Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Something There Is That Doesn't Love a Wall" [and yet, we keep building them...]

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall," said Robert Frost in his 1914 poem Mending Wall. Writing on the brink of the WW-I, the American poet was probably conscious of the walls that were being built between countries in Europe and Eastern-Europe while he was composing his poem... And yet at, the same time, walls were being destroyed (houses, boundaries, countries, walls of fraternity, walls of humanity, walls of dignity...) and others were being built in the shape of the giant body of the 70 million military personnel being deployed to go to war.

A century later, we are still building the same walls. Now they cement themselves in the bricks of our skin-colour, in the solidity of our sexuality, in the slabs of our political views, in the stones of who we are and the concrete of what we think. On those walls, we sublimate our urges for defecation by naming the same walls that we built, by tagging them with graffiti: 'war on terror', 'collateral damage', 'national security'...

How far removed are we from Berlin's Wall of Shame? Twenty years after it was brought down, does the shame live on while the bricks have disappeared? The violence of spaces, of what is allowed in and what is allowed out, of "good fences make good neighbours," of what protects 'us' and 'them' and what protects 'us' from 'them'...

... And this is how on January 11th, the Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu has given his approval to build a wall along the border between Israel and Egypt. With the help of increased surveillance, the walls aims at keeping "infiltrators and terrorists" out of the Israeli state. Mr Netanyahu also added that the erection of the wall "is a strategic decision to secure Israel's Jewish and democratic character."

About 50-60 % of the Israeli borders are already fenced: the borders with Gaza, with Lebabon, with Jordan, and most of the West Bank. The cost of the project? $ 270 million. And while it should take two years to complete, the world may again sit and watch as yet another wall is being built and yet other 'good neighbours' are being made.

Read the full story here on Al Jazeera.


And here's Robert Frost's Poem: Mending Wall (1914)

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tasteless Chicken & Tasteless Ads [oh racism!]

In the midst of all our discussions on white guilt, I fell onto the politics of white meat! This is an Australian ad for KFC. Is it racist? I don't know. Is it offensive? Yes, it fucking is! (I never use the f-word on my blog. I do it only when I am very, very pissed or just appalled to the point where I just feel like effing between every single word.) I feel offended by it: Am I over-reacting?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

White Guilt and Racial Fantasies in Southern France [a testimony, a guest post]

[As I posted/linked this article by Annalee Newitz about race fantasies, science fiction and Avatar a couple of weeks ago, the reaction was just as explosive as I expected. I received a particularly rich and insightful reaction from a young French reader. Since he agreed to sharing his 'comment' as a guest blog-entry, here it goes.]


By Pascal

I remember making an essay at the end of Junior High School on sci-fi. You had to pretend you were the chief editor in a magazine and, in your column, you had to give a "political" opinion on a cultural subject. I wrote something clumsy about sci-fi movies being racist, because they were always about bad, weird-looking, aggressive invaders. My opinion was that since it was frowned upon to create menacing Arab characters (yes, white guilt, in Southern France, focuses on Maghreb more than sub-Saharan Africa), we transposed our natural hatred of the "unknown" on aliens.

The headmistress liked my piece but regretted that I had qualified these ideas as 'far-right', meaning in my mind, 'racist', especially because the French Nationalist Party had dramatically shaken the French political scene with their breakthrough at the 2002 presidential elections, throwing away the Socialists for the first time in thirty years. And the Sacré-Cœur School did not worship socialism.

White guilt will not disappear so easily. I was raised with it in mind, in a village where Arab children took different buses to go to the faraway barracks they had to call 'home'. There were two sinks in the school-yard where kids could drink, and one of them was the robinet des Arabes (the tap of Arabs) where the French-born kids never drank for fear of getting a disease or something. This was, of course, no initiative from the teachers, but from the children themselves. Racist jokes were daily ways of expression, although we all had an Arab friend somewhere in the school, and sometimes we made these jokes in their presence, saying at the same time: "Well, except for you, Ismail, you're not like this, haha," and Ismail laughed in an attempt to better integrate himself. [Apartheid, South Africa, 1960s? No. Southern France, 1990s.]

In this context, my family forbade these jokes and behaviors; parents taught us that racism was the worst thing ever, that we should love and respect everyone in the same way.

As I was the one in school who always got mocked and laughed at because I was weird (understand: gay, but not knowing about that yet), I was bullied by nearly everyone. I always shouted and hit back, which made me even more attractive as a victim because there always was some show.

There was this one boy I did not hit back, though. I nearly gave him the other cheek as a present. He was Walid and lived behind the hill, where most Arab families had moved to after their 'barracks' had been dismantled. And I did not hit back because I thought: "He's Arab, so he must be poor and be a victim of racism from White people like me. I gotta show him I'm different." (I didn't know at the time that Walid was rich as hell with a big villa and a pool.)

I was nine, he was seven, I had never heard the word "colonial" in my life. And still, as Walid would kick me hard in the leg, slap me in the face and laugh, I barely made a move.

So, getting rid of "white guilt" may take some time, especially in France where President Sarkozy would like to highlight the "positive effects" of colonialism in the French History schoolbooks.