Aimé Césaire and his Discourse on Colonialism

Tim Keane wrote about Black Caribbean poet Aimé Césaire who disseminated the brutality of colonialism in his work:

Since Césaire’s death in 2008 at age 94, as democracies devolve into autocracies and wealthy nations sidestep poorer ones on our endangered planet, Discourse on Colonialism remains prescient about the barbarity that informs civilization. In literary terms, its enduring relevance tends to overshadow Césaire’s standing as the most influential Modernist poet in Caribbean literature, an imaginative writer who molded the French language to make a personal poetry characterized by hypnotic physicality, ritualized anguish, and metaphorical exorcisms.

About Aimé Césaire

Césaire was born in Basse-Pointe, Martinique, in 1913. After moving to the capital, Fort-de-France, to attend the only secondary school on the island, he moved to Paris to attend the Lycée Louis-le-Grand on a scholarship. There, he passed the entrance exam for the École Normale Supérieure, co-created a literary review called L’Étudiant noir (The Black Student) and helped to start the Négritude movement.

Reading list

(contains Bookshop affiliate links)

Phrases to help you protect your mental health

For Grammarly, Devon Delfino wrote a great guide on language that can protect your mental health while you work from home or just talking to friends and family.

Social isolation. Work-from-home burnout. Public health-related stress. Political upheaval. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that mental health matters and has become a central issue for many. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily become easier to talk about.

Mental health awareness is one thing but we need more active behaviour to quash the stigmas and myths that surround mental health so those who need help can feel safe to talk about it (or not).

And if you need any alternatives to ableist terms, you can check that out too.

When São Paulo banned billboard advertising

In 2006, São Paulo’s mayor Gilberto Kassab proposed a law known as Lei Cidade Limpa (clean city law in Portuguese) which prohibited any form of billboard advertising or outdoor posters. 15,000 billboards were taken down and despite backlash from advertisers, citizens praised the move.

For New York’s WNYC, local São Paulo reporter Vinícius Queiroz Galvão described his experiences:

São Paulo is a very vertical city. That makes it very frenetic. You could not even realize the architecture of the old buildings, because all the buildings, all the houses were just covered with billboards and logos and propaganda. And there was no criteria. And now it is amazing. They uncovered a lot of problems the city had that we never realized. For example, there are some favelas, which are the shantytowns. I wrote a big story in my newspaper today that in a lot of parts of the city we never realized there was a big shantytown. People were shocked because they never saw that before, just because there were a lot of billboards covering the area. São Paulo is just like New York. It is a very multicultural, globalized city. We have the Japanese neighborhood, we have the Korean neighborhood, we have the Italian neighborhood and in the Korean neighborhood, they have a lot of small manufacturers, these Korean businessmen. They hire illegal labor from Bolivian immigrants. And there was a lot of billboards in front of these manufacturers’ shops. And when they uncovered, we could see through the window a lot of Bolivian people like sleeping and working at the same place. They earn money, just enough for food. So it is a big social problem that was uncovered, and the city was shocked by these news.

Check out Tony de Marco’s Flickr album, titled São Paulo No Logo, for a better look.

Islamic tartan of Scotland

The Islamic Tartan Concept weaves together the different strands of Scottish and Muslim heritage creating the fabric of the future.

The theological explanation of the design is as follows:

– Blue to represent the Scottish Flag
– Green to represent the colour of Islam
– Five white lines running through the pattern to represent the five pillars of Islam
– Six gold lines to represent the six articles of faith
– Black square to represent the Holy Kabah

African Americans in Soviet Russia

George Tynes, flanked by Soviet army cadets

Zakkiyah Job wrote an interesting piece on the great African American escape to Soviet Russia.

Under Stalin’s de facto policy of ethnic cleansing, it’s hard to picture the USSR as any kind of paradise for persecuted minorities, but in stark contrast to the trauma and systemic oppression that people of colour had long-faced in the many parts of the western world, Mother Russia poised itself as a beacon of equality, ahead of the historical curve.

The likes of Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Dorothy West found themselves in the USSR, much to the chagrin of the American federal government. But the history of Black people in Russia goes further back to include people such as Abram Petrovich Gannibal, a Cameroonian aristocrat who started an Afro-Russian dynasty in the 18th century.

After Ottoman forces kidnapped him as a boy from Cameroon, he was sold to a Russian diplomat and “gifted” to Peter the Great, who publicly adopted and freed him. Abram became a military engineer, a high-ranking general and a nobleman. He is also a maternal great-grandfather to the famed Russian poet Alexander Pushkin.

For more on the subject, check out the following list of texts:

Whiteness and racism aren't illnesses

a sign that says racism is a pandemic

I initially opted for a softer title but it was a life goal to be more active with my language back in 2016 or 2017 so there you go.

Three things popped up on my social feed today regarding the connection between whiteness and racism and the language of illness. In reverse order:

  1. An article called “Whiteness is a Pandemic” by Damon Young, referenced in this Kottke.org post of the same title.
  2. An Instagram story from Josh Rivers of Busy Being Black discussing his personal use of language linking white supremacy to illness
  3. This thread from Dr Subini which Josh had originally referenced from an Instagram screenshot post as a counterpoint to the above

Before I dive into anything else, it’s amazing how circumstances can connect through the power of the Internet. And yet that’s exactly what it was created for. Large networks of information rabbit holes that are never too far apart to be deemed coincidence.

Anyway, the final paragraph from Young’s piece for The Root:

White supremacy is a virus that, like other viruses, will not die until there are no bodies left for it to infect. Which means the only way to stop it is to locate it, isolate it, extract it, and kill it. I guess a vaccine could work, too. But we’ve had 400 years to develop one, so I won’t hold my breath.

It’s common to see racism and its structures to be represented that way and while I’ve not done it myself, I know many friends and family who have and haven’t argued against it. But then Josh Rivers mentioned how he’d used similar language before finding this Instagram post from Project LETS which referenced a Twitter thread by Dr. Subini Annamma, a Black Asian feminist and author of The Pedagogy of Pathologization: Dis/abled Girls of Color in the School-prison Nexus. Here’s the first tweet of it:

Fam, racism is not a virus. White supremacy is not a pandemic. Using illness & disability as a metaphor situates white supremacy & racism as passively spreading. These metaphors evade the way white supremacy & racism are purposefully built into structures & strategically enacted

Now this I can relate to. I understand the idea of white supremacy and racism like diseases in that they pervade society and you don’t always see it or can do little to prevent or cure it at all in large quantities. But viewing them as physical structures makes more sense because there are actual constructs that were built for the purpose of promoting white supremacy.

There is no vaccine for racism and knocking down buildings of oppression won’t solve the problem in and of itself. Instead, we tear those walls down and we clear the debris and we use those bricks to create the opposite. The work doesn’t stop because the buildings aren’t standing anymore.

(featured image by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona)

The history of US racism against Asian Americans

Up until the eve of the COVID-19 crisis, the prevailing narrative about Asian Americans was one of the model minority.

The model minority concept, developed during and after World War II, posits that Asian Americans were the ideal immigrants of color to the United States due to their economic success.

But in the United States, Asian Americans have long been considered as a threat to a nation that promoted a whites-only immigration policy. They were called a “yellow peril”: unclean and unfit for citizenship in America.

(via The Conversation)

A Gold Experience: Part 2

all the gold in the world

This isn’t as nice as Part 1. In fact, I never expected to make a Part 2 but I found this to be grotesquely interesting.

If all the gold ever mined was melted into a solid cube, the cube with sides of 20.5m would fit in an Olympic Swimming Pool.

The small gold sphere, in front of the cash couch, weighs 1 metric ton exactly, with a value over $50 Million dollars.

Demonocracy.info also made one for all the silver in the world, all the money in the world, and US debt represented by $100 bills.

During a global pandemic and “meme stocks”, stuff like this really puts things into perspective.

(h/t Boing Boing; infographic and article via Demoncracy.info)

The Unwritten Rules of Black life

unwritten rules logo

The Unwritten Rules Encyclopedia examines the various rules forced upon Black people:

Black Americans begin to learn these unwritten rules in early childhood, and they impact everything they do. The rules follow them when they are shopping, and they can feel the anxiety of the rules in their chest when they see the police. The rules shape every career move they make and restrict their freedom when they travel.

There are currently 12 rules on the site but rather than just list them, the site also offers ways to erase them through:

  • Learning more
  • Donating to initiatives
  • Signing petitions
  • Forms of activism against them

You can also send in your own anonymous stories related to these unwritten rules.

See also: The Black American collages of Tay Butler and the gentrification of Black Lives Matter.

Paul Ford on the inspiration in procrastination

I follow Paul Ford on Twitter and I love his humour and intellect. So when I found this 99U talk called “Finding Inspiration in Procrastination”, I jumped at the chance to watch.

Something funny happened on Paul Ford’s way to developing his dream project: he found about 1,000 reasons not to do it. “When you need to do a thing, everything you do is about the thing you’re not doing.”

Like many of us, I procrastinate a lot. In fact, I should be washing up right now and instead I’m writing this. But it’s good to know you can do it without feeling guilty and that there are inspirational takeaways from those deviations.

Stream the talk below.

What are you doing, Lenny?

(Original tweet here)

Earlier today, I noticed a Lenny Henry tweet on my timeline. I went onto his profile just to see what he was up to and came across the above tweet.

On the surface, it looks like a comedian/writer/actor retweeting another comedian/writer referencing another writer. But you’d have to know little about David Baddiel or Caitlin Moran to take this on face value and not see what’s wrong with it.

Caitlin Moran, when once asked if she addressed the “complete and utter lack of people of colour in girls” in her interview with Girls creator Lena Dunham on Twitter, she replied “Nope. I literally couldn’t give a shit about it.” There’s a more measured critique of the situation by Bim Adewunmi but it caused a shitstorm and many of Moran’s colleagues came out to defend her in the name of white feminism.

In the 90s, David Baddiel did Blackface to portray Jason Lee, a footballer who played for Nottingham Forest at the time. Lee discussed the incident in 2018:

“If I did there’d be no animosity, but I’d ask them if they realised the significance of what they were doing.

“It was, looking back, a form of bullying. I work in equalities now, and it can affect different people in different ways.

“I don’t think people appreciate the possible harm it can cause. Not everyone has the make-up to deal with that, and they shouldn’t have to.

“With me, there was always something – if it wasn’t my hair, it was the colour of my skin or my height, and it made me resilient.

“What did they expect me to do? Give up my career? I was always going to continue and I played until I was 40 – I have to remind people of that.”

To then see the pair in agreement that people cherrypick the historical inaccuracies in period dramas—particularly the Black people in Bridgerton—is peak hypocrisy. Now Moran “gives a shit”!

It’d be nice if they’d become better people after their behaviour but I don’t think they have. And then to see Lenny Henry retweet it just rubbed me up the wrong way.

See also: The gentrification of BLM and the semiotics and myths around All Lives Matter and BLM.

James Baldwin on the American Negro image

james baldwin

I saw this on Instagram (sidenote: follow @retrosoul__ on Instagram for more of the same) and thought it was poignant, given the last 4 years of American politics and what the future holds now President Biden is in office.

“One of these facts is that the American Negro can no longer, nor will he ever again be controlled by white America‘s image of him. This fact has everything to do with the rise of Africa in world affairs. At the time that I was growing up, Negroes in this country were taught to be ashamed of Africa. They were taught it bluntly, as I was for example, by being told that Africa had never contributed ‘anything’ to civilization. Or one was taught the same lesson more obliquely, and even more effectively, by watching nearly naked, dancing, comic-opera, cannibalistic savages in the movies. They were nearly always all bad, sometimes funny, sometimes both. If one of them was good, his goodness was proved by his loyalty to the white man.”

James Baldwin—”A Negro Assays the Negro Mood”, New York Times Magazine (12th March, 1961)

What does the future hold for Black America? Only time, hope, vulnerability, and strength will tell. But it will always be on Black people’s terms.

Related: The world according to James Baldwin, James Baldwin on the meaning of liberty, and love from a Black perspective.

(via Daana Townsend on Instagram)

Shoji Morimoto: a Tokyo "rent-a-person"

Sometimes you just need someone to be there for you, especially during times like this. Not to say or do anything—just be there. Shoji Morimoto, a 37-year-old Tokyo man, can offer that service for ¥10,000 per request (about £71 or $96).

Shoji Morimoto has been advertising himself as a person who can “eat and drink, and give simple feedback, but do nothing more,” since June 2018, and has received over 3,000 requests.

His work has garnered high praise from his clients and people on Twitter:

“I’m glad I was able to take a walk with someone while keeping a comfortable distance, where we didn’t have to talk but could if we wanted to.”

“I had been slack about visiting the hospital, but I went because he came with me.”

“He listened to me without shaming me about going to the adult entertainment shop. It felt like a support to just have him by my side without forcing his opinions on me.”

Semi-related: The insular world of hikikomori and the internet cafe refugees of Japan

(via The Mainichi)

Toni Morrison on Martin Luther King

As it’s Martin Luther King Day, people have taken to social media to share quotes and meta-opinions about those quotes (and who says them). I’m very wary of white allies who use MLK as a shield against criticism or some kind of threading on their quilt of equality.

And then I saw this quoted on Twitter today:

“Since the murder of Martin Luther King, new commitments had been sworn, laws introduced but most of it was decorative: statues, street names, speeches. It was as though something valuable had been pawned and the claim ticket lost.”

Toni Morrison, PARADISE

Ain’t that the truth? But then again, Toni Morrison always knew.

Doom Haikus, sponsored by 2020

edvard munch's scream

Doom Haikus is a collection of “gloomy haikus” and its origin story is simple:

Everyday* in 2020, we posted the top news stories to Mechanical Turk, asking turkers to respond with a 5, 7, 5 syllable haiku. These are the results.

*almost

And those results are “about 2,000 people” who responded with over 2,700 haikus, “forever memorializing the worst year of our lives, as anxious sets of 5, 7, 5 syllables.”

Here’s one from January I thought was funny:

AOC Makes Claim
Joe Biden is too Centrist
She is Progressive

There’s been a lot of discourse around doomscrolling and the physical and mental drain on us but these doom haikus seem almost… cathartic? They don’t solve the issues we have faced, are facing, or will face but they try to make sense of things, even for 17 syllables.