de-colonising the young mind

I often find that so much of modern day parenting is about managing the guilt of imperfect, impossible, and out-of-reach, liberal, privileged Western, media constructions of what it means to be a ‘good parent’. And yet in between these angst ridden moments (fortunately few for me, given my belligerent and firmly held belief  belief  – always expressed in the exaggerated Lancashire accent that emerges when there is cause for concern – that no bugger can tell me how to parent…), those temporal gems that can only be described as sheer labour of love, are as enduring and full of impact as they probably always have been. I’m referring to those moments when the simple acts, those ones that cost nothing (how often have we heard this phrase? it’s easy for middle class people to refer to these ‘free’  moments, as if every parent, regardless of status, education, money, privilege, heritage and material wealth was able to mobilise ‘quality’ time with their children…) yield nigh infinite satisfaction.

Simply sitting with my child and playing alongside them, not necessarily talking, or guiding, or instructing, but simply being with them in that moment, has always been something quite magical, in an almost Disney-like sense (more of this in a minute). It speaks volumes to the child who notices, is aware of every bodily gesture, movement, twitch, and can detect restlessness, impatience, pseudo-play, and any other form of adult-generated falsity, that you and they are together, in a moment of activity and engagement that often requires no words, rules, instructions, or guidelines. These moments afford me an opportunity to learn about myself, and my relationship to the world, as well my relationship to my child. It demands of me that I focus on the relationship not as that which is to be performed, adorned, utilised, implemented, or instrumentalised. It demands the relationship be of a simple truth (oh yes, post-structural and constructionist versions of all-but-the-sink be damned, here there is a truth), and that is the truth of this relation-in-moment. Children are perceptive, as we all know (and as countless child-centred horror films keep reminding us…), they have a way of detecting sincerity, and true engagement, though can often be distracted by loud funny noises, colours and shapes).

Given this magical quality to the relation-in-moment then, reading to my children was and is always the point at which imagination, creativity, intellect, morals and values all converge in a process that is often seen as fundamental in shaping young minds and lives. So often we hear that yet another research study has proven that above all, reading to children, may well set the most pivotal conditions for intellectual development in early years. And when this process is so evidently powerful, what about WHAT we read to them?

Princesses, dressed in flowing dresses, princes, dressed in muscle enhancing costumes, blond hair, blue eyes, and the one constant, defining, over-arching, all encompassing-yet-invisible dynamic of all: whiteness. It is not just the presence of whiteness in children’s stories that mark the issue – it is the combination of all the above plus the differential and hierarchical representation of all that is non-white in the stories.  Try as we might, and by ‘eck, we’ll keep trying (there’s that accent again), the white-Disneyisation of humanity seeps into the relation-in-moment as an aspiration: ‘Can I be like Princess Elsa Daddy?’ ‘Can I have blond hair Daddy?’, ‘When I grow up I want to be a princess like …’ – and this despite the respectable efforts of team Keval (who lets face it are not alien to radical and critical thought…)

So, de-colonising the mind (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decolonising_the_Mind and especially the brilliant workshops at http://www.decolonizingthemind.org/) is not an abstract conceptual, linguistic process, or limited to an impossible structural revolution where the constraints of neo-colonial power are dismantled…it is an emotional journey. For me it started a long time ago when I noticed that my so-called ‘heroes’ in works of fiction neither looked nor sounded like me, and represented, ultimately, the oppression and injustice meted out to entire sub-continents. What’s this go to do with reading my children bed time stories? Absolutely everything.

All around them, non-verbal messages, adverts, utterances, moments of being noticed or ignored, forms of acceptable dress, heroes, heroines, role models, all dominant narratives that silence notions of being, of self, of truth, and work constantly to erode layers of cultural, linguistic, psychological identity, and replace them with…well, take a look at children’s stories, adverts, TV, toys, and films. Its pretty clear what kinds of identity are being reinforced for all children…but for some children, for some people, the impact is far more substantial than others.

The challenge is in providing substance to the alternative narratives, images, pictures, stories, messages, utterances, codes, cultural facets (I call them alternative because they are in that moment of an alterity yet to be moulded into a feasible and equal possibility). This needs to be done sufficiently so the child can engage with the notion of difference that does not demand hierarchical value. It is possible – it happens all the time in large, cosmopolitan, mixed urban cities. The key is to be able to somehow recreate that syncrecy of lived multiculture within ones home, and importantly within the psyche (for one’s self and ones’ children).

There is a weight that bears down, and which must be resisted, and that weight is made up of the history of colonial and imperial power. It is here with us in every second of our lives, and in the very fabric of our lived, social and cultural lives. Raising children within the folds of such a fabric is complex, difficult, contingent, and momentary. It is also joyous, because it generates the possibilities of creativity and thinking through dialogue and discussion. It is revealing, because when children are given the opportunity to talk about difference – in body shape, skin colour, size, accent, language, dis/ability, age, sexuality, religion, it is in these moments of engagement that de-colonising the young mind starts. And when this happens, their sheer, utter ability to transcend raciality gives one the hope that actually, its all possible in this lifetime. Helping to build coherent, stable, psycho-social identities that may just withstand some of the many and multi-faceted impacts of modern, racialised, global capitalism is a labour of love.

Do we get it right all the time? Dont be daft. Parenting is 50% trying to avoid handing your children the psychological baggage you have been carrying round, and 50% feeling guilty for failing miserably to do that. But going through (and still on) my own intellectual, bio-graphical, academic and personal journey has taught me a thing or two about this arena, this process, and that it is a journey I might just, as a parent help my children with. Maybe.  Its also sometimes just great fun to play with Lego and read silly stories. Lets no forget that.

Migrant workers – enduring relevance

Seventh Man

 

From the brilliant Verso Publishers website: http://www.versobooks.com/books/533-a-seventh-man

‘I have to turn this prize against itself’—John Berger on accepting the Booker Prize for Fiction, 23 November 1972

In 1972, John Berger won the Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel G. He shared half of the proceeds with the Black Panthers, “the black movement with the socialist and revolutionary perspective that I find myself most in agreement with in this country”. The other half funded A Seventh Man, his study of migrant workers in Europe.

Making a direct link between Booker McConnell’s involvement in colonial exploitation of the Caribbean and the modern poverty of the region, Berger declared his intention, “as a revolutionary writer, to share this prize with people in and from the Caribbean, people who are involved in a struggle to resist such exploitation and, eventually, to expropriate companies like Booker.”

Given the current pre-occupation with ‘migrants in motion’, and all the related constructions of risk that discourses are utilising (terror, economic and cultural drain, problems in ‘over-crowding’, more terror), it seems wise to remember that this world we occupy is, has been, and continues to be built on migrant labour. The very victims of global politics and economic decisions (usually underpinned by agendas related to the long term financial and political ‘stabilisation’ of Eastern folk), are on the move, eventually becoming ‘migrant’ labour in whichever country they settle, for however short or long a period. To strip their experiences of humanity, and reduce them to numbers, ‘movement’ statistics indicated by diagrams with arrows ‘coming in’ and arrows ‘going out’ is reducing the full capacity of the human spirit. Hannah Arendt wrote about the banality of evil in relation to the holocaust and in particular the trial oin Jerusalem of Adolph Eichmann (Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the Banality of Evil) and as the world watches millions of people risking lives, moving, falling, crying and dying – just to seek safety, the world is at risk of perpetuating a type of banality.

Berger’s book (and other work) perhaps reconstructs that breakage for us – the disruption in ethical-biographical continuity (a play on words borrowed from Bury and Glaser and Strauss’s medical sociology terms). Putting it bluntly, there’s been a breakage in how we connect with populations undergoing suffering – it is neither new nor surprising. In fact, as Sociologists have constantly told us, we are living in an era of unprecedented rate of social change, and so we have in the middle of deep social, emotional, psychological and personal turmoil, become rather immune to those issues that don’t directly impact us.  However, our connection with suffering populations is not extinct or impossible – it is selective. We select, choose, opt to connect with lives similar to ours, not because ‘thats human nature’ – that would be playing into the cold, sociologically limp hands of cultural essentialists who argue hey, “we prefer our own kind…” (see my article at “New Diversities”). No, we choose these selective modes of connection because of a two way, dialectic: it requires less emotional energy to connect with suffering experienced by people who are similar to us in a variety of ways, and the discursive formations around which these representations are produced make them more salient, are hurled at us in specific ways.

 

When I read the sentence “Europe is literally the creation of the third world” (Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth”), I don’t simply see the vital resistance and empowered self governing machinery being articulated in the identification of first world riches generated (literally) on the backs of slaves; I read the on-going generation of capital, suffering, and constant repetition of bonded lives, generation after generation, and the many blind eyes whose averted gaze perpetuate the misery. Migrant labour is still creating the lives of people the world over who enjoy the pleasures of safety, stability, and the luxury of being. 

 

Plot to kidnap 300 youngsters revealed – the middle classes say “we wont stand for this.”

News agencies in the UK today reported alarming news of a widespread plot to kidnap 7 to 12 year olds from several locations in the South East. The plot apparently came to light after a you tube video was leaked to news agencies in Surrey and Kent. The video containing disturbing and graphic language contained threats made by a masked man, holding a dummy of a 7 year old. The man whose identity is yet to be revealed insisted that his group of activists were acting on the “orders and wishes of a higher power, as written in the holy text”.

Concerned citizens in Kent and Surrey were interviewed last night as news of the kidnap plot came to light. One alarmed citizen said “we wont stand for this. Its an abuse of rights. They’re so young, they have their future ahead of them, and then someone comes along, out of the blue, and trashes their future. We, as a people wont stand for it, and we must do something. Its the right thing to do, its the Christian thing to do.”

Other concerned dog owners of animals between the ages of 7 and 12 have formed local activist groups to try and maintain a vigilance against any future threats of kidnapping dogs in the region.

Other news today, some young girls, somewhere else, were taken and sold into lives of torture, slavery, sexual abuse, and life long domination. The president of somewhere else, Mr Goodnight William, speaking from his presidential palace, said it was not nice. Major supermarket chains today have reported a 28% increase in the sale of Organic and Free Trade products, with Nigerian products showing a marked increase in popularity in Surrey and Kent.