Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Pathology of White Privilege

Please go and watch this video of Tim Wise, author of White Like Me: Reflections of Race from a Privileged Son. It is very important. It's long but stick with it.

I grew up in America, poor and white. I now live in Southern Africa, still white but not so poor anymore. Though I could be thrown in the pile of "white liberal" I've always felt slightly uncomfortable. Of course there is guilt and then anger at why I must carry guilt when I got no benefits from racial oppression, my family was poor for generations. But is that true? Of course not. I benefit everyday from my white skin - even just in the fact that mentally I see no blocks ahead of me. I wouldn't be able to think like that if I was black.

I know- both in USA and here in Botswana- I have inherent advantage because of my skin colour. When it is made blatant, I shout about it, I have done it here on this blog. Wise makes so many very important points in this video, but one that I really only now truly understood is that I don't have to carry all white people on my back as people of colour do. My whiteness does not come with a package of racist stereotypes that will be applied to me the second I do anything wrong ("Well she IS white anyway, what would you expect?"). Not like people of colour. That alone makes my journey easier, even without purposefully built racist blocks in my road. This applies for all white people. We ALL benefit from our whiteness. Full stop.

In the video, Wise speaks of the pathology of being white, how it harms white Americans especially but I think something similar can be applied to Southern Africa, a place heavily affected by the politics of race. He explains how when the Europeans first went to America, both blacks and poor whites were indentured labourers. They began to collude against the rich white land owners and rebellions broke out. This was when the concept of whiteness was first established. The rich whites threw the crumbs of whiteness to the poor whites to divide them from the blacks. The rebellion was quelled. Now not only did the poor whites think they were more akin to the rich whites, which of course they weren't as their situation was much nearer to the poor blacks, they were willing to fight to defend their whiteness. They fought in the civil war to maintain slavery- not for themselves- but for the rich whites. Racism was used to destabilise the poor so there could be no rebellion. It worked out dandy for the rich whites- and still does, and does nothing to destabilise the status quo for the rich whites.

This white privileged position allows the whites the privilege of not caring what others think. People of colour must always know what white people are thinking if they are to survive. Whites don't have that burden. But, as Wise points out, that arrogance of disinterest is a pathology that has and will continue to harm the white people themselves. This is happening in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in white suburban schools, in the drug laden anxiety filled minds of white Americans.

Most white people (in America and in Southern Africa) feel no need to change their position of privilege, they don't want to pay a debt they did not make. Wise argues that that is not a smart position to take as the problem must be solved, and the debt must be paid, either now or later, and later he says it will be more difficult. He says it must be solved now- "not because we are guilty- but because we are here".

Watch the video and tell me what you think.

Monday, July 26, 2010

"Answers to the Worst Writerly Questions" Game

There are some standard questions writers get asked which all writers hate. Today we're going to play a game where you get to answer those questions the way you REALLY wanted to.

First, what is the question you hate most?
What is your best answer?

I'll start.
Question: Why did you become a writer?
Answer: Because I have masochistic tendencies and I don't mind being perpetually broke.

Who's next?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Batswana Writers Speak out on National Issues

This morning with tea I was reading this week's Botswana Gazette and I was very happy. Of course Unity Dow and Andrew Sesinyi are many things, not just novelists, but they are novelists and are speaking out on two very important issues facing Botswana right now: the new liquor legislation and the declaration of assets by elected officials.

Our president, President Ian Khama, pushed through drastic tax increases on alcohol in an attempt to deal with the alcohol problem in the country. He has a personal hatred of alcohol that unfortunately he wants to impose on the country. In an interview in the Gazette Andrew Sesinyi points out that the not well thought out legislation has done nothing to curb alcoholism except put more economic pressure on already struggling families. He points out that the way to attack alcoholism is through rehabilitation and addiction programmes such as Alcoholics Anonymous. He criticises Khama's simplistic attack on the problem as a paternalistic, "bana ga ba utlwe"(the children are naughty) method, a position the President takes on many issues. A position that fails with adults who find it, rightly so, insulting.

In Unity Dow's new column, "A View from Left Field", in The Gazette, she tackles the sticky issue of the declaration of assets by elected officials. She says that Batswana by nature are a modest people. A cattle farmer with thousands of head of cattle will speak about going to check his small calf instead of boasting about his massive herd. She thinks this may lie behind politicians reluctance to pass this important piece of legislation. But as she points out 1) it will curtail abuse of office and conflict of interest when it comes to the politicians business interests and 2) No one forced these people to run for office; if they want a public life they must make their assets public, if they don't- then don't run for office.

In another country far away, another writer has stepped up to the political plate. Wole Soyinka has started his own political party. One wonders, would the world be a better place if writers ran it? Hmmm....

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cape Town Book Fair Excitement

I've booked everything for the Cape Town Book Fair (CTBF) which is happening from the 31st July until 2nd August. This will be my third time there. I fund myself. I have no talk lined up. No stall to attend to. I go there because it is always beneficial to me. The money spent is never regretted. I see it as an essential business trip.

So what do I do there? First, I attend as many interesting talks as I can. I love hearing writers talk. I like to know about their process. Not to copy it, because I know my path is my own, but more from the aspect of a reader, actually-their thoughts behind their book, how they got from idea to book. I also like industry talks: talks about ebooks or book cover design or anything book or publishing related.

I like to meet up with friends. This year I have all types of people I want to see. Cape Town friends, internet friends, even some Botswana friends. My friend Bontekanye Botumile has a stall there for her self-published children's books and I'm excited to see what she does with the stall to market herself and her books.

This year I'll be meeting up with some of my publishers. It's amazing in a way that last year at the Book Fair is where I met my first publisher in South Africa and this year I will see her again, but I'm happy to say I will also be meeting up with my two new South African publishers as well. For us in Botswana, South Africa is the next biggest market after ours. It's sort of a stepping stone to overseas markets such at Europe and America. Until I wrote this paragraph I hadn't realise that in one year I'd made such progress in South Africa. Four books with the publisher I met at last year's CTBF, two with the second publisher and one with the third. That's good work for a year.

I'll hopefully get a few columns out of the Book Fair too, so that will be handy.

Many writers here think I'm wasting my time and money by going to CTBF, but I don't think so. Face to face connections matter. Learning new things about the industry matters. Being around writers matters. Making new contacts is essential. I see the book fair as a vital business expense.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Real Face of War

Though I have not seen the movie Restrepo I found this article at AlterNet very interesting. In it, Nick Turse speaks about the fallacy behind the movie which follows an American battalion in the remote areas of Afghanistan. The movie has apparently garnered accolades for showing the "real face of war".

Turse wonders how it can be the real face of war when the people most affected, the Afghan citizens, are not interviewed. Turse describes the Americans as "combat tourists" because, despite the fact that many come from low income American families where joining the army appeared to be their only choice, they, unlike the Afghans, have choices. The Afghan citizens have no choice. The Americans have brought war to their doorstep on a daily basis, relentless and without mercy.

Turse writes:
In the opening scenes, shot from an armored vehicle (before an improvised explosive device halts a U.S. Army convoy), we catch sight of Afghan families in a village. When the camera pans across the Korengal Valley, we see simple homes on the hillsides. When men from Battle Company head to a house they targeted for an air strike and see dead locals and wounded children, when we see grainy footage of a farm family or watch a young lieutenant, a foreigner in a foreign land, intimidating and interrogating an even younger goat herder (whose hands he deems to be too clean to really belong to a goat herder) -- here is the real war. And here are the people Junger and Hetherington should have embedded with if they wanted to learn -- and wanted to teach us -- what American war is really all about.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Why Do People Still Love Detective Books?

On the weekend PD James spoke at the Words Literary Festival in Devon UK about why she thinks readers continue to go back to detective novels and find something to interest them. According to her, it is about certainty. In the changing world we live in, James feels that morality has yet to catch up with technology. "It’s a world in which it’s difficult to feel entirely at home. That’s why people feel relief in going back to the detective stories of the 1930s, going back to Miss Marple’s St Mary Mead, where there’s a more assured morality, where people knew where they were,”she said.

I love detective fiction but for me it's always about the puzzle and the way that the characters behave in order to solve it or to avoid it being solved.

What about you? Do you read detective fiction? If so, why? Do you go back to the tried and tested, as PD James suggests, so that you can find a certain moral playing field? I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Operation Complete

I've paid the builder and he is officially finished. Thought you'd all like to see the office. Still haven't moved in yet. It needs a clean and a few little details finished (blue glass in those little windows in the door, etc) but I intend to move in very soon, maybe on the weekend. Yeeeeeee!!!!!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Writing Without a Net

A wonderful thing happened to me in Egypt. I'd been struggling with my rough draft and a brain that had too much external noise to find the silence where it could meet my characters. I was feeling insecure with my writing. It was so shallow. I was a poser. I would never get under the skin of this novel to see the truth in anything.

Despite this, I decided I would read the first bit of the manuscript at the public reading at the end of the residency. It was not ready for public consumption, really, but I needed to give them something of the work they had paid for me to have the opportunity to write. So I printed it out on paper. The book is about a married woman who has a one night stand with a much younger man. She immediately regrets what she has done, more so because he will not leave her alone. He stalks her. At the beginning of the book, the place I chose to read, he has left a blue scarf at her gate, a present for her. The scarf is caught up in the hedge, blowing in the dry winter air.

When I wrote this I only wrote this for the image. I wanted the reader to feel the shock of this cerulean scarf in the browns of a winter landscape. Did her husband see it as he left for work? Was her secret out? It was a shallow surface kind of image. Writing I thought I'd been doing. That I'd been fighting with.

Then I printed it out and practiced for the reading and suddenly there was something else. the whole passage was a metaphor, she was caught. I didn't do this consciously. I let my brain free. I was writing without a net. I typed the words but I was not in complete control of them. I was recently helping another writer with her story. She's an established editor and I advised her to be more reckless, try not to control things. A hard task for an editor. It reminded me of this incident in Egypt.

What we've really written, what we meant, can't be seen straight away. We have no idea what we've done. It needs a bit of time and distance for us to discover exactly what happened when we recklessly let our brains do as they pleased.

So get rid of that net, and maybe the wire too. Time to float out there on air and see where it take us, it's usually quite wonderful.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Ghana Makes it to the Semi-finals Corner and Office Progress

My house and everyone in it is waiting for Friday's game. We have a corner set up in the sitting room for Ghana. Ghanian flag, Black Star Vuvuzela (can you see it) and the faithful, and ever hopeful Zakhumi.

Also thought you might like to see an office update photo. We're getting to the last stretch- I hope. The electricity guys have started. I won't have power though until after 19 July since I'm going for the madly expensive option. I'll need to take money out of my savings to fund it. I'm being optimistic that next year I'll have some money again and be able to put in a real swimming pool, so I'm making my office a new power point. It's okay. In Botswana, we have 11% inflation and only get (at best) 6% at the bank when we save. If we leave our money in the bank for a rainy day, the economic termites eat at and we actually lose money. I think it's better to invest in my house.