Hold your own

Mhle from  https://mfourlbyhfourepoetry.wordpress.com  was kind enough to share this poem with me on Tuesday.  It’s passionately told here:


Kate Tempest at Glastonbury.  

When time pulls lives apart

Hold your own

When everything is fluid and when nothing can be known with any certainty

Hold your own

Hold it till you feel it there

As dark and dense and wet as earth

As vast and bright and sweet as air

When all there is

Is knowing that you feel what you are feeling

Hold your own

Ask your hands to know the things they hold

I know

The days are reeling past in squealing blasts

Stop for breath and know it’s yours

Swaying like an open door when storms are coming


Time is an onslaught

Love is a mission

We work for vocation until

In remission

We wish we’d had patience and given more time to our children

You must feel each decision you make.

You must hold it

Hold your own

Hold your lovers

Hold their hands

Hold their breasts in your hands like your hands were their bras

Hold their cheeks in your palms like a prayer

Hold them all night and feel them hold back

Don’t hold back

Hold your own

Every pain

Every grievance

Every single stab of shame

Every day spent with a demon in your brain giving chase

Hold it

Know the wolves that hunt you

In time, they will be the dogs that bring your slippers

Love them right and you will feel them kiss you when they come to bite

Their hot snouts digging out your cuddles with their bloody muzzles


Look, nothing you can buy will ever make you more whole

This whole fucking thing thrives on you feeling incomplete

It is why you will search for happiness in whatever stupid thing you crave in a moment

And it is why you will never find it there

It is why you will sit there with the lover that you fought for

In the car you sweated years to buy

Wearing the ring you dreamed of all your life

And some part of you will still be unsure that this is what you really want

Glastonbury, stop craving

Hold your own

But if you are satisfied with what you have and who you are

You won’t need to buy new makeup or new outfits or new pots and pans

To cook new exciting recipes

For new exciting friends

To make yourself feel like the new exciting person you think you’re supposed to be

Happiness, the brand, is not happiness

You are smarter than they think you are

They take us all for idiots

That’s their problem

If we behave like idiots it’s our problem

So hold your own

Breathe deep on a freezing beach

Taste the salt of shellfish

Smile at a stranger and mean it

Lose your shit to your new favourite English rapper

Hold your own

And let it be


Tagged , , , , , ,


(This story is a play on a Cape Town neighbourhood watch, who caught some media attention.  Apparently, the focus was on racial profiling, but as always, the story was hidden in vague terms about ‘people who don’t belong’ or ‘those who linger in cars’.  Media Monitoring SA pointed out that racial profiling is often used to ‘spot’ criminals, and that neighbourhood watches can sometimes be hostile to ‘other’ people).

I’ve started on a new mission.  Almost holy in a way – whenever two or more should gather and all that – but I’ll explain, and you’ll understand.  It’s really cool, and you get to make a lot of noise.  In the spirit of old Brian Adams, I’m ‘Waking Up the Neighbours’.  You have walkie talkies and stuff, and you get to go out at the crack of dawn, when everybody else is sleeping, and shout, at the top of your voice “Alpha, Beta, Charlie, Charlie Four!  Come in Charlie Four!”  Not sure why, but it gets the students out of bed.

Blasted students.  If I’m like Brian Adams, they are like the Counting Crows.  Take them very seriously.  “Round here, we stay up very, very late,” and all that.  Take them a bit to heart at three in the morning, when they come back from the clubs, searching for lost keys and talking philosophy like anyone cares.  But I’m getting off track.

So, Alpha, Charlie, Charlie Two, Charlie, Charlie, Testing.  I’m on hood patrol, that’s what, and I’m starting to get the hang of it.  It was difficult at first.  You’re meant to look for bad people, all those that are a threat to the hard working neighbours, and you’re meant to help keep the area safe.

They said “Search for those people who don’t belong here, and call it in.”

Hard, that.  We live near a hospital, a university, a whole lot of bars and there are all kinds of NGOs here that help people and all that, so who doesn’t belong here?

Posh ladies, that’s who!  Ladies with blow dried hair, the ones who teach literacy to the poor kids at school….Alpha, Charlie, come in…

Apparently this was not the point!  Oops.

So they said “We’re looking for problems, you know, people with hoodies walking together, you know, beanies too, hoods up, every now and then you get somebody glancing into cars!”

Bit busy, that one.  So many students and everything, and teenagers are always looking into cars.  “Alpha, Alpha, come in, come in!”

You don’t always get much appreciation in this line of work.  One of the very neighbours I was trying to protect told me, quite rudely too, to shut up!

Turns out the students in hoodies are fine too!  Ah well, silly me.

So they said “People looking dodgy, you know, suspicious, looking around a lot, checking where you are.”

Followed a group of teenage girls around.  They reported me.

The street manager started to get impatient.

“People who sit in cars for a long time, check out what’s going on around them.”

Young couple fighting asked me to go away.

But who was I supposed to be watching?  Who was actually a threat?  Come on, tell me, please, give me a clue.  I’m not getting it right, people are getting angry.  I’m ready to quit and it’s only my first day.  I’m good when I get the hang of what’s going on.  Help me out.  Please.

And then I got it.  Shouldn’t have been so slow, when I think about it.  I’ve seen Not the Nine o’ Clock news.  I know the skit with Savage, the need to stir up trouble, to prowl the streets arresting people for possession of curly hair and thick lips.  So I started to get it right.  It’s going well now.  I follow people about and I get to shout down my walkie talky, just so they know I’m doing it.

But I understand why you can’t share openly all those signs that make people suspicious.  It would be racist, that.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,


Sugarman, won’t you hurry,

‘Cause I’m tired if these scenes…

When I was about to finish high school (can it really be so long ago?) Oliver Stone blew up Jim Morrison’s life to the size of a multi – storey building and condensed it into a couple of hours (as drummer John Densmore would explain). I went to watch it in the cinema to hear the poetry but I didn’t buy the soundtrack, with the marvellous opening poem….’did you have a good world when you died, enough to base a movie on…’ Instead, I bought Cold Fact by Rodriguez.

In the movie ‘Searching for Sugarman’ Stephen Segerman explains the hunt for a lost musician, and the Calvinism present in South Africa during the time his music formed a big part of our community. In apartheid South Africa, with it’s repression and anxiety, ‘I wonder how many times you’ve had sex’ brought the unspoken into conversation, making it the most daring song ever written.

I was more interested in the imagery behind the Sugarman lyrics. What was it that could make your questions disappear? I had way too many questions back then (and still do).

At the time, I’d been reading ‘On the Road’ for the first time, and I’d been fascinated by the sensuality and the joys of everyday life. On The Road tells the story of Sal Paradise and his trips around America during a time when he is between wives.

“Where we going, man?”

“i don’t know but we gotta go.”

Sal shares Mr Snow’s wonderful laugh, which started when his wife said something funny at dinner. And then there was the search for lost fathers like Old Dean, who remained enigmatic.

Although from a different era, without the jazz from the workingman’s clubs, Rodriguez seemed to fit right in.

But if Sal was searching for lost fathers, Segerman was searching for a lost musician. In South Africa, rumor had it that Rodriguez had died on stage. It was a haunting story and like all shades, Rodriguez was to return. As teenagers, none if us believed we would ever get to see him. The documentary, Searching for Sugarman, tells of the connections which were formed, and which would eventually lead to a tour of South Africa.

I got to see Rodriguez in the summer of 2013. I don’t usually go to Grand West, but it’s painted in the nostalgia of lost Cape Town, so perhaps it was the perfect place for the combination of memories, souls thought lost but now found, and images printed on t-shirts and that would move into the dispersed futures of the fans.

Rodriguez was shy and humble then, sharing that he loved our city. He also showed a sense of humour. “So the marriage counsellor says to Mickey Mouse ‘you can’t divorce her just because you think she’s crazy.’ And he says, ‘I didn’t say she was crazy, I said that she was effing Goofy!’ ( Yep, tricking us South Africans into sexy talk again.)

I loved the crowds, the chanting, the atmosphere, the warmth and the energy that made up the concert. I loved it that my daughter could relate just as well as I could, I loved the spirit of a man who hadn’t even known his music had life over here. And I loved the story of his discovery.

“What happens to us when we die?” Sal Paradise asks of Old Bull Lee. Bull first explains that you’re just dead, that’s all. Jim Morrison seemed fascinated by Bull’s later answer, that mankind is constantly in contact with the other world. As Blake shared if the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it truly is, infinite. “That’s what I want to be…I want to be the Door…” Jim Morrison apparently said.

Searching for Sugarman asks a different question, perhaps similar to the one Nick Hornby explores in ‘Juliet Naked’. What happens when you are still alive, you are getting on with your life, and in different parts of the world, others are inventing the myths weave themselves around your name? What does it mean to realize that your music has never really died? What happens when you come back to life?

Searching for Sugarman explored those questions and gave birth to a new story. And now a book is being released which lets us see the perspectives of those who brought the story (and the music)to life. What does the book share? I don’t know, I still have to read it. If you’ve read it first, do share.

Tagged , , , , ,

What is the Hungarian Prime Minister thinking?

That the Hungarian Prime Minister has such a disregard for European history is nothing short of astonishing.  In a continent with a history of genocide against the Jewish/ Muslim/ Pagan ‘other’ he manages, in the midst of a refugee crisis, to mutter on about Hungary’s Christian values and the need to protect them.

Last year, I explored the importance of memory and the way that ‘alternate’ voices can sometimes be disrespected when it comes to exploring the brutal impacts of oppression. History has so often been told from the perspective of of the victors. And this is where the concept of ‘specters’ came from. From Derrida’s perspective, specters represent those parts of history which remain unresolved, repressed or dis-remembered.

When we disremember history or forget the ‘never and never again’ stories of mistreatment or abuse, the past repeats itself and we remain haunted by injustices and human rights abuses.

In 2010, I watched ‘Like a Man on Earth’ which showed a story of trafficking, slavery and abuse of people who traveled from Ethiopia to Italy. The struggles people faced were haunting, and the insight I gained about the difference between bounded and flexible citizenship (who has the right to travel across countries to seek a better home, and who is seen to be less welcome) showed that we still have to work hard for a deeper sense of human rights for all.

But inequality has long summed up European history. Anti-Semitism and the belief that pagan people were not fully human or capable of having ‘souls’ provided a means of exploitation, slavery and genocide.

This isn’t a time for preaching about tolerance (how boring, to try to bear ‘other’ people out of a sense of righteousness). It’s the time for recognizing the humanity, life, passion, colour and the joy of difference.

The purity of different pasts are less important than possible futures. It’s time to widen and deepen the knowledge and offerings of what it means to be a part if the human family, recognizing that we’ve always formed inter-connections and relationships that extend outwards.

The myths of separation have halted our natural tendency to explore and interconnect. We are not really rainbow people, separated off from each other. We often interconnect, blurring boundaries, learning new things and co-creating different futures.

Going to war or excluding people based on a different system of beliefs is based in a myth of nationality that imagined boundaries or rituals of keeping ‘others’ out, even as a scramble for domination began. But it isn’t the only way to live and it never has been.

If the Hungarian Prime Minister doesn’t understand that, then perhaps the Christian values of loving one another as you yourself would like to be treated should come into the conversation. If all we have is a set of fundamentalist beliefs, well then perhaps it’s helpful to apply them in different ways!

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

A different psychology

One of my colleagues recently pointed out that racism isn’t included in the DSM ( a guide towards understanding how mental health difficulties present). I was interested in this comment because some of my earlier work explored the importance of taking a critical (or social) approach towards ‘race’ and ‘racism’.

Critical psychology (and critical theory) explores the ways that the social world shapes possibility. What are our roots, and how does this open up or deny routes we can take? This doesn’t deny agency or an ability to respond. Neither does it aim to declare that people are passive. Instead, it tries to focus on the difficulties or struggles people face on a day to day basis. As Don Foster explains, when psychology disconnects people from what it means to be a social, historical and embodied person who exists in time and space, it creates a deceptive view of reality.

Looking at ‘race’ and ‘racism’ therefore means looking at people within a social context. The view of the ‘prejudiced’ or bigoted person from this perspective isn’t enough to create social transformation. Why not? Surely it is helpful to call people out on blatant racism or abusive behavior?

Critical theory sees ‘race’ as a social myth, as is gender. In a wold where body shape, skin couloir and hair type have been used to create barriers between people, and to make comparisons across groups, this has lead to social hierarchies, marginalization, exclusions and genocides. Foucault, in Society Must Be Defended explained that ‘race’ has been used to kill. The term is largely metaphorical, referring to killing off opportunities or possibilities. Foucault emphasizes the cobwebbed nature of power, and the way it spins itself throughout social institutions such as the education system, social welfare, medical care and the legal system, which are very often constructed to benefit dominant groups. Basic questions, such as ‘whose history gets taught in schools?’ Or ‘Who is protected by the law, and how is order imposed?’ Helps to give insight into this system. The question critical theorists use, when looking at a problem or situation is ‘who benefits when we present a story as we do?’

From this perspective, our views of the world are presented and repeated over and over again in the form of stories or myths. Every story has a historical root or origin. By digging up this root, we are able to bring about radical change. A world carved into nation states, upheld by the rituals off passports and visas had been created or imagined. What other imaginings or possibilities could exist if the shadow side of nationality is xenophobia or war? How else may we view people of different race of gender? Who benefits when we present the stories we do to the world? What is the picture we are presented with when it comes to poor people, immigrants or people of different ‘race’? How can we change this?

The emphasis here is the focus on social conversations produced over a great many years, until they are seen as indisputable facts. We have the myth that poor people are lazy or that ‘Black’ men are dangerous or violent. These myths lead to police brutality.

By deconstructing (or breaking down) social myths, it is possible to work towards change. By maintaining or repeating these myths, we maintain the status quo.

In a world built on slavery, land theft and sometimes the deliberately poor quality education given in order to maintain a labour force which benefits the very few, it isn’t helpful to focus on ‘racism’ as an individual personality trait.

To declare that ‘racism’ is an individual quality pathologizes racism instead of accepting it as a social norm which has been used to construct our everyday society. People who utter cultural beliefs which are seen as shocking or outdated in a liberal and politically correct world sometimes present an opportunity for discussion, dialogue, and, in extreme cases, arrest. But this isn’t enough to bring about transformation.

In a world where poverty is very often linked to racism, where people die everyday of preventable infectious diseases, where infant mortality is the shocking norm in many communities, and communities of people live without adequate sanitation, racism often determines the very fabric of he lives people lead. It is woven into the texture of society and that which we accept to be normal.

It is these norms which need challenging, so that all people are able to live with dignity, and so that all lives are seen to matter. When we see racism as pathological, carried out only by the violent or socially inept, and when we see the impacts of racism as individual qualities such as depression or a tendency towards violence or envy, the social word goes unchallenged. And who benefits?

This is why it’s helpful that racism isn’t seen to be a part of the DSM, and why exploring power imbalances helps

Derek Hook adds the importance of acknowledging psychodynamics in critical psychology:


towards creating a more just world.

Foucault: society must be defended.

Don Foster: Liberation Psychology in Critical Psychology edited by Derek Hook.

Derek Hook: Psychopathology and Social Prejudice

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Orang Asli| Voices of Malaysia’s Aboriginal People Reaching Masses

Originally posted on The Human Lens:

Two Sides of Every Story Two Sides of Every Story@Shaq Koyok

The artist Shaq Koyok was born in Kampung Pulau Kempas in Banting, Selangor. He started painting with oil pastels at five years old, using his talent as a way to express his feelings about everything that happened around him, weaving a tapestry of sensitive human emotions and events in his life and most importantly the “rights of indigenous people in Malaysia.” 

As he turned 13, Koyok started drawing portraits and since then has worked with many mediums. Today, this young artist armed with an honors degree in fine arts from MARA, he has produced works reflecting his growing concern about the Orang Asli people in Malaysia. In his own words, Koyok says “My activism activities remain the most important to me. I shed light on issues affecting my community.” 

With growing developmental projects in Malaysia, vast amounts of the rain-forest that once covered Peninsular…

View original 443 more words

The Power of Socio-Cultural Programming


Carol Hand explains the difficulty of socio-cultural programming.

Originally posted on Voices from the Margins:

Carol A. Hand

“Critical theory holds that … capitalist social organization is the overarching social problem from which most other social problems derive.” (Luske, 1998, 0. 118)

Living in the liminal space between cultures often provides a confounding but fascinating vantage point. It’s difficult to explain this to others who have had the comfortable privilege of growing up surrounded by only one perspective. Advocacy and teaching are challenging in such a context. How can one provide opportunities to raise awareness about alternative perspectives and meanings? Three rather divergent examples from my time in academia came to mind as I thought about this question.

Norma b

Photo: Lac Du Flambeau Ojibwe reservation – 1923 –

My mother at 2 dressed by the wealthy Euro-American woman who wanted to adopt her

norma 1

Photo: Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe reservation – 1928 –

My mother at 7 (her birth mother refused to allow her to be adopted)

View original 2,027 more words

Psychopaths or terrorists? Who says?

When the Charlie Hebdo massacre occurred early this year, we heard how ‘terrorists’ had gone on a rampage. We saw the brutal murder of a police man shown on the television, to the distress and horror of his family. And we were told of the threats ‘we’ faced when it came to freedom of speech, no matter how hurtful that speech may be.

When it came to the murder of nine people in Charleston, we heard of ‘madness’, ‘gun laws’, ‘loners’ and ‘psychopaths’. Analysts have used psychological terms, rather than political ones.

Some of the more social commenters have focused on ‘white supremacy’ and the history of slavery which shaped Charleston’s past. And there are articles which show that the man who walked into a church with the intention to murder may have been a part of an extreme (and lunatic) group.

How are events re-presented, and what does that mean to the populations of people who live with the impacts?

When the #blacklivesmatter tweets were gaining momentum last year, liberal commenters took a humanist perspective and argued that all lives matter. And of course they do. But this reaction deepened my commitment to taking a critical perspective. Because the point isn’t that all lives matter. It is that all lives have not been equally recognized to matter.

My focus on social narratives (or conversations) began with the need to focus on more than just an individual person. This is because a liberal perspective, which sees each person as responsible for going out and living his/her dreams is not enough to explain the way that the social world works. Instead, it is only when we see ourselves as social, historical, embodied and interconnected beings, that we are able to see the ways that we may or may not (unwittingly) perpetuate inequalities.

The right to personhood is still not extended to all. While assumptions were made about the thoughts and beliefs of Muslim people, after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, those who benefit most from social inequalities are free to condemn the murders of nine people in Charleston without being constructed as a threat to the world at large. And yet this injustice has remained hidden as we express outrage. Racism is perpetuated.

Power imbalances remain. And this is what social justice work is about to me. It is about exposing the power imbalances which are re-created over and over again. When injustices are exposed, it is possible to work towards change and to put right the wrongs. But as long as they remain hidden, they are repeated.

What stories are told about women, Muslim men (and women) or the refugee? What images come to mind? Who is spoken at, about or for, but never with? What does this mean in a world where language is used to construct realities?

By exploring our social conversations and how words are used, we begin to see how they (perhaps unwittingly) dehumanize. And how we don’t always question what we are presented with. Which concerned citizens of a town express ‘deep concerns’ at municipal services, for example, and who is seen to ‘mob’ or ‘run rampant’? Who travels or emigrates, and who is seen to hop over borders or flood a country in the form of a natural disaster?

When we look at the way we re-present people, what we take to be normal, and the conversations we take part in, it helps us to see how the specters of an unjust past haunt the present. Talk of ‘development’ or ‘aid’ may show the lingering superiority of a brutal colonialism.

Cruelty and intimacy have long been intertwined in our social histories. By exposing injustices and the way they are shared everyday, we are perhaps more able to work more consciously towards equal rights.

Tagged , , , , , ,

What can we say?

A couple of years ago, when I found some old ‘Cracker’ box sets at our local DVD shop, I watched Fitz, Cracker’s criminal psychologist, speak about racism.

“Are you racist?”


And then his explanation of a racist system, structured in social hierarchies which had been seeped in generations of belief systems and historical injustices.

How are we a part of self perpetuating system, no matter our best intentions?

On the very first disc of Cracker, perhaps even the first episode, the drunk, broke and very faulted Fitz makes a similar point about a professional woman who enjoys her career even as a different woman cleans her toilet.

And her discipline? Gender studies.

We live in a hypocritical society, where people who fight ideologies very often earn well as lecturers or NGO researchers, while the people most in need of change earn little. People on the streets risk arrest or brutality for protests which may bring sanitation, healthcare or a living wage.

One of my fears, as a student, was my own (continual) lack of insight, and the blind spots I carry. I can’t speak for any other person, and there are times when I really don’t think I should speak at all! Constantly repeated statements get boring, nobody wants to hear them, and anyway, the people who most need to be heard are those who should really be speaking. And so I thought it was time for me to listen.

Hearing conversations in context has helped me to see how ‘other’ * people see and feel. It’s also helped me to see how little I know. And so I wonder, as a person interested in social justice, and committed to understanding agency, how I can go out and point fingers at other people?

Scapegoating horrifies me. In a world where reflexivity and dialogue are perhaps the only ways we believe we can speak to each other, casting others out of the ‘knowledgeable fold’ seems to me the easiest way to close down conversations.

My knowledge (or my taught knowledge anyway) was related to the privilege of being able to attend a university funded by other South Africans, including tax payers who earn little. Not everybody followed my academic path, because not everybody got the chance. Some people didn’t want to. And even within my coursework, we explored different interests.

And so it would be pointless and stupid to go out and declare that people who don’t see the world as I do should be fired, socially condemned or seen as backwards. How fascist would that be? And anyway, there may only be one or two people left, we’d bore each other, and there would be nothing to spark new insights.

The way I see it, true social justice can only happen if we develop empathy enough to understand how the world, as it currently exists, can create pain or harm. And for me, this has been a struggle, because the very unjust world I criticize is the same world which had shaped my own beliefs.

Seeing opportunity for change or transformation isn’t easy. Bringing it to life is both wonderful and difficult. But it’s a process, above all else, and mindless authority which governs what people can or can’t say isn’t helpful.

Perhaps Martha and Clive from BBC’s SILK express this most clearly when presenting a police commissioner in a ‘racist’ hearing with a tape of his own (seemingly) private racist dialogue, while he sits in judgement of a fellow officer who used an ‘incorrect’ word as a jest in the context of a friendship. Which is more harmful, a conversation between marginalized peers, who joke about racism by ‘sending it up’ or a non-reflexive authority who polices the boundaries of what can be said?

I think working towards transformation needs subtle reflexivity. Condemnation, and the belief that if we just follow the rules, we’ll all be okay…well that leads to fascism, and it leads to scapegoating of individual people who didn’t create an unjust system, simply so that there needs to be no more work in trying to resolve it.


* the term ‘other’ as in ‘other people’ is a technical term which means people who are seen to be lesser according to social norms.

Extra edited note:  this post didn’t quite explain the process of reflexivity and cultural programming.  Carol Hand’s post adds depth and context to my goal with this post.  I’m hoping it will add clarity.


Tagged , , , ,

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 257 other followers