art of resistance

Coming Home: Queer South Asians and the Politics of Family.

Alok Vaid-Menon is a trans/national South Asian writer, performer, and solidarity activist who has organized with racial, economic, and gender justice movements across the world. His creative & political work grapples with questions of diaspora, trauma, race, desire, and politics. As a staff member of the audre lorde project (a grassroots organizing center for LGBT people of color) and ½ of the spoken word collaborationDARKMATTER, he is committed to building the collective power of young queer and trans people of color.

maxresdefaultAlok Vaid-Menon /image via youtube/

I discovered a great article on his website Return The Gayze, where he describes his own experience of ‘coming out’ and the way it differentiates from the experience of his white peers and the impressions they had of it. Here are some great excerpts from the article:

“The more that I’ve built community with other queer (South) Asians, the more I’ve begin to think about how these conversations about blood family are actually part of our movement work. That impromptu skillshare at the bar, that discussion potluck (I mean crying session), and those daily phone calls with extended blood family are campaign strategies that we are engaging in. What we are trying to do is create new language and framework that actually make sense for our experiences.

I want to suggest that our attachments to our blood families are not only sentimental, they are political. This sentimentality, this angst, this emotional labor is legitimate political work. Our turn toward our families of origin is part of a strategy of intimate organizing – a type of political work that often gets erased or dismissed by dominant white and masculine standards of queer visibility. In a political climate where radicalism is increasingly being attributed to individual activists developing individual political theory and finding individual liberation, our turn back to the blood family is a form of critique. It suggests a commitment to a type of collective liberation and a practice of solidarity where we refuse to allow our people to be disposable in our movement work.

In one telling of the story I ‘found’ my queerness and became an activist outside of my people. However, to subscribe to this story would be to relegate my family – and by extension, my people – into a space chiefly defined by its apathy and conservatism. White supremacy has long relied on such a trope: that immigrants and people of color are too ‘conservative’ and ‘too traditional.’  I bought into the story and defined my queerness and my politics always in contrast to my family of origin.

But what I soon learned is that as queer South Asians we navigate a complicated cultural landscape where we often are not afforded control of our own narratives. Our telling of personal violence often gets swallowed by white supremacy in the service of its racist and imperialist agenda. This is because the cultural logics that help maintain structural racism are stronger than our individual stories.

When my white peers would hear about the queerphobia I experienced from my people it would give power to a larger imperialist narrative that immigrants and people of color are traditional and conservative and therefore need to be educated or saved (read: occupied and exploited). My white peers would ask irrelevant questions like when my parents immigrated to this country and what access to education they had as if Western education and citizenship are necessary for queer politics. My white peers would ask me how fluent in English they were – as if access to English is at all correlated with queer violence. They would ask me why I was still in contact with them, why I didn’t just cut my connections.

What became evident is that my individual narratives could not pierce through the logics of orientalism which continue to find ways to position brown folks as ess developed than the Western world. What white queers don’t understand is that the entire mandate of racist assimilation in this country is about us being forced to give up our culture, tradition, and families. Assimilation has always been about us hating ourselves and feeling insecure in our bodies, families, and cultures. White folks do not understand how so many of us are not willing to leave our cultures for our queerness – how so many of us carry more complex identities than just our genders and sexualities.

Collectively we began to recognize that our immigrant families are not just transphobic, they are also ‘colonized.’ I learned the ways in which colonialism in South Asia and white supremacy in the United States has always relied on regulating the genders and sexualities of my people. I learned the ways in which racism operates by enforcing and policing the gender binary and compulsory heterosexuality on communities of color. I recognized that my family is just as broken as I am but they never had the time and space to really process and heal from the violence of colonialism, the terror of Partition, the trauma of diaspora – let alone the English to articulate it to me.

Rather than blaming my own communities for our lack of queer South Asian visibility I began to realize that our diaspora responds to racism with heteronormativity. External threat engenders intimate violence. In the white telling of the story my family is just prejudiced. But in my telling of the story my people have been so forcibly disconnected from their culture and tradition that they cling desperately onto heteronormativity to maintain some semblance of self. In the white telling of the story my people are acting from a place of power and violence. In my telling of the story my people are acting from a place of hurt.

Trauma seeps through generations.

For those of us who still have access to our families or communities of origin and can interact with them without fear of significant harm, I believe that it is important that we do this slow and intimate work of finding ways to translate our queerness. This work of coming to terms with our ‘queer’ and ‘(South) Asian’ identities cannot be the only site of our movement work (as is often the case). We must continue to mobilize in solidarity with other oppressed peoples and address prejudice within our own. Certainly we are all still trying to figure out the best strategies to do this work and to still remain safe and secure. Certainly we are going to fuck up. Certainly it’s some of the hardest work that we can do because often our validation relies on approval from the very people who may deny and abuse us. But this type of work feels important nonetheless to so many of us. And there is power and politics in that feeling. Like the same way so many of us know that we will invite our mothers to live with us when they get too old to care for themselves (regardless of what our queer communities might think).

Because when I think about the future, when I think about the world that I am fighting for… I know that I am not interested in being part of the revolution unless my mother will be right there beside me.”

Read the full article on Return The Gayze. And – listen to Alok’s Tactile Lerner poem.

Standard
art of resistance, Iraq, movie/tv propaganda

The Book To Read: Robert Fisk & The Age of The Warrior.

This morning I found myself digging through my books, searching for Robert Fisk’s The Age of The Warrior (2008)I did it only to read the preface again. The first time I read this amazing collection of Fisk’s writings, I remember the overwhelming feeling and (already then) the need to go back to and through it again. So I do it, from time to time, and I still discover the power and importance of this preface – so I decided to type it up and share it here.

main_largeRobert Fisk

Iraq, I suspect, will come to define the world we live in, even for those of us who have never been within a thousand miles of its borders. The war’s colossal loss in human life – primarily Iraqi, of course – and the lies that formed a bodyguard for our invasion troops in 2003 should inform our understanding of conflict for years to come. Weapons of mass destruction. Links to al-Qaeda and the crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001. We were fooled. Yet I sometimes believe that we wanted to be fooled – that we wish to be led to the slaughter by our masters, to race for the cliff-edge with the desperate enthusiasm of the suicide bomber, our instincts awakened by something that should have been buried at Hastings or Waterloo or Antietam or Berlin or even Da Nang. Do we need war? Do we need it the way we need air and love and children and safety? I wonder.

Anger is a ferocious creature. Journalists are supposed to avoid this nightmare animal, to observe this beast with ‘objective’ eyes. A reporter’s supposed lack of ‘bias’ – which, I suspect, is now the great sickness of our Western press and television has become the antidote to personal feeling, the excuse for all of us to avoid the truth. Record the fury of a Palestinian whose land has been taken from him by Israeli settlers – but always refer to Israel’s ‘security needs’ and its ‘war on terror’. If Americans are accused of ‘torture’, call it ‘abuse’. If Israel assassinates a Palestinian, call it a ‘targeted killing’. If Armenians lament their Holocaust of 1, 500, 000 souls in 1915, remind readers that Turkey denies this all to real and fully documented genocide. If Iraq has become a hell on Earth for its people, recall how awful Saddam was. If a dictator is on our side, call him a ‘strongman’. If he’s our enemy, call him tyrant, or part of the ‘axis of evil’. And above all else, use the word ‘terrrorist’. Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. Seven days a week.

That’s the kind of anger that journalists are permitted to deploy, the anger of righteousness and fear. It is the language of our masters, the Bushes and Blairs and Browns, the Kinkels and the Sarkozy and, of course, the Mubaraks and the King Husseins and the Arabian kings and emirs and the Musharrafs and, indeed, even the crazed Muammar Ghadafi of Libya – who signs up to the war of Good against Evil. For journalists, this has nothing to do with justice – which is all the people of the Middle East demand – and everything to do with avoidance. Ask ‘how’ and ‘who’ – but not ‘why’. Source everything to officials: ‘American officials’, ‘intelligence officials’, ‘official sources’, anonymous policemen or army officers. And if those institutions charged with our protection abuse that power, then remind readers and listeners and viewers of the dangerous age in which we now live, the age of terror – which means that we must live in the Age of Warrior, someone whose business and profession and vocation and mere existence is to destroy our enemies.“

Robert Fisk, The Age of The Warrior (preface)

You can buy  The Age of The Warrior on Amazon, and for more of Fisk’s writings – read his weekly column for the The Independent. Also, I highly recommend his books Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War and The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.

Standard
art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Ghassan Kanafani: What is a homeland, after all?

Last couple of weeks I’ve been rereading Ghassan Kanafani‘s Men in the Sun and Returning to Haifa. Both are great novellas, and like in most of Kanafani’s works –  politics and literature remain inseperable in them. Kanafani once stated: “My political position springs from my being a novelist. In so far as I am concerned, politics and the novel are an indivisible case and I can categorically state that I became politically committed because I am a novelist, not the opposite.”

g5bGhassan Kanafani

In both Men in the Sun and Returning to Haifa the story is a story of Palestine – story of memories and realities, leaving and returning (in both space and time), waiting and expecting. Constant internal state of chaos and confusion is inevitable. How does one return if he didn’t leave at all (in his mind and heart)? But he did leave physically, unwillingly, and everything changed in the meantime… How does one face that?

For Kanafani and his protagonists, Palestine is what defines them – their most important cause in life and an essential part of their identity. But what happens to them when the story of Palestine is so complicated? How do they act, what do they think, how do they shape their lives? Palestine is their homeland. But what is a homeland, after all?

Here are the excerpts from Returning to Haifa.

“When he reached the edge of Haifa, approaching by car along the Jerusalem road, Said S. had the sensation that something was binding his tongue, compelling him to keep silent, and he feIt grief well up inside of him. For one moment he was tempted to turn back, and without even looking at her he knew that his wife had begun to cry silently. Then suddenly came the sound of the sea, exactly the way it used to be. Oh no, the memory did not return to him little by little. Instead, it rained down inside his head the way a stone wall collapses, the stones piling up, one upon another.”

He turned toward his wife, but she wasn’t listening. She was turned away from him, absorbed in gazing at the road — now to the right, where the farmland stretched away as far as one could see, and now to the left, where to sea, which had remained so distant for more than twenty years, was raging near at hand. Suddenly she said:

   “I never imagined that I would see Haifa again.”

   He said:

   “You’re not seeing it. They’re showing it to you.”

With that, Safiyya’s nerves failed her for the first time and she shouted:

“What’s all this ‘philosophy’ you’ve been spouting all day long? The gates and the sights and everything else. What happened to you?”

You should not have left Haifa. If that wasn’t possible, then no matter what it took, you should not have left an infant in its crib. And if that was also impossible, then you should never have stopped trying to return. You say that too was impossible? Twenty years have passed, sir! Twenty years! What did you do during that time to reclaim your son? If I were you I would’ve borne arms for that. Is there any stronger motive? You’re all weak! Weak! You’re bound by heavy chains of backwardness and paralysis! Don’t tell me you spent twenty years crying! Tears won’t bring back the missing or the lost. Tears won’t work miracles! All the tears in the world won’t carry a small boat holding two parents searching for their lost child. So you spent twenty years crying. That’s what you tell me now? Is this your dull, worn-out weapon?”

“What is a homeland?”

She leaned forward, surprised, as though she didn’t believe what she heard. She asked with a delicacy that contained uncertainty:

 “What did you say?”

“I said, what is a homeland? I was asking myself that question a moment ago. Naturally. What is a homeland? Is it these two chairs that remained in this room for twenty years? The table? Peacock feathers? The picture of Jerusalem on the wall? The copper lock? The oak tree? The balcony? What is a homeland? Khaldun? Our illusions of him? Fathers? Their sons? What is a homeland? Is it the picture of his brother hanging on the wall? I’m only asking.”

Once again, Safiyya began to weep. She dried her tears with a small white handkerchief. Looking at her, Said thought: “How this woman has aged. She squandered her youth waiting for this moment, not knowing what a terrible moment it would be.”

You can buy Kanafani’s Returning to Haifa & Other Stories on Amazon, or download a PDF file here.

Standard