New Podcast: Requisite Words

As my “drafts” folder will attest, I’ve been meaning to make a podcast for the last couple of years.

This Wednesday I leveraged my frugality to take the next step: I bought a shiny new mic on the condition that I record and publish something.

So here (a few missteps later) is the first episode of Requisite Words. It’s a fledgling, experimental podcast about poetry, and the format is entirely subject to change, but I really enjoyed making it.

If you enjoy this episode, updates will be posted to Twitter via the @requisitewords account, and on this site.

Christchurch 15/03/2019 #TheyAreUs

Grieve, but do not let easy solutions put your grief to bed. Once the initial tears dry, it will be time to find a new, resolute headspace and get down to work so that Aotearoa truly is a place where this cannot happen.

In the wake of this attack, we feel uniquely powerless. This was someone who planned. They made this abhorrent act their mission, and they arranged contingencies. The police, the intelligence community, courts and others will be under the spotlight in the wake of this attack, but the sad reality is that there was an imbalance of power here: this was the shooter’s recent life, 24/7, and anyone that committed to violence and minimally competent will usually find a way to achieve it.

For now, we grieve. Some call for the death penalty. Others for a lifetime in prison. Others for more gun control, better background checks, expanding the security apparatus. Our grief needs an easy outlet, a path to flow into that will give us some measure of comfort. So we shout, we swear, we cry and we punch the walls. We feel weak, so we respond with strength. Anger and frustration are normal. They are necessary.

But we need to keep our grief in perspective.

We have lost 49 people, in, yes, a cowardly terrorist attack that affects us all. None of our anger can bring them back. Nothing that happens to the shooter and their accomplices now can make amends or give satisfaction to our grief.

We should not give a shit whether the shooter thinks they’ve “won” or not. This is not a competition or a game. What matters is that we do not lose ourselves in the face of their hatred and violence.

They chose to kill. We chose, and must continue to choose, to be better. They chose to kill the innocent. Our society has chosen to spare even the most guilty. This is not about the sadistic, broken arsehole who perpetrated this assault. This is now about us, and who we will be.

So let your grief flow. Cry, scream and wish the shooter dead. Pray, laugh, listen, love and live: grieve as you must, in its many legitimate forms. But as we move through our grief, we also need to leave behind the easy solutions. They satisfy in the moment, but are ultimately too shallow to do justice to our dead.

Lisa, me, and most of our networks are wondering how we can be better. How we can drive initiatives to challenge ourselves as a society, and target some of the underlying issues that nurture and enable harmful ideologies to mature into action. Because the shooter – uniquely culpable as they are – is also a product of the status quo, which makes them our responsibility too.

Grieve, but do not let easy solutions put your grief to bed. Once the initial tears dry, it will be time to find a new, resolute headspace and get down to work so that this truly is a place where this cannot happen.

This is not a primer on white privilege…

It is a snapshot of one white, straight, cis-gendered male’s approach to white male privilege in the context of the 2017 election in Aotearoa New Zealand.

So why post it? There are many better resources out there, authored by people who experience the sharp end of privilege.

I’m sharing this because we are approaching a tipping point. Awareness of privilege is higher than at any point in history, simply by the diffusion of communication channels. However, cultural pushback is also on the rise, as people struggle with specific understandings and (often incorrect) assumptions about privilege.

The filter bubble is usually blamed for this – but that blame perpetuates another misconception: that filter bubbles are absolute.

In most cases, our self-selected groups do overlap, in small but significant ways: and here is where the work of allies is vital. My voice on this is not as important as the voices of those affected. But my silence would be taken as assent to the status quo.

A few people have asked what I meant by “white male privilege” in my last post – and it’s telling about my own biases and filter bubble that I took the phrase for granted.

In some ways, privilege is an unfortunate term because it is ambiguous. In the context of white privilege, we’re not talking about people strutting around savouring gold-plated cigars – that’s a whole different problem.

White privilege in Western-majority countries, as defined by numerous studies on unconscious bias and equity, is about the disadvantages you don’t encounter by being born into a dominant cultural group.

You’ll never be pulled over by the police because you’re a white man driving. You’ll never have to fear that a wolf-whistle will escalate into an assault. You’ll never be subjected to “jokes” about claiming back people’s land, or reparations. You’ll never have to fear that you’ll be labelled a bitch for being too assertive in that meeting.

It’s about the luxury of being able to call yourself “colourblind” when every other segment of the population is constantly made aware of their skin colour, and when our collective biases have measurable negative effects on those demographics.

But more than these examples, and at its core, white privilege is about being able to see yourself as the norm, the default expression of humanity. It’s never really being othered, marginalised, in any context, because your whole life has taught you that you belong anywhere. That implicitly makes it harder to empathise with marginalised groups and individuals.

There’s no sin in being privileged. It’s often called invisible precisely because white males can’t see barriers that they don’t face. But if you’re convinced of its reality, I believe you have a duty: to listen, to try to understand and to ally yourself with those around you who do encounter such obstacles, and against the institutional and cultural constructs that penalise them.

Are there other forms of institutional and societal bias? Absolutely! We all, irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation and philosophy, think using stereotypes and other mental shorthand. Many of these biases, when not critically appraised and factored for, have a similar tendency to cause harm. But as a dominant, visible problem in Aotearoa, that shapes the assumptions behind our public and especially our political discourse, I believe white male privilege has a lot to answer for.

If you prefer facts and figures to my generalised and imperfect synopsis, I’d recommend Google and Facebook’s Unconscious Bias workshop materials as a comprehensive introduction, along with the many independent resources, papers, books, articles, and infographics available with a quick search.

Aspirational voting in 2017

There are many ways to frame this election, but the one I keep coming back to is that Saturday will show us, by the numbers, how strong white privilege is in Aotearoa New Zealand.

We (white males) have a disturbingly pervasive subtext that minimises and condescends to questions of culture, values and politics, dismissing anything other than the status quo as self-evident idiocy.

And we wonder why the outside world still sees us as parochial, ignorant and naive.

This election is about whether a party with a record of lies, claiming the work of others, changing definitions to “solve” problems and denying the consensus of experts across multiple fields retains its mandate to govern, with the (false) justification that politics has always been done that way.

It is about whether we want to endorse greasy backroom smear campaigns and reward fearful, defamatory rhetoric.

It is about whether the joke that is politics should be met with a shrug, a laugh, and a concession that this is the best we can do.

This election is about giving National another three years to make problems go away by clinging to outdated understandings of brand and message. For someone who criticises Labour for being stuck in the past, Bill English has a very retro grasp of identity and vision.

Do we perch in complacency, because everything is superficially okay for us, personally, at this instant?

Do we rely on philanthropy to solve poverty, turning survival into a lottery for our most vulnerable?

Do we accept that the numbers on a screen are more meaningful – even when misrepresented – than the people and the society that we want to be?

Or is this election not really about us at all?

The wealthy, the privileged, the educated, and the well employed aren’t going to see their world shaken by this election.

We vote not for ourselves, but for our society – that is the essence of democracy. And we need to look to the outliers. To vote for the poor, the sick, the addicted, and the oppressed. For them, this election may be the difference between life and death.

We need a vision.

We need to admit that the status quo is never “good enough” while people are starving. While there remains systemic and cultural discrimination against specific minorities – and majorities, in the case of women.

We need to strive – as we do in our jobs, in our families, in our relationships – to be better people, and to do that we need above all else a clear, cohesive vision for the future. For an Aotearoa that acknowledges and learns from the mistakes of our past. For an Aotearoa that seeks better ways forward. For an Aotearoa that actually wants to be “100% Pure:” in our motivations, in our self-critique and in our care for our people.

We need integrity. We need hope. We need a social conscience.

But in the face of stupefying resilience by White Male New Zealand (never Aotearoa) we may also need, to quote an unlikely source, a little stardust.

#changethegovt #letsdothis #nzpol #decision17