Category: Journal

‘White Privilege’ is a good idea

I too want to live in a world where my race and gender are irrelevant enough as to render them insignificant in the way I pursue my life.  But I believe that the only reason that I can conceive of such a reality is because I have been allowed to live in closest proximity to its potential.

I read a recent article by South African writer and teacher Chris Waldburger that he titled “‘White Privilege’ is a bad idea for everybody”.  I imagine it was written in response to an occurrence at a recent conference that we both attended at Waldburger’s school. On attending two of the many plenary presentations of the International Boys School Conference, both dealing largely with the idea of social and institutional transformation that South Africans continues to wrestle with, the discussion of inherent privilege found its focus on the hegemonic dominance of the White Anglo-Saxon Christian Heterosexual Able-bodied Male: in other words, me (these days people would call me an atheist…but the rest is spot on).

I felt the need to respond to his piece, not out of any anger or antagonism, but more out of a kind of collegiate camaraderie if you will.  Chris Waldburger and I both belong to the same “school”, metaphorically speaking. I have attended and enjoyed a couple of his presentations which have always proven both entertaining and elucidating.  We both teach high school boys, we both use English Home Language as our vehicle for education, we are both involved in something of a pastoral role in the lives of our pupils. It seems also that we both hold fairly liberal views of society at large, and so in the spirit of our assumed mutual desire to make this world a better place, I offer the following in response.

I’d like to start by saying that I find discussions about ‘White Privilege’ an exceptionally useful method for dismantling entrenched inequality in our society, both personally and in our broader communal and career spaces.  I’d even go as far as saying “‘White Privilege’ is a good idea…to get to grips with”. So don’t go any further with my work until you have considered his.

Seriously, read his piece if you want to get anything from mine.

Okay, we should be starting from the same page now.

The first of a few points of contention I have here is the idea that white men are being expected to ‘cede power’ in any way, to anyone.  This notion comes up constantly in this discussion and is used to justify the defensive action taken by many of my fellows when confronted by their inherent privilege.  I don’t think that we are being asked to give up anything other than our time in considering the way that we walk through the world carrying uncontested agency given the fact that contemporary society places such an evident premium on our lives.  I have yet to meetup with anyone racially classified as white, gendered as male, who has had to give up anything or has been denied anything because they were white and masculine. Whereas I have met many others for whom the opposite applies. Their gender identification and/or racial classification has been a determining factor in their being denied the same opportunity that I have been offered in my life.  By recognizing this I am not being asked to cede anything other than a comfortable sense-of-self that many others are not entitled to.

Moving on, to speak of such a supposed transferal of power as a “precursor to social disaster” assumes in many ways that society is not already disastrous for a vast majority of our fellow humans, largely due to an old social order that still pervades society, indisputably constructed on age old systems of racialized and gendered norms and values.  So it’s like saying that we better check ourselves now before this goes bad for everyone, which completely negates that it has been going bad for the majority ‘other’ for a while now and we’re just coming in early to the late game on this one. Waldburger develops the idea of the construction of winners and losers as being “no way to build society” but makes no mention of the reality: sure it’s no way to build a just and equitable society, but it is how society has been constructed up till now, and without dealing with that construction it will be very hard to deconstruct and dismantle it.

The first of Waldburger’s four reasons for laughing off the idea of ‘white privilege’ completely, deals with the veracity of the notion that ‘white privilege’ is predicated in any way on historical truth.  His central argument is that there were times of great historical suffering for white men and that this greatly levels the playing field. But how deep is that reading of history? And which history are you reading? It strikes me as somewhat subjective when you consider, for example, that you may have lost your job as a white man during the Great Depression, but as a black man you probably didn’t have a job to begin with (at least not one that offered any upward mobility or potential for career advancement, satisfaction or self-actualization).  One only has to examine the story of Harper Lee’s character Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird to extend this perspective.  Again, in the case of the world’s worst wars, if you were lucky to be one of the frontline soldiers that returned home alive and able-bodied you stood the chance of rebuilding a life out of the atrocities you had witnessed and survived…if you were white.  For the soldiers of the black regiments that fought for “King and Country” you returned to a life of either indentured servitude or second-class citizenry. The question then is, whose history do we read, and who wrote it?

In his second point Waldburger opens by referring to our colonial and apartheid history with a gross oversimplification and then refers to it as such. I think that he has constructed that simplification, in this case, out of a reaction against his discomfort with being made to feel in any way complicit in our ancestors’ ignominious actions.  I feel that he simplifies it in a way not many others do, at least not those with a more nuanced and deeper reading of history. In this instance it reduces centuries of historically verifiable colonial legislation and practice to the way “the current thinking goes”. That’s not really a just reading of history in this case, given the severity of the effects of that lengthy era of iniquity.  

If, as Waldburger goes on to state “Our environment, family, and culture have a huge role to play in which path we choose in life,” then we cannot discount any of those factors in examining the path that has led many to lead a life of subjugation and oppression, devoid of any choice in the matter, simply as a result of their skin pigmentation. An environment that developed out of colonialism and a culture of legalized discrimination were and are, as indicated by the author, crucial factors in the current comfort with which we maintain the status quo.  Ignoring them further cements our privilege in that, because we were not negatively affected by them we can easily “laugh them off”.

I think Waldburger gets a crucial aspect of white privilege very wrong when he addresses white guilt. Guilt is not assigned, blame is assigned and guilt is the result. White guilt is the result of feeling like we are being individually held to account for history, that we are being blamed for it, and so we feel guilty. But is anyone actually singling us out individually as culprits responsible for Apartheid and its atrocities? Not anyone that is to be taken seriously I think. Cranks and populists aside, there are few that could rationally hold our generation accountable for our ancestors’ actions, so there is no reason to feel guilty. Rather, as some have pointed out, we feel uncomfortable because we recognize our privilege and realize that we are unwittingly complicit in a system that sustains it, that seldom calls us on it. Guilt allows us to play the victim: “Why are you blaming me for something I didn’t do? Why are you making me feel bad?”.  Manufactured guilt allows us to avoid the more discomforting truth: we benefited from legalized racial discrimination and continue to do so.

In the third point the most popular spectre of colonial white fear is invoked, Zimbabwe, which is once again held up as an example of what could happen to South Africa.  Too much has been written already about this common misperception for me to take it any further, suffice it to say that the conditions that led to Zimbabwe’s collapse are not mirrored in any significant way in South Africa, most apparently in the fact that we are not being led by a megalomaniacal octogenarian with a penchant for rhetoric and power moves.

The real crux of Waldburger’s piece seems to revolve around this idea: “The only way any society heals itself is when it allows for excellent people to come to positions of power and authority.”  I agree, but the opposite applies as well. When excellent people are denied the opportunity to come to positions of power and authority, a society wounds itself.  We deny such people this opportunity when we deny them their history as an oppressed group, a denial that de-legitimizes their struggle to overcome their oppression and to construct identities beyond victimhood.  

Once again, our inherent privilege comes into play when we treat ‘identity politics’ as if it is only a game that we can stop playing and not a critical study of the lived experience of so many of the planet’s human population.  As a dominant hegemonic group we white men are able to quickly point to the counter-productivity of identity politics as it applies to us while completely ignoring just how important an understanding it is for those whose identity has largely been constructed by us: the ‘other’ only exists in relation to a norm that we have established.  It seems gross to now deny any ‘other’ that identification when it has become such a determining factor in how their world is shaped and experienced.

I share one of Chris Waldburger’s ideological aims.  I too want to live in a world where my race and gender are irrelevant enough as to render them insignificant in the way I pursue my life.  But I believe that the only reason that I can conceive of such a reality is because I have been allowed to live in closest proximity to its potential.  There are many for whom this ideal remains utopian at best, and discounting the truth of their existence in order to create a more comfortable one for ourselves ignores that, while we all have cards to play, some of us are still doing most of the dealing.

 

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I’ve had enough

I am struck by how I live in a world where those with the least do the most with what little they have and yet somehow they still seem to have very little.  Those with the most seem to do the least and still they have the most.  Those with the least inevitably end up doing the most for those that do the least, so that those that do the least can have the most by doing very little.

In this world where children raise their siblings, where children walk long distances for basic necessities like water or education, where they wait long hours to receive basic services that ensure that their basic human rights are realized, in this world there are other children who throw half empty plastic bottles of water into the trash because they have had enough, who pay for more of everything because they don’t worry about not having enough so they spend until they’ve had enough, who eat until they’ve had enough, who pay attention until they have had enough, who grow bored because they’ve had enough.  Enough attention, enough care, enough support, they have enough.

Those that never have enough are always making do with what they do have.  Those that always have enough always want more because they expect that there will be enough.

I’ve had enough.  In my life there were times when I didn’t have all that some others had a lot of, but I always had more than enough of what some others didn’t.  I always had just enough.  I’ve never had none, never not had any.  Now I’ve had enough.  In many ways I’ve had more than enough so now I have extra and I want to do as much as I can with that extra for the sake of those that never have had any or never have enough.  That’s all that I can hope to do, all that I know how to do.  Having had just enough I know what it means to make do.  It means you can make.  It means you can do.  It means that you have had enough and now you have the means, the means to make, the means to do.

If, in this world, some have managed to make do, to make, to do, without having the means to, then this means that I owe it to them to make the most, do the most, whatever that means.

I’ve had enough.

I have the means.

Make.  Do.  Some others don’t have a choice, they must make do.  If they have no choice, then why should you?

Dealing with some New Brand Of Dad

"Art director" Phyf and main Dad Audiophile 021 talking Ninja Turtles and nappies.

“Art director” Phyf and main Dad Audiophile 021 talking Ninja Turtles and nappies.

 

“Aight listen! Ye inna position te make a difference if you stop look an listen an make it ye main mission…”

The New Brand Of Dad project is all about how having kids makes us want to be better.  Better artists, better humans, just better overall.  Better at life really, while still working on its personal definition.  The New Brand Of Dad project is about how our little kids have pushed us to make sense of things, letting us strip away all the petty shit and focus on what is really important in our lives.  Having a kid seems to bring that into a fairly sharp perspective, and quickly.  No lie, having a kid is like adapt or die.

Look, before I start getting too motivational speaker on the reader, just to let you know that NBOD isn’t anything new as such, in that it is an album of music recordings, rap and beats, Hip Hop at our finest.

What is new is the perspective that has guided our approach.  We are producing the album from the perspective of being new to the parenting game, while being longtime in the music making and performance game.  This project is about prioritizing quality in the way that we work.  This is about legacy, and longevity, and making a mark that we will always be be proud of.  The ideas contained in this project are timeless, but the production is setting a higher standard that we aim to promote, develop and progress beyond.

It makes sense then that we would want to set the highest standard possible, so that any progress made would be taking us to a new level, just like the commitment to being a good parent.  You have to be able to adapt if you are going to raise your kid right, because that little life is in constant development.  The kid you knew yesterday is the one that you learned about today, and will become a new kid tomorrow.

To raise kids you have to be ready to raise yourself.

The dads involved in this project know all about not dropping the ball, about not compromising your craft, about taking yourself seriously enough to risk and to roll with the possible punches.  It seems like that’s what being a dad is all about.  You don’t always see things coming so you can’t always be prepared.  All you can do is commit yourself to the process, and when you do trip up or stall for whatever reason, quality of character is what pulls you through.  Hip Hop is the same.  It’s all about the recovery.  When breakers slip or MCs tongue stumble, the way they turn that into part of the routine or the rhyme is how you can identify real skill.  Kids are like that, they don’t have all the control so you have to be there with them, to help them recover so that they can discover.  That means you have to be on point, more then you ever thought possible.  You have to find plenty extra energy.  You have to take more time or at least maximize the time you have in making sure you make the best move possible in the moment.

Look, again, this is all pretty obvious stuff if you are even a slightly positive person that drinks coffee and gets busy on a serious level of attack when it comes to life.  It’s just having a kid makes it seem less like a mission and more like a purpose.  This album is about having a clear purpose.  Like we want our kids to have a quality life, we want the listener to have a quality experience.  Our kids are teaching us about perspective, and we want to put these lessons into practice.

NEW BRAND OF DAD is due for a JULY 2014 release.  Like us on Facebook, follow us on twitter, stay tuned and keep practicing that perspective…

East Jerusalem story

I heard a story today, about East Jerusalem.  It’s about a family, a Palestinian family of Islamic Arabs, that want to build a home.

This family goes back generations, maybe 6 or 7, back into the histories of this land and this city.  Jerusalem is their home, they have known no other. This family wants to build a home, or at least an addition to their family house.  This house that they have lived in for years is on land that they have occupied for centuries.  Like any modern home owner in any city in the world, they pay rates to the municipality to reside on that property.  The young children are getting older, bigger, and the family is expecting a new baby soon.  They want to extend their house, so they apply to the municipality for the rights to do this.  They wait, months go by.  5, 6.  Then a year.  Then two years, then six, then ten.  There is no response to their application.  The children are all much, much older now, the baby born is already almost a teenager, the house has long outgrown them and still they hear nothing.  They cannot wait any longer, so they build an extension without the necessary permit.  When it is complete, they move the furniture in, followed by the family.  Life carries on in this new space, 5 months, 6 months.

Then it happens.  One night the family wakes up to the sound of heavy machinery maneuvering just outside their home. They are surrounded by large demolition vehicles and security forces. It is dark and the only lights are the strong beams from these machines, and the torches of soldiers, armed, some of them masked, who give the family only a short time to evacuate whatever and whoever they can, before the machines start to tear down their home. The destruction is not solely leveled at the new extension, only recently added on, but on the entire home. By the time day breaks and the machines lumber away, it is over. Nothing is left standing. What furniture they managed to move in the terror and the darkness stands exposed, scattered randomly where it fell when rushed from the house. The rest lies in amongst the rubble of the home. “This was an illegal house.” they are told again and again by the bland faced soldiers.

The property is still subject to tax, and if the family does not pay, they will be expelled from East Jerusalem.  They must continue to pay the rates that are due on the rubble of their former life.  There is a final rub here, a last official stamp that marks them as the second class citizens they have become.  The city will not cover the cost of the machinery hire.  The demolition vehicles that performed this operation are legally attached to the home owner who transgressed the city permit laws.  They must pay for the hire of the machinery that destroyed their home.  If they do not, they will be forced to leave.

This is just one story, from one day, from one family in East Jerusalem. There are many, many more.

Boycott Apartheid Israel.  Free Palestine.

rubble of lives

 

[ www.bdsmovement.netwww.israelapartheidweek.com ]

BRICS that don’t build.

Durban (my home base) is a city with a history of protest and revolutionary thinking. The man who founded the ANC (the majority party in our current self-styled government of liberation) was from here, and successive leaders of that original organization of unity have been based here. The Natal Indian Congress that coordinated and conducted effective passive resistance stay aways and go slows and such civil disobedience, was based here. Gandhi began to develop his legendary ideas of ‘satyagraha’ by acting together with the civil society movement of Durban. Our International Convention Centre has welcomed on many occasions variously foreign leaders, diplomats and captains of big business, and on as many occasions has had to build barriers against communities and social movement members who gather outside that cathedral of capital to let their voices be heard.

It’s on this old battleground for civil and human rights that a fresh fight is forming.

Brics from below

This fight will be one that unites many communities into a single entity, as we collectively acknowledge a clearly defined ‘enemy’, recognizable to us all in it’s various shifting forms, from government and capital collusion, to brutal policies of forced removal, to environmental destruction. Together with this oncoming wave of fresh marginalization of our civil society voices, and it’s building brutalization of the poor and disenfranchised, the way is most certainly being paved for the type of high-level corporate corruption we have grown so used to in our young democracy.

“Capital B to the R to the I – C – S / 5 letters suggest who writes the cheques / but never checks the Rights / so the peoples lives are economically blocked by some Capital lies…”

B R I C S stands for Brazil – Russia – India – China – South Africa. These five countries are defined in money talk as “emerging economies”, which basically means that up till now they haven’t been allowed to eat at the big table with the traditional leaders of the global economy. These “emerging economies” are seen to pack significant weight in import and export capital and what opportunities they offer others in terms of infrastructure development both at home and abroad. Now, with this growing power, they are more interested in working with each other (economically speaking) then with the ‘old guard’ (the USA, the UK, the EU) who have been scrambling to maintain any credibility/superiority through the last few years of managing a financial crisis that might have been avoided.

That’s what BRICS is: a group of new heavy-weight economies that want to start doing business with each other to create a collective fresh big swinging dick on the Global playground.

“Maite tells us not to criticize / coz they’re bringing us a BOOM like ‘industrialize’ / but we don’t want more construction, corruption and drama / eyes still wet from the tears of Marikana…”

Economists, politicians, government planners, and other such people whose careers are based solely on legitimizing this sort of international gamesmanship, will call up all kinds of verifiable figures and concrete facts together with clear government sanctioned policies of implementation that will lend massive credence to the notion that this is collective is going to “benefit” all of the countries involved.

Here’s where it get’s tricky, sticky and straight-up bull-shitty: isn’t a country largely defined, not by it’s global economic standing, but by the well-fare, the wellbeing, of it’s people? Can a country even be said to exist, if it’s natural resources (again, NOT it’s economic resources), it’s actual natural beauties and environs, no longer exist? Can there be any “benefit” in asking a people who’s lives, even in the last twenty years of “freedom”, are largely defined by continued hardship and a struggle to access even the most basic of human rights (shelter and dignity), to sacrifice on behalf of an unseen entity like ‘the economy’?

If the answer to the first question is yes, and to the second two is no, then how is it that the South African government, thought its parastatal TRANSNET, in an apparent attempt to punch above it’s economic weight and justify its standing in this arrogant acronym (BRICS), would sanction the expansion of the Port of Durban in an effort to make this city the “Gateway to Africa”, if that means the displacement (forced removal) of 6000 South African citizens, the destruction of a series of natural African eco-systems, an increase in the already rampant and chart topping pollution of the Durban South Basin, and the undermining of a local manufacturing market that employs thousands?

“It’s just another power BLOC / fokkol change / 99% playing in a 1% game…”

When the Occupy movement grabbed the worlds attention in 2011, when they moved to shut-down Wall Street in New York, when they camped outside St Pauls in London, inspiring multiple synonymous movements around the world to take up fresh arms, the common paradigm was of a world where 99% of the population worked and in many cases slaved for the benefit of the 1% few.

BRICS has set itself up as a clear case of the operation of the mechanics of maintaining this absurdly weighted percentage paradigm. While the biggest ‘players’ in this game, the leaders and ministers of these countries who are in control of ‘international cooperation’ (foreign policy) together with their private capital counterparts, continue to meet to discuss the easiest ways to ensure the quickest and most effortless profits, the people on the ground that will be directly affected by any moves made “on their behalf” are consistently excluded from this policy making process.

Unless of course they decide to find alternative routes to reminding those at the top that the foundations tend to crack, that the base starts to get shaky, when the people decide that movement is necessary.

Once again, Durban plays host to just such a social civil society movement: The South Durban Environmental Alliance . This movement, that is built from below by real “human bricks”, while operating in protest to the Port of Durban expansion, is in effect operating in protest of ANY type of traditional top-down political play that seeks to make pawns of a people while the Kings breathe easy.

This meeting took place today. Don’t worry if you missed it. It won’t be the last, not by a long shot.

BRICS from below Durban action

[Follow @BricsFromBelow to link with a growing movement of eThekwini communities mobilizing against this juggernaut]

Suli Break(down): Why I will not let a YouTube video do all my thinking for me

Some people think that I’m trying to battle Suli Breaks.  I’m not.  Before you read this, watch his video:

Now watch my response:

Now dig this:

A lot of people might think that I disagree with this cat.  I don’t.  Before we go any further let me just state openly that I have big respect for Suli Breaks, and for anyone like him that uses a true talent and impressive skill to inform and inspire others beyond the self-gratifying nature of most contemporary pop culture that only seeks to serve itself and sell that self to others.

This cat walks the talk.  As I said, much respect.

What he has done here has inspired me to respond.  People think I’m battling him.  I’m not.  The purpose of my piece was to take his argument further.  There is a competitive edge to it, it seems to be provocative, and in a lot of ways begs a response, but that’s the nature of what we do as Spoken Word artists, and I’m pretty sure that he would understand my intentions here better then anyone.

I’m not battling him, I just don’t think he made enough room in his exam argument for the teachers and parents that are out there with a broader view of their role as educators.

Now I never like to explain my poetry.  I think it’s like explaining a joke, and a good joke needs no explanation.  However, there is more to this piece then simply the poem.  There is the question of context, his British versus my South African.  There is the question of audience, the difference between the pupils he is talking about, and those who came up to me after class one day, excited, saying “Sir, have you seen Suli Breaks?  You have to see it sir!  It’s Spoken Word sir, go check it out!”.  I did check it out, and I wasn’t going to respond, until one of the teachers in my department said to me how she felt like her students were using this video to attack her, how they seemed to be accusing her of some kind of collusion in what was to them a seemingly corrupt system.  Hearing that, the way the video had been picked up as a kind of banner to be flown in the face of teachers and parents without considering some of those broader questions, I had to respond.

My response was in the form of a Spoken Word piece that mimicked Suli’s style and production, a direct reference that openly identified with the genre and stood in the same space to literally re-focus the argument.  When they heard it, the fellas at the school I teach at part time wanted to create a video version as a further direct reference to the original.

As I said, and as you hear me reciting in the piece, I think that there is more to exams then the final mark, and that the real benefit that comes from any test is not in the final result, but in the process of preparing, studying, and honing mental skills that will serve you beyond any specific subject.

In one sense, as a friend and colleague pointed out, exams results do matter.  For example, if you had the choice to drive over two different bridges, one built by an engineer who got 100% on his finals and the other by an engineer who got 98%, which would you choose?  If you had to have open heart surgery and you could choose between two surgeons, one who got 100% and another who got 95%, which would it be?  I don’t think you could be blamed for wanting to go with the one with the higher score.

However, I think Suli knows this, and I don’t think that is what he is saying, so I tried to say it like “Exams are a way of working out a kind of worth, but students who are working will always be worth more then exams…”.

Okay, now I’m explaining my piece.  Bad joke.

I’m going to leave it up to you to decide, one way or the other, because the ability to be able to do that, to be able to take in information and develop your own opinion, to be able to use your brain to assume an individual position, that’s the education that I think we are both banging on about.

Once again, respect due to you Suli.  I know you didn’t mean to, but you’ve sparked a worldwide debate.

Much thanks to all of the staff and students of Clifton College Durban for making this happen.  If it is a battle, I’d rather it be for education, and not entertainment.

p.s.  This is dedicated to my father, who educated me about teaching, and to my mother, who taught me about being an educator.

FLOOR ASSASSINS FOREVER

It must be one of my greatest honors, to be associated with the 031 FLOOR ASSASSINS, a crew of hard working concrete cracking blood stained Breakers that I have had the pleasure of watching progress over the last (almost) 10 years. I will let them speak for themselves with the video clip below, but just to know that these fellas are one hundred percent homegrown Hip Hop talent, and I can vouch for that, having watched them take literally every step of their journey to international success and status. I was there when they took the title of Durban Champions way back when at the Life Check All Elements Battle of the Year. I was there when they travelled as a four man squad to compete in the African Hip Hop Indaba in Cape Town, their first experience of the world of professional Breaking and Battling. I have seen them broaden their perspectives and in embracing contemporary styles, broaden their horizons. They have grown from kids into choreographers, carrying the roots of Hip Hop culture and its philosophy of expression followed by freedom into every aspect of their craft. I have nothing but respect for these fellas. They keep the fire burning and bring us all in from the cold.

If you didn’t know, now you know. Floor Assassins forever.