How to Support

21 Oct

One of the opportunities arising from the wave of student movements sweeping across South Africa (for those not directly involved) is learning how to support.
The prevailing instincts are to critique (as Mbembe did), co-opt (as the Democratic Alliance is so desperately trying to do) or derail (“why are you not marching to Luthuli house, the PetroSA loss could pay for 100,000 degrees, etc, etc, etc).

The questions rarely asked are  “How do I support?”, “How do I amplify?”, “How can I be an accomplice?

The problem is pervasive in social justice movements. White allies lecturing Blacks on how to do anti-racism, male allies telling women how to be feminists.

It does not have to be that way. In the age of social media, it is must each easier to be a true supporter and an accomplice in bringing about change.

Step 1: Listen
Listen to the students and the student leadership directly. Dispense with intermediaries who may interject their own identity and ideologies in the information they filter through to you. Key examples of ideologues masquerading as objective commentators are Adriaan Basson and Barry Bateman.
On Twitter, follow students participating in and sharing about the protests. If you like your Timeline, slow and quiet, use a list.
If the raw feed is too much to take, follow a few key students and seek impartial on the ground reporting like the Daily Vox is doing.

Step 2: Act on the requests for Support
Protesting is hard and takes its toll mentally and physically. The students need food, hydration, data etc and are using social media to co-ordinate. Assist where you can.

Step 3: Amplify / Support

Retweet the voices of the students so your followers can get the direct voices of the movement.
Amplify the movement by building on the message. Support efforts to pressure the centres of power, one key example is Amandla.mobi . Sign up to support their campaigns.
Avoid adding your opinion on what the students should do and focus rather on what you can contribute, support.
Start developing a critical filter in order to not amplify those trying to hijack the movement.

Conclusion
In short, in order to be supportive – say little, do a lot.

Coloured/Mixed Race/Black

28 Sep

There has been a lot of noise on my Twitter timeline about identity in South Africa especially around the borders of Coloured, Mixed Race and Black identity.

One idea thrown around vociferously and emotionally was that in 2015, people identifying as Coloured were somehow definitely still trapped in apartheid mindset and should identify as Black. Identifying as Coloured is supposedly antiBlackness at play.

Other is that people of mixed racial heritage post apartheid must identify as mixed race, as they are clearly not Black and do not share a heritage with Coloureds so also clearly not Coloured.

Some of this trouble seems to have started with a form. The kind of form we use to track race in order to ensure we address the racial inequities of the past and present.

For some reason, the box you tick on the form is what defines your identity. Forgotten is that race is a fluid and imprecise construct.

For a mixed race identifying person, the choice seems problematic as mixed race was not commonly used during Apartheid South Africa. My suggestion is to use the racial identity of the parent from a historically disadvantaged background. If both are pick one. The form is not really you.

The problem here is that Black, Coloured, Mixed race originally came from the system of white supremacy so posturing that one is superior form of identification is somewhat disingenuous.

The other problem is that Apartheid actually did happen. People were classified according to race, have lived experiences of being that race, have cultures that now form part of that race.

To erase Coloured identity is to subsume and thus partially erase that history and its differences from the mainstream Black experience.

To tell someone their identity is unacceptable like @kaysexwale did is an act of power not liberation. It projects the insecurities of a mixed race parentage post 94 onto the Coloured community. It is also an act of othering another human being. These insecurities are best dealt with on a personal level and not projected onto others.

People also choose to ignore that identity Black changes meaning depending on context.

Generally Black means of mainly African descent.
Under Black Economic Empowerment, Black legally means African, Coloured, Indian and Chinese.
Under Black Consciousness Black means African, Coloured and Indian. I guess Biko would not really quibble with post-94 addition of Chinese..

The question that arises is whether Indian, Coloured and Chinese people really identify as Black? Some do, some don’t.

It does not matter, because the question is a disguised accusation that these groups practice AntiBlackness. The question is slightly unfair as all groups even those who identify as Black/African practice antiBlackness. #IamStellenbosch shows the smiling monsters of antiBlackness at work and all race groups are represented.

Insisting on erasing people’s identity is not a particularly effective way to build respect between groups or to combat antiBlackness. The most likely outcome is increased animosity and we already have enough of that between Coloureds and Black/Africans.

In “Black Souls in White Skins”, https://franknatter.wordpress.com/2010/08/09/white-skins-black-souls-highly-recommended-critique-of-white-liberals-steve-biko/ Biko suggests that true integration between Whites and Blacks, can only take place when there is mutual respect.

Perhaps the first step in achieving Black Consciousness is to cultivate mutual respect between the Black/Africans, Coloureds and Indians.

There are no shortcuts to mutual respect. Listening rather than demanding erasure is a good place to start though.

“Structural racism is a thing hey” (Unathi Voice) #HomoNaledi

16 Sep

This is a summary of my mentions when I questioned Homo Naledi team composition. While I cannot accuse the department of overt racism, many of the justifications in my mentions like from @LemonsRsweeter were racist or drew from a racist narrative.
The real danger of this colourblind racism is that it reinforces the unconscious biases of whiteness and white supremacy.


Thabo: this is odd. The Homo Naledi team seems to be rather homogenous

image

Answer: We must not look for racism everywhere. Move along.image

Thabo:

But wait, this exclusion of Blacks with the corresponding overrepresentation of Whites, is that not the much talked about structural unearned advantage called ‘white privilege’. This rat smells.

This Black exclusion and white overrepresentation repeats itself over and over in South African institutions. In media, in corporates. In Academia.

This rat…….

Answer:

image

But Thabo, there are just no Black students in Berger’s paleontology sub-speciality. They are all in other fossil loving groups.

But Thabo, wait. You know he crowdsourced this on Facebook. It looks like his Facebook contacts are overwhelmingly white. You know he is colourblind. He just does not realise that he only sees white. He is not racist

But Thabo, the spec required thin people. Maybe ….

But Thabo, Black people have big booties, ..

But Thabo, we all know that due to white supremacy there are no POC scientists. We must focus on education.

but Thabo, it was volunteer work, no pay. Lol! good luck finding a POC to do anything without pay/

No! No! Look away. Here is peg. Shut your nose! Nothing to smell here. “

Thabo:

Hmm! still all smells like structural racism. Exclusion via practice of the white ideology of colourblindness.

Can we ask how a university committed to transformation, just does not do things resembling transformation?

Can we ask when this shit of Black exclusion will end?

And no, please let’s not ask the legion of foot soldiers for white hegemony.

Let’s ask that smooth Habib dude

image

Answer: You just don’t like white people,Thabo. You’re racist.

Thabo:trods off chanting ‘Mapaputsi ‘Izinja’

Sediba – A sense of ease

13 Sep

I spent ten days on retreat at http://www.sedibamountainretreat.co.za and I miss it just a day later.

I miss the sense of ease. The Sense of ease not sense of easy.

It was not easy, on day 3 &4, my body decided to revolt. My sinuses seem to prefer Soweto pollution. The Hartbeestpoort swamp gases caused my sinuses to dry up painfully.

In meditation, I would often find myself out of pose, holding my head in my hands as shameful and painful moments flooded my mind.

I walked for hours on end. Each day different muscles and/or joints would complain but I persevered.

However, all this took place in an environment of ease, of low egos and of acknowledgement of personal space. It was a safe space – or at least the closest to the concept that I have experienced.

My only caveat would be that I fear snakes. I did not see any during my stay but I know they are out there and walking up the hill one night, I scared myself silly.

Safe Space
The safe space, a space for contemplation and meditation is what in many ways, the Catholic priest {Prashant/Anthofer) who founded the place was aiming for.
Hence, the number of guests is limited to about 7. Each guest sleeps alone in their own rather cool hut.

Noble Silence is practiced lightly as opposed to Buddhist retreats I have heard of but if one wanted to practice a strict version, the priest and guests would accommodate the request.

The sleeping arrangements and Noble Silence go a long way towards preventing the poisoning of the atmosphere by the sort of sexism on conferences that @nthabynooe wrote about recently. https://nthabynooe.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/the-leadership-territory-whose-community-is-it-anyway/

Most importantly, it is a self-directed retreat. No-one will force you to sit cross-legged for hours while every pore itches incessantly.

Willingness and self-discipline are encouraged.

A Catholic yet safe space? Seriously?
The founder was clear that this was a space for contemplation and meditation and not dogmatic rectitude.

Anyone on a spiritual or secular quest that requires some solitude is welcome. That welcome is extended regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or non-religion, and any of the churches other dogmatic frictions like divorcees and women who have had abortions.

From a Catholic perspective, it is a space that uses solitude to create room for the grace of God to enter.
From a secular perspective, it is a mindfulness practice. There is now a lot of work on mindfulness from psychology, neuroscience and other cognitive sciences.

Meditation as a Christian practice
Prashant spent over six years learning meditation in India under the guidance of a Hindu guru.

It seems Jesus may have meditated too. Jesus definitely did go on the ancient version of a retreat – spending 40 days and nights in the desert. He must have spent some time in prayer and/or in contemplation and meditation.

In Catholicism, there is a tradition of contemplation sometimes referred to as Christian mysticism. They will often talk about the Mystery. Contemplating the Mystery is similar to many of the Tibetan Buddhist meditation practices.

Why I went?
I struggle with anxiety, depression and exhibit traits of attention deficit disorder. I have been on medication but have stopped. I am trying to find alternatives.

On a more existential basis, my life is a clusterfuck. An ever deepening crisis of senseless wandering. A nicer way to put it maybe is that I am undergoing a midlfe crisis.

In summary, I have a lot of baggage.

Sense of Ease

So it is surprising that looking back, a day later, the mind is clear – ease was present and it asks simply for more.

It asks how can the sense of ease be present in daily life in non-safe spaces like those we call home, work, university and church.

Dangers of Simplifying (response to Higher Grade English backlash)

26 Aug

After the resounding success of the Coconut lecture, there was a backlash that centered on ‘higher grade English’, people on Twitter speaking above the masses and thereby alienating them. I dismissed it, partly because it sounded like Black Twitter returning to its anti-intellectualism where recommending a book to a person is sacrilege.

Here are are some more thoughts on why that attitude is self-defeating and how to approach the situation.

image

Then again honey is winnie the pooh’s greatest problem

image

Example 1

I came to Buddhism via the Gautama Buddha quote of ‘Life is suffering’. As a heavily depressed teen, it seemed the Buddha really just got it unlike all that happy clappy Christianity.

The quote though has put many people off, who argued that Buddhism was a religion of depression and hopelessness.

Three decades later, a writer pointed out that ‘life is suffering’ is a simplification.

The word Buddha used was ‘dukkha’. Dukkha has no direct English translation. The writer offered the following ‘life experiences are inherently dissatisfying’.

A lot more mouthy, ‘higher grade English’ to some, but way more profound.

It offers a hint to how the suffering occurs. My depressed teen self would have been differently intrigued .

More importantly, the charge of Buddhism being religion of depression and hopelessness becomes dubious.

Simplifications hide as much as they reveal.

Example 2

Aristotle defined knowledge as justified true belief. It seems logical enough, so well everybody nods and moves.

However, as Professor Kinghorn pointed out each of those words deserves a book.

Justified by whom and to whom and for what purpose? (The power dynamic is hidden)

True – again who defines ‘true’ and how. This problem led to the science and the scientific method.

Belief – not even going to attempt this one in the age where cognitive sciences have taught us about unconscious bias.

My favourite definition of knowledge is ‘capacity to act’.

I like it because it hints at why knowledge is power?

It also has interesting implications. Bias is often wrong but it enables action including white supremacy, sexism, etc.

Ignorance thus becomes a form of knowledge – a justified untrue belief.

The trouble with asking people to simplify is that it grants them the power to determine how you learn about the topic. The mind by nature conserves energy leading to confirmation bias, so that first simplification is the lens you are likely to filter all further information on the subject.

It sets up a master/student power relationship and is thus inherently disempowering.

Boundary Spanner

My suggestion is to approach even topics spoken in ‘higher grade’ English with a will to learn and not just consume.

If knowledge requires effort to be learned, it is more likely to be remembered because again mind hates wasting energy.

If on Twitter, a conversation amongst say Black university students on Blackness includes terms you do not understand instead of fuming at the lack of simplification when people are talking about your ‘lived experience’ try a few learning tricks.

In the internet age, access to information is remarkably simplified.

Find a boundary spanner

A boundary spanner is a person who straddles two communities and can translate.

Ask about the term used and how it is different to your preferred simpler term. Seek clarity, help your mind navigate.

If this extra effort means you miss half the conversation, no problem. The topic of Blackness and most topics that matter will still matter tomorrow.

I also still hold that academics must try to write in a more accessible manner. I am reading Niklas Luhmann and my brain writhes against the excruciating experience but the man’s theory is on point. So, I am slogging through.

Building a shared Africanness / unity #language #diversity #panAfricanism

25 Aug

The kerfuffle about language and about mandating kiSwahili (or other but just one language) in order to build African unity got me thinking.

I am not a fan of the idea of unity. Calls for unity always feel to me like somebody is being thrown under the bus. Dissent ends up being reduced to ‘you are dividing us’.

I do, however, like Simphiwe Dana believe in a shared Africanness, a shared identity.

I wrote down some thoughts on how we can do this without relying on one language.

1) Language – Learn another African language

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/10/more-languages-better-brain/381193/

  • Due to the 7 degrees and network effects, by learning at least one other African language,  more Africans will be connecting to each other on an individual basis in different languages.across the invisible barrier of language.
  • By doing this, we contribute to maintaining the full diversity and richness of African languages.

2) The second idea is that we should actively commit to interacting with a diverse multitude of Africans. We can counter the societally natural homogeneity that comes with familiarity. In some ways, one African language idea is about creating that comfort of sameness.

3) We can nurture curiosity about other African people, cultures, knowledge systems and worldviews. Africa is diverse – appreciating and immersing in it is a good counter to the homogenising influence of hegemony. https://twitter.com/SiphokuhleMathe/status/632877375898976256

4) Find, connect to and amplify the voices of the most marginalised. Power operates to silence many in Africa. Let us counter.

I spend more time tweeting about Greece than South Sudan. Every time, I catch myself I find information on the civil war and ongoing crisis. There is not much information but the very act of finding and sharing, sends the market signals that there is demand for the information. In time, there will be more.

I cherish my African identity and believe that honouring the diversity and the richness of that diversity is the way to build a shared Africanness.

In other words, ‘unity through diversity’ as called for in the South African coat of arms.

Audre Lorde “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences”

Brief thoughts on Chester Missing

9 Aug

It feels like 5 years ago that I promised @ling83 that I would write down my  thoughts on the puppet.

It is probably best to start with blackface. I think those calling Chester Missing blackface confuse form and substance for the sake of outrage whilst indulging in oversimplification.

The real problem with Chester is the appropriation of Coloured identity for the benefit of a non-Coloured individual. The puppet also reinforces a widely held stereotype of Coloureds as jokers. Always cracking a joke unless of course they are gangsters. The other favourite national stereotype.

The harm of Chester is similar to that of cultural appropriation. One of the foremost representations of the Coloured community in our nation is White. That is a sad oddity by any lens.

I appreciate Chester’s stance on Steve Hofmeyr and other whiteness oozing individuals. The satire is superb and mostly lacks the racism of the nationally approved satirists like Zapiro.

I am not calling for the culling of Chester Missing but it is actually not my call. That decision belongs to the affected community.

PS: Another concern is that those yelling blackface are not particularly concerned about which community is most affected. That in part seems to confirm the Coloured lament of being sidelined. Even when they are most affected, the issue is predominantly framed in terms of the Black community.

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