Saturday, November 19, 2016


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
grew up in Nigeria. Some time ago I stumbled across a speech given by her and was electrified. There are, indeed, wondrous humans on this planet. In that speech she related the following: to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.

It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is "nkali." It's a noun that loosely translates to "to be greater than another." Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali. How they are told, who tells them, when they're told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.

Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story, and to start with, "secondly." Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have and entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story.

Start with "secondly", but don't mention that's where you're starting.

I'm fairly certain that's one of the devices that is employed to implement that insidious and ubiquitous thing that is called invisibling.

I'm quite interested in that stuff called invisibling because it seems to be a core feature in the operation of oppression. And oppression is all about power and Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie references it is about hierarchy...and hierarchy is about 'superior' and 'inferior' and those two are all about domination and subordination.


Domination and subordination is a core component of every "ism" of oppression I can think of. I believe that's accurate...let me know if you think differently or more or or or. Each manifestation of oppression is unique in the form it takes and in the ramifications for those targeted...but common elements also seem to be present in each unique implementation of that awful stuff.

And...remember...none are free unless all are free.

None are free unless all are free is a statement of intersectionality (I think) and I recently heard the observation that all liberation movements up until now have failed precisely because they were not intersectional. I suspect that is true.

You also might notice how that stuff of starting a story with "secondly" (but not saying so) fits nicely with the the post I wrote about stripping away history and context and how that can make you totally mis-comprehend what's going on.

Remember, it was "good" (white) people who supported the monsters who did the Holocaust in Europe. It was "good" (white) people who "settled" the United States, it was "good" (white) people who implemented and allowed human enslavement in the United States, it was "good" (white) people who implemented and allowed Jim Crow in the United States and the current awfuls inflicted on people of color here, it is "good" people who are complicit in every horror enacted by humans in the whole history of humans.

Remember...identifying the awfuls of someone else doesn't make you a better person. Your job is to work on yourself...while resisting the awfuls of others. 

For you vegans, remember, it is "good" people who are complicit in and who participate in the killing of billions of our sister/brother Earthlings. You all know a bunch of them and the better you know how you were able to be complicit in that will mean you can maybe be more effective at transforming them. Study your own transformation to understand so that you can carry it to others. 

And I'm coming to believe that part (maybe the main part) of how these "good" people maintain the fantasy of their "goodness" (I'm fully culpable here too) is via these processes of invisibling.

If I keep on reading and thinking and listening, I just might get to a place of semi-coherent comprehension about how we humans go about implementing inequalities and horror and how we keep them in place...all the while seeing ourselves as "good" people.

Maybe I'll get there. With your assistance...maybe we all can get there because the better we comprehend oppression and how it works...the better we can resist it.

Go listen/watch her. She's a treasure...and she's my gift to you. You're welcome.

P.S....I didn't come up with this observation...Cicero did...and I'll share it with you because it is a gem.

Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child (and not a child in a good way).

We are all shaped and created by our histories and it is our job to learn those histories so that we can make our own choices instead of being controlled by the choices of those who came before us. If we fail to do that...then we will simply contribute to enacting and creating the world of their choices...not those of our own.

(and remember, a lot of a**holes made many of those choices and our enacting their choices means we're behaving like a**holes)

P.P.S. So far, as far as I can tell, ...the one grouping of humans that seems to hold the greatest amount of wisdom about liberation and oppression is...African American women. That's another gift for you. If you aren't hanging around some of these wonderful're genuinely missing out. (Keep in mind, I'm painting in broad strokes here, exceptions will occur but we're talking/thinking in general or on average...ok?) 



Have Gone Vegan said...

The Danger of a Single Story -- I enjoyed that, thank you. I liked "We Should All Be Feminists" too, so I should read more of her stuff.

This post also reminded me of a paragraph I read in The Politics of Reality this week, which I thought summed up the difficulty of recognizing privilege quite well:

"One of the privileges of being normal and ordinary is a certain unconsciousness. When one is that which is taken as the norm in one's social environment, one does not have to think about it. Often, in discussions about prejudice and discrimination I hear statements like these: 'I don't think of myself as heterosexual'; 'I don't think of myself as white; 'I don't think of myself as a man'; 'I'm just a person, I just think of myself as a person.' If one is the norm, one does not have to know what one is. If one is marginal, one does not have the privilege of not noticing what one is." p147

And for some reason today, I was relating that paragraph to how and why many Americans know very little about their neighbour Canada, and probably other countries as well. And how most Canadians (and citizens from other countries) actually know a LOT about America, are taught American history in schools, are quite familiar with American politics, and of course, are inundated with American culture.

Not to engage in America-bashing here, but the country can be said to exist in a kind of parochial bubble where it really doesn't have to know a lot about others. Which makes sense if it considers itself (or are considered by others) "the greatest nation on earth" or at least the most powerful. So if you think of countries as people, no wonder other countries are much more aware of what America is up to, than vice versa. Almost like a dysfunctional family where members are finely tuned in to an abuser's moods and behaviour in an effort to survive. Not sure if I took that too far, but oppression and subordination in this sense is almost ubiquitous -- individuals, species, corporations, countries -- where does it end?

veganelder said...

Oh wow...thank you much for this comment HGV. I'm giving a brief reply here but your reference to Marilyn Frye made me run to her book and I found that I had highlighted the exact passage you quote. I've read and thought about so much since I had done that that I had forgotten it. Rereading it let me put it together with some writings I had subsequently read that served to flesh out and expand what she is saying....specifically about how our positionality influences our epistemology.

Saying all that to say...I gotta do a lot more thinking/processing. I'll be writing more on the blog about's too rich and important to try to address it in much detail in this note on your comment. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

You're spot on in your observation(s), I think. One thing that popped in my head is that, in structures and/or societies characterized by oppression, "normal" often means other words "normal" doesn't mean natural or means something that's made up and imposed by force or threat of force (but disguised whenever possible as natural or "normal"). That ties in most excellently with Roland Barthes writing about how he resented how often Nature (natural or "normal") was confused with History (made up or socially constructed). That's that "unconsciousness" that Marilyn Frye is referencing...crap we think of as "normal" and accept as "reality" is actually the result of a power play by someone in the past who made it up to serve their interests but now we think it is "just the way it is" or "normal". Or rather we don't think of it at becomes unconscious or out of our awareness hence we don't really see it or look at it or think about it or examine it or question it.

Holy smoke...this is great stuff...thank you. :-)

Have Gone Vegan said...

You're so welcome. Looking forward to that post. Maybe it's the one you put up this weekend? I'll check it now! :)