This is a plea, particularly to members of majority groups (in North America, Asia, Europe, anywhere).
My daughter, Milena, has explained very simply why, when the rights and dignity of a minority group are threatened, members of the majority group need to speak up: the minority group is already under threat. If the members of the majority group do not speak up, who will? It’s the same phenomenon as the bystander effect in bullying.
If you are a member of a majority group, don’t let minority group members in your community and workplace be bullied. If you leave minority group members to speak up for themselves, their voices can get thinned, and then either they are not heard at all or they are heard as shrill and annoying.
In a democracy, if you are a member of the majority group, you have the larger and louder voice. Use it, not to attack because then you invite counter-attack, and not simply to defend, because then you structurally can be shoved into the bullied group. Use your voice to engage with other majority and minority group members on the basis of values that are clearly more important to all than the usually fragile logic of bullies. Model the respect and dignity you would want for yourself and your family even with people – from the majority group or minority groups – that you fundamentally disagree with.
Wherever you are, speak up, please.
I’ve been pondering migration as images and stories fill our newspapers and newscasts and I’ve noticed that the meaningfulness of migration is both deeply personal, limbic and sensuous, and also objective, exteriorized, and manipulable by my thoughts and words. And then I realized that the deeply internal and sensuous experience of meaningfulness, as well as the exteriorizing of meaningfulness to manipulable objectivity, are both productive processes, with production – sometimes co-production – in many registers.
So I’ve come up with some registers of migration to consider:
· Epic – migration as the expressive frame for quest, tragedy, loss, transformation
· Political economy – migration as a process of social reproduction of socioeconomic classes or categories
· Population genetics – migration as the mixing of genes, starting with our ancestors leaving Africa
· Narrative – migration as a library of stories
· Survival – migration as Darwinian species activity
· Bureaucratic – migration as the impurifier of citizenship(s)
· Love – migration as the thing I do for the survival of particular persons I love
· Physical – migration as movements of mass and energy on a planet
· Geopolitical – migration as the bedraggled march of history into post-nationalisms
· Corporeal – migration as weariness, hunger, insomnia, blisters, diarrhea, dehydration, cramps, death
· Renewal – migration as the renewal of deserted villages and anomic cities
… and so on
Driving one afternoon, I found myself behind an SUV with a bumper sticker that read: Liberal: Someone So Open Minded Their Brain Fell Out. Ignoring my internal squeaky protest of the plural “their” for the singular “someone,” I laughed out loud. This message was so much more clever and funny than the more common and often boring litmus messages that express blind allegiance or antagonistic pokes-in-the-eye. And I thought about why, or from what perspective, it might make sense, without arriving at any resolution, but with an aliveness throughout that comes from a lively political debate, in this case internal to my relatively open mind.
Recently I’ve started thinking about the bumper sticker again, as I’ve feared that political movements based on orthodoxies – by which I mean (more or less) logically coherent frameworks that include a requirement that followers adhere to the axioms and logical, discursive rules of the framework – marshall support better and more effectively “stay on message.” One would expect that political movements structured around an orthodoxy would potentially be available across the range of political right to political left. But increasingly I believe that the availability across the political spectrum is fuzzily asymmetrical. (Fuzzily, because anything that involves social dynamics can ultimately be analyzed and described only fuzzily; “rigorous” social scientific analyses, for all their clarity, can only present a lens for seeing, remaining ultimately inadequate to the worlds they aim to comprehend.)
The asymmetry and the fear are related, for as I – with my filters – see it, there is an immensely fertile segment on the left that thrives on dissent or heterodoxies of various kinds. These heterodoxies slip into babels of “pandoxy,” both competitive and harmonious, which, in turn, are commutative with “open-mindedness.” So what I find most enlivening often translates into distressingly ineffective politics. And that leaves me ambivalent – alive, morally and intellectually, as I navigate, initiate, join, or shun heterodoxies; and empty (but laughing!), as the bumper sticker has it.
I mentioned to a friend that my next blog post might be on sentimentality, my own sentimentality, or what does it mean to be “moved.” “Too self-focused,” she responded. “Use that marvelous voice of yours to draw attention to the large and urgent political and social questions of the day.” The last words are mine, not hers, but she said something like that. I’ve tried to do what she said, and have not yet gotten past boredom with my pomposity and analytical self-righteousness.
So I’m going back to the beginning.
Why was I moved to write about my own sentimentality? Because my eyes pricked when I read about Pope Francis as he prepares to visit the US, and I felt faintly ashamed of my sentimentality. Feeling tearful about the gestures of one of the most influential men today – an old man, who apparently still has the ability to touch a stranger without transaction, with a simple generosity of spirit, this touch tied powerfully, thanks to his position, to political and economic critique – seemed like the bathetic sentimentality of a suburban American woman, sloshing somewhere between gullibility and expediency, a fantasy of philosophical “good” to offset the helplessness and collusion of her small life in the face of “bad.”
But sentimentality isn’t just self-indulgence. And bathos, like tiredness, is underrated.
So, beyond self-indulgence and bathos (and false consciousness and what not), what might it mean to be moved?
You know that the only answer can be “this and that, it depends, sometimes.” But weaseling aside, so often being moved becomes an alibi for inaction. Occasionally, it is the catalyst for action. And, always, being moved means that you can touch me, I’m not lost, and change is possible.
Traditionally, the Moirae, more commonly known as the Fates, were imagined as old. They spun the stories of the world to come, each story fresh, even if not new. Today, when, grey-haired, I begin my official writing career, I find myself wondering how someone will describe the stories I spin. If I were a young author, the phrase “fresh, young voice” would spill out easily, if tritely. They, whoever they are, can’t use “young” with me, so perhaps they can say “fresh, new voice” – too glib, and redundant.
I hope they wouldn’t say “tired, old voice” though “tired” is an underrated quality. If it didn’t have the grey tinge it does in today’s cultures of positive energy, I would claim it proudly. Tired means worked, and worked means stories can come from all those elements of my being that have been active – my fingers, my feet, my womb, my brain, the neurons in my gut, the ineffables of my heart. But I am too afraid to call my stories “tired, old stories,” and I don’t want them to either, because they won’t understand “tired” as I do (the “tired” of my mother who woke up at four, you know the story; the “tired” of the man who cycles 10 miles (to work) before dawn and (home) at dusk each day, which you think you know but most of you, most of us, don’t really, not in the degeneration of our flesh, the worry in our gut).
So, now, when I google Moirae, I find many drawings of prepubescent spinners. And, indeed, they too spin the stories of the world to come, each story fresh, even if not new. Moirae are the form of original storytelling, the story constructing the Moira, whatever her age (and gender?). This thought leads me to a happy new phrase, “fresh, old voice” that describes the Moirae of old and the parts of their tattered mantles I want to wrap around my name before it spouts its stories at you.