Dear all, it is with a heavy heart that I am letting you know Georgina Herrera has passed on yesterday. She was an inspiring and much beloved poet whose glittering sparseness was a counterpoint to the Spanish classical flowery formalism of older Cuban writers. Her personal story centers Afro-Cubanhood as the location, from where, and for whom, she wrote.
Her experience of the formative years of the Cuban revolution was instrumental in her joining writers’ groups and writing as a profession. Her poems, unlike Nicolas Guillen’s work, do not try to forge a mestizaje or biracial identity as the foundation for Cuban nationhood. Perhaps because she came from a line of more working -class people than the lawyer’s son, Guillen. Herrera herself laboured as a domestic worker through her teens. It is through working for the entitled white cuban middle-class, that she began to have access to a literary and cultural world that drew her into its ambit. Within that circle, she brought a voice of defiance and fierce independence that makes her work still so relevant today.
Viscerally, she describes the reality of being Black in Cuba, where, unlike George Lamming’s work, her writing exists, not “in spite of” as Lamming would put it , but “because of“. It is precisely that centering of her reality that makes Georgina’s work so relevant to other Black women and women of colour. As a scriptwriter, poet and mentor to many others, especially in the Afro-descended community, Georgina Herrera’s legacy will live on the hearts of her readers and friends and family. Her motif acknowledges that self-definition is rooted in material lived freedom, a bitter truth harvested from her ancestors’ enslavement in Cuba. Born, in 1936, to a Cuba where the formerly enslaved were still alive, Georgina Herrera, or Yoya, as she was known to her friends, was a remarkable presence whose poetry explored the experience of black women in a society highly uncomfortable with talking about raced gender and racism in open terms within their own history. She herself, rejected the pretences of mestizaje, for maroon-hood, (cimarronje) which she defiantly and repeatedly came back to in her writing and self-definition. In this way, her writing speaks to the universality of Black experience in the Caribbean, North, and South America as a result of brutal worlds built on trading in persons. But she celebrates the rehumanization -as Lamming himself does– of barren colonial landscapes of fear, deprivation, and demonization of Afro-peoples, by any means necessary– even poetry…I leave you with her own words, and join with Cubans and poetry lovers in wishing her a safe journey. Ashe.
Grand Eulogy for Myself- Georgina Herrera/trans. Kaushalya Bannerji
I am the fugitive
I am she who opened doors
Of the dwelling quarters and “headed for the hills”.
So, I was recently challenged to rethink the ideas I put forward in my blog about the 2020 U.S. elections. In fact, the very idea that “the battle is over, but the war goes on”, is rooted in the validity of the present capitalist system, a system that has proven time and time again to be morally and materially bankrupt when it comes to the common people—i.e., you and I.
Under the circumstances of bourgeois democracy, it seems to me , a good moment to remember the adage ascribed to Malcom X, that our liberation, comes about “by any means necessary”. That is why my discomfort with the reigning social system and my belief in a better, more just and equitable future— is both a contradiction, and— a strategy, that doesn’t simply see the debate as being between reform and revolution.
Under this lens, I feel we should work on numerous fronts and through numerous ways to change society to be more inclusive, just and equitable. As we know, institutions will not accomodate progressive demands (the unsurvivable minimum wage is maintained, costs are going up, hydro has raised its rates in this winter country, evictions have resumed, tiny pandemic wage increases are long gone, public sanitation and hygiene appear haphazard and determined by market force)s. The poor and working sectors are crammed onto unaffordable petrie dishes with haphazard service, ie, public transportation. Where is the pressure on municipal, provincial and federal governments? Why were we locked down in March for 2 months, with 1/3rd of the current covid19 cases, but now are laissez-faire, willing to make Darwin’s theory a eugenicist accelerationist’s wet dream?
This is the state of affairs to which we will return under the business as usual model touted by Wall street and Biden/ Harris. How ironic that Trump’s initial run was characterized by a wall, but it is the wall of money that was behind Obama and is now deployed by his Democratic successor Biden, that may be the end of Trump.
Of course, fascism is another thing altogether. The freeing of socially temporarily unacceptable ideas regarding race, gender, sexuality, eugenics, and social engineering– guns, pandemics, starvation, trigger happy racist policing, the expansion of self-defence laws in states such as Florida, the immense wealth of private prisons and the exponential growth of Amazon, Walmart, Facebook, What’sApp, Instagram, etc. is a cash and data grab of immense proportions. The looters of this virus are not the poor, nor the small business sector, but the mega-rich. These ultra-affluent bastards have set the tone and the stage for the rest of us.
The amount of sheer misery that haunts and weighs down our planet these days is a collective mourning for our little daily freedoms, and our big ones, like international travel. A grief for our departed too. Of course, lockdowns and restrictions unaccompanied with food and shelter support, are fundamentally class genocide, and exercises in social obedience. That’s because while things are being strangely locked down, dedicated COVID 19 facilities have not been made, shelter has not been put in place for the homeless during the winter season, affordable housing remains as elusive as ever for those struggling with poverty and food banks are begging those a little better off to help those less fortunate with cheap processed food—often laden with chemicals and toxins that we already know so much about.
During a winter where people are being forbidden to socialize indoors, municipalities are stopping snow removal services, leaving hundreds of thousands of “inner city” dwellers with minimal ways to get around during this upcoming pandemic winter. We can point our self-righteous fingers south of the border, or also , take a moment to look down the street and see our own worlds floundering.
It’s hard for me to end this piece on a positive note. I hope, in my lifetime we will see the world played, not as an endgame, but as the beginning of a glorious festival of labour, shared humanity, a culture of non-violence and social support and a celebration of spirit. “From each according to [their] abilities, to each according to [their] needs”. May we, trees, and slivers alike, see ourselves rooted in this grieving and resilient earth, and not wielded, by sinisterly banal elites.
For an excellent follow-up piece with lots of information:
No much up to writing lately, and they say a picture is worth a thousand words.
5 Septembers ago, the equinox gave me the gift of a new face. I was afflicted with a virus called Bell’s Palsy. It changed my life. We are all judged on first appearances. I used to be excruciatingly self-conscious after my face became paralysed. Even today, eating in front of people is an embarrassment. Self-esteem is a’ thing’, as they say, and for myself and many others with facial disfigurement/paralysis it is very easy to be judged and pigeonholed, leaving our self-worth hugely destroyed.
I mention this because medical science doesn’t even know how to treat/help viruses that are already here. Let alone one that was supposedly released/found in humans a year ago. In the midst of this pandemic, my pre-existing conditions are acting up too. And corona counts are surging where we are., though nowhere close to the U.S. India, Brazil or Mexican rates.
I’m too exhausted by, and weary of, words. Pandemic fatigue, citizenship reduced to disposability, rumours of electoral– and beyond– violence, in the southern neighbour; hundreds if not thousands living around us in parks in the advent of winter, climate catastrophes, and plague profits/prophets abound. 38 million people will die from hunger in India alone due to government private sector mishandling of public health measures and food security. In Canada unemployment is hitting 30 percent with little relief in site. Lockdowns without food are useless.
Below, I share some of my newer creations, tinged by both personal grief, and grief for the suffering wrought by governmental /corporate responses to human suffering on a scale unmatched in peace time. Seems more like piece time–those who can will grab what they want and the rest of us will get the pieces. Don’t need horror stories for Halloween this year.! We’re living it. I’ll let Jay Gould’s Daughter have the last word. After all, who better to bemoan dignity for the working peoples of the world than another old-times tycoon’s daughter!
Many people have started to ask me why I have not put anything on this blog in more than a month. Since I started this project a year and half ago, I have tried to respond to issues that have moved me deeply, created a moral restlessness, and an artistic response. I believe that art– visual, poetry, story-telling, music– has a great and necessary role to play as we enter a global crossroads regarding poverty, climate crisis, and social inequality, in which we are consuming a heartless and profit-driven internet and mainstream culture, driven solely by profit.
But life and love got in the way, as my dear father became ill–necessitating hospitalization, and then contracted COVID19 in a hospital in India. Today’s post is a tribute I wrote for my father, as I was stuck due to coronavirus travel restrictions, a world and oceans away. I have had difficulty finding the focus to write on other things at this time, when we are already so isolated due to the pandemic. But the love so many students, artists, writers, colleagues, and friends have shown my father, and to me and my family, through their tributes to him, has been a heartwarming experience in the middle of so much grief.
Sometimes, it seems to me, that my grief has merged with so many others’, and my loss is both magnified by others’ and also shared. Many people are losing their loved ones due to COVID19 directly, or indirectly, as they are unable to seek help due to limited medical contact during this time of quarantines, lockdowns and widespread fear. For many of us, Facebook has become an obituary page, rather than a source of trivia or news. Honouring these strange times, I am sharing what I wrote about and for, my father.
The Swan Will Fly Away All Alone,
Spectacle of the World Will Be a Mere Fair
As the Leaf Falls from the Tree
Is Difficult to Find
Who Knows Where it Will Fall
Once it is Struck with a Gust Of Wind
When Life Span is Complete
Then Listening to Orders, Following Others, Will Be Over
The Messengers of Yama are Very Strong
It’s an Entanglement with the Yama
Servant Kabir Praises the Attributes of the Lord
He Finds the Lord Soon
Guru Will Go According to His Doings
The Disciple According to His.
My father, Manabendra Bandyopadhyay, was born in Sylhet in the mid 1930s, in what is now Bangladesh, but then, was British India. He came from a large family, and his mother, my grandmother, was the mother of many stepchildren as well as her own.
A few years after the Partition of India, my father’s family left Bangladesh and settled in a small town on the edge of Assam called Karimganj. There on the edge of a river, in a small tropical town like so many, described by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, he became a student and developed friendships that lasted forever.
I accompanied him back one year, and he was amused at my amazement when i saw elephants plowing the fields like humble oxen. My father was welcomed and feted when he returned to Karimganj, Assam and read his poetry and his work on translation. I remember we were accompanied by a group of admirers who took the bus for hours back to Guwhati, the state capital, with us, in order to spend more time with my father! He supported his own fatherless family for many years through his translations of Jules Verne, Sherlock Holmes, and others, as my grandfather passed away when my father was young and had many brothers and sisters to look after.
He studied Sanskrit formally and was already reading and translating from English by the time he started teaching in Yangon, Burma/ Myanmar, and then eventually at the Comparative Literature Department of Jadavpur University in 1956, which he helped to shape with a group of young scholars.
It was where he taught for the remainder of his work life, pushing his retirement back to keep teaching a couple of years more. Jadavpur University was where he challenged thinking about story-telling, translation, and language.
He was always a fighter for mother tongues and for decolonization, and a big supporter of Indigenous and so-called “Minority” rights. As a foreign student in Canada in the early seventies, he sought out and learned from Indigenous history and culture, bringing me many books and posters and giving me a life-long awareness of the land to which my mother and I emigrated. He was the first to show me the work of Norval Morriseau who he met sometimes during his years in Vancouver.
My father loved children’s literature and knew a lot about it! He started bringing me books from the time I was a few months old, preparing me for the incredible mutliverse of literature he shared with so many, through his belief in, and love of, translation. One of my favourite books, that he gave me when I was about 8 years old is the fantastic “Happy Islands Behind the Winds”, part of a trilogy by James Kruss, a masterpiece of fantasy geared to children of all ages!
I also was introduced to historical fiction and mystery stories, as his love of Sherlock Holmes, shared with me when I was young, underpinned my later devouring of the genre. And he introduced me to the best of police procedurals, Maj Sjwoall and Per Wahloo’s Martin Beck series.
My father was anti-islamophobic and committed to a just, equitable, secularist world where culture would flourish because common people would flourish.
I remember his belief in regional and south asian literature being just as fervent as his love of international humanism and peace, his belief that culture, and especially poetry and story-telling, could make a difference in our lives, that goes far beyond the page.
My father committed to translating into Bangla, the stories of well known Malayali writer, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, at a time in India’s history when the fascist gang led by the BJP was flexing its muscles by destroying the Babri Masjid and Islamophobic violence directed by Narendra Modi, among other criminals, was on the rise. I remember the nervousness of the publishers, who feared they might be targeted by Hindu nationalists for publishing his translations. But he remained steadfastly committed to an India of diversity, peace, and inclusion which did away with caste, religious, gender, and class oppression. He could often be found in the early 90s, blasting the beautiful voice of Nusrat Ali Fateh Khan or the Warsi Brothers, or the songs of Sant Kabir, on his cassette, and later cd, player.
In his time in Canada, he enjoyed Caribbean music and culture, sharing a love of cricket with many people from the islands. He loved Bob Marley and Dave van Ronk, Osibisa, and many popular musicians he heard in Canada.
He grew up amid the “hot winds” of independence, grief, and nation-building and never forgot to wonder at the world the city laid before him, full of ideas, talk, chess, endless cups of tea and coffee at the coffee house, or faculty club. The ability to engage with other intellectuals and artists! Bengalis do love to pass the time through adda, which is the nexus of anecdotes, philosophizing, and gossip!
He was not shy with his views and opinions and was know as a lively, engaging and perhaps, sardonic, teacher to many generations of students at Jadavpur University. Tributes from Comparative Literature Colleagues, students and other writers have poured in, from the Bangla speaking population. It’s very beautiful to feel that so many were positively touched by his work!
No mention of my father’s passing would be complete without the ugly reality of Covid19. It is devastating to have joined those hundreds of thousands of people who could not be with their loved ones in their time of need. I found a poem he had translated that speaks to my feelings about this.
A Song on the End of the World
BY CZESLAW MILOSZ
TRANSLATED BY ANTHONY MILOSZ
On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.
On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.
And those who expected lightning and thunder
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.
Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.
And finally, although I have a lot of work to do, I try to believe my father’s departure from this life means that he is once more among us, in everything I see, and try to create, myself. Because the loss of his eyesight and autonomy gave him a great deal of pain, I am grateful that his physical and emotional pain are now over.
As a Bengali, my father was also an admirer of Rabindranath Tagore, and I want to end with a verse from him.
Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet.
Let it not be a death but completeness.
Let love melt into memory and pain into songs.
Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest.
Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night.
Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a moment, and say your last words in silence.
I bow to you and hold up my lamp to light your way
Additionally, I include some poems I shared in honour of my father at memorials for my father organized by the Comparative Literature Department and the African Studies Department at Jadavpur University in Kolkata.
Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Brazil
I no longer want to consult
dictionaries in vain.
I only want the word
that will never be there
and that can’t be invented.
One that would resume
and replace the world.
More sun than the sun,
in which we all could
live in communion,
Agha Shahid Ali
Swear by the olive in the God-kissed land—
There is no sugar in the promised land.
Why must the bars turn neon now when, Love,
I’m already drunk in your capitalist land?
If home is found on both sides of the globe,
home is of course here—and always a missed land.
The hour’s come to redeem the pledge (not wholly?)
in Fate’s ‘Long years ago we made a tryst’ land.
Clearly, these men were here only to destroy,
a mosque now the dust of a prejudiced land.
Will the Doomsayers die, bitten with envy,
when springtime returns to our dismissed land?
The prisons fill with the cries of children.
Then how do you subsist, how do you persist, Land?
“Is my love nothing for I’ve borne no children?”
I’m with you, Sappho, in that anarchist land.
A hurricane is born when the wings flutter …
Where will the butterfly, on my wrist, land?
You made me wait for one who wasn’t even there
though summer had finished in that tourist land.
Do the blind hold temples close to their eyes
when we steal their gods for our atheist land?
Abandoned bride, Night throws down her jewels
so Rome—on our descent—is an amethyst land.
At the moment the heart turns terrorist,
are Shahid’s arms broken, O Promised Land?
Wislawa Szymborska, Poland
I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here
to many things I’ve also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.
By Wislawa Szymborska
From “Nothing Twice”, 1997
Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh
Home, by Warsan Shire (British-Somali poet)
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city
running as well.
your neighbours running faster
than you, the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind
the old tin factory is
holding a gun bigger than his body,
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one would leave home unless home
chased you, fire under feet,
hot blood in your belly.
it’s not something you ever thought about
doing, and so when you did –
you carried the anthem under your breath,
waiting until the airport toilet
to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that
you would not be going back.
you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.
who would choose to spend days
and nights in the stomach of a truck
unless the miles travelled
meant something more than journey.
no one would choose to crawl under fences,
be beaten until your shadow leaves you,
raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of
the boat because you are darker, be sold,
starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,
be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,
make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,
stripped and searched, find prison everywhere
and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side
with go home blacks, refugees
dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk,
dark, with their hands out
smell strange, savage –
look what they’ve done to their own countries,
what will they do to ours?
the dirty looks in the street
softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life
more tender than fourteen men who
look like your father, between
your legs, insults easier to swallow
than rubble, than your child’s body
in pieces – for now, forget about pride
your survival is more important.
i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home tells you to
leave what you could not behind,
even if it was human.
no one leaves home until home
is a damp voice in your ear saying
leave, run now, i don’t know what
Dawn of Darkness ngugi wa thiongo, Kenya/UK
I know, I know,
It threatens the common gestures of human bonding
The shoulders we give each other to cry on
The Neighborliness we take for granted
So much that we often beat our breasts
Crowing about rugged individualism,
Disdaining nature, pissing poison on it even, while
Claiming that property has all the legal rights of personhood
Murmuring gratitude for our shares in the gods of capital.
Oh how now I wish I could write poetry in English,
As a person of colour with a lifelong, nearly daily exposure to racism, either directed towards myself, or Black or Indigenous people, and in the last 20 years against Muslims, I have too long been aware of the extent of police brutality and the over-incarceration of Black and Indigenous people in jails, as well as the criminalization of Islam, in Canada. Racism was probably the first lesson I learned at school, along with English.
As a young person my daily dose of racism came at school from kindergarten to the end of middle school, from peers and teachers. It was overt and naked, but as we grew into our teens, it transformed to more subtle and insidious forms. Part of the insidiousness is that we could not be angry about it, but always, understanding, educating, and forgiving; reluctant Gandhians. When we were younger, the open name-calling allowed us to fight back, whether through physical means or compartmentalization. These differing and sometimes simultaneously adopted strategies were measures for survival, but we did not yet know it.
One of the ways, white Canada downplayed its racism, was by telling us we had the carrot, while the stick was for American Blacks and people of colour. Canada’s smug official “imaginary” was one of liberal astonishment at racism. This allowed the gaslighting of generations on non-white and colonized peoples, who were held back from speaking about their lived experiences, and organizing on that basis, by the notion that things were not as bad as we made them out to be.
At the same time, in the mid-eighties, the state killing of unarmed Black men was a not infrequent occurrence in the mutliculturalist approach to racial and ethnic integration espoused by Canada. State assasinations of Indigenous people continued unabated since before the adoption of the Indian Act in 1876 and the over-incarceration of these two groups in Canada has been carried out in concert with the downsizing of governmental responsibilities and budgets in the most basic areas of housing, study, employment and health over the last 35 years, in particular. The 1992 Rodney King uprisings throughout the States spilled over here too. I was actually at the protests here back then. I share a poem I wrote at that time:
A New Remembrance
I read the news about L.A
In poverty our colour takes
On its own life. Beyond us.
Our colour takes action
Amid broken glass, white hate,
I read the news about L.A.
In misery our colour takes
On its own class. Beyond us.
Our colour demands vengeance
Concrete, artificial green.
I read the news about L.A.
In despair our colour takes
On its own voice. Beyond us.
Our colour cries to be heard
Amid city streets,
Maze of housing projects
I read the news about L.A.
In oppression our colour takes
On its own history. Beyond us.
Africa, Asia, Latin America
The new south is born in all of us.
A new remembrance.
A myth of peace shattered.
How sharp its fragments
How deep it pierces.
I read the news about L.A.
In rage our colour takes
On its own weapons. Beyond us.
Our hands sharpened into swords
In our eyes, the gun’s sight
In our mouths words
Like molotvs explode
Breathe fire in this
oh-so-calm gas chamber
where they teach us to love the executioner
more than ourselves.
I read the news about Toronto.
In each murder our colour takes
On its own spirits. Beyond us.
Our brothers haunt us
with their imperfections
their wrong turns
their mothers’ pain.
How we mass and break formation
Divide like continents
In that first broken splintering.
I read the news about Toronto.
Perhaps in justice our colour can take
On its own humanity. Beyond us.
When we recall all that
They didn’t give us
They can never take away.
from Kaushalya Bannerji, A New Remembrance, TSAR Press, Toronto, 1993
So, in a sense it was no surprise to hear that the U.S to the South of us, was the place where, in the last few months, Breona Taylor was killed as she slept in her bed, Ahmaud Arbery was lynched by a retired police officer and his son while jogging, a Canadian white woman tried to engineer the lynching of a Black New Yorker who was birding, and finally culminating in the on-camera execution of an unarmed Black man for passing an allegedly counterfeit bill to buy cigarettes. In Toronto, this was followed up within days by the death in suspicious circumstances of an Afro-Nova Scotian and Indigenous woman, Regis Korchinksi-Paquet, whose family called the police for help in taking her for mental health services. It’s part of the terrorizing of Black, Indigenous and others racialized as Non-white, that is so invisible, it is part of the very stitching of our social fabric.
In Canada, there is a constant gnawing unease between Black/Indigenous/People of Colour (BIPOC) and police. Indigenous deaths in police custody and at the hands of settler vigilantes, the murder and disappearances of Indigenous girls and women, the disparagement and brutality towards trans racialized peoples, and the demonization of Muslims as part of range of exclusionary and discriminatory practices that start from experiences at daycares, grade school and highschool, post-secondary education, housing, going to the store, and employment, shift scheduling and payscales for people of colour, inequality in access to tranportation and “discretion” in applying the law and enforcing it through the criminal justice system. Furthermore, the provision of health care in Canada has been gutted in the last 35 years, while chemicals and toxins such as racism, predatory misogyny, poverty, and unsafe working conditions have been underscored with the arrival of the COVID19 pandemic. The pandemic is inequality. The virus is capitalism that has infected everything, with a racialized construction of class and commodity, where white skin has a value not ascribed to ANY person of colour.
But back to me. Reading the stories of Black struggle, being comforted by my parents as a racialized child experiencing unintelligible hatred and contempt, learning about the Indigenous inhabitants of this genocidal country, being taught about the history of Nazi anti-semitism, were the ways I found self-understanding as a child of racialized immigrants. I did not have a teacher of colour until the second year of University.
As soon as I had a choice, I chose what I saw to be my people– those remade as racialized– and entered the field of Latin American and Caribbean studies, where I was fortunate to be surrounded by excited, enthusiastic students and teachers, keen on un-educating ourselves from the invisibility of the victor’s history and exploring new ways of making meaning of social injustice and inequality. I have always looked to the global south for answers to questions of domination and imperialism and this has been so enlightening, when I see the responses to 500 years of conquest, enslavement and genocide south of the border. I have studied the construction of race and racism from 1985 to now. I have lived in highly racialized countries on a number of continents and in all, except for the country of my birth, I have held the status of a non-white person. I have sought relief from racism in Cuban Black history and seen the huge shortfalls of the Cuban Revolution in adressing racism and racialized poverty in Cuba, while admiring many of the gains of Cuban socialism and sovereignty. I include here a poem by revolutionary poet and intellectual Nicolas Guillen and performed by Cuban singer/musician Pablo Milanes.
I feel no pity for the defeated bourgeois. And when I think that I am about to feel pity for them, I firmly clench my teeth and tightly shut my eyes. I think about my long days barefoot and without roses. I think about my long days without a hat and clouds. I think about my long days shirtless and without any dreams. I think about my long days with my prohibited skin. I think about my long days.
“Don’t enter, please. This is a club.”
“The roster is full.”
“There are no more rooms in the hotel.”
“The gentleman in question has left.”
“We’re looking for a girl.”
“Fraud in the elections.”
“A grand ball for the blind.”
“Someone won the jackpot in Santa Clara.”
“A raffle for orphans.”
“The gentleman is in Paris.”
“The marquess isn’t receiving anyone at this time.”
In the end, I remember everything.
And since I remember everything,
what the hell are you asking me to do?
But ask them too.
I am sure
that they will remember too.
Nicolas Guillen ( Eng. trans. O.A. Ramos)
I have seen the experiences of First Nations people and Afro-descended peoples in numerous circumstances. And it seems to me, that the the leadership of the United States has been as active in fomenting racialized empire with its allies in the so-called developing world for huge profits and cheap costs both in and outside of its domestic territory.
During the current coronavirus crisis U.S. billionaires have added $265 billion dollars to their pockets, while 40 million Americans and one-quarter of Canadians have lost their livelihoods. Workers speaking out about their unsafe and super-exploited conditions are being penalized and fired all over the place. Profitable long-term care homes for the elderly are showing themselves to be execution grounds. Personal Protective Equipment is unavailable to health care workers globally, while money is always found for toys for the boys in blue or khaki.
That’s why these current protests have me seeing red! They are about George Floyd certainly. No one of conscience could not be destroyed by seeing the snuff movies that pass for mainstream news when you are Black, Indigenous, people of colour. The deaths and murders of poor and non-white people (often one and the same, but not always) are so ever present that they become part of the air we breathe.
That’s why we can’t breathe. But beyond visceral reactions to the psy-ops of these images of murder, we need to begin to rethink policing, the courts and prisons, and notions of emancipatory justice. Defunding the police is a huge part of that. That is a huge and hard battle. In particular with the criminalization of anti-fascism as a movement, now in the United States.
And we need to surround that with the work to make living with respect for Black, Indigenous and racialized peoples a reality. That means an overhaul of the very nature of capitalism, which depends on these divide and rule tactics for its very existence. It’s time for a transformative movement that makes allliances out of solidarity, experience, and consciousness and that recognizes our rights to name our own truths. Because we can all agree with Bob Marley, that we need to “emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds”. This is hard work to do if you are white, but even harder if you are not. Because you are always derailed at the point of credibility. and in terms of access to power, including platforms to speak out. The age of social media has brought that home to us time and time again.
Because if we don’t do this work, as hundreds of thousands of people have signalled— a life on our knees, with the boot of white supremacy on our necks— is not worth living. They are the people who grow and process and serve our food, clean our institutions, work night shifts at hospitals, transportation and gas stations and factories. They are the people who nurse our sick and look after our dying. They help us birth new generations. They are the people who have kids, are kids, and teach your kids, in spite of dwindling resouces for public education. They are students and unemployed, homeless condemned to misery on our bitter streets. They are us.
They/We have taken to the streets at the cost of their own lives and those of their loved ones, in the midst of this highly contagious COVID19 epidemic that has already taken black and racialized lives at 4 to 2 percent higher rates than whites in Anglo/Francophone North America.
Let America Be America Again Langston Hughes – 1902-1967
Let America be America again. Let it be the dream it used to be. Let it be the pioneer on the plain Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed— Let it be that great strong land of love Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars. I am the red man driven from the land, I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek— And finding only the same old stupid plan Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope, Tangled in that ancient endless chain Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land! Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need! Of work the men! Of take the pay! Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil. I am the worker sold to the machine. I am the Negro, servant to you all. I am the people, humble, hungry, mean— Hungry yet today despite the dream. Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers! I am the man who never got ahead, The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream In the Old World while still a serf of kings, Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true, That even yet its mighty daring sings In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned That’s made America the land it has become. O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas In search of what I meant to be my home— For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore, And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea, And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me? Surely not me? The millions on relief today? The millions shot down when we strike? The millions who have nothing for our pay? For all the dreams we’ve dreamed And all the songs we’ve sung And all the hopes we’ve held And all the flags we’ve hung, The millions who have nothing for our pay— Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again— The land that never has been yet— And yet must be—the land where every man is free. The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME— Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose— The steel of freedom does not stain. From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives, We must take back our land again, America!
O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath— America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, We, the people, must redeem The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. The mountains and the endless plain— All, all the stretch of these great green states— And make America again!
Let America Be America Again Langston Hughes – 1902-1967
If you would like to see some resources that speak to the issues I have raised here, I include them below. Here is a Triptych, I’ve done called “We’re All in This Together”.
This week the world saw a phenomenal rise in COVID19 infections and many countries are debating whether to end the lockdown or endure mass starvation/homeslessness. Couched within this dilemma, is really a variant of the age old question beloved by teachers of political science, “Reform or Revolution?”
We already have calls to sacrifice “the weak” and the elderly for the “sake of the economy” coming from the United States. In India, the lockdown policy has already starved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, with no plans, food, shelter, testing or treatment in place for millions of Indians who travel from one province to another, searching for work and food. This phenomena is witnessed in many large third world countries, and highlights regional disparities in capital investment, agriculture, employment, and centralization of state and government services, a management tactic inherited from previous colonial administrations.
Regardless, the seven weeks of lockdown in India and in the U.S. has engendered a schism in capitialist society’s stories about itself. It is impossible to look at COVID19 statistics and not see how racialization and caste-ization of poverty throughout the world accounts for communities who are suffering disproportionately under the brunt of this virus, though it was supposedly the rich, whose travels in the age of global neo-feudalism, that are responsible for outbreaks outside of China. In India, such politics are complicated by the rise of an Islamophobic government on the best of servile terms with the ruler of the United States.
Around the world, the cry of “Will we die by hunger or by COVID?” is matched by dairy farmers and egg famers throwing away production in an age of unaffordability, Nestle giant Coca Cola sucking water dry from the earth and poisoning the earth in other places.
And we all saw earlier this week how in India sixteen workers, travelling with no support, by foot back to their village walked dozens of miles to Aurangabad, Maharashtra station, where they hoped the Central Government would allow trains to run to transport people back to their villages. Assuming that the lockdown meant that no trains were running at the time, the men fell asleep at the tracks and were killed by a train.
I am sharing this piece in honour of May, Fibromyalgia month. May 12th is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. This is a victory for those of us who have been diagnosed with this illness, which has gone through many medical iterations before finally and most recently being considered an illness of the central nervous system. Which makes a great deal of sense to me as a patient for over two decades!
In the times of the new coronavirus, COVID19, it would do us well to pay attention to the struggle and suffering of people who also have illnesses of undetermined nature that catastrophically affect their quality of life, including their abilities to earn, learn, work, and parent, as the issues of the virus we face now are showing us widely.
Sufferers of Fibromyalgia, Myalgic Encephalitis, and chronic Lyme, are the least understood, properly treated, and most maligned patients of chronic illness, precisely because experts have not been able to agree on the criteria for clinical diagnosis and the existence of chronic Lyme is seen to be a hoax by many medical types, simply because they do not understand it. In this way,the experiences associated with certain types of illness are more akin to be disparaged, controversial, patient-blaming and uncertain.
I have experienced musculo-skeletal approaches, pyschological (it’s all in your head/hysteria—mainly from female therapists!), been advised to drop out of university and become unemployed, by other professional women and been refused services employing touch at a fibromyalgia clinic by a racist physiotherapist who massaged all the white women in the rehab group. That was the last time I have gone to any group rehab referral. I have included the words of another Fibromyalgia patient, Emily, from her website at the end of this piece. If you read it, you will see it’s a tremendous amount of stress to be left to navigate on one’s own.
COVID19 needs to be well understood and we will see numerous causative explanations, attempts at treatment, and medical interventions. We will need to understand mutation, immunity, re-infection and long term impacts on the central nervous system if cytokine storms are indeed the response to severe or fatal infection. That’s a lot of new research! That’s probably because approximately half of COVID19 patients are men. This makes it unlike ME and Fibromyalgia which are seen as overwhelmingly female cohorts. And like Lyme disease which is also experienced by the population as a whole, the master narrative of COVID19, is most likely going to be one which utterly disregards the lived experience of patients and leaves people’s lives, finances, and self-esteem in tatters.
None of the descriptors or symptoms are meant to stand in for professional medical advice. They are merely descriptions of symptoms experienced by fibro patients and have been collected together. I also include some my own poetry and art on living with chronic illness.
is late. 40 minutes of shuffling and squirming while fatigue and lassitude course through my inflamed veins
then hailed, oh great goddess of the white robe, i come to make my obeisance. I offer you whole realms of symptoms, libations of bloodwork, i clean your floor with my tears
Yawning, you glance away, anything but that imagined malady, the hypochondriac sitting in your office, marring your chandeliered wellness center.
centering into the distance, at the cuboard away from the patient’s head, you begin to plan the day, your kids, your chores, your pills. You think there is no help. You say so, with your body, your unmet eyes, your screen like shield that distances from that voice that pleads for understanding and help.
Nothing is real. Not the non-diagnosis, not the diagnosis that is a non-diagnosis. not the deep scarlet of your secrets spurting into the purple, green, yellow, blue. pollock’s abstractions contained and solid in the not-real.
I come armed with lover/witness, research, anecdotes, reports, book titles.
No one is interested. I return broken into smaller pieces. Who will know the name of what i have become?Kaushalya Bannerji, 2018
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome with many symptoms. Each individual with Fibromyalgia will have some of the symptoms. A few people will have all of the symptoms, but not everyone with Fibro has the same symptoms or even has symptoms all of the time. Also, symptoms may vary from day to day, year to year, or even minute to minute for each person coping with Fibromyalgia and other common coexisting conditions as well. How confusing is that? Well, it gets even more confusing! Fibromyalgia patients have reported more than 200 symptoms that I have been collecting in a list for quite some time. Additionally, these symptoms are not meant to diagnose! My purpose in compiling them is to help people be more aware of what people with Fibromyalgia may be dealing with at any given moment and to help people with Fibro track symptoms, so that you have as much information as possible for your doctor to help you.
Informational Purposes Only – the content offered in this list is for informational and educational purposes only. This list of symptoms is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please contact your doctor or professional healthcare provider for assistance with medical advice, treatment, and diagnosis.
Activity level decreased to less than 50% of pre-illness activity level
Cold hands and feet (extremities)
Delayed reaction to physical activity or stressful events
Dryness of eyes and/or mouth
Family member(s) with Fibromyalgia
Fatigue, made worse by physical exertion or stress
Feeling cold often
Feeling hot often
Low blood pressure (below 110/70)
Low body temperature (below 97.6)
Poor circulation in hands/feet
Recurrent flu-like illness
Shortness of breath with little or no exertion
Severe nasal allergies (new or worsening allergies)
Sweats 25.Symptoms worsened by air travel 26.Symptoms worsened by stress27.Symptoms worsened by temperature changes 28.Tender or swollen lymph nodes, especially in neck and underarms 29.Tremor or trembling 30.Unexplained weight gain or loss
“Growing” pains that don’t go away once you are done growing
Inflamed Rib Cartilage
Lumpy, tender breasts
Muscle spasms 41. Muscle twitching
Pain that ranges from moderate to severe
Pain that moves around the body
Paralysis or severe weakness of an arm or leg
Restless Leg Syndrome
Scalp Pain (like hair being pulled out)
Tender points or trigger points
“Voodoo Doll” Poking Sensation in random places
Feeling spaced out
Inability to think clearly
Numbness or tingling sensations
Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
Sensation that you might faint 63. Syncope (fainting)
Tinnitus (ringing in one or both ears) 65. Vertigo or dizziness EQUILIBRIUM/PERCEPTION
Bumping into things
Difficulty judging distances (when driving, etc.)
Directional disorientation 71. Dropping things frequently
Feeling spatially disoriented
Frequent tripping or stumbling
Not seeing what you’re looking at
Poor balance and coordination
Alertness/energy best late at night
Altered sleep/wake schedule
Difficulty falling asleep
Difficulty staying asleep
Extreme alertness or energy levels late at night
Falling asleep at random and sometimes dangerous moments
Light or broken sleep pattern
Muscle spasms/twitches at night
Sleep starts or falling sensations
Tossing and turning 93. Un-refreshing or non-restorative sleep
Vivid or disturbing dreams/nightmares
Blind spots in vision
Eye pain 97. Difficulty switching focus from one thing to another
Frequent changes in ability to see well
Night driving difficulty
Occasional Blurry vision
Poor night vision
Rapidly worsening vision
Becoming lost in familiar locations when driving
Confusion 106. Difficulty expressing ideas in words
Difficulty following conversation (especially if background noise present)
Difficulty following directions while driving
Difficulty following oral instructions
Difficulty following written instructions
Difficulty making decisions
Difficulty moving your mouth to speak
Difficulty paying attention
Difficulty putting ideas together to form a complete picture
Difficulty putting tasks or things in proper sequence
Difficulty recognizing faces
Difficulty speaking known words
Difficulty remembering names of objects
Difficulty remembering names of people
Difficulty understanding what you read
Difficulty with long-term memory
Difficulty with simple calculations
Difficulty with short-term memory
Easily distracted during a task
Feeling too disoriented to drive
Forgetting how to do routine things
Impaired ability to concentrate
Inability to recognize familiar surroundings
Losing track in the middle of a task (remembering what to do next)
Losing your train of thought in the middle of a sentence
Loss of ability to distinguish some colors
Short term memory impairment
Staring into space trying to think
Switching left and right
Transposition (reversal) of numbers, words and/or letters when you speak
Transposition (reversal) of numbers, words and/or letters when you write
Using the wrong word
Abrupt and/or unpredictable mood swings
Anxiety or fear when there is no obvious cause
Attacks of uncontrollable rage
Feeling helpless and/or hopeless
Inability to enjoy previously enjoyed activities
Tendency to cry easily
Irritable bowel syndrome
Stomachache 175. Vomiting
Weight gain 177. Weight loss
Decreased libido (sex drive)
Endometriosis 180. Frequent urination
Menstrual problems 183. Painful urination or bladder pain
Pelvic pain 185. Prostate pain
Urinary frequency 187. Worsening of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Allodynia (hypersensitive to touch)
Alteration of taste, smell, and/or hearing 191. Odor sensitivity
Sensitivity to chemicals in cleaning products, perfumes, etc. 193. Sensitivities to foods
Sensitivity to light
Sensitivity to mold
Sensitivity to noise
Sensitivity to odors
Sensitivity to yeast (getting yeast infections frequently on skin, etc.)
Sensitivity to pressure changes, temperature & humidity
More drawings of my time in self -isolation. After nearly 2 months, it’s been a time of many moods, thoughts, hopes and fears. Some pictures show the despair and anxiety of loneliness– as the essence of our default humanity is to run towards each other. Those who manage COVID 19 have demanded we give that up, the first step in dehumanizing us as their neo-feudal subjects. Yet, we long to be held and comforted. No, not back to exploitative and oppressive normalcy, but back to our own better, happier, more generous selves.
And yet to be human is to be restless, to want, to dream, to hope, and to communicate. I have attended some online seminars, heard some special music, re-read books from childhood, with their scenarios, characters and plots, wholly unlike our times. I learned that children are drawn to codes and secret languages because language still has secrets for them. This, perhaps, they share with poets.
Both the ability to escape, and the need to be present, have been part of my survival. I have meditated and prayed, cleaned and cooked. I have depended on people like never before, yet been utterly alone. It’s been surreal at times.
I have gone for walks and both longed for, and been scared by, human interaction. The message of physical distancing must not steer us toward psychological distancing. We have to fight ourselves, sometimes, to get out of the pit of despair that seems like this pandemic’s social engineering. But going for walks whose purposes are simply to move, to breathe, to act, to exist, to see, are different than walking with friends or partners, to grab a coffee, run an errand, or buy something. If there is something I’ve learned, it is that living with minimum consumption feels alien, when our previous conviviality in the neighbourhood meant going into the small stores and cafes, living an existence of consumption that was outside the big box.
These drawings are for all of you, who may have felt both so alone and so accompanied during the days of self isolation. They are drawings of the heart!
While the Coronavirus, Covid 19, lays bare all our inequities and fears, spring is still springing in the Northern hemisphere. Bit by bit, crocuses and bulbs are beginning their annual preening, though this year, it seems they have less admiring audiences as the streets are more empty than I’ve ever seen them. Ever so gradually, the tiniest of brown and green fuzz sprouting on tree branches and bushes will uncurl to show the little green of newly born leaves.
Like the poet Adrienne Rich exhorted us so many years ago, we must “dream of a common language” in the face of this pandemic. A pandemic whose elite narratives exclude and disregard the vast plight of world humanity. Our common language must include compassion, humanity, mercy, and kindness for the most vulnerable during these terrible times. Unemployment, food insecurity, lack of housing, the loss of loved ones, lack of access to widespread testing, the uncertainty of various social messages about how to best protect ourselves; these are truly sad and sometimes, enraging, times.
And yet, in spite of all that naked greed has done to devastate our surroundings, the earth is still here, beneath my feet when I go for my solitary walk. Birds and urban mammals are rejoicing. Bird song is louder than it’s been in the city! This is a visual piece, a homage to our planet, whose beauty can give us something to strive for, when the social order seems senseless…