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"the word was a god"

the title of this post is taken from the bible at john 1:1. but this is not so much a post about religion.

during some down time at work today (what an exhausting week it has been!) i was reading a blog that a coworker once brought to my attention because of a particularly amusing post about snowglobes. i hadn't looked at this blog in probably 2 weeks or so, and it looks like the blogger hasn't posted anything since last thursday.

one of last thursday's blog posts was about mahmoud ahmadinejad, president of iran, addressing the un. and the blogger apparently disagrees with mr. ahmadinejad's politics, and morals, and probably a lot of other things about him, as many people do. and obviously disagrees strongly, given the vehemence of the post. i didn't necessarily agree (or disagree) with all of what the blogger had to say, i couldn't help but mentally stumble, then scratch my head, then ask, "seriously?" over the next-to-last paragraph:

"All I'm saying is, every other so-called oppressed people have at least managed to get some good novels out of it. Bring me the Palestinian 'Invisible Man', and maybe I'll warm up to the notion."

warm up to what notion? that palestinians are oppressed people? but mr. ahmadinejad is president of iran, and as far as i know, iranians are not considered palestinian...unless they are people of iranian descent who reside(d) in palestine. then again, this is nitpicky, geographical argument is actually beside my point.

my point is that, in one's haste to condemn someone else's politics, one should not trivialize the experiences of millions of "oppressed people." i mean really...to reduce someone's experience to "at least you got a good novel out of it"...i'm sure that that comment is in jest, but sometimes even jesting goes a bit too far.

since invisible man is the example given, i suppose i will run with the example of the experience of the african diaspora. which, of course, is not a topic i am un-fond of expounding upon. invisible man is a good novel to read, of course, but more than that, it's a triumph, given the fact that for hundreds of years black people in this country were forbidden to learn to read, let alone write, for fear this would turn them against their "masters." it's a triumph, given that phillis wheatley was not allowed to publish her own brilliant work with a writer letter of approval from a group of white men. it's a triumph, given that the invisible man in the novel was able to write a novel that depicted a black man attending college, a triumph given that ralph ellison was able to attend college...these, i believe, are some of the things that maya angelou was refering to when she wrote of "the dream and the hope of the slave."

and the passage from the bible from which i take my title? writing a good novel is serious thing. for an oppressed people to write a novel which even people from non-oppressed classes and groups praise is nigh unto a miracle. folks put so much faith in words, that even in religious texts the word is a god. the ability to stand up and make people pay attention to words? that's power. what power the literate/voiced people have! oppressed people have died to get to the point where they could read simple sentences. oppressed people are not afforded freedom of speech, so when they get to the point where they are making you pay attention their words, please understand that they are working hard at throwing off their oppression. rastas understand this. that's why they don't ever use the term oppression. they say downpression, cuz that's what downpressors do...they keep someone down...but when you hear someone, they are getting out from under that downpression.

i picked the title because its the phrase that came to mind that most actively and stridently rejects and resists the reduction of an oppressed people's struggle to just a good novel. a few good words.

it's not ok to say or imply that the litmus test for oppression is whether or not that people rises to the point of writing a good novel. to make that the rule is to deny the oppression of say...i dunno, millions and millions of american people who are no longer around to write a novel about their oppression. i mean, in the caribbean native american people pretty much completely exterminated...if genocide isn't oppression, then i'm not sure what is. and the arawaks didn't write no great novels between the time columbus arrived and they died en masse of smallpox, bullets, and forced labor.

of course, the claim of oppression is a contentious claim, cuz people don't want to be oppressed, to admit to being oppressed, to admit to being oppressors, or to admit to abetting oppressors. and i'm not writing this to call any specific person or group of people oppressors. what i'm saying is: don't dishonor folks' struggles. don't reduce folks' accomplishments to an "at-least-a-token-i-hear you-blah-blah." writing a good novel didn't make up for the oppression that people went through for generations.

and honestly...if the one is unaware of palestinian literature, does that speak to a dearth of palestinian literature, or to ignorance on the part of the one who claims unawareness? i really cannot say why the novel is the test in this instance...but in terms of palestinian literature...the work of edward said might be a good place to start...and if we are going to conflate geography (yeah, i had to go back to the geography)...perhaps gibran....or rumi...or if we prefer our highly acclaimed literature to be definitely palestinian and more modern, how about tony-award winning suheir hammad? it's there...if one cares to look for it.

and one final note: another nitpick. the blogger asks how mr. ahmadinejad is being "allowed into this country." he's addressing the un. the un is not in this country. the un is the un is the un. the us is international territory, not american territory. for all anyone knows, a military helicopter could be landing him fair and square on un ground. that is all.

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About me

  • I'm call me aja
  • From nyc
  • 20something, black, woman, reader, writer, about to be a student again. i think i'd like to be heard (or read). child/grandchild of immigrant folk. yearning to travel. desirous of wisdom. a little bit ordinary, but working at being less so.
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