Zimbabwe, Haiti, just go …

What are these lies?
They mean that the country wants to die.”

Haitians, Zimbabweans, everything at home is just fine. So say the United States and the United Kingdom. Everything is just fine and you must just go.

Except that everything is not just fine.

In Harare yesterday, Saturday, April 9, 2011, thousands met at a church service at St Peters Kubatana in Highfield. They engaged in a peaceful demonstration to pray for peace. They came together to pray to end the escalating violence in Zimbabwe. Police threw tear-gas canisters into the church, and when the parishioners and congregants ran out or leapt through the windows, the police attacked them, beating them with batons.

This is peace and unity in Zimbabwe today.

But, according to the UK, Zimbabwe is a-ok, so much so that it’s time to start deporting all those pesky `failed’ and `undocumented’ asylum seekers, people like Nyasha Musvingo. Musvingo fled Zimbabwe after her husband was beaten, tortured, and then died as a result. She knows she can’t return, because of `the situation’.

The UK would disagree. Last month, on March 14, the most senior immigration judge in the country, Mr. Justice Blake of the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), ruled that Zimbabwe is fine. The violence is over. People need not live in fear in Zimbabwe nor need they fear returning. So what if disappearances, indefinite detention, torture and violence have returned and are on the rise? Zimbabwe is `safe’ enough.

Likewise, in Haiti, everything is not just fine.

In Haiti, high levels of violence continue. Rape is epidemic. Over a million people remain homeless. Everyday, the so-called temporary camps seem to become more and more permanent. Cholera is on the rise. A recent study suggests that by November the number of cholera cases in Haiti will be close to 800,000, and the number of deaths will reach a little over 11,000. The crisis is worsening in Haiti.

The United States would disagree. This week, the United States government announced it has formally resumed deportations to Haiti. Haiti is `safe’ enough.

Cholera is on the rise in Zimbabwe as well.

In 2008 – 2009, in large part due to the intensification of political violence, Zimbabwe suffered a cholera epidemic that killed over 4000 people. Close to 100,000 cases were reported, and, according to a recent report, a rapid response, once the 400 cases were reported, would have reduced the number of cases by 34,900, or 40%, and the number of deaths by 1,695 deaths, also 40%. Why was nothing done, why were so many allowed to die? `The political situation.’

But that was then. This past Friday it was reported that over the last month, 36 people died of cholera in Manicaland and Masvingo provinces, in Zimbabwe. In the past week alone, 13 died, and the Ministry of Health notes that the death toll could be higher, as records are not up to date.

Sending people back to Zimbabwe is a death sentence. The United Kingdom would disagree … or would it? The Foreign and Commonwealth Office describes Zimbabwe:  violence on the farms, in the streets, random and targeted; abominable prison conditions; torture; and a culture of impunity. The most recent Foreign and Commonwealth Office Human Rights report, from 2009, paints an equally grim picture.

The Department for International Development describes the state as `unstable’. 25% of Zimbabwean children are described as `vulnerable’. Most live in households, and neighborhoods, built of poverty, HIV/AIDS and State violence. Well over half live in households headed by single women or girls. Of special concern are children living alongside incarcerated mothers and pregnant and breastfeeding women.

All of these statements come from United Kingdom government websites. And yet, somehow, Zimbabwe is now `safe enough’ for asylum seekers to return to.

Sending people back to Haiti is a death sentence. The United States would disagree … or would it? This past week the US State Department released its 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Haiti? “Alarming increases of sexual violence” against women and girls. Alarming increases of domestic violence. No effective agency to deal with sexual or domestic violence, and not much of a plan to do so. “Corrupt judges often release suspects for domestic violence and rape.” Often. LGBT persons face constant violence. The prisons are a hotspot for violence, torture, cholera, and worse.

All of this comes from the US State Department.

If the government of the United Kingdom finds Zimbabwe perilous and the government of the United States finds Haiti perilous, how is it possible in the same breath to determine that Zimbabwe and Haiti are `safe’? In both Haiti and Zimbabwe, the prisons are a nightmare. Deportees to both countries typically `return’ through an extended stay in prison. In both Haiti and Zimbabwe, cholera is on the rise, violence is epidemic, violence against women and girls is more than epidemic, and not only sexual violence.

Sending asylum seekers and prisoners to Zimbabwe and to Haiti is a death sentence. Whether the individual persons live or die matters … terribly. At the same time, the political economy of this moment is that the lives of Zimbabweans and of Haitians to the so-called democracies of the world are of no value. If you are Haitian, if you are Zimbabwean, you must just go. If you die, you die. If you live, perhaps you were fortunate, perhaps not. Either way, you are no longer `our problem’. Your country is `safe enough’. Just go.

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.marieclaire.co.uk)

The peculiar women

“We have a peculiar paradox emerging in India, of women doing both more paid work and more unpaid work, and also looking for but not finding more paid work.”

Women are the peculiar of the contemporary world. Two recent articles, published on the same day, suggest as much. Here are five aspects of the women-peculiar.

The peculiar trend

Girls’ sports events bring more cash and more carriers than do boys’: “As the popularity of youth tournaments has intensified over the past decade, a peculiar trend has emerged: girls’ sporting events tend to attract more relatives and generate more revenue for tourism than similar events for boys. And that is drawing increased attention from economic development officials. `There are far more people who will travel with 12-year-old girls than even 12-year-old boys,” said Don Schumacher, executive director of the National Association of Sports Commissions, a trade group that advises communities on attracting sporting events. “And vastly more people will travel with 12-year-old girls than 18-year-old boys.’”

Whether this reported trend is bogus or not, what would make it peculiar?

The peculiar sensation

On the same day, Saaret E. Yoseph reported on watching a KGB commercial that featured an all Black female cast, and wondered, “Why can’t ads get Black women right?” Good question. Here are the first two paragraphs of her reflection:

“`It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.’

—W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

I wonder if the peculiar sensation W.E.B. Du Bois had in mind when writing The Souls of Black Folk is the same one I get when watching KGB’s latest ad. The directory assistance turned question-and-answer text service has me experiencing the 21st century version of double-consciousness—an American Negro woman, a consumer—two warring identities and one bad commercial break.”

When Du Bois wrote about peculiar sensation, he placed that between being-a-problem and becoming-a-coworker. “To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word. And yet being a problem is a strange experience,—peculiar even for one who has never been anything else, save perhaps in babyhood and in Europe.” For Du Bois, the peculiar sensation begins there, with the real question that elicits seldom a response, that is, the question of the Black Real.

The goal of the Black Real project is simple: “The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,—this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better, truer self….This, then, is the end of his striving: to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture, to escape both death and isolation, to husband and use his best powers and his latent genius”.

For Du Bois, the question of the Black Real was the question of the Black Man: “For Du Bois, the African American male was the paradigmatic Black intellectual”. The Black Woman? The “American Negro woman”? She did not attain the status of problem. She was peculiar.

As she is today: “For black American women, our two-ness is never more evident than when people are trying to sell us something. As advertisers vie for our attention, the incongruity of our two identities—who we are and who we are perceived to be—could not be more clear than in those 32 seconds.”

The peculiar paradox

Jayathi Ghosh has a new book out, Never Done and Poorly Paid: Women’s Work in Globalising India. I hope to read it soon. A recent review quoted Ghosh as having written: “We have a peculiar paradox emerging in India, of women doing both more paid work and more unpaid work, and also looking for but not finding more paid work….[These] indicate the reduced economic and social bargaining power of women as workers”.

Women’s peculiar paradox, in the neoliberal political economy, is that the more they work, the fewer jobs they have, the less wealth they have, the greater debts they incur, all the while suffering a reduction in economic and social bargaining power, as workers, as women workers, as women, at home, in the streets, in the so-called work sites.

The peculiar institution

In United States history, peculiar is a key word. Plantation owners, and for generations after them historians, referred to slavery as the peculiar institution. Kenneth Stampp, who died earlier this month, wrote The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Antebellum South, published in 1956. That book “juxtaposed the views of slaves themselves with the more conventionally researched perceptions of slave owners, yielding a far different picture of the institution than historians had previously created.”

The slaves never referred to slavery as `peculiar’. Slaves never referred to those who claim to be their owners as `peculiar’. Slaves never refer to their situation today as `peculiar’.  The `peculiar’ of the `peculiar institution’, slavery, was not the peculiar of odd or strange. It was the peculiar of the slave woman and of the women in patriarchy, although neither figured prominently in Stampp’s account.

The peculiar

The peculiar trend, the peculiar sensation, the peculiar paradox: these are terms of art for the categories of woman and of women. Peculiar means particular, of one’s own, odd or eccentric. Peculiar, from peculiare, a sixth century word meaning private property … sort of. Peculiare derives from peculium, which meant “money or property managed by a person incapable of legal ownership.” Under Roman law, it was the “property which a paterfamilias allowed a member of his family, or a master allowed his slave, to hold and administer, and, within limits, to alienate, as though it were his or her own.” Paterfamilias to family, which actually here means wife, master to slave, they’re  the same.

So, when I read that New York City has decided to help the homeless by buying them one-way tickets `back home’, or that England has decided to help asylum seekers, especially women and children, by eliminating services, I think, “How peculiar.” How peculiar indeed.

(Photo Credit: K. M. Dayashankar / Frontline)

Democracy beyond asylum

On July 14, during the second day of hearings for Judge Sonia Sotamayor, Senator Charles Schumer noted, smiling: “in the nearly 850 cases you have decided in the 2nd Circuit, you ruled in favor of the government — that is, against the petitioners seeking asylum, the immigrants seeking asylum — 83 percent of the time. That happens to be the exact statistical median rate for your court. It’s not one way or the other.” These numbers are meant to assure us that, when it comes to foreigners and asylum seekers, the Judge is ok. She has a balanced record.

Asylum is a legal court procedure with rules and codes and whatever else. But it’s also about sanctuary, an inviolable place of refuge, of safety from seizure. The people who seek that asylum, the asylum of refuge, are not all immigrants, nor are they all `foreigners’. Where in this country can the seekers go to find asylum?

Not Santa Monica. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city of Santa Monica this week for violating homeless peoples’ rights by harassing and arresting them, all while the city cuts back on beds for the homeless. They call it “a deportation program for the homeless”. It sounds like the poorhouses of England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the State fenced off the common land and forced peasants to move to find work, and then passed anti-vagabond laws, which criminalized unregulated popular movement. And so a cheap, reserve labor force came into being. What profit does Santa Monica wrest from the bodies of the twenty first century imprisoned poors?

Nadine Chlubna is a 56 year old schizophrenic paranoid woman who fears spaceships and the Santa Monica police force. Only the police have actually ever done her any harm, having arrested her three times and mocked her delusional fears of interplanetary aliens. Where is asylum for Nadine Chlubna? Not in Santa Monica.

Santa Monica was the mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo. You can read all about her in The Confessions. It’s good stuff. And you know where Monica and her son Augustine were born and lived much of their lives? North Africa. They were Berbers from what is today called Algeria. Augustine moved to Italy, and, after her husband died, Monica followed. As immigrants, they found asylum. Would the same happen in Santa Monica or in Italy? I doubt it.

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless just released a report, Homes Not Handcuffs, which lists the ten meanest cities in the United States, those that most viciously and thoroughly criminalize the homeless and militarize the streets and all public spaces. Number one? Los Angeles, just down the road from Santa Monica: “A study by UCLA released in September 2007 found that Los Angeles was spending $6 million a year to pay for fifty extra police officers to crack down on crime in the Skid Row area at a time when the city budgeted only $5.7 million for homeless services.” Six million for 50 cops, 5.7 for all the homeless. It’s a delicate balance. You know what the crimes were? Jaywalking. Loitering. Serious stuff.

Here’s what six million dollars buys: “Police brutality against homeless people intensified during the crackdown on crime in Skid Row.  In June 2007, the Los Angeles County Community Action Network reported one example: two L.A. Police officers attacked a petite homeless woman, who may have been mentally disabled, with clubs and pepper spray.  Police reportedly beat her and tied her down.” Six million dollars doesn’t buy asylum, doesn’t buy security. It buys beat-downs, tie-downs, lock downs, and fear. At six million, it’s a bargain.

In Bradenton, Florida, the ninth meanest city in the U.S., a police officer arrested a homeless woman, and tried to help her maintain her possessions. Everything she owned was in a shopping cart. The officer, Nicholas Evans, pulled the cart alongside his car for the 12-mile drive to the county jail. Imagine that. He was punished. Imagine that. I hope he learned his lesson.

In Denver, “two women were confronted by police at the 16th Street Mall when trying to help out homeless individuals.  One of the women gave a homeless man a hamburger and a dollar in front of two undercover police officers.  One of the police officers proceeded to chase her down and forced her back to where she gave the homeless man the burger.  One undercover officer said that he could arrest her for giving money and food to a panhandler after dark.  When she questioned that such a law exists and asked to see his badge, the police refused to do so and told her to leave.” Another woman bought a fleece blanket for a man in wheelchair, outside the same mall. Denver winters, high in the Rocky Mountains, are cold, in more ways than one: “when she tried to give the man the blanket, an officer told her to stop and asked her for identification.  While the police confronted her, the man in the wheelchair left.  She was subsequently arrested for interfering with law enforcement.”

From sea to shining sea, undercover and uniformed police are harassing the homeless and anyone who tries to offer assistance. Where is asylum in this world? What is the word for the system in which women and men who need help and women and men who want to help are made to feel the full heat and weight of the security State? In the United States, it’s called democracy, democracy beyond asylum.

(Image Credit: https://cangress.wordpress.com)