Gems from the Ocean

20160128_192701I’m ashamed to say I’ve only just discovered August Wilson, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright known as the American Shakespeare. But what a way to discover him and his searing explorations of what it means to be black in America: through the stunning, gut-wrenching interpretation of his play Gem of the Ocean, currently playing at the Marin Theatre Company. Go see it, Bay Area peeps; you must.

Wilson is best known for his ten play cycle on the lives of African Americans in the 20th century, one for every decade. Gem of the Ocean is the first of the cycle, written second to last in 2003 (Wilson died in 2005). And for us, there were multiple performances on theatre night: the play itself, and then the responses of the predominantly white audience (AFAICT, we were one of two families of colour attending) that stayed for a Q&A session with cast and crew after.

Amongst the conversations with no clue: ‘I don’t understand where the spirituality of the original went…’ So Wilson uses seemingly Christian symbolism underwritten by Yoruba spirituality, which hybridised form dramaturg Omi Osun Joni L. Jones pops up so powerfully in her interpretation. In other words, it’s nothing but political and spiritual, just perhaps not your politics and your spirituality, Mr. White Theatre-goer.

The interpretation also breaks with the familiar idiom of ‘naturalistic’ theatre, which is how August Wilson is often played. Instead, it offers rhythm, beat, syncopation: jazz of word and gesture. Be prepared for its power, and for its getting under your skin. I found myself squirming in my seat, hardly able to sit still (such a no-no for a polite theatre-goer!).

But the best of the evening was the well-meaning road to hell: ‘I wish young black children could watch this play’… Yes, they should. I hope they do, and the theatre is doing its best to make it happen, with multiple matinee shows. But even more so, elite white people should watch this play. And not deflect the responsibility of thinking about it. Understand, as August Wilson says in the play, what black folks, people of colour, need for full citizenship in this country: “You gonna have to fight to get that. And time you get it, you be surprised how heavy it is.” (And yes, it echoes all that my Dalit and Adivasi friends are feeling right now too).

So t20160128_192717hank you, Daniel Alexander Jones, Omi Osun Joni L. Jones, and the incredible cast and crew of the Gem of the Ocean. I can’t imagine Wilson being interpreted in any other way.

 

The Onion peels it all away

From the Onion, 5 November 2008:

Although polls going into the final weeks of October showed Sen. Obama in the lead, it remained unclear whether the failing economy, dilapidated housing market, crumbling national infrastructure, health care crisis, energy crisis, and five-year-long disastrous war in Iraq had made the nation crappy enough to rise above 300 years of racial prejudice and make lasting change.

“Today the American people have made their voices heard, and they have said, ‘Things are finally as terrible as we’re willing to tolerate,” said Obama, addressing a crowd of unemployed, uninsured, and debt-ridden supporters. “To elect a black man, in this country, and at this time—these last eight years must have really broken you.”

Added Obama, “It’s a great day for our nation.”

Carrying a majority of the popular vote, Obama did especially well among women and young voters, who polls showed were particularly sensitive to the current climate of everything being fucked. Another contributing factor to Obama’s victory, political experts said, may have been the growing number of Americans who, faced with the complete collapse of their country, were at last able to abandon their preconceptions and cast their vote for a progressive African-American.

[…]

As we enter a new era of equality for all people, the election of Barack Obama will decidedly be a milestone in U.S. history, undeniable proof that Americans, when pushed to the very brink, are willing to look past outward appearances and judge a person by the quality of his character and strength of his record. So as long as that person is not a woman.

Tom Lehrer famously declared that political satire died the day Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But if it’s dead already, what happens when the Onion calls a spade… <horror>… a spade? Never before in the twenty year history of this immodest publication has such a moment been seen.

Potted biography of Political Satire: Henry Kissinger wins Nobel Peace Prize. Satire dies. Bush becomes President. Satire resurrected. America elects its first black President ever, just in time for its own particular annus horribilis (offstage whisper: and still not ready for a woman). Satire closely resembles reality. Satire collapses and is DOA. Dead on Assembly.

Rest in Pieces, Satire.

What a long, strange trip it’s been…

So it’s finally November 4th, and since I can’t GOAV (get out and vote) myself, I will WTV (watch the vote) instead. But as a quick round-up, just a few images and thoughts that have stuck with me through this long, strange trip. First, a video that a few young women put together for Sarah Palin, which I thought was perfect for all those crazies who thought Hillary supporters might swing Sarah’s way. Yeah, right (sic)!

Then the roast at the Alfred E. Smith dinner, which I thought was a remarkable event; two Presidential candidates, a day after an intense final presidential debate, meet to make fun of each other and themselves. Highly recommended for politicians in India. Obama did tell us he was Superman (as if America didn’t know that already): “contrary to the rumors you have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father, Jor-el, to save the planet Earth,” while McCain invoked Joe the Plumber – again! – to tell us he “recently signed a very lucrative contract with a wealthy couple to handle all the work on all seven of their houses”. I have to say, McCain had brilliant comic timing, Obama much less so. But then it’s another sort of timing that will count today.

Which brings me to the final moment, that my favourite pollsters at fivethirtyeight.com wrote about, after a rally in North Carolina. In Sean Quinn‘s words, “something is stirring in America”:

Back at the rally, after the march had left MLK Gardens, I’d gone back for the car while Brett took photos, and I spotted a very old black man in a sharp Sunday suit walking slowly at the very back of the huge march. He hadn’t yet arrived at the voting center, and I decided to find him when I got back.

I wanted to go talk to him, to ask him what this moment meant to him. He was a guy who you take one glance at, and know, that guy’s seen it all. I wanted a quote. I had my journalist hat on. I thought, this will be great.

So when I got back to the voting location with the car, I went to find him in the line. Eventually I spotted him, and was ready to walk up the few feet between us and introduce myself when I stopped in my tracks.

A young black boy, no more than eight years old, walked up to this man, who was at least eighty. The boy offered the man a sticker, probably an “I Voted” sticker, but I couldn’t see. The man took the sticker and paused. Silently, he looked down at the boy, who was looking back up at the man. The man put his hand gently on the boy’s head, and I saw his eyes glisten.

I didn’t ask the man for a quote. I didn’t need to. I walked over by myself, behind the community center, and I sat down on a bench next to the track, and wept.

Darkening his image?

Ashwin Madia, whose parents were reportedly Mumbaikers till they moved to the US, is a Democrat running for Congress from Minnesota. According to a KARE news report, he has had his image ‘darkened’ in a Republican attack ad. Literally.

If this was India, we’d have Fair and Handsome ads that told him he couldn’t win without the bleach. Aaargh. Racism is alive, peeps… and perhaps it’ll be severely unwell post November 4th? Now that’s the audacity of hope.

He had a dream

Monday (January 21st) was Martin Luther King’s birthday; it also happens to be the only public holiday commemorating and celebrating the life of an African American in the USA. It seemed appropriate for CommonDreams.org to publish his speech of ‘independence’ from the war in Vietnam, called ‘Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence’, delivered in April 1967. It speaks to all of us, across the world, as we watch this nation debate wars that affect us, an economy that affects us, and a future President who will affect us. Let’s hope they choose right.

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An excerpt:

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. When machines and computers, profit and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look easily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: ” This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from re-ordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and through their misguided passions urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are the days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not call everyone a communist or an appeaser who advocates the seating of Red China in the United Nations and who recognizes that hate and hysteria are not the final answers to the problem of these turbulent days. We must not engage in a negative anti-communism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take: offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity and injustice which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wombs of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to ad just to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has the revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.

We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us re-dedicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

Image from CommonDreams.org

Geeky Gals at the BlogHer Conference

I know I was being cheeky by commenting on Stake Five that we might explore Feminist ColdFusion or ColdFused Feminism, but the interfaces between gender and technology do fascinate me. Unsurprising, now that I’m with a geek who’s feminist and slowly turning into a feminist gee-eek! myself (what else can explain my evangelism around Ubuntu, which is my OS, and various other minor joys around website constructions and blog creations?). Any which way, it made me interested in learning more about the second BlogHer (‘where the women bloggers are’) conference, held in San Jose, July 28-29.

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Beyond the magic

Eight years ago, if you can remember that far back, there was another World Cup in football (soccer to y’all North Americans). Another World Coup for advertising gimmicks and general all-out consumerism. I was cheering for Brazil – which self-respecting Indian was not? However, I was living in England at the time, and a friend – who happened to be Irish and studying French literature (a combination that was nearly as fascinating as his accent) – asked me to reconsider. It would transform politics in France, he said, to have a winning team whose core players were immigrant, Muslim and non-white. I cheered for France in those finals, and I did so this time too (once Brazil had been knocked out, of course). Though politics in France seems to have suffered far beyond French football in the last few years.

Zizou does weave magic. No doubt about it. He also head-butts with ferocity. No doubt about it; no excuse for it either. There might be explanations beyond the lack of excuses, though: the doubts are in the whys and the wherefores. Was it sledging – a continued stream of racist abuse? Till he breaks the silence, we won’t know for sure. But I hope he does tell us what happened. Icons can be human, but they have to speak up for their own human-ness and for the human-ness of others. It might make sports – and the rest of the world around it – a little more humane. And a little less racist.

Vive le difference, le debate, le dissent…

Around the time Ashwin and I decided to set up this space (Ashwin with energy and enthusiasm, and I somewhat diffident and uncertain… I mean how self-indulgent can one get, I thought??!), I was sent the link to a raging debate around the (possible) racist implications of the cover to a book edited by Shamillah, Kristy and me: Defending our Dreams. Without going into too much detail about the book – of course you have to read it – it was a wonderful privilege putting together what is possibly the first anthology of its kind. A collection of young feminist writing from across the world, representing a range of issues, with contributors from eleven countries and all the populated continents, including a piece by male feminists (yes, they exist; if you don’t think so… you got it. Read the book.).

Coming back to the debate on rabble.ca, Defending our Cover turned out to be a strangely joyful task: infuriating and inspiring at the same time. Infuriating, because initially it seemed perverse that Southern (read: black, brown and white from South Africa and India) feminists should be defending the cover of their – international – book against a bunch of Northern (read: possibly white) feminists. Inspiring, for exactly the same reason. When I got past the upside-down-ness of it all, I was amazed by the range and depth of the debate around race, racism and its implications. A debate conducted on a bulletin board by a dozen women (of different ages, I suspect): serious, funny, passionate. And I could pop right in with my comments around our interpretations and intentions, including the fact that the cover was inspired by a great self-portrait by Jasmeen, a young woman from Bangalore whose art and activism are beyond doubt. A book that had been created almost entirely virtually (that’s another story) continues a life beyond its covers in exactly the same way: through virtual communities who share its convictions, debate its contents and hopefully, live its ideals in real, tough, worlds.

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