Social Justice is not………..

Some people are confused……confused about “social justice” and what it is.

I am not seeking to define it.  I am seeking to carve some intelligence into the word, term, concept, action.

So much of the US notion of social justice is from within the reality of living in the Empire.

It is a crumbling empire, no less.  But it is empire.

When Americans think of people who are “activists,” they think of a whole array of people who seem to be shouting out for things that they feel are morally right, necessary, necessary for their particular concerns and people and political persuasion.

Disconnectedness—it is one of the main effects of extreme individualism.  Individualism, is different from empowered individuality.  Individualism is somewhat of an ideology, something made superior.

With US concerns for individual freedom, communities suffer.  Since most white people and wealthy people in the US, as well as a good portion of the middle class and the homeless, do not think of themselves as being part of any community, it even gets more precarious when working with struggling for a different world. The legal structure and the institutions in the US, provide legal freedoms to some degree, for individuals.  For groups, communities, there is very very very little, if any, recourse.  Case after case is thrown out in favor of 5000 individuals having to file individual claims to right a wrong done to a whole community.  In most cases, these individual cases are drawn out over years.  For the economic and social underclass, funds run out and energy is sapped and the three jobs they may have to go to becomes priority.  The cases become weaker.  Or the powers hire the attorneys that are high-powered and block any power that the underclassed individual may have.

Disconnected individuals (a fair amount of “normal” and not-so-normal people in the US especially–and increasingly in all first-world countries) tend to sabotage works and solidarities and political commitments that could be good for everyone, or at least a larger population of different kinds of people of differing socio-economic, ethnic, cultural, genders and sexual orientations, etc., feeding into division and conflict, violence and rupture.  They become “identities” which are separate from other “identities.”  So goes the ongoing disconnectedness. But I do think there are those forces that create these isolations need rupturing.

And when we speak of activism, those people wanting their “rights” to privileges, and the right to maintain them, are put on equal footing with those fighting for difference, for survival.  Fighting to MAINTAIN PRIVILEGES is NOT social justice.  Privilege and how it operates, makes invisible and priority, over those who have and are considered less, must be looked at and actions taken in regards to what is seen and realized, for a “social justice” to actually happen.  In other words, as many US Americans seek to access privileges of something that is defined as the “freedom to get, the freedom to be….” social justice is diminished because privileges cannot afford an “other.”

Here, we see the link between what many Americans call “Freedom” and the middle class ideals.  As I’ve mentioned before, people often confuse the access to middle-class, European elite (white), masculine and militarized material, emotional and spiritual values, as “freedom.”   Then this gets confused with “Liberation.”  Going on vacations, to “get away from reality” and “rest”—which are bourgeois leisure ideals made socially dominant as a desire in life by elites during the colonial days between the 17th to 19th centuries, becomes somewhat like the popular confusion about “liberation” these days.  Social liberation means, in this scenario, some kinds of escape.  And then guess what? Things deemed “in the way” of this escape, is deemed as some word exaggerated and confused with non-liberation.  We learn to block anything that stands in the way (or seen as standing in the way) of our disconnected and individualized freedom to escape, as needing to be disappeared, violated, jailed, tortured, maimed, stopped, killed.  Psychologically, culturally, intellectually, with the variety of arms and weapons of mind, heart and body that we have learned in the system of continual disconnection and valorized individuality (above solidarity, community, living with difference).

So in these ways of thinking and thrusts of behavior that I have mentioned above, social justice is suffering.  It is definitely not dead or gone.  It is in pain.  It is in pain because fewer and fewer people have the inclination, desire, time, and/or energy, to struggle with self and community enough.  Fewer and fewer people have the creative thinking enough to get out of the box that the Empire holds us in.  As the social-political forces that we have all internalized, confuse us and run our bodies as “spectacles” —as Guy Debord (December 1931-November 1994, French postmodern philosopher) has pointed to for us, we have a harder time interpreting the difference.

It is made worse by the crash of cultures, values, times and places that are incoherent.  Incoherence is NOT THE PROBLEM!!  It is our inability to not do violence to incoherence that is the problem!!!!  We incorporate, assimilate, violate, manipulate, imprison, sequester, make sick, make knowable–and therefore no longer that thing itself but our own other interpretation of that thing–person–place–time) that we create.  Now the world seems smaller and more alike.  Less diversity.

Put them away, make them criminals, make it hard on them, annihilate them, torture them, jail them, make them sick, control those people and those communities, feel sentimental about it after they are dead, it makes us good and holy.  On and on.  Refugees from ourselves—as we see refugees and the stateless, as if all of us were states.  It’s a joke. But we have definitely internalized the state.  There’s no escape.  How about starting with a realistic assessment and then assessing how we may do things differently?

The reactionary definition of “community,” in the eyes of many individualists, is that communities are like herds of cattle and animals, without minds, aimless and not able to think for themselves.  This dualistic notion of community has been developed through years and centuries of learning that the communities our ancestors killed or destroyed in order to create the wealthy “global” in favor of an individualism that was able to “capitalize” on making money for itself (not others).  And furthermore, when we try to make communities and join them (because we sense our loneliness, disconnectedness and isolation), we (US Americans) tend to get very very uncomfortable with the differences, the conflicts, the games, the political jostling, and general psychological violence that is practiced in groups, no matter how lofty.  If we don’t feel those things, it is usually because we have learned to ignore–or perhaps learned to become oblivious because no one is bothering “ME–THE INDIVIDUAL” and this asserts a “satisfaction” in the name of escaping the difficulty of being together with others of differences, and also the higher position of being alone and therefore “trouble-free.”  This is an illusion.

Mourning but knowing that there are so so many in this world who understand enough and care enough about this in the world, to begin steps and to empower toward social justice.  It is arduous and difficult and tedious, but must be done.  Individual heroes will be squashed.  Communities of difference, across different backgrounds of histories, etc. must learn to come together without the escape mechanisms we have all learned well.  Empowering toward social justice is tedious, arduous, precarious, uncertain, not attainable in a finality, but is a pathway that is immensely more loving than the loneliness of dieing in an old folks’ home somewhere in a desolate urban landscape. Some are working now and we must work together, learn how to.  The rest will most likely just wait for those few to do the work while they enjoy the fruits of empire, and maintain global injustice.

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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?

Debate regarding the August-September 2010 ROMA evacuations in France

Political bodies arguing. States and nations being more important than people currently, increasingly.

Political bodies arguing that institutions and processes are in place in many European nations regarding ‘how to deal with’ the Roma.

The Roma, having to assimilate into the ‘civilized’ European, North American and Japanese colonial systems…..is already a violence, an exclusion, a globally-mandated assumption of obedient minorities having to create themselves into something they are not. It is already a set-up. The fascisms are not acceptable now. But there are residues of fascism in every state, in certain attitudes of many individuals, ourselves possibly. When things go underground, they adapt to the current milieu and operate with new tactics. It is easier to follow an ideology or a fundamental structure in our minds, families and neighborhoods. Many of the scientists and thinkers of fascist governments were paid by the so-called democratic states, to survive and thrive and continue to create in the name of the elites. They are everywhere. The residues show up in people’s attitudes. As I write this, some people have wanted me dead. It is not a surprise. Ethics, love, negotiation, difference, intensity, and struggle, are seen as unwanted. It’s so much easier if everyone just obeyed. It takes lots of obedience to be civilized. It takes lots of obedience to be many things. It is a struggle to think creatively about our issues and what it is we want.

There is little talk of getting programs and institutions together, providing counseling and educational change and other activities, to address the prejudice, racism, violence, brutality, impunity, and aggression of the dominant attitudes and behaviors against the Roma and other minorities. It is a set-up. But there are many who are privately setting up creative ways of resisting the dominant flow of treating minorities like something to do surgery on, to assimilate. The issue is dominance and resistance.

Apparently, much like some of the US Americans I know who are anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim (and whose families were probably anti-Japanese-American during WWII etc.), states have a right to keep the ‘other’ out. Who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them’?? The lines are often justifications for our psychological/social violences to be played out. It is that division, that demarcation, where we give permissions of violence. Nations and national systems are that place, an extension or perhaps where it begins through histories of developing from tribalism to ethnic/sexual/gender/racial/religious identity and national identity currently.

Now it all plays out in its failures. Violent nationalism internalized into safe havens and names such as ‘our state’ and ‘our city’ and ‘our people’. Tribalism continues as democracy fades. But democracy isn’t fading for many. It is enacted and seen everyday. There are thousands around the world, millions around the world, right next to us, who understand the difficult struggle for democratic ethics in our lives. We cannot confuse permissions without ethics with democracy. We cannot confuse the boundaries of identities as demarcations of democracy.

The Roma, the Kurds, the Jews, the Armenians, the Dahlit, the Ainu, the Mayans, and millions of other bodies are forced into the isolation called ‘minority’ and are treated like chess pieces and diseases in the national systems now global. We must make our way in the violent world structured by the dominant system and we are supposed to listen to these people and bodies that have somehow assumed precedence. Even as those in governments are for justice, the system requires you to be a strong state, complete with strong militaries and economies and secret hiding places and hidden tactics and lots of money to pay the secret operators to make the state into a certain self-image, leaving certain ideas, cultures, ways-of-thinking and acting, out of the equation of this imagined state.  It’s an imaginary of violence, playing out with hollow words such as ‘rights’ and ‘diversity’ and ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ in many cases.

There are many people in world government, such as can be seen in this video snapshot of politicians arguing about what to do with the Roma people, who actually care and want peace.  However, justice cannot come in states where peace is about obedience to laws, no matter how lofty.  Laws, in most powerful states, ignore the brutality of how that state came into being in the first place.  Law is not justice.  Neither is law about anarchic violence and tearing down of all.  Justice is more of an attention to history and creative processes of negotiation through differences. But in positions of privilege, where a person or a body of people ‘decide what to do with others’ is precarious when the rules of law are interpreted in different ways. What is worse, as Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) himself, wrote the first writings on the term ‘genocide’ and watched about a third of the laws he proposed be left out when the genocide laws were implemented by the international body–because those laws that were too threatening to the so-called integrity of the state would make all states culpable and make the global national system criminal itself). The human rights system is a necessary group of policies, laws, and research and documentation bodies, do not get me wrong.  But no one can enforce them. There cannot be a human rights police.  So human rights are continually broken in the United States, the European Union, Japan and other nations.  All one can do is watch arguments or invasions.

What’s even more daunting is that the term ‘genocide’ has been coined as an event, a moment in time with a certain look, an obvious massacre and displacement and hatred. The issue is that genocides rarely happen as an event. Culminations in massacres happen, but the processes of cleansing in states and regions happen over long periods of time, due to intensifications of exclusion-wishing and creating our living spaces in certain ways that do not allow certain differences. Displacements may happen continually for centuries, making a certain group poor. Policies to exclude and keep them poor keep being passed, while institutions are set-up to ‘help’ these minorities. The help keeps that group in their particular circumstances and are designed to construct assimilation. Help is usually a form of surveillance and identity-making. It is created through the dominant’s will, not those who are marginalized. Propaganda can be created over decades, where racism and prejudice can strangle the look of a city or a state or a people into a  reality where certain people and communities and areas can only be seen through that lens of the constructed dominant instead of through a different lens. Criminalizating minorities and their actions is a tactic of killing the spirits and locking the men away, leaving vulnerable populations to fend for themselves. Since laws concern the privileged, what does survival look like for the already-vulnerable?  Genocide is not an event. The killing of spirits and ideas and lives happen over prolonged periods in all of the ways Raphael Lemkin has stated (in the complete version, not only in the edited version the international body has made public). So genocide may not look like genocide. For change in our world, we must intervene into these smaller structures of cultural killings before an event.  In fact, some philosophers have actually spoken to the everydayness of genocide. Our ignoring and going about our lives is an aspect of the killing of another community. Buying or not buying certain things can also play into killing ‘the other.’  We cannot wait for the ‘event’ that we recognize. By then it is usually too late.

These politicians can argue, but whoever has the biggest weapons currently controls whatever happens, regardless of human rights. States have more power than groups of persecuted peoples. States have become more important to maintain, rather than communities. Self-hatred begins to creep in as we think of ways to empower and resist. Making ourselves into ethnic groups, then wanting a state, seems to be a logical conclusion of ways to live, as the stronger states treat those within its boundaries that are not the dominant group, as well as weaker states and non-dominant peoples globally, as things to extract work from (exploit) and displace and make into problems at will. It is ugly. There is no secret. We all know individual people like this in our lives. But when it is larger, we may think they are nice people, but the structures will a certain pattern, a certain way for things to turn out. More and more people are no longer willing to take it, however.

Issues of dominance and dominant attitudes control the so-called ‘Roma issue’ and other minority peoples’ and stateless peoples’ living circumstances, continuing to be ‘cases,’ as can be seen in this video, in the early 21st century.  It brings up memories of World War II, fascism, and the current crisis of human, social, ecological systems at crossroads. They don’t fit it.  ‘They’ are nomadic, ‘they’ are communal and not individualistic, ‘they’ have ties to life-ways that are contradictory to the dominant globalizing state system. Where does difference come into play? What can be done? Must we/they obey to survive? Where is our creativity?

Mikail Aslan & Ahmet Aslan: Singer/storytellers of Dersim

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.

Truth of Dersim ’38 (from Armenian Weekly): http://www.armenianweekly.com/2010/01/24/kahraman-dersim-38-from-rebellion-to-massacre-a-state-project

Dersim’s Lost Girls film: http://www.kurdishcinema.com/DersimsLostGirls.html

Mikail Aslan.net : http://www.mikailaslan.net/website/index.php?lang=en

Ahmet Aslan.org : http://ahmetaslan.org/

Above Photo of a Dersim villager hunted and captured by the Turkish army during the 1937-38 genocidal campaign.

Lêa Qeraji (in Zazaki language)  by Mikail Aslan

Dilo Dilo (in Zazaki language)  by Mikail Aslan

Susarak Özlüyorum ( (in Turkish language)  by Ahmet Aslan

Veyve Milaketu (Dance of the Angels) (in Zazaki language)  by Ahmet Aslan



“Calling it Home” Documentary Video by Zeynep Uygun: Displacement & Democracies

Tarlabasi is a district in Istanbul, Turkey with a long history of housing non-Muslims and other displaced persons such as trans-identified persons, Armenians and Kurds, Christians, Romani, and others. There are a few neighborhood districts in the huge city of Istanbul that are like this. They are home to these thousands and provide safety and diversity in a city that is continually mobilized (in people’s minds and therefore actions) as one that tows the dominant ideologies and meanings of the Turkish state. The Turkish state has long afforded many of the elites with the controls to navigate its global identity through the late 19th century and early 20th century political worlds, imprinting it into the present. In that period in the 1800s and through the 1950s, the Turkish model of citizenship included everyone as long as they became ‘Turkish.’ The single mode of identity was crafted as a defense against encroaching European colonial powers in their times. But to the popular masses, no mention of ‘Turkishness’ was spread.  Only after the establishing of the republic in 1923 did the ideas of cleansing move into full force to create national unity.  Through tremendous and bloody wars against many fronts, the Turkish mono-identity politics was formed as a resistance to a certain domination. It was done at such costs considering the general poverty and exhaustion of the large Ottoman population that earlier, stretched from the edges of Spain and the African continent, into the edges of China and South Asia. Centuries of warfare left its people exhausted and wartorn. Yet, through tremendous efforts, it fought off completely being swallowed by the French, British, American, Greek and Italian encroachments, among others. The region’s peoples gained their strength of spirit, through warfare as defense of itself. In empowerment, how does this play out as identity? However, its ideological center, which usually creates the nationalist unities necessary in order for people to fight against something against all odds, was borrowed from those foreign ideologies that were popular and powerful at the time, which had totalitarian and fascist elements, mainly the French and Italian forms of ideologies and their forms of ‘science.’

These elements have been called ‘Kemalism’ –named after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who was the military officer who is credited for saving what was left of the former Ottoman Empire and creating it into the new Turkish Republic. This authoritarian form of rule, mixed with its secular Muslim Turkish ethnic identity written into the Turkish Constitution, has created its violent political clashes ever since. Although Woodrow Wilson’s democratic ideals were forced upon the new Turkish government, its wordings and its lack of protections created a diverse array of dominating tactics along mono-ethnic and mono-religious lines.  Difference existed in relatively more harmonious relations in the Ottoman period, have been hammered into violent political differences in the nation-state system of Turkey. Today, the diverse population tries to navigate and make life live-able with its diversity, while the laws and policies remain very typically staunch in its single ethnic, and particular forms of secular Islamic qualities that defined the earlier periods of Turkey. Those who have gained prominence and power in this system, will not let that go, even though their changes may bring about more love from some of its people. On the other side, it will bring about exile, imprisonment, and assassination at the turn of a dime, as have the many coups and right and left-wing assassinations in the streets and even in Europe, have proven, in the name of maintaining the structure of what is considered ‘the Turkish state.’

Tarlabasi is one of the beautiful, poor neighborhoods of Istanbul where the marginalized have crafted lives and learned to live with each other, complete with disagreements and harmonies, sharing and autonomies. While cities in modern nations are crafted, the marginalized are apparently equal to everyone else, and must find their own way. As those in this great video state, the neighbors know each other and respect each other. If they are displaced, how will they live? Where will they go? What will happen to them? Often, people do not realize how social ostracization works in countries where they are heavily more politicized than in, let’s say, the US or the UK. But even in these two western nations, the marginalized are still invisible and their voices are the last to be heard, if at all. Oh well, the city wants to build new apartments here. So we’ll give you a couple hundred or a thousand dollars, go find your new home….

Tearing people and communities apart is only the beginning of a series of fears, isolations, loneliness and the sheer exhaustions of starting over again in new places. In places such as Turkey, which are communal, much of the ways people survive are based on relationships formed, the places frequented, etc. In new places, without those places and people, starvation and stress and ill-health begin to form. In many nations, these are blamed on the poor and marginalized themselves. In effect, the elites and governing forces, along with the over, tacit or secret agreements of the more privileged, create these circumstances.

Please watch and listen to this wonderful video. This is a glimpse into Tarlabasi, but also a glimpse into a way of making and displacing and creating suffering, that is common in every nation, especially those that are ‘modern’ and supposedly civilized.

Photo by Tesstantrum at Flickr.com

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/

Voices of Displaced Children: Zharawa Refugee Camp

A wonderful short video piece from the Tiziano Project below.

Visit their website: http://tizianoproject.org/

Refugee Camps are a major part of the fabric of our world. They are often used, as are prisons, homeless shelters, and post-conflict institutions, to extract some benefits such as using them for various experiments on structuring disaster relief or to test new medicines, etc. They are often portrayed as places of compassion, where the wise and kind wealthy nations have provided a safe haven from the torture of their lives. But often this is not the only case. As well, many of these camps are prolonged because of their usability for some other purpose. Often they are ignored. In the mind of the dominant, in some ways the world does not consider them people but as representations of something; if they were to disappear, no one would notice. This is one of the major hopes of the dominant governments. Dominance is not kind. Especially when one is dominating from afar.

In the case of Kurdish peoples, the locals also do not want them. They are abused and treated as inhuman pests. In many cases, subconsciously or consciously, they are a pesky reminder of our failure as more privileged citizens and are secretly wished away by ignoring, isolating. In fact, we have internalized the nation-state system. Identity is bound-up with where we are and the power-structures that reign. Often, our ways of being empowered, or to access privilege, involves a very similar way individually, to our nations. It is not our birthright. We have internalized what is. It is up to those of us with some hope and creativity left in our bones and marrow, to bring something different. These children and their relations, need our creativity, strength. And effective work must come from the deconstruction of our values and privileges so that it is not just a stop-gap approach. In the short-term we can offer shelter, clothing, water, food, empowerment, care and love. In the long-term, what would those things look like? Would we seek to incorporate into the same? The same is what has oppressed them. Kind dominance will create more of the same. Do we wish middle-class lives on them? How would we configure difference in our world, thriving in our world, empowerment in our world, justice in our world? We must first hold our processes of governing and aid, accountable. As of now, the bureacracies hide the continuing genocidal effect of disappearing certain cultures off the face of the earth through very slow means, disguised as one thing or another.

The wonderful voices of these children can be heard not just as a way to feel sorry, or to smile, but also to think.