Intersecting Pride and Resistance

Happy Pride Month! It’s been strange to be as fragmented as the LGBT community has been even before covid19. But lack of face to face contact has in particular been hard for LGBT people, especially young people who may be living with homo/transphobic or disapproving family members.

So it’s a month to honour our many communities’ resilience, our survival in spite of centuries of exclusion, hatred and scapegoating, our many ways of being who we are in spite of difficult odds. This year the evidentiary burden of genocide against Indigenous survival and the massacre of so many vulnerable people through the market logic of the corona pandemic, along with personal grief on so many levels, has made it more of reflective time than one rooted in the raucous marchers and the desperate gawkers that characterize Pride weekend on Corporate Ave., oh sorry, i mean, Church St. I probably miss the music the most!

This last week with its revelations about the active recent complicity of Catholic Church, , and God knows how many other Christian institutions– shows us how white Christians intertwined with the ruling powers as to make separation of Church and State, a total joke when it comes to the civilizing mission of settler colonialism! Two hundred and fifteen children assassinated in the name of a merciless white God. And that is only what they have let us find. The violence of settler colonialism reveals itself as a violence against the very lives and existence of Indigenous peoples. An informal apartheid made formal through the Indian Act.

Statue of Egerton Ryerson in front of University named in his honour. There are calls to change the name of the University as well as remove the statue

So for many reasons, it’s hard to feel celebratory There’s been tons of new cultural activism and expression from Indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States. But I’ve gone with a familiar voice from the long-ago days of joining an anti-racist lesbian community! Menominee poet Chrystos has definitely been a voice calling for truth to power, even if that makes things uncomfortable. So I’ll leave today’s post with this poem.

Into the Racism Workshop

For Alma Banda Goddardmy cynical feet ambled
prepared for indigestion
& blank faces of outrageous innocence
knowing I’d have to walk over years of media
declaring we’re vanished or savage or pitiful or noble
My toes twitched when I saw so few brown faces
but really when one eats racism every time one goes out one’s door
the appeal of talking about it is minuscule
I sat with my back to the wall facing the door
after I changed the chairs to a circle
This doesn’t really protect me
but I con myself into believing it does
One of the first speakers piped up
I’m only here because my friend is Black & wanted
me to do this with her
I’ve already done
300 too many racism workshops
Let it be entered into the Book of Stars
that I did not kill her or shoot a scathing reply from the hip
I let it pass because I could tell she was very interested in taking
up all the space with herself & would do it if I said a word
They all said something that I could turn into a poem
but I got tired & went to sleep behind my interested eyes
I’ve learned that the most important part of these tortures
is for them to speak about racism at all
Even showing up is heresy
because as we all know racism is some vague thing that really doesn’t
exist or is only the skinheads on a bad day or isn’t really a crucial problem
not as important certainly as queers being able to marry
or get insurance for each other
When they turned to me as resident expert on the subject
which quite honestly I can’t for the life of me understand
or make any sense out of
I spoke from my feet
things I didn’t know I knew
of our connections
of the deadly poison that racism is for all of us
Maybe some of them were touched
but my bitch voice jumps in to say
NOT MUCH!
I heard back that someone thought I was brilliant
Does that mean that I speak well
Or that she was changed
It’s only her change
I need

Chrystos, “Into the Racism Workshop” from Fugitive Colors.  Copyright © 1995 by Chrystos.  

Andy Everson, Every Child Matters

I read the news today, oh boy…

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”

Hallam Road, Necessary Neighbours, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

.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!

Montreal Gazette, September 2020, Justice for Joyce Echaquan

Fuck this white world

and the sun that shines out of its ass.

Fuck this white world

which brought us here to torture and to maim

our beautiful souls.

Fuck this white world 

which pits my brown brokenness 

against your black tear.

Fuck this white world

which pits your red blood against my yellow fear

Justice for Breonna, MerlinFoof, Reddit 2020

Fuck this white world

which rips out our veins

with its sterility and the burning plastic of 

restraints applied in the u.s.,

made in china.

Internet Poster, 2020

Fuck this white world

that holds us in its restraint.

demolishes our individuality

forces us to pay

over and over again

for the privilege of being human

Quartraits

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!

Quartrait 1/At the Window, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Quartrait 2/ Sleep, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Quartrait 3/Bad Night, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Quartrait 4/The Pandemic is the Portal, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Quartrait 5/The Question, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Quartrait 6/Quompanion, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Quartrait 7/Dream, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020

A Murder of Crows

Crows, Kolkata 2019, Kaushalya Bannerji

On my recent visit to Kolkata, India, I was struck by many things, but one that stands out for me in the wave of pollution that blankets the city, is the harsh cawing of the crows, who proclaim their resilience much like people. 

Their ubiquitous presence was a big part of my urban childhood summers in the stifling heat and monsoony days, when humidity enervates the human body, but the crows in the giant tree in front of the veranda, never ceased their active and raucous lives, although they were often drowned out by the cacophony of horns, beeps, and engines that took over the main road between seven a.m. and 10 at night. 

Many of those evenings (or parts of them) were spent in “loadshedding” or power outages, reducing the noise of radios and  even the televisions that were just starting to take over the upper-middle class residences of Kolkata. While adults talked and joked over tea and coffee, I often sat and looked through the plaster railings of the wide  veranda, where wicker chairs had sprouted blooms of people trying to catch even a tiny breeze. The crows meanwhile, cawed, looked for food, argued and harmonized on the tin awning of the floor beneath us, raised generations of children in the giant tree that stood by the bus-stop,  and generally entertained me with their antics above the heads of street vendors, the paan shop, and the constant line-ups of people at the bus stand. 

Crows, Kolkata, 2019, Kaushalya Bannerji

Crows, like people enjoy shiny and bright things, and the twilight gloam with kerosene lamps lighting up the footpath, where vendors sat in flimsy shacks with the colours of the universe spread around them in fabric and plastic, shiny lozenges and Cadbury chocolate bars stored appetizingly in glass jars, were as appetizing to the crows as to humans. They often collected shiny wrappings from the ground, and I imagine, spruced up their dusty nests, demonstrating their kinship with human foibles, such as making culture. 

Feeding Time, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

They bond monogamously and raise usually 3 chicks at a time. They live in large social groups. Their use of tools puts them in a category apart from many animals and birds, though I have long suspected that more species use tools and are capable of analysis than we humans realize!

I did not know as a child, the English language term for a collective of crows, was a “murder”. This term comes, like many descriptions of groups of animals, from the old English terms of venery— hunting. For approximately five hundred years, these appelations have survived the industrial world and our encroachment on nature. Other examples are an “ostentation” of peacocks, or a “parliament” of owls, a “school” of fish or a “pandemonium” of platypuses! The terms are colourful and poetic, if not scientific. Mystery writer Ruth Rendell has a chilling book called “ An Unkindess of Ravens”. Ornithologists generally, I think, refer to all birds as a “flock”.

Crows, Kolkata 2019, Kaushalya Bannerji

Mythologically speaking, the crow’s scavenger status and alert, collective bonding has long perturbed the human world. While others from the corvid family, such as the raven, are associated with wit, humour and intelligence in many North American indigenous cultures, the crow has also been associated with death in European and British cultures.  

Humans have seen crows hold “funerals” en masse, where they come to pay their respects to a fallen comrade. Scientists now believe this is another sign of their intelligence and allows them to collectively understand the demise of their fellow being and to spot sources of ongoing danger and predation. This teaches us that crows understand causation and thus are considered intelligent and perspicacious. 

Crow, Kolkata 2019, Kaushalya Bannerji

I am constantly amazed at the endurance of so many species against the vile chemical onslaught that is our current state of existence on planet earth. While so many animals and birds and insects are nearing extinction, the resilience and communication shown by the crow in the midst of overwhelming urbanization and smog is nothing short of a miracle. They are a worthy example to us, embodying the strength of collective survival by all means necessary! They are one of the brightest species in the world

I want to start off the new decade with a symbol of hope, intelligence and communication and can think of no better bird to symbolize the plight of common people than the misunderstood and often reviled crow, who like the poor people of this earth, astonish  us every day with their survival, compassion,  and hope for a better future. 

Crows Chat, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

I also want to thank all of you for viewing and sharing this blog, it is a labour of love and commitment to another more just and inclusive world.  With your participation, Eartotheground has reached over 4000 views! I hope to keep sharing culture,  politics, and hope over the next year. A happy and hopeful New Year to all of you! I’ll leave you with a documentary on these extraordinary birds as we enter a new decade!

https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1385600280

and an interesting news item from one of Canada’s most notorious crows- – a must see for the mystery buffs among you!