Essay, Excerpt, Haider, literature, notes, philosophy, quote, Uncategorized

Notes from Asad Haider

libro

On Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack:

McIntosh writes “White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tool and blank checks.” The knapsack is carried by an individual navigating an entirely open social field. It contains tools that enable the individual to navigate this field with greater effectiveness than those whose knapsacks are comparatively empty. The resources contained in the knapsack constitute whiteness as privilege, because the knapsack is carried by an individual who belongs to the white identity.[1]

[It is assumed that] If the knapsack of privileges is carried by an individual already identifiable as white, then whiteness must be understood as a biological trait. The falseness of this notion is evident: the people who are currently described as white have a wide and complex range of genetic lineages, many of which were previously considered to be separate “races” of their own…In reality, whiteness itself is constituted by the contents of the knapsack. The constitution of whiteness as identity and its constitution as privilege are simultaneous: the knapsack’s provisions confer not only advantages but also identity upon its bearer.[2]

On the “white race”

This racial phenomenon is not simply a biological or even cultural attribute of certain “white people”: it was produced by white supremacy in a concrete and objective historical process. As Ted Allen wrote on the back cover of his The Invention of the White Race: “When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no white people there.”

Allen was pointing to the fact that the word white didn’t appear in Virginia colonial law until 1691. Of course this doesn’t mean there was no racism before 1691. Allen’s argument was to show that racism was not attached to a concept of the white race. There were ideas of the superiority of the European civilization, but this did not correspond to differences in skin color.[3]

The historical record quite clearly demonstrates that white supremacy and thus the white race are formed within the American transition to capitalism, specifically because of the centrality of racial slavery. But we must resist the temptation, imposed on us by racial ideology, to explain slavery through race. Slavery is not always racial…it is a form of forced labor characterized by the market exchange of the laborer. There are various forms of forced labor, and the first form in Virginia was indentured labor, in which a laborer is forced to work for a limited period of time to work off a debt, often with some incentive like land ownership after the end of the term. The first Africans to arrive in Virginia in 1619 were put to work as indentured servants, within the same legal category as European indentured servants. In fact, until 1660 all African-American laborers, like their European-American counterparts, were indentured servants with limited terms of servitude. There was no legal differentiation based on racial ideology: free African-Americans owned property, land, and sometimes indentured servants of their own. There were examples of inter-marriage between Africans and Europeans. It was only in the late-seventeenth century that the labor force of the American colonies shifted decisively to African slaves who did not have limits on their terms of servitude.[4]

The Euro-American ruling class had to advance an ideology of the inferiority of Africans in order to rationalize forced labor, and they had to incorporate European populations into the category of the white race, despite the fact that many of these populations had previously been considered inferior.[5]

[1] Haider, Asad. Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump. Verso Books, London, 2018: 45.

[2][2]Ibid, 46.

[3]Ibid, 51.

[4]Ibid, 53.

[5]Ibid, 56.

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Bolaño, Excerpt, literature, notes, poetry, quote, Uncategorized, writing

Library, by Roberto Bolaño

Wreckage

Books I buy

Between the strange rains

And heat

Of 1992

Which I’ve already read

Or will never read

Books for my son to read

Lautaro’s library

Which will need to resist

Other rains

And other scorching heats

— Therefore, the edict is this:

Resist, my dear books, 

Cross thy days like medieval knights

And care for my son

In the years to come

 

 

(From Two Poems For Lautaro Bolaño)

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Fiction, literature, prose, Uncategorized, writing

Eviction

WWDNW

The writer who does not write arrived two days ago at dawn. He did not call ahead. He pulled a choking white pickup onto the driveway, unleashing a sonic assault from the neighborhood hounds. Into the house he skipped with his baggage and distractions. From one bag of tricks he pulled a television show designed to arrest two dozen hours of my attention. I told him to leave, that I didn’t want him around. He showed me a new engaging hobby to try. I told him to never return. He forced me into social obligations, he reminded me to exercise. I escaped to a secluded room in the house to read The Overstory by Richard Powers. I hoped my sudden and prolonged absence would drive him away. But he found me and interrupted my solace, he filled the room with balloons and feral animals. Finally I’d had enough and picked him up by his bloated habits and tossed him out to the April snow. Fuck off! I shouted, or he shouted.

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dreams, Fire, literature, notes, poetry, Uncategorized, writing

the poet sleeps

NotebackAlways another page to fill; the size and shape of the page is inconsequential. I keep my pen in my hand and my hands on the steering wheel.

*

The poet sleeps

while driving

during live broadcasts

the poet dreams

of the future

with folded hands

cigarette dangling

no one speaks to the poet

fearing fire in his eyes

the poet takes note

as always

to return to sleep

deep as abandoned mines

and dream across

landscapes of horror and delight.

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dreams, Fiction, literature, notes, prose, Uncategorized, writing

campfire tales

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Three friends sat at a campfire in the dark beneath trees thrashing in the mountain wind. It was a cold night and had been a cold day during the search for the missing woman. Groups camping nearby had already doused their fires and retreated into tents for the night. The three friends by the fire took turns telling stories, huddled under blankets, with one friend recounting a tale from her youth in which she believed a ghost occupied her basement.

She said: I can’t express the doom I felt, the darkness inside my chest every time I went down there.

The second friend told a story about a small boat that set sail from her childhood town in Virginia and was never seen again. A storm had arrived just before the boat departed, and the vessel had likely been swallowed up.

She said: A handful of times through the years, and only at night, when the bay was particularly foggy, people have claimed to see the boat cutting through the water just off the shore, as if it were searching for land, searching for home, for a place to dock.

The third friend, the male in the group, spoke of an encounter that happened to him years earlier. He’d been repeatedly visited by a spirit as a child, he said.

He said: It wore a dark cloak and it was tall. Its face was always hidden in its hood. He — I don’t know why I assigned it a male identity — he would suddenly appear by my bedroom window and just stand there watching me. I was terrified in place, unable to move.

The man seated near the fire readjusted his body in the chair. He reached down for a thermos on the ground and hefted it to his mouth. Wind gusted at them, through them. The fire tossed orange ribbons and splashes of light into the air.

He said: The figure appeared at my window less frequently as I grew into adolescence. My life became more like a normal boy’s. I moved away from my childhood home and enrolled in college. Eventually I pushed those early experiences so far into the depths of my memory that I forgot about them entirely. I forgot about the figure and the terror he caused. I forgot about the nightmares, the fear of being alone in my bedroom at night.

He continued: Then on my 40th birthday, just a few months ago, I woke in the night to use the toilet and grab a snack. My feet were cold on the wood floor. I remember feeling something strange in the air of the kitchen, like an inaudible hum or threads of invisible waves pulling tight around me. It reminded me of when I was a kid, the feeling I’d have just before the cloaked figure appeared by my window. All the hairs on my body stuck out like needles from my skin. There in the half-light of the kitchen I made out the shadowy figure that had often visited me in youth. It was just as tall, just as terrifying. I acknowledged it and closed the refrigerator door, surprised to see the faint but identifiable features of a human face deep in the hood.

He continued: I wasn’t scared like I’d been as a child. I was only curious or interested as I stepped toward the figure and peered into its face. It did not move as I approached. I looked past him to the window and out to the snowy expanse of my backyard. I was close enough to smell him (he smelled like the whisper of a tree) and to feel the odd vibration emanating from him. When at last I leaned in to peer closer at the face in the hood, I realized it was a woman’s face. The room was too dark and her features too gray and indistinct, but I could tell it was a woman. Then it began to communicate with me, it spoke without words, without sound, her ideas transmitted directly to me from her mind.

The man stopped talking to wrap the blanket tighter around himself. Both women watched him with their eyes wide. One woman took a long drink from her thermos while the other bent forward to toss another log onto the fire.

Friend Two asked: What did the figure say to you?

She told me she was a witch, he said. And that she was probably two hundred years old, but she didn’t know exactly how old because she stopped counting long ago.

Friend One asked: Do you know what she wanted from you?

The man stared into the fire. Its light reflected on his face.

He said: She told me that her face would be the last I’d see in this life.

The three of them listened quietly to the wind rushing through the trees. They watched the fire dance before them, hypnotized by the heat, the flashing light, the unpredictable movement. They each thought of the missing woman and how they’d spent the day combing the mountain for her. Not one of them would speak about it, but they all thought the missing woman was already dead, that they’d likely stumble into her carcass rather than hear her crying out for help or see her waving from a distended rock. Each of them hoped secretly that it wouldn’t be them to find her.

They agreed to extinguish the fire and retire to their tents. The following day would be long and exhaustive. The man had a strange dream in the night in which the cloaked figure from his past returned to him. In the dream he was seated at the fire just as before, except his two friends weren’t there. He was alone. A noise behind him made him turn in his chair to behold the cloaked figure standing tall and facing the light of the fire. She reached an arm up to remove her hood and reveal the half-decomposed, worm-eaten head of the missing woman.

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Fiction, literature, notes, prose, Uncategorized, writing

the shrink

descartes.jpg

I sat back in the chair opposite the shrink. I didn’t want to look at him anymore. 

How about hypnosis? he asked. 

I averted my eyes and my mind jumped from thought to thought like a frog on a pond. 

What about it? I asked. 

The shrink was an older man but not old, bald up top with a neatly trimmed beard dyed brown. His eyes wandered from my face to the tablet in his lap and back to me again. I thought of paradise and tried to picture the idea in my mind. 

Have you ever thought of hypnosis to treat some of your … symptoms? 

His eyes were gray like his hair would have been or as his beard should have been. But one could hardly see the color of his eyes through the squinty coin slots they’d become, or perhaps always were, since his childhood in the rich neighborhoods of Manhattan or Massachusetts, back when the other kids made fun of him for his briefcase — for simply carrying it with him at all times merited their ridicule, but adding insult to injury, as they say, was the appearance of the briefcase — brown mixed with green or what the kids called puke-green, the worst of all possible colors. Making matters worse yet, the briefcase was several decades old, and thus, beat up and disastrously out of style. 

I’m not sure about hypnosis, sir, I said. 

Thoughts cascaded down the vined walls of my mind. The shrink’s hands were small and weak — just as one would expect. I’d have challenged him to an arm-wrestling match but I tweaked my wrist earlier that day at baseball practice. 

I don’t believe in … histrionics, I said, proud of myself for using the word in a sentence. 

The shrink paused with an expression of consternation.

I don’t think that’s the proper use of the term, he said.  

He sat back in his chair, uncrossed, then re-crossed his legs. He leaned forward again, toward me. 

He said: Hypnosis is highly effective on younger people. 

His lips were small and pink and his mouth barely opened when he spoke. 

He said: Adolescents are highly susceptible to the power of suggestion. 

I was tired of looking at him. The window behind him opened to the vast, sun-swept city.

There’s nothing to be afraid of, he said. 

I’ve been hypnotized before, I said proudly, shifting my weight in the seat.

He leaned back. His clothes were bland and ugly and probably cost a lot of money. 

Is that so? he asked. 

I looked out the window. My friends were out there somewhere, running around aimlessly, breaking things, looking for girls. They were like me in that they did not know the world was theirs. 

Yes, I said. My mother had me hypnotized because she thought I was lying about some money that went missing. 

I realized I’d been wringing my hands, playing with them. The shrink stared at them as I spoke. 

Did you take the money? he asked. 

He looked at my face to gauge my reaction. His face was white, pale, bloodless. 

No, I said. 

He wrote on the tablet with a stylus. 

I had been seeing this girl, Elaine. She was short and dark-haired with big, brown eyes. We kissed once and I reached up to touch her chest but she pushed my hands down. I thought maybe I loved her but I didn’t know for sure. I didn’t tell the shrink any of this.

What do you want to do when you grow up? he asked. 

Elaine’s mother was also a shrink. I questioned the character of those who chose to listen to other people’s problems for a living. I didn’t tell the shrink that I hadn’t given my future much thought. I’d probably play baseball or run my dad’s print shop when he retired. I’d marry Elaine and she’d write plays and we’d have a baby or two.

I’ll probably fly airplanes, I said, without knowing why I said it.

He leaned toward the small table between us and hefted a cup of steaming tea. He sipped it. 

I didn’t know you were into aviation, he said, smacking his lips together and leaning back in the seat. 

He wrote on his tablet. His socks had brown diamond patterns and his shoes looked new, like today was the first he’d worn them. He seemed smaller after drinking the tea, as if it had shrunk him.

Why are you smiling? he asked. 

I looked down to the animal-hair carpet and out the window to the city. When I looked back at him he appeared even smaller, like a large adult child. He was shrinking rapidly, deflating, losing volume, as Mr. Potter would say.

Nothing, I said, trying and failing to hide my amusement. Nothing.

That’s okay, he said. You don’t have to tell me. 

The office was small but the shrink’s desk at the window was large. The wood was reddish-brown and looked heavy. 

He cleared his throat and continued to shrink, to biologically regress. His feet no longer touched the ground; they dangled and swung over the animal carpet. His tablet was now the size of his torso. I stifled a laugh. His face reddened.

Okay, now, he said raising his little hand with the oversized stylus.

His voice was higher in pitch, like a child’s, or as if he’d swallowed a balloon of helium. One giant shoe fell off a foot to the animal carpet. Then I laughed — I couldn’t hold it.

All right, that’s enough, he giggled, his voice that of a delighted toddler. The giggling rose to a crescendo of gut-laughter, uncontrollable and tiny.

I lost it, falling onto the animal carpet, laughing, laughing.

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