ and being’ critical and being criticized or criticizing others, is avoided.

In intellectual life, in the academy, there is a difference between criticism and critique. At least, in the way I have learned them in the circles where social change, social justice, difference, oppression, and transformation is of concern, there is a difference. However, in my everyday interactions with many people who are in the academy in the Western nations, at least, and the wanna-be western nations of the developing world, there is less and less thinking about words and their meanings, and their implications. This is a testament to how homogenized and dumbed-down we are becoming in the globalizing neo-colonial mind-set. We are easier tools to being controlled by memes and discourses and signs and meanings that are already-known and controlled by larger powers and forces that do not have our best interests at heart.

Criticism is meant to arrive at a higher or better ‘truth.’ This means that if one is criticized, whatever that idea was, is put in its place as incomplete, sloppy, immature, ignorant, partial or not-yet. Perhaps even downright stupid. It shuts doors and pathways. The assumption is that there is a single ‘truth’ and it can be accessed through certain thoughts and disciplines and lifestyles. It is a knowledge-as-dominance game. Unfortunately, knowledge, in this sense, is of dominance and is a particular set of frameworks that are rationally organized to present itself as the most rational, the most good, the best, and it delivers the condescending attitudes forcefully and subtly. If we are criticized, it is an indictment of our SELF. It means that we, ourselves, are not good enough. We are insufficient. It is based on identity. It closes the possibility that the knowledge that is supposedly higher or better, relies itself on certain kinds of thinking and structures of thinking, of certain and particular frames of assumptions and presumptions and presuppositions toward particular ends. These ‘ends’ are quite particular and benefit a certain group of people.  Words and concepts are used to benefit certain groups and structures. Truth serves this end. Truth and truth-making will always lead to this war, this battle, this diminishing of ‘other’ and propagate its own path. Single universal TRUTH will mean anything–idea, person, thought, frame, position, look, gesture, body, size, color, worldview, place, site, etc. — that is DIFFERENT FROM ITSELF, is false, untrue, lower, not developed, not-yet, immature, childish, dumb. On top of this, when criticized, we feel small.

In addition to this phenomenon is the interaction and internalizing, the normalizing before happening. When someone says something that is not what we said, we feel small and we feel we must say something to make ourselves equal, or at least presentable. We feel we have been diminished. We often hear what other people say in this way. DIFFERENCE is EVIL and UNWANTED. If we explore how EQUALITY works in the US discourse on social harmony, we begin to see an ugly picture that always wants to ASSIMILATE other, while those who do not assimilate, can be controlled and marginalized in certain ways. We do it to each other and with each other. Whether we go our whole lives not ever saying the word ‘normal’ or not, is not the point. There is a ‘normalizing.’ A normal revolutionary, a normal person, a normal woman, a normal alternative person, a normal young person, a normal poor person, a normal American, a normal Asian, a normal….. think to yourself……..there is always this unconscious identity-making of ourselves, our ideas, our look and thoughts, as well as of others.

Critique is not born of identity-making. Critique is not in service of a single TRUTH. It may serve a certain commitment to a certain path (such as social justice), but the assumption of CRITIQUE is that there are many commitments, some contradictory to the self. It understands itself to be toward liberation and its possibilities. Critique opens questioning and makes single-truths unstable so to be more inclusive of difference. Criticism closes possibilities and makes difference ‘evil.’ It serves a singular all-encompassing node and calls the one who knows it ‘truth-teller.’ It is a form, in the most extreme forms, that serves totalitarianisms. Critique, however, does not.

The sad thing I have encountered in the United States often, is that when one presents a different idea, it is taken to be CRITICISM. The other feels threatened, violated, defensive, and perhaps responds with silence, self-disgust, anger, depression, self-esteem stuffs. I have found this to be less true in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, etc., where difference of thought does not mean there is something the matter or that it closes down something else. This, is, in case you haven’t thought of this and are feeling like I am criticizing US Americans, is not about how bad US Americans are and how good Europeans are. What I mean to say is that in the history of the US, identity-making has rested on capitalism, progress, industrialization, colonialism, dominant forms of Christianity, and how this was valorized by referring to the US Constitution’s advertisement as democratic. Because of the US’ s role in the world as an empire and of the most extreme forms of capitalist dominance in the world, it has created a society that is more anti-intellectual, and more valorizing has leaned toward individual dream-satisfaction, goal-orientation toward the self and its fulfillment. In Europe, this extreme has not been the case and intellectual thought is more accepted and valorized. In the US, most young people don’t know what an intellectual is, or even more prevalent is the feeling of smallness and aggression when encountering smart people. The only sphere in which most mainstream US Americans allow ‘smart’ is in the technology and science fields, where inventions and non-human factors can be thought. When we speak of ourselves and our actions, we want–as US Americans– no intrusion. George Bush Jr said after September 11, 2001: “The American way of life is not up for discussion.’ This is a perfect example of our unconscious and conscious assumption of self, and its encounters with difference and thought and analysis.

In our future encounters, please let us explore the intention of the speaker. Is it to put you down, and make themselves higher? Or is the point to open up an array of points that shift attention away from single truths, and toward an open-field where different thoughts could be thought. If there is a thought that enters our ideas, and opens up the challenge of thinking complexly, should we not welcome it? This does not mean that our ideas are right or wrong. It may, sometimes, mean that our ideas may not take certain things into account and that we may need a wider array of stories to place our ideas into, to open up the possibilities. This does not mean that our ideas are bad or wrong.

Critique, is liberatory in intention, and has complexity of time and history and culture at its back. Criticism has single truth and moral right and wrong at its back. They are different.

Of course I am not only speaking of conversations encounters, but how US Americans have learned to relate to each other. Listening has become a very de-valued skill in the US. We must do-do-do, and do more. In reflecting on what we may need for social change, I think this is one factor we need to change—that of listening and thinking in a wider field, and that our words and actions should not depend on single-identity factors that want to maintain itself. We have been, at least partially, socially constructed. Opening to critique is a fun and wonderful way of relating, creating new possibilities.

If we encounter or we inhabit the spaces of criticism, and hear everything as either a win or a lose, then we continue to go in the same circular and un-enchanting forms of relating to each other, leading to more self-hatred and misanthropy, misuse, jealousy, distrust, alone-ness and isolation. We cannot be happy with everyone. But certainly, through listening and speaking with critical thinking toward critique, we can have new areas of thought and feeling to play with, and in the process, create new possibilities for humanity.

Chimamanda Adichie – Single Story Perception & Understanding

Nigerian novelist/writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s writings are among the many good works that present stories of difference.  In the video here, she gives a fantastic talk about how multiple stories of one subject, are important in how we may interact/not interact with that subject; perhaps in a more thoughtful or just way, ideally, than approaching a subject with a single story in conscious/unconscious mind.

This is an important point which I, in its basic way, agree with.  We are multiple, we are not singular.  Our stories have multiple points and trajectories, multiple positions from which we come to life and how our stories are told to self and other, can determine many attitudes and opinions and processes.  If our multiple-ness, is taken into account, then perhaps there is more patience, more reflection and pause, more of a place from which to engage other, perhaps understand positions in relation to culture and oppression, resistance and heritage, privilege and sorrows, joys and questions.  Single stories do cut-off history, cut-off political positions brought on through histories, cut-off the circulation of the realities of life and its movements in time and change.  Multiple stories may open avenues in taking these into account.

This being said, I have a critique of one aspect that may come up in listening to, seeing, and engaging this talk which is so eloquently spoken.  It is what I have mentioned before in my blog posts, and through which I speak on practically every post.  It is this question of how to accept/not accept: Difference.  I do not say that Chimamanda Adichie means one thing or another, but I am certainly opening up a discussion about how she approaches the topic of difference.  She says that people often have single stories and this closes a ‘fuller’ understanding or the realization of the similarities between people, communities and cultures.  She then goes on to say that people have more similarities than differences and there is an assumption that this is ‘better’ or that it is a fact of life that there are more similarities, which means this is more positive.  I am not sure that she means this exactly, but this is certainly one way in which Chimamanda Adichie speaks to the difference/similarities dynamic.  I say that this ‘similarities and differences’ polarity is not eternal, or a set of natural ‘facts’ and that this similarity that is so often prioritized in the world, is not positive necessarily.  To put it another way, I think that valorizing similarities is an act that can legitimize violence based on difference, with the matter of sameness and similarity being measured and applied as criteria for treating someone or a group or thing, with respect or dignity.  This is a problem with liberal thinking as well as conservative in the United States.

The measure of similarity and sameness should NOT be a criteria for measuring respect or how we treat someone or culture or community or history, or how we approach avenues for engagement and/or understanding.  Not understanding should be just as much of a pleasure and accepted space.  In fact, the reason there are more similarities today than ever before, is that there is less diversity.  One can go to any scientific journal and there, it is no secret.  There are extinctions in progress, as well as less species of most of the beings on this earth, as human beings increase their numbers.  There is less diversity not just because of over-population.  I say there is less diversity because of neo-colonization– i.e. globalization, which is an extension of colonial expansionism and what goes along with it in the nation-state system:  homogenization.  Everything is become more of the same.  This sameness has been constructed through history through the colonization of minds and lands, cultures and ideas, killing, torture, coercion and manipulation and exclusion through laws, textbooks, military weapons, covert agents amidst cultures, educational policies, judicial systems, and everything else we know to be our reality.  Assimilation and exclusion have worked hand-in-hand in order to create national cultures in the global system.  This is a continuation of the colonization process.  Difference can only be understood.  It cannot be different and not understandable.  This is the reason we must experiment on people and animals, develop stories around them that make scientists and counselors wealthy and create medicines and psychologies that deem certain things abnormal, inexcusable, sad and assimilatable, or wrong.  Learning to question ourselves and others become wrong.  It is now normal to think of everything as right and wrong, good and bad.  We either know, or are embarassed to say we don’t know.  Or we just repeat what our elders and teachers have taught us, or our parents, or our own reactions to what they’ve said because we have hated them.  In any case, our perceptions of reality do not accept difference as well as we would like.  So if we are to follow Chimamanda Adichie’s path, we come to the same tactic of exclusion and marginalization.  There is not acceptance of difference if we only look for and fetishize ‘similarity.’  Looking for a mirror in others is a sure way to the death or invisibility of both yourself and other.

You can do your own experiment. For instance, go through the history books of practically any culture group through history and pick out pictures of soldiers and their uniforms over time.  So start with pictures and drawings of how soldiers in Turkey or in Guatemala or in China or England looked in the 12th century, the 14th century, then the 17th century, the 19th century, the 20th century early and late and in the present.  See what the uniforms look like for each country.  You can do this with several other aspects of life as well, such as clothing, in general, or food, etc.  The affluent people from various cultures around the world starting in the 12th century to the present should confirm what I get at.   It will not be the ‘same’ in every case.  But there is certainly a pattern.  And do we excuse this as ‘evolution’ and ‘progress?’  Shall we now have to look at who used these terms ‘evolution’ and ‘progress’ and address and analyze for ‘what purpose’ these terms were used and how they were used to subjugate and annihilate?

So I disagree with the tone and assumption that Chimamanda Adichie brings in speaking to the issue of single versus multiple stories.  I like how she approaches the subject and explains it.  I do not agree with her notions of making sameness and similarity a criteria for harmony or a reason to let alone and not molest or control.  Isn’t that the reason colonization was justified in the first place?  Why genocide is justified from its beginnings in massacres and to the present day?  Is our understanding a criteria for killing and maiming, manipulating and giving permission to change the other?  However, I do not condone unethical behaviors and traditions so do not say I condone things like female circumcision and other such things.  However, I do not believe that not understanding someone or some culture group or tradition or history, means that we must.   In order to do this, we must co-opt ‘the other’ into our own understanding.  There are differences.  Why are we so afraid of non-difference (irreconcilable differences that is further than what we think about as ‘different’)?  It speaks more about us than of the other.

So this wonderful talk with fantastic, lucid points about history, education, power, and relations, is as is everything, multiple.  I only take issue with the will to incorporate other into an understanding that allows us to be at peace with difference.  In that instant, we are even further apart and alienated.  And in our present climate, this would give a legitimate go-ahead for a take-over and a make-over; violence as some normal activity.  It is a something we need to de-colonize in our thinking.

In relation to the subject matter and analyzing content while appreciating, we must also look at where this video rests.  It rests in the TED site.  If one has so much money behind it, so much corporate connection, then we must also think of it as towing mainstream thoughts in some ways, perhaps in subtle ways in more of the radical thinking.  Let us not be mistaken, this is not a radical change site.  It gives comfortable, informative, interesting, and safe thoughts.  For instance, for as much great things Al Gore has done in warning the public about Global warming, he does not touch his constituency, his ‘group’ and friends, who have been the ones to engineer the human quotient and engines to the destruction of our ecology.  Until he himself becomes radicalized, he keeps himself and our elites and our patriotisms comfortable, continuing the invisible domination by elitism and privilege without a shift in thinking.

And with all this, I highly recommend this wonderful talk that pushes mainstream thought to the edges of history, colonization of the mind, forgetting, education, nation-state and cultural/historical difference.  Critique is not about excluding and putting down, it is about analyzing its various positions, approaches, assumptions, possibilities reached for freedom and creativity, aspects that need further investigation, etc.  Enjoy, think, appreciate, change!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie website:  http://www.l3.ulg.ac.be/adichie/

TED (technology-education-design): Remarkable Talks site: http://www.ted.com/

“Beyond” as a problem in Race & Difference work

What are the effects of our truths? – Michel Foucault

There is a statement I hear often, when the topic is social issues having to do with racism, especially, but other social oppression and justice-related identity and relations issues as well.  I have a problem with this:  “let’s get beyond the race issue” idea.  I also have a problem with a statement that I see in the trailer for the new movie: Harimaya Bridge. I am very excited by the movie, don’t get me wrong about that.  But it won’t stop us from thinking about certain things, assumptions, worldviews.  So I want to make a few inter-related points about this.

So there is the line in the movie:  ‘there are there are more important ways to identify with people than color of skin”  or something to this affect.

Now these statements about ‘getting beyond’ skin color and ‘getting beyond’ the ‘race issue’ etc.  are very very dangerous weapons that continue the problem of accepting difference.  The statement above sound as if they are going toward peaceful relations, but are actually couching the very problem itself–that which brings the reality of assimilation and colonialism to the fore, and acted out through the processes of globalization, of course.  The gentrifications of identity.

This gentrifying of identity, of supposedly moving beyond race, is a way to say that race/ethnicity are trivial or superficial trappings that hide the real human being underneath.  Usually, this real human being, that is presumed to be what is being pointed to, that is beyond the difficulties of conflict, looks very middle class, and very materialistic, and very homogenized.  There is an assumption that globally, people are the same:  the same values, the same concerns, the same experiences, the same worldviews and the same way of doing things.  Of course the ‘differences’ are just slight–you know–the way ‘they’ cook and the way ‘they’ wear different kinds of clothes, and the way ‘they’ laugh, and the way ‘they’ do their different religion.  It’s all the same God in different clothes, it’s all the same food with different colors and tastes, it’s all the same underneath.

In this way, there is an assumption of sameness.  The reason this sameness seems more ‘real’ is that our world today, is systematically destroying the different.  Usually, the ‘different’ are the ones that make things seem ‘poor’ and ‘uneducated’ and ‘have different values than the good values of individual pursuit of happiness.’   Partha Chatterjee, in his book The Nation and Its Fragments’ speaks eloquently about the system through which our PRESENT ARRIVES.  The present is not eternal.  The present is MADE from the past.  The past is this moment in the next moment.  Do we understand this?  What you are reading right now, is the past.  I wrote this before you wrote it.  In two seconds, two minutes, two hours, two days, two months, two years, two decades–it is already the past once we have read it, once we have uttered it.  IN THIS PRESENT, what is happening?   So Partha Chatterjee mentions that much of modernization and Europeanization of the world, comes with the effect of the ‘extinction of the peasant.’   What do you think of this statement?  Although he is speaking to India and South Asian history in the context of postcolonial realities, that idea which he speaks to, rings true for the entire global movement.  It is our historical present.  We will medicate, urbanize, nuclear-family-ize, middle-class-ize, and make the whole world UNDERSTANDABLE to us.  The other things that we don’t understand, we are just baffled by, and this is not neutral.  If we are baffled by it,  we seek to change it into a ‘higher’ form–we analyze it from our OWN POINT OF REFERENCES  (i.e. — our own cultural/racial/gendered/ and class realities).  The more privileged we are, let’s say–an American or German or Japanese, or Australian, or any region where there are urban and corporate elites participating in the global market, the more we are willing to ‘lend a helping hand’ for those less fortunate.  In order to make them fortunate, they must enter the MACHINE of globalization and the market system in operation today.

The poor nations were made more poor with the structural adjustment policies that require AID–be it for floods, earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, war–be ATTACHED to stipulations and loans and ways of changing the local ways.  So in keeping with this analysis, we have to look at the ways in which we think of racism, sexism, classism, anti-semitism, heterosexism, and the various social oppressions through which our present realities are created.

Getting beyond, means that a person’s ethnic/national/cultural heritage, has nothing to do with skin color?  And is race about skin color?  In the middle class and elite global structure it is very much so but not completely.  If one is educated in Oxford UK, and speaks in a certain way and dresses in a certain way, then they are more apt to be invited to the big boy’s table.  The same goes true for ‘fair-weather liberals’ who pretend to love diversity.  Their friends may be Chinese, Korean, West African, Aborigine, Swedish, Argentinian, Cherokee, Algerian Bedouin, and Finnish, yet they are most likely very much in the same social class, and act in certain ways that are palatable, and perhaps with the same politics and socio-economic level that is evident.  How does urban street African-Jamaican develop in the light of the globalizing world?  Is it ‘their’ culture?  Oppression has very much to do with it.  What has been ‘allowed’ and ‘accepted’ by the dominant is allowed and accepted.  How can one get beyond that which is a history?  A history is not just a bunch of events of the past, no longer alive right now.  Everything has to do with everything.   So a person’s diverse friends are made to prop up someone’s self-image as a ‘good person’ who has a lot of ‘diverse friends’ and therefore he/she is not a racist right?  All of these friends may reject an urban street Latino or African-American or Vietnamese from the ‘other side of the town’ even though his views may be similar to the group of diverse friends.  Of course, we are not supposed to be friends with everyone.  This is not my point.  The point is:  What are we AVOIDING, refusing in our goodness?

Many of us read the many things that are going on in this world, to stay informed, and to critically reflect, and to read things we’re not comfortable with, in order to get the fuller picture.  Many of us do the opposite.  We read what we like, then we believe it to be true, and we ignore the rest.  In addition, we add moral judgement to it.  That’s good and that’s bad or that’s neutral.  But most of the time, we don’t know much about it.  We only know ‘our’ version.  We want to be oh so Good.  And in this being ‘good’ we stay away from what we think is bad.  We are told that certain things are bad.  The school textbooks and many of our teachers and our judges and the police and our corporate managers, and our social work institutions, have already pre-determined what ‘good’ is, and we follow it.  Then we create our own moralities.   So everything is self-evident.  Except that there are many things we have ignored and built opinions and truths about, and form conflicts and evasions and silence about, that may need to be looked at more seriously.

In getting ‘beyond’ something, what assumptions are being carried?  Racial differences are bad, apparently.  If we ‘get beyond’ our racial difference, then we are truly arrived at ‘human.’  This is a big problem with a certain way of looking at ‘human.’  I have had friends who think that everytime I bring up racial/ethnic differences in perspective, and the history of oppression that informs the views and the difference, to call me someone who is ‘bringing up the race issue.’   As if it was not something that SHOULD be brought up.  When it is brought up, what happens?  Conflict.  Perhaps discomfort. Why?  From those friends’ perspective, if I would’ve never brought ‘race’ up, then there would not be any conflict.  They are dead wrong.  There is already a DIFFERENCE.  The conflict happens when there is a REFUSAL on their part, to accept, acknowledge, ADMIT, be concerned with, and be an ALLY to what I bring up.  These ‘friends’ will not accept MY RACE and all it has to say.  Isn’t this right?  The issue is not that I brought up race.  The issue is that these people REFUSE the DIFFERENCE it brings from a supposedly KIND and BENEVOLENT UNIVERSAL human being which is the CORE, apparently.  This CORE HUMAN seems to have No History, No acknowledgements of the power relations that go into decisions and marginalization and empowerments, No differences acknowledged.  The conflict stems from the structure of their assumptions.  It is LOADED with racism, sexism, etc.   It is not that these friends are hateful, or evil, or not nice.  But at the same time it is about that.  IT is because they have chosen to go to the COMFORTABLE location and position of the Universal.

The Universal human being is a tactic of assimilation.  At any moment, after all the poor blacks and homosexuals and mixed race people and the poor white hillbillies and the poor starving Indians and Africans and the reservations and the chemically-bombed and malnutritioned people and all the others, have been successfully annihilated through complete assimilation, that is when they would come after something else for complete control and dominance.  In the mean time, all of us in the DIFFERENCE camp will be thought of as terrorists and nuisances.

So, I refuse to move BEYOND in order to be judged by whom YOU might consider me NORMAL, GOOD, WHOLE and complete as a universal human being which we supposedly are ALL trying to get to (manifest destiny & Christian cultural dominance in our thinking).  Progress, Evolution, change, getting better, being better, evolving, growing, maturing.   These words are great words that I think are helpful and can move us.  However, most of the time, the above words are used to assimilate, destroy, belittle, talk down to, ignore, refuse, forget, and to commit genocide ultimately.  Getting OVER and MOVING beyond are tools for us to oppress ourselves into becoming that which we desire.  We have been made to desire so that will LIVE a CERTAIN way, and to buy certain things.  Nowadays, we’re not thinking it strange that the very people who run the world have gotten us to drink bottled water without a peep.  NO, I refuse their idea of whom I should be.   That would be a SMALL PERSON in my book.  For you….too.  We can become much bigger, more just and more powerful as communities when we do NOT accept difference as CONFLICT. Difference is not the source of conflict.  REFUSAL and ignorance is.

At the same time, I will acknowledge that many people who have been through lifetimes of identities and positions that are ‘underclass’ in this world, no matter where we are, have chosen to want to BECOME the master.  When we do this, we take on many of the masters’ behavior.  We put down, we annihilate difference, we subjugate difference, we assimilate others we think are ‘lower.’

I hope that the success of this model of having us–more and more in this world–internalize the larger and globalizing colonization of the mind, would be deterred and we can change course.  WE may, if we take steps to think, reflect, and watch how we can become more honest with ourselves in a context where history and RESPECT for DIFFERENCE could be struggled with.  In this struggle, we must figure out how to make relations that are ethical and not continually demand everything we want all of the time.  THAT also comes from living in the present system.  Greed and DEMAND and isolation are brothers and sisters of internalized colonization.

Let’s not move BEYOND.  Let us move WITH, struggling to look deeply and to agree to a better world.  We cannot wait for those governing us.  And those governing us are creating new realities for us to be more dependent on them.  Look at our ravaged planet, which is rapidly becoming uninhabitable.  Let us work together WITH difference, to welcome struggle, and to also ask for ethics.

Partha Chatterjee information: http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/chatterjee/