Have a Good Time

June 16, 2011

Ron Silliman and the Amina hoax

Poet-theorist-blogger Ron Silliman hasn’t weighed in yet on the Amina Arraf hoax, where a white heterosexual male from the United States pretended to be a lesbian Arab woman from Syria.  Or has he?

Progressive poets who identify as members of groups that have been the subject of history—many white male heterosexuals, for example – are apt to challenge all that is supposedly “natural” about the formation of their own subjectivity. That their writing today is apt to call into question, if not actually explode, such conventions as narrative, persona and even reference can hardly be surprising. At the other end of the spectrum are poets who do not identity as members of groups that have been the subject of history, for they instead have been its objects. The narrative of history has led not to their self-actualization, but to their exclusion and domination. These writers and readers – women, people of color, sexual minorities, the entire spectrum of the “marginal”—have a manifest political need to have their stories told. That their writing should often appear much more conventional, with the notable difference as to who is the subject of these conventions, illuminates the relationship between form and audience.

Silliman, in this extract from a 1989 article in Socialist Review, argues that a white heterosexual [cis] male would be more able to criticize the formation of subjectivity from a radical perspective than a woman or person of color.  The oppressor more able to criticize the oppression.  Not an unfamiliar perspective historically, but a joke for anyone with any exposure to contemporary social movements by women or people of color.

Leslie Scalapino replied to Silliman, in an exchange published in Poetics Journal :

The conception of a “unified subject” is merely taught, in certain conventionalizing settings such as school or workshops, i.e., people writing would not otherwise have such a view. Your argument is that this conception is inherent in the “experience” of women, gays, and minorities.

The very notion of the “unified subject” is a white, “Anglo” description which conventionalizes writing radical in its own time such as that of Flaubert or Williams.

As Scalapino points out, in Silliman’s argument the “male white heterosexual” is attempting to critique the position he hegemonized.  He forces the myth of a unified subject and then denies those who are forced into it the right to critique it.

This is not identical to MacMaster’s delusion.  MacMaster knew that as a white heterosexual cis man  his voice would be taken to have less value on matters relevant to non-white non-heterosexual women.  But the deeper content of his racism is analogous.  Non-white non-straight non-cis non-male people, in this view, have no particularly important experience of marginalization.  The value given to their subjectivity is only a matter of political correctness.

Silliman replies to Scalapino, towards the end of their exchange:

My point here is…that none of us is privileged, yet each of us is positioned. The question of politics in art can only be how conscious we are of the multiple determinations that constitute position, and the uses to which these understandings are put.

Well, yes and no.  The multiple determinations that constitute our position include privilege, and to pretend unawareness of that is Silliman and MacMaster’s mistake.  Their taking the task of speaking for marginalized groups, whether through ventriloquism or supposedly politically salient poetry, is just another silencing, nothing new in the history of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and imperialism.   That it is in the sheep’s clothes of the left, Silliman attempting to speak as part of a Marxist vanguard in poetry and MacMaster against “orientalist assumptions,” should only increase our vigilance.

(See also: Racialicious asks “how the media environment got so skewed that fictionalized accounts by white writers get more media attention than actual accounts by people of color”; actual LGBT bloggers in Syria say, “You took away my voice, Mr. MacMaster, and the voices of many people who I know”; Amina is just one example of how in the Western response to the Arab revolutions, “One establishes a mirror vision of the ideological image of oneself and then sets it up to be emulated”; important observations about the implications of the Amina hoax with respect to pinkwashing.  Thanks JR for the links!)

July 9, 2010

Four videos


[Six Israeli soldiers walk toward the camera down a street in Hebron, as the Muslim call to prayer is heard; suddenly Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK” begins to play and the soldiers stop and try to dance to the song]


[13-year-old Kesha Rose Sebert performs Radiohead’s “Karma Police” at a school talent show with piano and acoustic-guitar accompaniment]


[Jonathan Glazer’s music video for “Karma Police”: description here]


[William Kentridge’s 1996 short animated film History of the Main Complaint: description here]

What would justice look like? Thinking about Gaza and Oscar Grant

On July 6 Israel announced “justice” for the massacre of 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza:

The staff sergeant accused of killing at least one civilian faces a manslaughter charge. Beyond that, the military said a battalion commander was indicted on suspicion of deviating from “authorized and appropriate” army behavior and from an Israeli Supreme Court ruling when he authorized a Palestinian man to act as a kind of human shield by entering a house where militants were sheltering in order to persuade them to leave. […]

In a third case, the chief of staff ordered disciplinary action against an officer who ordered an aerial strike on a militant involved in launching rockets. The man was standing outside the Ibrahim al-Maqadma mosque, the army said, and the shrapnel caused what it called unintentional injuries to civilians inside. The Goldstone report said that an Israeli projectile struck near the doorway of the mosque, in northern Gaza, during evening prayers, killing at least 15 civilians who were mostly inside.

The military said that the officer had “failed to exercise appropriate judgment,” adding that he would not serve in similar positions of command in the future and that he had been rebuked.

In addition, the chief military prosecutor ordered a criminal investigation by the military police into an airstrike on a house that held about 100 members of the extended Samouni family in Zeitoun, a district of Gaza City.

On July 8 the verdict of “involuntary manslaughter” was announced in the Oscar Grant trial.  This is the Ella Baker Center’s response:

However, with the verdict of involuntary manslaughter, even with the gun enhancement, the jury has decreed that Mehserle will receive a sentence of five – fourteen years. Giving up a handful of years of his life seems like a small price for Mehserle to pay for the fact that nothing can bring Grant back to his loved ones.  Given the long history of police brutality against members of our communities, describing what happened to Oscar Grant as anything less than murder feels not only inaccurate but also a missed opportunity to affirm that violence against communities of color, especially when inflicted by the police, is unacceptable. When you can watch a video of a young, unarmed Black man being shot to death at close range, calling it anything less than murder feels gravely injust.

No one in the Palestine movement, I think, was much interested in the Israeli military court findings about the Gaza massacre, or surprised by the obvious injustice of, for example, a demotion and a rebuke as punishment for 15 murders.  The boycott/divestment/sanctions call, five years old today, is for “ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”  And that might not be all we should demand.  The Oscar Grant murder is a reminder that legal equality does not mean an end to the injustices, economic and otherwise, that racist systems bring.*  But at any rate, it’s clear that an Israeli military court is not where justice will be found: it will come from the struggle led by the Palestinian people.

So while I’m horrified about the verdict in the Mehserle trial, I’m trying to remember: real justice will never come from a court that’s very much a part of the system that contributed to the crime.  Here is more from Jakada Imani of the Ella Baker Center from before the verdict, my emphases added, and worth considering for Palestine as much as for Oakland:

On New Year’s day 2009, Johannes Mehserle shot Oscar Grant in the back, that much is clear.  What’s less clear is what justice in this case should look like.

I am clear that Mehserle must be held accountable.  But that alone is not justice.  Locking him up won’t give Oscar Grant’s daughter her father back.  It won’t give his mother the chance to see her son continue to grow.  And it won’t take away the terror in the hearts of black and brown boys when they are stopped by police officers this summer.  A guilty verdict for Mehserle won’t make up for decades of police brutality, racism, unequal justice, exploitation, racial profiling, or socio-economic systems that are rigged against the poor.

I have been an activist for far too long to think that sending someone to prison ever sets things right.  Prison adds damage-to-damage and trauma-to-trauma. We don’t want prison to be the only option for young folks who make mistakes. Is it really the only answer for police who make mistakes?

At the same time, Oakland Police and leaders are preparing for the worst – riots to erupt in Oakland, civil unrest- if the verdict of the trial absolves Mehserle. The media is more interested in the idea of cops facing off against the community than uncovering the problems of the justice system, police accountability, and racism at the root of this case. Furthermore, the resources being spent to address this possible unrest would be better used in addressing the distrust and strained relations and trust between police, community leaders, young people and residents. It’s as if the authorities in our community expect the worst from us, planting seeds of fear which could end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy, rather than investing in true community safety and system reform.

In all the media hype surrounding the trial and the cops vs. protester coverage, something is lost.  That something is healing, transformative justice.  How do we transform the system that recruited, trained and armed Mehserle and thousands just like him?  How do we change the fact that police and civilians alike see young men of color as threatening? How do we build a powerful social movement and not just participate in one-off flash mobs?

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when we have to take to the streets. I am down to march, chant, rally, block an intersection, commit civil disobedience- what ever it takes.  But not just to make myself feel better. When we take to the streets, we should be saying what we want, clearly and resolutely- not just point out the problems but also demanding the solutions. I know too much to protest the sky, to mistake commotion for motion.

That is why we are supporting Emergency Leadership Forum. A gathering of young leaders from through out Oakland, organized by our allies at Urban Peace Movement and Youth UpRising.  The four-hour Leadership Forum will inform youth about the status of the current legal case, provide young people with a positive process through which they can explore their feelings and frustrations about the situation, and educate them about Social Movement history.  The Forum offers youth the tools and the space to work on not just a vision for justice, but a plan. Young people did not get us into this mess, but do have the wisdom to help get us out. Please invest in Urban Peace Movement and Youth UpRising by donating your time and/or financial resources to work with youth on peaceful responses to violence.

In our Families for Books Not Bars Network, we train parents to advocate for their children in the juvenile justice system by telling them not to let the court see their children as the sum total of their worst moment.  For Johannes Mehserle, it’s too late.  He will forever be seen as the cop who killed an unarmed Black man, as he lay prone.  He will have to live with that reality for the rest of his life no matter what the jury decides in Los Angeles.

But for you and me there is time.  How will we be remembered? When the jury makes its decision, will we feel victorious or defeated? Which outcome would trigger which response, anyway? What solution would mean that justice has been achieved – for Oscar and his family- and for all of the victims of State violence in our communities? Please share your ideas, your questions, and your feedback so we can move forward together.

As we heal our society so that there can be true and transformative justice, I am reminded that there is just us- we are all we have. We must come together to find the answers and move forward with our heads held high and our commitment to real solutions always lighting our path.


* In addition to healing the trauma, like Imani says (or perhaps as a part of it), reparations seem necessary.

June 2, 2010

“Wish I could take your tears and replace them with laughter/Long live Palestine, long live Gaza”

Filed under: anti-zionism,music,palestine,the revolution — by Daniel @ 12:52 am
Tags: , , , ,

Nothing should be unclear about the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla: we learned this week that the Israeli state is willing to massacre innocent civilians of all nationalities, not merely Palestinian Arabs,  in order to maintain the brutal siege on Gaza.  This was a terrifying moment for people in the Palestine solidarity movement because the Gaza Freedom Flotilla is made up of people like us (second letter).

I’m tempted to respond to some of the ridiculous Israeli hasbara (which means propaganda…but it’s worse, because it’s Zionist) about the flotilla, but I’m not eager to dignify it with attention.  If you’re reading reputable news sources, it’s clear that the Israeli line is a huge lie.  I also don’t think that it’s a particularly difficult question how we should respond to the attack on the Freedom Flotilla: we must deplore Israel’s actions, we must mourn and honor the martyrs, we must demand accountability, and we must hope–and work to ensure–that the bravery and sacrifice of the Freedom Flotilla activists will lead to the breaking of the siege on Gaza, to the further growth of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, and to the eventual liberation of Palestine.

I’m primarily posting, then, to draw attention to an excellent clip of the British rapper Lowkey at an emergency protest in London on Monday.

Lowkey starts by reminding his British audience of their complicity in the Israeli attack on the Flotilla and the Israeli siege on Gaza. “We were there through our taxes: our taxes were in the bullets that were fired into our friends and our brothers and our sisters…our taxes were there, our Balfour Declaration was there.”   But Lowkey transitions from this depressing reminder of complicity to a vision of solidarity.  “When they drop white phosphorous bombs on Gaza, they drop white phosphorous bombs on us…we must express our solidarity with those people, because they are us.”  We are not only the Freedom Flotilla: we are Gaza.  In addition to knowing that we cause harm to befall Gaza, we also feel that harm as if it affects us.

Identifying one’s  privilege and complicity with oppressive practices can so often feel like a deadly terminal object.  When, as privileged people, we learn about complicated systems of power like capitalism, imperialism and colonialism, white supremacy, heteronormativity, and patriarchy wherein no matter how moral we try to be, our actions, identities, and positionalities implicate us in the oppression of others whether locally or across the world, it is often disempowering and disheartening.  Hence it’s exceptionally powerful to find the call for solidarity in that very same network.  As we inadvertently cause oppression and violence, knowledge of that can inspire us identify with the victims of that violence.  Realizing I am causing Gaza to starve can make me feel that much more disempowered about working to end the siege: or it can heighten the urgency of ending the starvation I’m causing.  Lowkey’s point is that an analysis of complicity must also be a call to solidarity.  For those with white privilege in countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, an analysis of complicity without solidarity is mere posturing or self-flagellation; but solidarity without an analysis of complicity can be a false and privilege-blind claim to victimhood.

Also, if this is the first you’re hearing “Long Live Palestine,” be sure to check out a proper version.  “There is nothing more antisemitic than Zionism:” true.

May 18, 2010

Atwood and Ghosh do not understand

Margaret Atwood and Amitav Ghosh decided to accept the Dan David Prize last week, disregarding calls from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and, movingly, from the students of Gaza.  And it wasn’t enough for Atwood and Ghosh to ignore the Palestinian boycott call: they also issued really obnoxious and self-serving statements justifying that decision.  I think that zunguzungu really hits the nail on the head about how gross and misguided their remarks are, but there’s one additional obfuscation by Ghosh in particular which really outrages me.  In his rambling reply to his critics Ghosh says,

You speak of encouraging civil society. It is evident to me that the people who wrote me these letters are doing more for Palestine and Gaza than any activist in India or the United States. It would appear that my work has had some influence on them. Is it really possible then for me to say to them: ‘Sorry, various people have instructed me to boycott you so I need to fall in line?’

This makes it seem as if the conversation is between a group of activists in the U.S. and India (and other parts of the world) about how people should or shouldn’t engage with the Israeli State.  But that’s just not right.  The call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions comes from Palestinian civil society–unions, cultural organizations, women’s committees, youth organizations, refugee groups.  Standing with the boycott call or not isn’t a question of what judgment Ghosh and others display about the situation in Israel/Palestine, it’s about respecting and joining a non-violent form of resistance to Israeli apartheid initiated by Palestinians.

As Naomi Klein has made clear, boycott is a tactic, not a dogma.  The question of boycott isn’t even about Ghoshwood’s attitude towards whether they can morally engage with the Israeli state.  Boycott is a Palestinian-initiated form of resistance that Ghosh and Atwood are contravening by their acceptance of the Dan David Prize.  By making boycott about them and about the North Americans and Indians who chastise them, Ghoshwood’s statements only add insult to injury in their disrespect of the Palestinian self-determination that is at the heart of the boycott call.

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