Category Archives: activism

Not Every Radical Philosophy is Decolonial | Contending Modernities

Santiago Slabodsky: I invite my reader, therefore, to think of the revolutionary representation of radical continental philosophy as a colonially sanctioned dissent that universalizes a provincial difference while invisibilizing the underside of modernity. Coloniality not only monopolizes the only sanctioned path to universal redemption—in what Anibal Quijano calls evolutionism—but also selects its legitimate form of dissent. This is perhaps one of the most perdurable modern strategies of coloniality. In the now famous debate of Valladolid (1550–1551), conceived by critics as one of the most influential legitimizations of early modern racism, the imperial state appointed Euro-Christian theologian-philosophers to discuss “the nature” of Natives. In this discussion, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, retrieving Aristotle, offers one of the first modern formulations of biological racism and proposes to forcefully convert Natives into subservient Christians. Bartolomé de las Casas, enthroned as the radical and later liberationist alternative, develops one of the first formulations of cultural racism, insisting on Natives’ adaptability through conversion without physical force. If for the continental philosopher there is no possibility of thinking outside Europe, for the colonially appointed philosopher of religion there is no possibility of existence outside a totalizing Christian framework. More here.

The Injured Body: Greta Niu

Transcribing interviews for my new doc ‘The Injured Body’

Greta Aiyu Niu, came to Rochester as an academic, now Director of Grants at Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York, lifelong teacher, reflects on micro-aggressions:

‘I just don’t want to lose sight of what makes up the micro-aggressions. So it is implicit biases around race or ethnicity or gender or gender expression or class or size or disability, those are the pieces that we’ve been fighting. And we’ve always been fighting against them. I don’t want people to think we’re done with that. Now all we have to deal with are these micro-aggressions. It’s a whole continuum of behaviors that are harmful, from a little poke to physical violence.’
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#microaggressions #racism #womenofcolor #film #documentary#theinjuredbody #neelumfilms #microaggressionsareracism #microaggressionsarereal

The Injured Body: Lu Highsmith

Transcribing interviews for my new doc ‘The Injured Body’

Lu LutonyaRachel Highsmith is a poet, writer, and community activist. She is the founder and director of Roc Bottom Slam Team.

On how she processed racist micro aggressions she experienced in college:

‘As an 18 year old, my initial reaction was anger. I was really ticked off that they would say these things or even think these things. This was the late 80s, so it’s not like it was back in the 50s or 60s. I was very upset. I don’t know if it caused me to try to prove myself. I was on a mission to excel academically, culturally, creatively. It probably took a good 20 years for me to change my mindset. By my mid-30s, I was like, I’m just who I am.’
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#microaggressions #racism #womenofcolor #film #documentary#microaggressionsareracism #theinjuredbody #neelumfilms

Bari Weiss Is Leaving the New York Times

No wonder she was whining, along with other people with massive followings/powerful platforms (J. K. Rowling, Fareed Zakaria, Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie, etc), about ‘free speech.’ Now she’s gone and self-expelled herself from the NYT. More of this sea change please.

Here is Greenwald on Bari Weiss: In her short tenure, Weiss has given the paper exactly what it apparently wanted when it hired her. She has churned out a series of trite, shallow, cheap attacks on already-marginalized left-wing targets that have made her a heroine in the insular neocon and right-wing intelligentsia precincts in which she, Bret Stephens, and so many other NYT op-ed writers reside. Exactly as she was doing a decade ago as a “pro-Israel” activist at Columbia and thereafter at various neocon media perches, her formula is as simple as it is predictable: She channels whatever prevailing right-wing grievance exists about colleges, Arabs or Israel critics (ideally, all of those) into a column that’s supposed to be “provocative” because it maligns minority activists or fringe positions that are rarely given platforms on the New York Times op-ed page. More here.

Natalie Diaz: ‘It is an important and dangerous time for language’

Sandeep Parmar: …she distrusts institutional power. “What is knowledge for an indigenous person? The things that I know are only considered knowledge if someone outside finds value in it. A large part of my work in the university is to teach my Native students that the things they know and are part of their practice of living – caretaking the land, caretaking their family, the ways we know weather – those things are research. And not just because a white academic studies us and declares there’s value in it.”

Equally, she is critical of “mastery” and the fixities of poetic craft. Her own use of traditional forms and allusions – Ashbery, Whitman and Sexton appear, as do Borges, Homer and Lorca – are means of expanding rather than circumscribing her practice. Poetry is a way to hold knowing to account and craft is “an exchange of different knowledge systems”. Sometimes to listen to Diaz speak about aesthetics is to overhear a longing more private than a mere laying out of the poet’s tools.

Community and correspondence pervade her work, as does a lyric self that shifts into the bodies of her “beloveds”: a brother, friend, mother or a lover. If love is a radical becoming, desire is a search for what’s possible.

“Most of us live in a state of impossibility,” Diaz says, by which I think she means not the inverse of hopefulness but an awareness of the limitations of an individual life. Impossibility as a state of desire, a will towards rebuilding. “In Mojave, our words for want and need are the same – because why would you want what you don’t need? For me, that’s true desire. Desire isn’t frivolous, it’s what life is.” More here.

The Injured Body: Ayni Ali

As I transcribe interviews for my new documentary, The Injured Body, I will be posting short excerpts from the conversations we filmed (cinematography by Rajesh Barnabas). 

Here is Ayni Ali: 24 at the time of filming, a student at RIT, and a volunteer for Refugees Helping Refugees.

Her answer to where her drive (the fire that seems to animate her actions and words) comes from: 

‘I think from being raised by a woman (laughs). I was raised by my grandmother. I’ve had strong women around me all this time. 

[…] Because I was raised by a woman, I know what a woman can do.’
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#theinjuredbody #muslimwomen #woc #womenofcolor #somalia #refugee#film #documentary #neelumfilms #microaggressions #racism

Belgian Princess Condemns Her Family’s Brutal Colonial History in Congo & Calls for Reparations

finally. from the time i was in school and there was no mention of the genocidal violence in the congo in any of our textbooks, to the normalization of racist children’s songs and images that permeated belgian culture, to 2016 when an audio tour of brussels talked about king leopold II as a benevolent king who liked to build and left the country with a proud legacy, this is not a second too soon. the damage didn’t end with colonization. so much more needs to be done.

Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. have sparked a reckoning about racism and colonialism across the world, including in Belgium, where a growing movement is demanding the country address systemic racism and make amends for its violent colonial legacy. More here.

Letter to Sylvia Wynter

beautiful, lucid, unflinching writing by Ariella Azoulay. an exploration of what ‘judeo-christian’ means to someone with arab jewish ancestry.

‘This lesson of Frenchness, standardization, eradication has a name in French: laïcité. The term “secularism” doesn’t quite capture the stripping bare the worldliness, or being-in-the-world, of a person, which laïcité requires. Part of solving the “Jewish question” in Europe required the refashioning Jews as secular Europeans (who could still be “Jews” at home) before they could go in public. With the French conquest of Algeria, the Jews were singled out from the Arabs and were made into a “problem,” forced to get rid of what identified them as indigenous, so that a few decades later the colonial regime could reward them for their efforts with the gift of French citizenship. Thinking of this “Judeo-Christian” bargain in relation to the state process of laicité helped me. As my interlocutor, you helped me to identify the “Christian” component in the secular Jew.

Your uninterrogated use of the term—Judeo-Christian—assumes a readership that recognizes itself in it. If you could have anticipated a reaction like mine while you wrote, I am inclined to think that you would have asked more questions about it. It’s true, some of your Jewish readers, and maybe also some Christians, may find this category reassuring, a confirmation that the post-WWII bargain, the one which promised Jews whiteness and welcomed them into the Christian-secular world, and offered Christians a way out of their guilt, is respected. I’m Jewish, but I am not one of these readers, and I’m not alone.’ More here.

One Must Sing Before Tongues Are Tied: A Poet On Art And Survival In Kashmir Post Article 370

Urvashi Bahuguna: In her poem “Lightness of Being in a Heavily Militarised Zone”, whose title is inspired by Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, Kashmiri poet, filmmaker and academic Asiya Zahoor writes:

“before they lay barbed wire
across our tongues
let’s sing of almond blossoms”

More than a month after the abrupt abrogation of Article 370 and the plunging of Kashmir into a state of lockdown, without internet connectivity or functioning telephone lines, Zahoor’s writing is instructive and perceptive, tackling the history and landscape of a place that has known devastating strife for decades. There is an urgency in Zahoor’s poems that feels particularly pertinent at this moment in history – time and freedom are both running out.

Born and raised in Baramulla, in the west of Kashmir, where she currently teaches, Zahoor’s newly published book of poems, Serpents Under My Veil, opens with “Medusa In A Burkha”, a radical reimagining of the Greek myth that perceived a certain kind of woman as dangerous.

The burkha-wearing Medusa is a threat twice over – she is both a woman and part of a religious minority that is often at the receiving end of suspicion and bigotry. Dreams, reimaginings, and personifications recur in Zahoor’s poems. More here.

The Empire of All Maladies by Nick Estes

Nick Estes: The United States has a long history of sacrificing or killing off groups of people—through war or disease or both—in the name of its self-proclaimed destiny. This belief in the country’s violent superiority was already evident among the early Puritans, who attributed the mass die-off of Indigenous peoples to divine intervention. “God hath so pursued them” John Winthrop, the Puritan leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, wrote of the Indigenous to the King of England in 1634.

[…] To blind themselves to the destruction they wrought, colonizers wove cultural fictions about the “vastness” of a continent devoid of human civilization—terra nullius—and thus open for white European settlement. (This was an early ideological ancestor of the Zionist phrase, “a land without a people for a people without a land,” that has come to justify the expulsion and colonization of Palestinians.) General Henry Knox, the revolutionary war hero and the United States’ first secretary of war, was less confused about how the land was emptied. He recalled “the utter extirpation of all the Indians in the most populous parts of the Union” by measures “more destructive to the Indian natives than the conduct of the conquerors of Mexico and Peru.” No small feat.

The imperial project wasn’t confined to what became the continental United States. It soon turned outward, as the settler state exported the horrors it had committed against the Indigenous to the rest of the planet. Most historians have failed to draw what are obvious connections between heightened rates of infection and conditions of war, invasion, and colonialism. We need only look at the cholera outbreak in Yemen to see the relationship of disease to U.S. foreign policy. No one is disputing the fact that the infection of millions and the deaths of thousands there at the hands of this preventable disease are the result of a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war, which has destroyed Yemen’s health care infrastructure. It shouldn’t surprise us to learn that one in four surgical amputations conducted at Red Cross centers in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen are the result of diabetes. These three countries have been the staging ground for U.S.-backed military interventions and invasions that have disrupted critical food and medical supply chains.

Economic sanctions, frequently hailed by politicians of all stripes as a “humane” alternative to war, are simply war by another means. U.S. sanctions currently hit hard in thirty-nine countries—one-third of humanity—causing currency inflation and devaluation and upsetting the distribution of medicine, food, power, water treatment, and other human needs. A 2019 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Studies found that U.S. sanctions on Venezuela accounted for an estimated forty thousand deaths and a loss of $6 billion in oil revenue between 2017 and 2018. As Iran began to experience increased rates of coronavirus infection, the country faced medical supply shortages because of sanctions. While countries like China and Cuba, themselves both sanctioned by the United States, provided international aid to other countries suffering from the pandemic, Trump actively prevented other countries from adequately responding to the crisis.

Indigenous scholars have long contested the “virgin-soil epidemics” thesis. Today, it is clear that the disease thesis simply doesn’t hold up. More here.

black internationalism and global solidarities

this is a historic discussion. using the lens of black internationalism, it ties black liberation in america (in the belly of the imperial beast) to south asian struggles led by the dalit community in india and the sheedis (african diaspora) in pakistan. what a beautiful vision of solidarity across geographies, languages, and histories. black internationalism is what i find most exciting in black liberation movements because it illuminates the necessity to see the big picture – how wars abroad, for example, are directly connected to police violence, how inequities amongst nations are reflected in racial and economic hierarchies here in the US, etc.

it’s a longish video, in three different languages, with two interpreters, but it’s one of the most hopeful things i’ve seen in a while. and may i say, how much i love dr west. his generosity, how he gives access to his time and energy, to his person, whenever he can support oppressed people anywhere in the world, is immensely moving. he doesn’t just talk solidarity, he does it.

i hope that my south asian community will watch and reflect on the anti-blackness and casteism that’s so embedded in our language and society. i also hope that my american friends will watch and learn about movements, on the other side of the planet, fighting the same fight for rights and dignity. it might unsettle some of the notions americans have about india and pakistan.

thank u Equality Labs.

How the Karen Meme Confronts History of White Womanhood

many times, it has been pointed out to me how patriarchy is older and deeper than racism. case in point? (1) black men got the vote before women did and (2) we’ve had a black male president but still feel nervous about a woman president.

this line of reasoning makes me cringe. to start with, what came first is not a cogent argument and oppression olympics are meaningless. also, the absorption of POCs into systems that are designed to crush them, is not progress but in fact a shoring up of the legitimacy and power of said regimes.

in the same way, women and LGBTQI folx joining the american military is not an achievement when the entire purpose of the military is to establish empire – use extreme violence to maintain unjust structures that kill and rob the most vulnerable, the poorest, the most disadvantaged.

how can such a world order help women, POCs and queer people? it is no coincidence that we are seeing the same hierarchies, policing and violence right here in the US.

this is a good article about the historical context within which to locate present day ‘karens’. in time magazine, no less.

Cady Lang: The historical narrative of white women’s victimhood goes back to myths that were constructed during the era of American slavery. Black slaves were posited as sexual threats to the white women, the wives of slave owners; in reality, slave masters were the ones raping their slaves. This ideology, however, perpetuated the idea that white women, who represented the good and the moral in American society, needed to be protected by white men at all costs, thus justifying racial violence towards Black men or anyone that posed a threat to their power. This narrative that was the overarching theme of Birth of a Nation, the 1915 film that was the first movie to be shown at the White House, and is often cited as the inspiration for the rebirth of the KKK.

“If we’re thinking about this in a historical context where white women are given the power over Black men, that their word will be valued over a Black man, that makes it particularly dangerous and that’s the problem,” says Dr. Apryl Williams, an assistant professor in communications and media at the University of Michigan.

“White women are positioned as the virtue of society because they hold that position as the mother, as the keepers of virtuosity, all these ideologies that we associate with white motherhood and white women in particular, their certain role in society gives them power and when you couple that with this racist history, where white women are afraid of black men and black men are hypersexualized and seen as dangerous, then that’s really a volatile combination.”

Williams says the exposure is challenging this position. “That’s part of what people aren’t seeing is that white women do have this power and they’re exercising that power when they call or threaten to call the police.” More here.

my review: au revoir les enfants

saw ‘au revoir les enfants’ for the third time and loved it even more. there is a simplicity and natural rhythm to it that’s incredibly difficult to orchestrate and capture on film. it’s unaffected.

there is a universality to the film. although it’s semi-autobiographical (louis malle went to a boarding school during the german occupation of france in the second world war), the film at its core is about difference. how it seduces and threatens, how it must be rooted out and disappeared, how it’s delineated and construed by power.

there is also an important socio-economic subtext to the story. the rich are so easily beautiful. even children seem to sense it.

the scene at the end, when children are picked out of a school assembly (their names read from a list), and asked to separate from the group and go stand against a wall, is a clear comment on the arbitrariness of who is deemed valuable or not, who ends up on the right side of the state or not, how easy it is to cross that liminal space, and how war intensifies the good vs evil binary. without intrusive music or sentimentality, ‘au revoir les enfants’ moves deeply. on hbo max and youtube.

Israel should face economic sanctions – CNN

i have no respect for christiane amanpour, in spite of the accent and eastern last name. to frame a discussion about the illegal annexation of west bank territory (and the decades long brutal occupation of palestine) by using talking points from tzipi livni, jared kushner and the trump administration is not just lazy journalism, it’s obscene. surely amanpour has read a book or two about palestine. maybe she’s been there, without being on an isareli government tour? she’s supposed to be a ‘veteran journalist.’ incredibly impressed by dianna buttu who maintains her sang-froid in the face of the same old, tired, meaningless script (why do palestinians blow every chance they get at peace) and keeps reiterating the need for economic sanctions. i know this is only cnn, but still.
watch interview here.