stop ‘pathologising’ me…

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A colleague of mine, an ‘expert’ on minority matters, inclusion, race relations, equalities and the various morphing and re-branding of diversity related issues, recently told me he was tired of the incessant ‘pathologising’ of minority communities in the UK: especially after a crisis, protest turning into riots and terrorism. My colleague was referring to the recent demonising of Muslims as a Illusionresult of ‘terror attacks at home’, the evident siege that Muslim communities feel they are under, and the scaremongering resulting from the current refugee crisis.  He wondered about the reams of papers used for research, studies and reports: who were reading them, what difference have they made, do the policy makers remember them and why the need for more research into radicalisation of young Muslims? “When”, he asked, “will all this shit diagnosing, researching and pathologising of the minority communities end? We are constantly being fucked – left –right and centre!” Would there ever be a time when we will stop treating the ‘ethnic other’ as our next ‘jumbie’ and avoid deploying essentialist ways of describing and explain them and their communities?

The growing tendency to diagnose the life of minorities as if afflicted with a medical ailment or disease at every turn of the status quo’s fear-mongering is plain terror. While the vocabulary of ‘inferior people(s)’ may have disappeared – the habits of current fears suggest otherwise. Stigmatising Muslims and Refugees as unpatriotic, burdensome and much more negative representations encourage the idea of ‘pathologised presence’. And there is a link between this and ‘normalised absence’ which renders these communities or groups (human beings) invisible in multiple ways.

It is the case that negative depictions of minorities teach minorities that they are threatening, deviant, and irrelevant to our common life together. Such portrayals are damaging to the psyche because they in still inferiority complexes among minorities and perpetuate fear and prejudices. Demeaning characterizations and an absence of nuanced representations will make anyone feel as if they do not belong. The probability that such groups can then be seen as positive contributors to society diminishes. Would it then be of any surprise that the visible minorities are then seen as ‘other’ or ‘foreign’ – a potential threat to the nation/country?

Do we need experts to tell us that!

I agree with my colleague: every time the pundits and experts swarm down on a community the ‘othering’ continues, ensuring further marginalization, disempowerment and social exclusion, keeping secure the hegemonic identities of the dominant group by distancing and stigmatising those that hold characteristics considered deviant. The result: a re-inscribing of the very divide we are seeking got bridge: ‘us’ and ‘them’. The various forms of pathologising only serve to divide communities. The cynical part of me often wonder whether the ‘absence’ of minorities is often preferred and widely accepted as being ‘the norm’ because the presence of the ‘other’ is often viewed as being intrusive and too much to take!

I desperately hope I am wrong.

Ultimately what is most important is a generosity that shows respect, care and welcome for one’s neighbour – for who they are and where they come from. We must break the cycle of fear and deficit thinking we can so easily deploy when it comes to minorities and migrant communities.  Is it so difficult to see and experience the richness that diversity brings to our life together? This will certainly demand re-framing questions and changing our perspectives – changing the ways we see the world around us and what counts as common narratives or even common sense. How can we all work for the reordering and reshaping of our communities? We need to consider how to get British society ready to embrace and serve its beautifully inherent multiplicity rather than demonising and stereotyping the next ‘wave’ of strangers in our midst. We do not need researchers to tell us what we already know.

Let’s do it!

©  jagessar December 2015

Change Now – Starting with Ourselves

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Mind boggling, tragic, sad and scary is how I feel every time I journey to the local recycling centre in Harpenden as we prepare to move house. I should be happy that people are re-cycling and that the means for collecting and 20151016_081131recycling are in place. It could have been worse. But as I dumped the things that local charities would not take, I am just shocked by some of the exceptionally good things that are being thrown away. But that is not what bothers me as much as the waste and the fact that WE are all living above our means – consuming more than is really needed to live a reasonably good life. How have I ended up like this and in this culture? Flash-back of my years in the Caribbean/Guyana and growing up in a land where much was scarce and very little was thrown away got me thinking. My family and local community up-cycled and re-cycled everything. My immediate family here in the UK and close friends must be tired with me noting how for almost everything I see in the recycling area I had suggestions as to how to convert and re-use. I must be in the wrong profession!

We must change but will only my clicks (likes) on face-book make a difference? Face-book, as one pundit suggests may be imaged as a country with more than 1.4 billion people. But what kind of country it is, can be, and what sort of citizen is it turning me into? Some face-book islands may carry the potential to change attitude – but many create islands of clicking zombies redefining social norms in unhelpful ways. Others may contend that it provides us with an opportunity “to begin the world over again” (to paraphrase Thomas Paine). We can dream on, but I (we) still need to change!

It may be that scientific advancement may come to our rescue. The pundits are inviting us to image a world where we think of something and it happens. I am looking forward to this! I agree that change will not happen if we are not able to image what the new will be. “We imagine, therefore we are”: perhaps there is hope for a different world as we start to imagine living simply and with less!! I want to imagine a world where we work less and sleep more, for again researchers are contending that lack of sleep affects the parts of the brain in charge of emotions and decision-making, and makes people more impulsive. Can it be that this lack of sleep has turned us into compulsive consumers, war-mongers, and hoarders?

In the meantime, I would support any move on the suggestion for a high-end tax on ‘selfish indulgence’ as history has shown that it is foolish and unwise to expect humans to consider the common good over their own wants. Would politicians like Corbyn, Sanders, Trudeau, and Sturgeon dare to start a movement that taxes ‘selfishness or self-interest’ as they work out a politics of compassion?

And, as the far-right politicians continue their mantra of keeping Europe Christian, I would hope that they would engender ways and actions that would reflect what it means to act and live like Christians and even support a tax on ‘selfishness’!

I am up for the challenge and I commit myself to change – to both deal with my despair and act on making a difference. Would you care to join me?

© jagessar October 25, 2015

Exorcising Demons – politics and needing a scapegoat

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The world of the Labour Camp in Britain is in turmoil – and rightly so. I wonder if Catherine Booth had any political party in mind when she observed years ago: “If we are to better the future we must disturb the present.” Clearly, the present world of ‘labour politics’ has been ailing for some time and is need of urgent disturbing. Or better yet, to disturb proper English spiders websensibilities – ‘labour’ is in need of a good ‘kick ass’. The arrival of one Jeremy Corbyn as the favourite contender for the Party’s top-post, according to the polls and a large group of disenchanted labour supporters and beyond, is like a fresh of breath air! There is still hope that the corrupted empire of the neo-liberal political economy can be taken on and that many are waiting for some ‘saviour’ to champion a society of flourishing life for all – not just for the one percent (1%).

But as we are witnessing – one should not underestimate the might of the neo-liberal empire, its fervent worshippers and its ways. They are crawling all over the place, including in Churches! Even the other contending ‘labour’ candidates have been so baptised into this world that they cannot tell their ‘arses from their elbows’. Integrity, honesty, graciousness, the voice of the people, and anything or anyone that will attempt to go counter the sanctuary of the neo-liberal market beast and its many illusionary avatars must be attacked, maligned, mis-represented and devoured at all cost. The situation, to say the least, is frighteningly pathological.

Now, while Jeremy Corbyn offers greater clarity on what a labour party under his leadership will have to do, change and look like to reclaim some aspects of what it means to be labour (to stand out from the other Political Parties), the other contenders are yet to convince me (and many others) as to what difference they will make to what we currently have as a government. Instead, their tactic has degenerated into a personal attack on the favourite, ‘demonising’ him as an extreme leftist/communist not to be trusted at any cost, and contending that he (unlike them) is not ‘winning’ material to be see labour forming the next government.

Like many others, one does not need a degree to discern that at play here is fear and a consequence of fear: scape-goating and grasping at every conceivable means to get rid of a threat, even if it means looking like Balaam’s ass (who may have had more sense) to the rest of the nation. Can it be that the left, right or middle political location mantra may just be a diversion tactic or pure inability to deal with the fact that the public is looking for is a voice that is honest, carries integrity, and deploys language about the things that matter most for people and our society? If Corbyn is an unlikely candidate to lead Labour to a General Election win, so are the other contenders. The reality though is that what Labour clearly needs is to rediscover its soul, the values that make it distinctive and a sensible oppositional voice committed to principles rather than expediency. There is much ground to re-cover……and many demons to exorcise!

© jagessar August 2015

To be Suspicious or Not……

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Are you carrying a suspicious item or are you aware that you are probably carrying one? Is there a suspicious-looking person around or near you? I am sure you have heard this constant message at train stations, airports and some 20141010_175342 (1)public spaces – being drummed daily into our psyche. Perhaps, if you are like me, you would have responded in a variety of ways.

Initially, I paid no attention to it. Then after a while I started to reflect on what I am hearing and what is actually being asked of me as a member of the public. I can understand the need to be vigilant as there are enough people with evil intentions who would wish to hurt others. But then my own hermeneutic of suspicion kicked in as I started to interrogate the deeper implications of this ‘brain-washing’ geared at turning each other into a ‘big-brother’.

I can imagine that for some hearing this for the first – a look of alarm, amusement or furtive glance for dodgy people or luggage or parcels. But, what would a suspicious person look like? How would I know since no hint is given to what to look for? I can understand seeing luggage on its own lying around and wanting to raise an alarm though most likely it is someone glancing in the nearby window contemplating whether to buy what is on display or a parent running after a child not able to sit still.

But back to that suspicious looking person: is it that person in a hoodie? Or maybe it is that perspiring or nervous/edgy looking individual heading for his/her first job-interview? And can it be that the person immaculately wrapped in hijab accompanied by the bearded husband I need to be aware of? Perhaps, I should be looking elsewhere – to all those pin-stripe suited men heading to the business corner of London on their next economic terror!

In any case, who is looking out for anyone or anything suspicious when most of us are all wired and glued to some electronic gadget, ears all plugged up, and oblivious of the of the world around us? We need to ask ourselves: what actually is this constant drumming of being alert of suspicious looking individuals and luggage is turning us into? What values are being communicated in terms of how we view each other – especially the neighbour around? What does this do to trust and to seeing goodness and the best in the person next to you? Can we not be vigil and alert without starting on the premise that people around us may be bent on harming others? I suspect, left to our own devices and judgement – often shaped by our own conscious and unconscious prejudices, a whole lot of people around us would be locked up and put away.

This is not the sort of world I would want to live in. Because I believe that another world is possible, I would refuse to let fear and the evil intentions of a few turn me into a distrustful creature. I concede that I may lose my life: but I will certainly have to worry about one thing less!

© jagessar June 27, 2015

recognising prejudices – especially my own

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We all have unconscious biases – the ways in which we can be prejudiced due to processes that happen outside of our awareness. These prejudices or biases we often tend to dress up as ‘likes and dislikes’, as a nicer way of putting them: but they are prejudices nevertheless.

Beyond the webSince moving to a new place of residence in North London, I have had to use the bus, tube and train more regularly. Among my many resolutions (most of which I falter on keeping) is that of trying not to get fixated on or lost in the screens of any of my electronic gadgets when walking or using public transport for shorter journeys but to take time to look around, observe my surroundings, greet people, and be ready to be of help if needed. I am seeing much: some delightful, others frightening, a few quite irritating, some a cause for thought and of course the ingenious and funny surprises that puncture some of my stereotypes.

With regard the ingenious: I often impressed with the lengths to which some cyclists and backpackers would go to find creative ways to load up their rucksacks or backpacks working their way through London’s heavy and crowded traffic and walkways. Recently I saw a cyclist with what looks like a reasonably-sized painting wrapped up and taped to his rucksack speeding and meandering through some back streets in London. I often associate such ingenuous ways of handling one’s transport challenge only with people from the majority world!

Then there is the irritating matter of luggage – especially the ones that are on wheels which we often pull behind or roll alongside us. I must confess to a love-hate relationship with this invention. On a personal level, I find them very useful when traveling by public transport across various parts of the country or when having to take budget airlines! But, try walking through a busy train station like St. Pancras, Kings Cross or Paddington with a whole heap of people pulling these traffic jamming obstacles behind them at lethargic paces, or while fixated to their mobile gadgets, or with their ears plugged up to the beat of their music of choice, and then stopping suddenly in their track to respond to a text message. Or even more, ridiculously walking straight into your path while eyes are glued to a screen.

At such moments niceness and propriety disappear; the potential to find an array of adjectives to compliment ‘idiot’ become real; and the feeling of wanting to report such suitcases/luggage as un-attended luggage as suspicious items to be taken away for disposal is very tempting. Thoughtlessly deployed, the luggage of others can become one’s worst nightmare! For often these owners may have stopped living in the real world around them, locked into a tight embrace with their surrogate electronic companions. This, of course, does not apply to saintly me!

And for another of my prejudices: it is the early morning rituals of some train and bus passengers. Have you ever observed the sort of things that are hidden away in the expensive handbags of some – often pulled out on early morning trips for a ritual makeover? And what about the patience, obliviousness, and dexterity with which they pull-out all sorts of make-up tools (most of which I need a Course to help me naming them) to work eyebrows, eyelashes, lips, face, cheeks, and nose in a moving train, tube and bus – all within breathing distance? It is mind-boggling to say the least! The lure for the perfect and unblemished face has become an obsession. My own bias works overtime as I find myself often thinking that the person looks uglier than when she first joined the train, bus or tube! Why and how come could I arrive at such a view and what are the processes happening outside of my own awareness?

I am learning to interrogate my motives and question my assumptions especially when I am making value judgements about others and their actions. It is a constant battle as the tendency to think my way is ‘the way’ has long and tentacle-like reach. In the meantime I will continue to reflect on the need for some to mask selves in order to be someone else. I may still smile every time someone grabs their bag and dashes out of a bus or tube, having had their ear plugs stuck to their ear-holes and their eyes glued to their favourite computer game or dozing off to their favourite music, and will try to remember to offer a prayer that they do ‘mind the gap’!

jagessar© 24 May 2015

large garden, sower and seeds….

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I concede my ignorance. Had I not seen a large poster on my recent visit to Rome, it would have passed me by that 2015 is the year of soils (UN)! I am happy that I came across that massive poster as I think we continue to overuse, exploit and take for granted ‘soil’. In our desire to feed our avaricious and insatiable appetites with all sorts of foods (more than we need), in and out of season, we do so at the cost of ‘soil’. Soil is the heart and soul of mother earth and we cannot survive without it! It is not insignificant that humans are represented as created from ‘soil’ (earth). Our DSCN2711existence cannot be apart from the earth

On a very recent journey back to my land and place of birth for the funeral of my father, all of my siblings (located in various parts of the world) were shocked at the pollution and degradation of the environment we used to call home, while at the same time delighting in some of the sweetest produce and fruits we have not tasted for a long time. But these came from deeper in the interior of the land. For the soil in our former community has been largely spent as a result of sugar and rice cultivation without proper rotation and piles of plastic garbage clogging up the canals and waterways.

Soil is crucial to our food production: but more than that: soil is critical to our well-being including protection from climate change and flood. What are we doing to look after it? It would be reasonable to deduce that both in Guyana and the UK we take soil for granted and treat in primarily utilitarian and degrading ways. We need to have a conversion of heart about ‘soil’ and our relationship with it. Are you aware that only 15% of land globally is suitable for growing food and that it is a non-renewable source and that it takes 1000 years for 1cm of topsoil to form?

How we steward our soils well is also a spiritual and moral matter. But, let us not be daunted by the interconnections between and complexity of issues. Let us see these as reasons to locate faith and faithfulness as demanding us to act in small ways. Perhaps we may wish to consider (as others are already doing) the ground or space right before you, working from there, to gather as a community and grow healthy food and vegetables thereby encouraging a reconnection with soil and earth. This may seem small: but the conversion necessary will come from these small acts rippling out in multiple directions, causing waves.

Forget doctrines and ecclesial propriety: faith is a gift to savour and eaten together and this may be why a table is central to our life together! Perhaps in re-reading that story of seeds falling on a variety of soil we should not dismiss the possibility that life may thrive in the toughest of soils carried by the tiniest of seeds and seeded by the impossible possibility.

© Jagessar April 19, 2015

beyond words…..

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grow silent
hear the whispers
wisdom fluttering
feather-like and alert
ready to spring a surprise
no – not the words
the silence
around, between, within them.
Look beyond
the external conversation
words and non-verbal signals
Beyond Wordsor the internal dialogue
the one battling in the head
can you see
the interior conversation?
the one happening
at the core of our being
the flickering of hope
sharp, bright, illuminating
the divine abyss?
Conversation is more than words
mind the silence around them
not vacuous spaces to be filled
but springboard for
opening hearts and minds
to receive the whisper.
What is to be said and heard
may need no words
a listening presence will
break open
possibilities beyond words…

©jagessar March 15, 2015

an unhealthy obsession….

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Only recently I came across an interesting news item on the current longest living humans. They currently happen to be all women. The writer’s interest, of course, was the key to their longevity. From the comments of these women, I was struck by the significant place of rest, food, and faith. None of these women suggested any intentional desire or Abundant Lifeobsession on their part comparable to the modern obsession among some for ‘healthy’ living.

Health and healthy almost everything is like a mantra these days. And it is not uncommon to find flyers advertising seminars where food therapist (and they are many) are minting money to tell us what we ought to already know – for instance the importance of healthy feeding of Children’s brains and what foods they should eat. It is ironical that in a rich nation as ours we have to now invest in ‘food therapy’ to get our young ones and ourselves fed a diet that is healthy.

Now this health craze and the language around it, is not removed from Church. Besides a healthy church handbook, there are conferences such as ‘healthy leaders, healthy churches’ with titles that read like a health fix – the full and complete works at some well-known health spa. Everything one needs to know about ‘healthy teams’, ‘healthy future’, ‘healthy leaders’, ‘healthy mission’, and ‘healthy church’ among others, are served up with ease. I must confess that ‘with my unhealthy church habits’ I am simply turned off from these ‘healthy’ mantra that come my way. I prefer transgressive habits, even if other label them as unhealthy.

The obsession (my take) with ‘healthy’ everything in church-life suggests to me a movement in an unhealthy direction, as well as the nurturing of unhealthy habits. Let me highlight of few areas in which what are being proposed under the label of “healthy” may be “unhealthy”. It is certainly unhealthy that all the keynote and significant presenters (at the ‘healthy leaders, healthy churches’ conference) are only of the pale shade and largely male. I also find unhealthy the ways we deploy the category of healthy and its relationship (either by implications or directly) with that of unhealthy. My sense is that it runs into the danger of perpetuating unhelpful binaries, and consequently setting up one against the other, rather than seeing the complex and intersecting relationship between and among categories. History is replete with examples how polarising categories are.

Finally, a comment on the category of ‘healthy leaders’: Recent scandalous revelation of tax evasion by high flyers in our society and the connection of a priest who was a significant banking voice and consultant reveal a worrying state of affairs in church and society. Even more worrying is that this very person chaired the group that produced a significant report for an established ecclesial tradition on leadership, training and formation or as one colleague puts it the church’s ‘talent management programme’. The colleague goes on to compare that report to an ecclesial version of The Apprentice noting that “the church is looking for help from a sector that has proved time and time again to be morally vacuous”. (Anderson Jeremiah).

Churches need to carefully interrogate its leadership practices whether it is about representation, integrity or an allegiance to the ways of empire/Babylon. One can only hope that in any conversation on ‘healthy leaders, healthy churches’ such interrogating and confessing would be reflected in the conversations as we strive to embody and model well-being in the midst of all the ambiguities that constitute us.

© jagessar February 15, 2015

pencil power – the contradictions

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The pen, pencil or quill, we are told is ‘mightier than the sword’. It is not insignificant that the saying was coined in Great Britain, who with her other European neighbours, used both sword and pen to claim, colonised, and devour lands far off and to caricature the heathens who lived there. The pencil, pen and quill were used to make fun of and craftyrepresent the natives as heathens, monkeys, apes, naked savages and much more – grudgingly sub-humans in some natural state, with hot desires to be tamed and to be eventually made civilised. That is, almost human, for as history shows, we are never humans like our colonizers Of course, swords and others weapons were used to slaughter and bring to the knees whole populations who were rightly resistant to having their space, land and lives invaded by greedy people in the name of civilizing, commerce and Christianizing.

Things may have changed, but with ‘colonizing in reverse’ (Louise Bennett) and so many from the former colonies now themselves English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and German – one may ask what has changed given the ways Arab-French, Asian/Black-British, Moroccan-Dutch, Turk-German or African/Black–Portuguese continue to be represented today! Ever since Ben Johnson the Canadian sprinter was done for steroids, suddenly becoming of ‘Jamaican ancestry’, every French, British, Dutch, Belgian and German born citizen of an minority ethnic origin know that they are just ‘bidding their time’ before being reminded where home actually is for them. And then, we have the audacity to want to theorise as to why British, French, Dutch or German born citizens of a minority ethnic background are not patriotic to their place of birth!

After the recent bombardment with the idea that we can defeat the evil of terrorism (whatever the shapes and forms it may take) with sharpened pencils and ‘by our refusal to stop mocking islam’ [Corey Oakley (January 11, 2015)], it may be time to consider the contradictions between the power of pen/pencil and the ways we act as powerful nations. If pen is more powerful than sword why have our nations been agents of death, violence and destruction through the machinations of our war instruments? Umbrellas may have made China and Hong Kong quake, but it is certainly not pens, pencils or crayons that continue to kill, destroy and displace millions across Arab nations, Palestine and in Africa. Tell these people and those of colonial times that we fight wars with ideas and pictures or pens and pencils, and they would literally ‘die of laughter’.

Let us not fool ourselves: we have seen the power of pencil, pen, quill and computer keyboard to make a mess of lives and the ways in which we view each other with fear and suspicion. Just think of the ways that these writing instruments have been used to stir up hatred, drive fears, feed prejudices, make 2nd and 3rd generation children of migrants strangers in their country, destroy innocent lives, rewrite laws to close borders and to lock up people in the name of terror and security! The language may have changed but the tactic is old!

Of course pencil, pen, quill and keyboard have been and can be used to ‘make fire in the belly of the beast’ – to advocate the right to protest, to dissent, to strike, to object because of conscience, to refuse to buy into the neo-liberal view of economic growth, to make uncomfortable the lives of greedy corp-o-crats, to lament the scandalous inequalities between those who have and those who do not have, to mourn the loss of compassion and care as we refuse to offer sanctuary to vulnerable strangers and to stir sleeping people to rise up (resurrect) in rebellion against policies that rob many of their dignity and basic human rights.

And be prepared – the ‘beast’ will not only turn on you with the laws of their pencil or pen, but with the might of the machinery of ‘homeland-security’!

©jagessar – words and image january 18, 2015