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”.
I’ve slowed down on my blog due to health and other very important circumstances. But I have not stopped… I have been, like so many of us in Canada, overwhelmed by the physical forensic evidence of a genocide so recent that it is actually on-going.
Kamloops Residential School, Cowessess First Nation Marieval Residential School, and other Residential schools have provided evidence of over 1300 deaths in the last two weeks. That is in addition to the approximately 4000 deaths recognized by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission had recommended the forensic examination of all residential schools for indigenous peoples, but that was denied by the federal government of Canada on the basis that a $1.5 million price tag at the time was “too high”.
This callous indifference characterizes the Canadian State’s approach to First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples when it is not engaged in the antics of the Indian Act or helping its corporate partners in resource extraction.
I fear there may be thousands more children found before this is over. And as an ally of colour or person in solidarity with indigenous nations in this settler country, I feel we need to use all our means of protest to say that this Canada we have built is rotten, from and to, the core. Supporting both treaty and unceded nations, we have to add our voices to the Landback movement. Taking our cues from the demands of Indigenous people, water, and earth protectors from various parts of the country shows us how interconnected abuse and genocide of people is to dispossession from their lands
I am sharing below the art and haiku I have created in homage to these living struggles on our current lands. Justice must not only be seen to be done, it must be done. And words like “reconciliation” are hysterically cynical in my humble opinion. Where are the words, “accountability”, “due process”, “law enforcement”, “justice”? Some of the perpetrators of abuse and worse, are still alive– protected by the Catholic Church and Canadian state.
Why are aboriginal peoples incarcerated and survivors of a social apartheid at inhuman rates, while those who squeeze their life blood out of them, get to run free? All of us who tread this soil, who weep at the dehumanization of children and entire peoples, who struggle for equality, respect and liberation in our own lives, must realize that all of that is meaningless without a fundamental shift in what it means to live on Indigenous land.
Home, weeps this land, fenced by greed disguised as civil- ization. Landback.
Home, they cry, you have taken the ground beneath. Give us back our souls.
Thousands of children home. Weeping parents shattered. Kkkanada fed blood.
Home, they wept, take us back. Hug these small bodies back to families, lands, names.
It’s been 6 weeks since I have been on the blog. I have been watching the state of the world with eyes that want to look away, but can’t. It seems we are on a collision course with hopelessness and destruction, vaccine or no vaccine. Human rights are being violated and lives taken with impunity, due to governmental inaction (India, Brazil, Peru) and governmental action (Colombia, USA, Israel). From patients to protestors, the poor across the world are bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s cost.
It is a year since the murder of George Floyd in the United States, and in Toronto, Regis Korchinski-Paquet. Last year, people overcame their fear of covid19 and took to the streets en masse after a fear-laden set of global lockdowns stopped all social presence in its tracks. Since that time, people have been amassing at numerous events in response to local and international news all over the world.
There have been hundreds of Black and Indigenous and Latino people murdered by police in the last few decades in the U.S. and Canada. To list and say their names would take some time.
In order to honour the memory of George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Sandra Bland, and Brionna Taylor, among so many others— I’ve decided to go back to the 1960s, back to amazingly powerful Henry Dumas, taken from us at the age of 33, when he was shot in a case of “mistaken identity” by a New York City Transit Cop.
Henry Dumas 1935-1968
He was born in Sweet Home, Arkansas and spent his childhood in New York City. After serving in the military, he attended Rutgers University and ended up eventually teaching language workshops at Southern Illinois University.
As a Black Power militant and civil rights advocate, his poetry is rooted in the fullness of Black experience; to be a son, a lover, a father, a subject of history. At the time when he was writing the use of the “n” word was as contested as it is today. But for many, writing from the ironic corners of Black America, the use of this noun both underscored the derogatory and the resilient, if not the redemptive. In her recent piece on Henry Dumas, “Some Requiem”, Harmony Holiday says of his work,
“Come, it is time to be born,” Dumas announces in “Pane of Vision.” “Do you remember the sweet pain of turning around?” he asks in “Green Hill, Golden Mountain.” Dumas is always addressing us, as if we’re old friends who have crossed the threshold of bones into the West together and dream of returning to a land we cannot name except by feeling its terrain. He wants us all to turn around in unison. His poems call us toward the fantasy of feeling like our true selves and imagine where we might have to travel to accomplish that, what we will have to risk and forfeit, and then they take us there in simple disguises.
Below I share 3 poems of this great U.S. writer, fighter for Black liberation and historian of the feeling of being Black, in the eyes of White America. In this, he’s been classified as an Utopian poet because he shows us “our true selves …the tenderness and the terror… there is no repudiating him or looking away from his warnings.
These poems are for George, Michael, Tamir, Eric, Brionna, Regis, Sandra, Adam, and so many many others. They are for all of you, who’ve ever been terrified for yourself or your loved ones as they/we/you— live their simple, human lives, in the face of institutional white supremacy and social, political, and economic exclusion.
For many years I have thought of reflecting upon and examining certain conjunctures and countries where I have had the opportunity to spend some time. Unlike many of my middle-class peers in Canada, my experiences of studying, researching and living abroad were often shaped by both overt and covert racism and sometimes homophobia and sexism. Instead, I have been focussing on where I make my home, rather than other places in which I have been fortunate to spend time.
As a young student before the #MeToo era, I was vulnerable in a male-dominated academic field at the time. As a “mature” graduate student, I experienced sexual harrassment again. But my experiences gave me the input and analysis to make links between the varied ways in which people of colour can experience our lives in differing contexts and the sometimes contradictory ways in which we can be called up or dismissed as the occasion warrants.
Growing up in Canada, I experienced overt racism at both the primary and middle school level. While hurtful and exclusionary, overt racism pushed me into the world of books, a world which I inhabited as a largely disembodied being, in which the bothersome nature of my skin and increasingly sexualized body were left behind. I suspect that I was not alone in disassociating as both survival and resistance. I was a voracious and quick reader, blocking out the sounds, sights and smells of a bewildering childhood, where the “leave it to Beaver” ideology of Canadian primary schools in the 1970s seemed to have nothing to do with my own life and experiences.
While I made a sense of my own experiences and observations through stories, I also revelled in the popular children’s fiction of the time—again, an act of deconstruction and self-erasure. But it was the very alien nature of what I read that made it a fiction— whether about an animal or a person! Thus, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, Black Beauty, The Wind in the Willows, Swallows and Amazons, The Saturdays, Ballet Shoes, or any one of the beloved books of childhood became a complicit act of whitening myself, an escape to a no-trouble zone. A development of a desireable schizophrenia encouraged by all levels of the education system throughout Canada, in particular at the post-secondary level!
Thanks, in large part to my father, I recieved books from all over the world, an opening and flowering of the richness of language and experience from non-hegemonic viewpoints from Andrew Salkey’s Jamaican children’s books, George Lamming’s incomparable In the Castle of My Skin, the stories of the Salish and west coast Dene, of Australia’s colonial outback and natural disasters, of Farley Mowat’s experiences in the Canadian bush or James Kruss’ Happy Islands Behind the Winds. Magnificently illustrated folk and fairy tales and Bengali ghost stories, biographies of artists and scientists and stories of the Underground Railroad and anti-fascist kids’ books such as The Diary of Anne Frank, developed a sense of solidarity in me. The realm of poetry also opened up an exciting and emotionally powerful world.
By the time I started to see the world on my own, I had already developed these multiple and simultaneous positions of non-white/white, male/female and later gay/straight. I read the world through a complex set of filters of self-erasure and began to develop a consciousness about the nature of longing and belonging. Much of the poetry I wrote and was drawn to, explored those themes, siting them as points or moments of resistance in a complex and cotidian struggle.
Over the last few years, I have started re-reading many of the books I loved as a child, viewing them with the lens of accumulated struggles, victories and defeats that are both personal to me and part of the world in which I inhabit, like all of us. Recently, watching the deplorables on the U.S’s Capitol Hill, I asked myself where does so much dispossesion and entitlement come from? Rather than reading essays and newsmedia op eds, I turned to kids’ books.
Not only the obviously ideological Little House on the Prairie Series of my public school, that extolled the libertarian contradictions of a settler class that relied on the government to displace and murder Indians for their westward expansion, while glorifying their individualist “pioneer” spirit, but also other books that were widely available in schools when I was little.
Lois Lenski’s books on the (mainly) white working-class children of America, written in a post-world war two moment of euphoria and nation-building, plagued by Jim Crow and segregation, provide some clues.
While in these books, benevolence and tolerance of Afro-descended or Indigenous people is conveyed, whiteness is the currency of last resort. The children in these books may be dirt poor, but their whiteness gives them a pinch of superiority over any child of colour. In the current context, rereading these incredibly descriptive and honest accounts of numerous childhoods of sharecroppers, travelling migrant workers, coal producers, and cotton-pickers depict how recently public education and public health took effect in the world’s most grandiose country.
When I took time to reread England’s Enid Blyton as a comparator, the upper-class world of Blyton’s child detectives is plagued with class, colour, and ethnic references constructed around racism and the innate superiority of white people. So, while describing entirely differing worlds of whiteness and childhood- an ocean apart- the books had one glaring commonality— the currency of whiteness in a society of commodification.
This little foray of mine into understanding some aspects of the white supremacy movement on display during the Trump presidency, must be complemented by understanding the ways in which becoming “American” since the inception of the country, is also becoming, white.
No where is this more telling than in some of the ethnic language newspapers which welcomed European immigrants into their new homes, often in urban centers. For many, who had never met or interacted with Afro-descended peoples or other people of colour, nor spoke English yet, these newspapers covered the growing use of lynchings and active racism in the 1900-1930s era as a mechanism for anti-Black violence and socio-political control. The ways in which these crimes were described and the ways in which their victims were discussed, gave recent immigrants a fast track to “Americanness”, by providing them clues on appropriate “white” behaviour with regards to a post-slavery multiracial society.
This converges with a time in which the great migration of Afro-Americans from South to North was occurring, and labour, dominated by urban white working class agendas, had to accomodate Black workers. Unfortunately, these accomodations have barely been succesful and continue to be contested in various ways even now.
So looking back at the varied roots of the current entanglement we in the U.S and Canada are witnessing, children’s literature can provide much insight into why our society’s hierarchies perpetuate and mutate into groups hell-bent on holding on to social power, by, dare I say it, the skin of their teeth!
I was unfriended during the summer of “we’re all in this together” on my social media page for writing the following poem. You can have a look for yourselves. Not surprising that a white woman would find it offensive, if she feels her position somehow needs defending. This reminds me of the old story, that if you talk about racism, acknowledge its existence– you are a RACIST! This was the most common argument I heard from peers and teachers growing up non-white in the urban Canada of multiculturalism’s heyday. But, one asks– what about the police? If talking about racism makes you racist, then surely talking about crime makes you a criminal?
So it doesn’t surprise me that many of my former colleagues are so invested in a system that they think a simple land acknowledgement about Aboriginal displacement should suffice, but that people of colour speaking out about a world in which they are dehumanized moment by moment, from womb to tomb– is aggressive and anti-white, if not, “reverse racism”
.Before I go on, I want to address this aspect of “cancel culture” that started not on Facebook or the internet, but in real academic institutions, the unofficial blacklists of BIPOC students perceived as too “coloured”, too “radical”, too much with a “chip on their shoulder”, too ready to “play the race card”. The blacklists of Marxist and Anarchist academics. The silencing of racial discrimination complaints by Unions filled with people who want to be the boss. As most academic unions– comprised as they are of graduate students– membership is seen as transitory. As grad students become professors, they join another more senior advocacy body, faculty associations. Teaching Assistantships and Course Directorships are replaced by contractually limited appointments (if you’re lucky) and the right to join Professors’ Unions.
Well, the race card has been played ever since race has been a central organizing force in savagely brutal Euopean centered modes of production from mercantile/slaveholding/trading /breeding capitalism. These modes of thinking about physical differences in peoples, were engineered to reduce the humanity of kidnapped, bought, and sold labour. If Black signifies “not human”, then the social whole benefits from, and is immured in, this characterization’s cosmological apartheid.
We play the hand we’re dealt, in the skin we’re in, with the consciousness we develop as our circumstances dictate. My poem is a dirge for THIS white world which nullifies our core–our humanity and personhood. Let me know if this poem touched you at all in light of the recent events of the last year!
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”.
The United Nations has declared February 20th as World Social Justice day. In this era, social justice is like a carrot dangling before humanity while the vast majority of us are being beaten with sticks. So, social justice is an aspirational desire, a desire to remediate the wrongs of past times and current ways of ruling. I hope every single day, to see signs of positive and crucial social change.
In the area of women’s rights, even as we expand our notions of “femininity” and “masculinity” to include non-biologically sexed people, there is so much to do. Women and trans-women who are the victims of violence all over the world, are really at the bottom of the barrel. Our lives are de facto worthless, if we are Indigenous, South Asian, of African descent, East Asian, even more so.
This is so evident when we examine murder statistics (flawed and manipulated, though statistical data may be) from Mexico ( 2,795 in 2017), India (between 8000-5000 dowry deaths per year), South Africa (2930 in 2017-18 ), Spain ( over one thousand women killed in 8 years), Australia ( approximately 52 women per year) and the United States (approximately 1600 in 2018 ) and Canada (118 in 11 months in 2018, or 1 murder every 2.5 days ). In Cuba, pressure from local women’s organizations and activists is pushing for statistics on violence against women and a new integrated law of gender violence that will allow the state and the social services sector to keep track of violence aginst women. 2016 saw about 50 women murdered by male partners and intimates.
Rape statistics and/ or lack of, are also horrifying. In India, over 300, 000 are reported to police, leaving another 3 million unreported annually, as experts have pointed out, due to social and familial stigma, rape and sexual assault are the most under-reported crimes. In Mexico, thousands of women are violated daily with a reported rape rate of 12.6 per 100, 000 and about 3 million reported rapes in the 2010-2015 period.
As we are well aware, rape and sexually motivated violence is the least reported, with official figures representing approximately 10% of actual cases globally. Biased and misogynist legal systems and law enforcement in every country in the world, makes sure that it will remain that way. In Canada, one in three women experiences some kind of partner assault in her lifetime. The violence against women of Indigenous descent has reached horrific proportions, a genocidal violence that is rooted in the making invisible of native cultures and nations.
Discussing women’s wages, social and economic opportunities and acquisitive power, we see that the gender gap prevails here as well throughout the world. I have seen how the gap in wages translates in housing vulnerability for women at even higher rates than for men, in one example. Disproportionately, women also shoulder child rearing and housing costs as well as actual child-care.
In terms of other social justice issues, and there are so many— racism and imperialism rank among the highest impactful issues on the planet. In North America and Europe, racism saves employers, corporations and states trillions of dollars in historical and current under/unemployment, substandard housing and education. Racism makes huge profits for war industries, law enforcement related industries and municipal developers, furnishing companies that supply concentration camps and public and private prisons, and has fostered generations of white supremacist involvement in armed foreces and armed law enforcement.
It is almost incomprehensible the ways in which “othering” and inferiorizing the lives of billions of people for the profit of a few white men and their families— global oligarchs— shapes our world view through the media and social networks. As many have argued the intersection of oppressions by race and gender as well as social class, account for the ways our very lives are shaped and the type of opportunities that may be afforded to us.
If we add disability to the mix, poverty is an almost constant factor in the lives of people with serious and or chronic health conditions, as employment seems the last place in our lives where we might expect accomodation, though we live in capitalist societies that measure all our worth in terms of what we “do” (read, earn) occupationally.
Even the left plays into this bourgeois meritocracy. That is why, we so rarely see images of disabled people speaking about the complexity of their lives or political belliefs. They ( by which I mean, we), are relegated to speaking only about “disability”. Having an affiliation to paid, and well-paid employment at that, certainly gives “privilege” to those who are able-bodied but within our own social class.
These horrific underlying social inequalities shape every aspect of our lives. Women, not safe in their homes, or on the streets, live in a state of permanent alert that starts when we are little children. People of colour, indigenous people, colonized communities and nations, are constantly prevented from lifting the yoke of subjugation that presses down on our human capacity and potential.
Social Justice Day is a day to take stock of all the work we have done in our countries and globally, while confronting the fact that we have barely begun to tackle the enormous overarching issues that literally, shape, and delimit our lives.
I’ll leave you with a poem from a writer whose words echoed in my head and got me through the cult-like environment of law school so many years ago. Chrystos is a Menominee lesbian poet whose work addresses our real lives. Instead of growing up on the reservation, she was reared in the city around Black, Latino, Asian, and White people, and identifies herself as an Urban Indian.
MAYBE WE SHOULDN’T MEET
IF THERE ARE NO THIRD WORLD WOMEN HERE
How can you miss our brown & golden
a thin red scream
in this sea of pink
But we’re here
meeting & didn’t contact the Black Lesbians or G.A.L.A. or Gay American Indians or the Disabled Women’s Coalition or Gay Asians or anyone I know
You’re the ones who don’t print your signs in Spanish or Chinese or any way but how you talk
You’re the ones standing three feet away from a Black woman saying
There are no Third World women here
Do you think we are Martians
All those workshops on racism won’t help you open your eyes & see how you don’t even see us
How can we come to your meetings ifwe are invisible
Don’t look at me with guilt Don’t apologize Don’t struggle with the problem of racism like algebra
Don’t write a paper on it for me to read or hold a meeting in
which you discuss what to do to get us to come to your
time & your place
We’re not your problems to understand & trivialize
We don’t line up in your filing cabinets under “R” for rights
Don t make the racist assumption that the issue of racism
This is a seven part poem I have been working on since my work, studies, and travels have taken me to South America and Cuba. I have long been fascinated and moved by the strength of peoples who manage to hold on to their cosmologies in the face of terrible odds such as kidnapping, enslavement, auction blocks, trade-sanctioned rape, forced labour, soul-searing racism, and unimaginable poverty, and social and political exclusion, even state-sanctioned annihilation.
As a woman of colour, the racisms I have witnessed and experienced throughout my time in Peru, Colombia, Chile, Cuba and Mexico have raised huge questions about the role of anti-racism in “progressive” sectors of development and education, culture, and, even political parties, in those countries. While these issues need to be hashed out in terms of policies, financing, and social restructuring as a whole–especially in those countries where colonized peoples of colour are a majority in certain under-remunerated occupations such as manual and domestic service, agricultural labour, entertainment, and the informal sector– the role of culture in accompanying such changes is essential.
As a citizen of colour in the Americas, I have chosen to seek inspiration and meaning in the beliefs and cosmologies of those of us bound together by European colonization, rather than those of dominant hegemonic religions. As the child of a colonized migrant, I belong in the Americas, as do those who have belonged here before me, and who belonged, before the words “African” and “Indian” had any meaning. The absurdity of this world turned upside down, where the poor fight each other tooth and claw for a pittance for survival, cannot destroy the connection between the gods of Santeria and those of the Quechua and Aymara peoples, especially in countries like Peru, where indigenous and afro-descended communities are integral to the country’s development and self-image, although the apartheid between European Peruvians and indigenous Peruvians is deeply entrenched and the official story of Peru may not highlight their presence except as beasts of burden or unruly mobs needing to be subdued.
That is why this following piece takes as its title the Quechua (Kichwa) word, “pachacutec” meaning “Earth Shaker” or the “world turned upside down.” I was struck by this word as it resonated with not only the the social disparagement of the indigenous people I witnessed in the Andean nations, but also the facile commodification of black religion as entertainment. An entertainment, I might add, that was almost wholly consumed by white tourists both national and international. I saw this wherever Afro music was played, whether in Cuba at the Callejon de Hamel or watching Peru Negro perform in reified contexts with velvet seats and expensive tickets. This is contrasted in the way that such religions are actually practised outside the gaze of the tourist or the anthropologist, where the deities may be termed in Arundhoti Ray’s words, the “gods of small things”, accompanying as they do the risks of everyday life under unequal social circumstances. In using the word Pachacutec I signal the “upside-downiness” of this late-capitalist world where we float through the sky and bury our crimes against humanity– for surely, colonial subjugations are just that– in the blood-stained earth from which huge profits are made at all our expense.
(Quechua word meaning Earth Shaker/World Turned Upside Down)
Like many people with poorly understood disabilities and conditions, I have heard every possible advice that people’s grandmothers, parents, aunts, doctors, naturopaths, second cousins, and their neighbours might possibly have to offer.
Headache. Oh, just do this, and it will go away. My aunt/doctor/grandmother used to have them. but after they did this one thing, they went away forever!
Endometriosis/Adenomyosis. Oh poor you, your period’s hurting you, huh? I never had that problem, but my best friend in high school had wicked cramps. She used to get to stay off school! She loved it!
Yes, I did my naturopathic training in a clearing in the forest. All the fairies and elves sang and danced in a circle after i was intiated. That’s why I don’t have a certificate, see, fairies don’t give them.
Anyway. Basically, you take off your underpants and then we’ll have you squat over an aromatic fire heaped with herbs that will cleanse your yoni, and enter into your womb, purifying it and getting rid of the growths very gently (read over numerous sessions at $150/session).
Yes, I’m aware this is unusual, but it’s often when we’re excruciating pain-either mental or physical- that we’re willing to take risks! That’s why I’ve been trained as well by a Mayan shaman!
You’re in severe chronic pain? Try to verbalize what that might sound like! (Sobbing and groaning). Good, good. Now direct that healing sound to the spot that hurts most. You know, you might be paralysed facially because you need to learn how to express yourself differently. This is a teaching!
Arthritis. Why dont you try drinking a shot of rum every morning on an empty stomach that had garlic steeping in it for a month? My mother/gardener/veterinarian does that and she swears by it!
Why don’t you try doing weights and conditioning the joints that hurt? Because they hurt too much to hold the weights, obviously! Have you tried skating? It really strengthens the ankles!
Have you tried drinking green tea at 4 hour intervals? It will burn fat and decrease inflammation! While turning me into more of a raving insomniac than I already am?
If you wear shoes with lumpy gel points, it’s like a constant massage on your feet as you walk. Totally cleared up my grandmother’s foot pain, you must try it!
Having fatigue and inflammation? My guru and I drink our own pee and we’ve found it worked wonders for our wellness and skin issues. Have you considered it? You must start low and slow, you know!
Then there are the doctors
These are the people we generally trust to be able to help, guide and minister to us in some of the most terrible and bewildering times of our lives. If you are a person who doesn’t go to the doctor much, perhaps you have a friendly and benign relationshp with them. But, if you have complex and unclear multi-systemic issues, going to the doctor can provide you with the same laundry list of offerings as those above—except these ones come with warnings and side effects as long as your arm.
Got a headache? Try every kind of migraine abortificient whether the side effects are well-known or not. Take Gravol for the nausea. If you have chronic nausea, you can take Ginger Gravol!
Swollen arthritic joints ? Try Lyrica and gabapentin which will help with the nerve pain caused by discs compressing onto your nerve and pinching it.
Chronic pain? Have you tried trazadone, tramadol, fentenyl patches, hydro-morphone? And then they bemoan the opiod crisis.
Feeling depressed? Try paxil, effexor, celexa, amitriptyline, etc, etc, and if you feel even more anxious than you can have Xanax. If the rebound anxiety from the Xanax unexpectedly kicks you in the butt then you can pop an Ativan. If the Ativan doesn’t do the trick than you can have a long acting clonazepam or klonopin as it’s sometimes known!
Have you been offered medicines/ treatments, where the prescribing doctor reassures you, oh we don’t really know how it works yet, but I’m sure you’ll be fine?
All of these interventions and remedies purport to bring some relief and ease to me and people like me. I have been offered every one and many others, and have even tried some, which benefited me for short periods. But I have come to realize through the experience of being ill and my frequent interaction with the medical system, that all these enigmas of blood, flesh, nerves, bone which are me— are always complicated by that MEness, because my brown skin, non-Anglo name, and gender and sexuality are as much factors in my health care— along with class and percieved class status— as in everyone else’s. How could it not be otherwise?
We are ourselves engaged in multiple and sometimes overlapping constellations of social relations wherever and who ever we are.
They are bound to be the foundation through which other relationships are built, in particular the reciept of goods and services, of which health care unfortunately is one.
Health care ought to be a basic human right administered by and carried out by those who fully understand the human in human rights.
But until that day comes, we are doomed to vie for human status in front of the masters (whether they be male or female or non-binary or trans) of our health care— encased in our bodies with their telling tales of burning hands and feet, flu-like symptom, chronic and sudden fatigue, disabling insomnia, erupting skin, sudden weight loss or gain. Encased in our bodies with their headaches and paralysis, their swollen knees and aching hips, stiff necks, and even stiffer upper lips!
If you are interested in this topic, I’ll be following up in future posts from time to time!
I’ll leave you with some good and much needed discussions about the multiple evils plaguing our health care systems in both the U.S. and Canada.