Saturday, October 17, 2009

Stephen Harper's ecology; Stephen Harper's prison housing

Well, once again I managed to miss Blog Action Day, this time about climate change. I forgive myself by saying that it's one of this blog's ongoing concerns. It's like Christmas and Easter being every day of the year, rather than December 25th and whenever the calendar dictates. What I did do on that day was try to figure out MY carbon footprint, which anyone can go to Zerofootprint (link provided on this blog) and do. Some things that I/we are already doing (medium size car – looking for smaller, no air conditioning, drive or train rather than fly) come up looking good, but we still have a far way to go. The Danes and the British are good at this. Canada, I'm ashamed to say, can only be described as disgraceful, the government for its total lack of perspicacity on this matter, and us Canadians for being wanton consumers of energy.

But of course, without leaders who can 'vision' for them, the people perish. We can take that quite literally in the case of climate change. I always feel pretty bad about the climate change thing, because I'm not looking at living another 50 years. In other words, I don't think it's climate change that's going to kill me. Stephen Harper's children have many, many years before them, which is why I cannot understand the dimwitted-ness of the man on this particular matter. Surely he should wish to act out of enlightened self-interest?

But some people refuse to learn and Mr Harper is dedicated to not learning on other matters as well. One of these 'other matters' is affordable housing. It appears, as some wag in the Globe and Mail's letter-writing column has pointed out, that his notion of providing affordable housing is building prisons, for which purpose his government has just voted millions of dollars, in anticipation of an increase in the prison population as a result of "new, tough laws". For crying out loud! Doesn't he know that homelessness is a direct and indirect cause of crime? It seems to me that even a nitwit would understand that it's smarter and wiser to spend $200,000 on building one unit of housing for a family of 4, 5 or 6 (he'll only have to do it once) than to spend it to house 10 prisoners for ONE year? (A rough estimate of the cost of keeping an inmate in jail for a year is $20,000.00.) Is that so hard to grasp?

But then being 'tough on crime' plays so well to the voting fans, doesn't it? Just like banging out a Beatles song with Yo-Yo Ma! I couldn't believe that Harper's ratings climbed in the next couple days after that (SARCASM HERE, IN CASE IT'S MISSED) signal event. Have we turned into a nation of blockheads? We don't need prisons, Mr Harper. We need housing, clean water, an improved social safety net, improved health care, child care, decent schools. When we don't have these things, crime ensues. As a good fundamentalist, you know that God isn't sitting up there, making criminals and sending them down to be born. He makes babies; we turn them into criminals.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Michelle Obama's – and most black people's? – white ancestry

"Everybody have their white grandmother!" including the wife of the President of the United States. Well, it's a white male progenitor, in her case. Many of us have always assumed it to be true of black people and white ancestors, grandma or grandpa. There's an apocryphal tale of Kamau Brathwaite stopping the presses at Oxford as they were about to print The Development of Creole Society 1770-1820 because he had found enough evidence of racial intermarriage in church registries to suggest that it had been more extensive than previously thought. So he had rewriting to do, for which the venerable presses at Oxford waited.

If we accept the notion of more pervasive white ancestries than supposed, there are implications as well for all those persons who insist that people who are phenotypically black are the only true blacks in the diaspora. In other words, if your genes haven't cooperated to produce very dark skin, tings tuff wit yu. But I guess it may be a case of, "My white grandmother is okay, for she kept her genes to herself. Too bad about yours!"

There are several academics and an author (Ishmael Reed) offering comments on the matter of Mrs Obama's white ancestry in the New York Times, including one biology prof who reminds us that human beings are far more similar than they are different. According to Mark Shriver, "on the molecular level... 85-95 percent of human genetic variation is shared across all populations." This could suggest that race is only skin deep, but Shriver doesn't rush to say that. I'm not prepared to agree, since I think the history of a people finds its way into their molecular structure, so, in a sense, race may be a people's history. And there's a remark that Prof Shriver makes that is consonant with this notion: "The genome is not singular and different genes have independent evolutionary histories." Now there's an interesting discussion to pursue at another time...

And we now know that humankind began in Africa, with homo sapiens heading out from there, not north, but rather south and then across to India, the Far East and Australia, so that – presumably black skinned – folks were 'down under' before we humans made our way to Europe in a much later migration. In sum, what we really ought to be saying is, "Everybody have their black grandmother!"

Two interesting by-the-way things. As I understand it (always ready to be corrected!) studies of mitochondrial DNA in fossils have established that all human beings link back to a single female placenta, and therefore, progenitor – the original, black Eve! Why the fundamentalists haven't galloped off with this, I can't imagine. (Maybe skin colour getting in the way again?) Also, human beings are more differentiated in Africa than anywhere else on earth because humankind has been on that continent the longest.

Anyway, all of that is a long preamble to my own imagined account of forced racial intermixing, as related in the story of Great-Granny Mac. The whole poem (I've included only a part here) is to be found in The True Blue of Islands, available on amazon. It's a long narrative poem that tells the tale of Madeleine Lazare Mungo, a young girl whose family is broken up and sent to owners on different estates. Missing her sisters and brothers and mother, she's enslaved on the plantation of a black slave owner named Bellmartin. So it's not the traditional white-master-rapes-black-slave story, but it witnesses to the fact that there was coercion of all sorts in slavery times, and so plenty blood mixing. Here then begins the story of Madeleine Lazare Mungo:

Great Granny Mac

Before Bellmartin buy Great Gran
she working in the pikni gang
on a plantation that belong
to Mr Serle, a backra man.

That white man own her family –
mother, two brother, two sister
and she, Madeleine. “He was
a cruel man,” my Great-gran say.

“He love a whip. The cat’ o’nine
was like a flask of wine
to him. He could get drunk
with lashing slaves. When his

“arm hoist is like you see
inebriation rise inside
his veins his muscles brain
his whole entire flesh on fire.

“He lash man, woman, pikni
too. Even his friends advise,
‘Don’t be a fool. You spoiling
your own property! You pay

good money for those blacks!’
He answer: “So – I flog them
as I please.’ One day
sudden the man take in

“with belly workings.
Doctor come but cannot
find no remedy. ‘I’d change
the cook,’ he recommend.

“ ‘Some nigger trying to poison
me? I’ll rid me of the lot
of them.’ Backra break up
our family. Sell us all bout.

“I bawling watch my brothers go
two different ways. I see one bigger sis
leave for Green Island; t’other one
they take to Annotto Bay.

“They haul my mother to the far
north shore. Me, smallest, stay
on a modest estate in town.
Mr. Bellmartin purchase me.

“The day I see him little most
I drop down from the sight. Top hat
and ruffles riding crop barouche –
this man as black as night!

“When he buy me, I was seven
years old. For days I suffer fever
in my head. Don’t rise, don’t eat,
don’t sleep. Make up my mind

“to dead. Then Ma come in
a dream and say, ‘ Best you
let go of us, Madeleine.
Put us away – inside.’

“I do as Ma say. Rise
next day. I still can hear
her whispering
my name, ‘Madeleine’.”

“At Bellmartin’s plantation
I turn cunning. More times
they catching me with book, paper
and pen. I well know if they find me

“with them things is plenty lashes
else is starve they starving me
for days. But chile, my navel string
cut on deceit, dissembly, lies.

“Tricky like Brer Anansi I
maintain ‘I only have such things
because Miss Meggie cannot bear
to play with any foolish

“darky girl.’ The little girl
is black as me but my excuse
don’t fall askew on any ear.
I go on with my tale.

“ “She say that I best learn
to read and write – and cipher too.
I try to learn, sir, though
it’s hard. I always likes to oblige.’

“Dropping a curtsy I open
my big eyes bold make four
with his — and I make sure
I learn to read like a machine.

“Poor Meggie struggling
with words dark like her own
black skin. I eat those words
like they is food.

“Time I become fourteen
I cipher well enough to help
keep books for the estate.
‘This is my smartest nigger.’

“So say Bellmartin, and he rent
me out to some small-holding
folks too poor themselves
to employ help full-time

“to render their accounts.
I never like it from the first.
I know one of them small-hold
man was going grab hold of me

and take his dim-wit purple
pen and write his seed
inside my abdomen...