By PAT WATSON
The period for focused reflection on the history of African people in the Diaspora has just closed for this year. It is hoped for the one and the many that those 28 days again served as a time to reach into both our record of historical facts and collective consciousness to enrich ourselves with yet more truths about who we are.
It had an interesting culmination this year on the big Hollywood Oscar stage with the film of 2014 being 12 Years a Slave. Certainly the international attention the Oscar awards receive will mean that many more audiences will take in the re-enactment of the terrible experience of Solomon Northup, among the countless lives sacrificed in chattel slavery over centuries in this part of the world.
It was yet another historical figure – Socrates – who is credited with the observation that the unexamined life is not worth living. With that understanding, for those who care to observe it, we now enter the next period of contemplation, as this (Ash) Wednesday marked the first day of the Lenten period of reflection. With Lent, Christians pay tribute to the Christ’s 40-day meditation before his paying the ultimate price, marked by Easter.
There is a concept that bears reflecting on at this time, which in my personal observation has been causing a great deal of trouble and turmoil among a great segment of us humans. It can be captured in a single word: other.
The nature of the news business is those involved have to give much time giving heed to reports of the terrible ways we respond to ‘others’. Othering, the daily act of rejecting people just like you and me as somehow different, is a giant that needs to be slain.
It is the beast that builds walls, often fierce walls of hostility, between neighbours and neighbourhoods, between regions, nations and so-called races. It is the wall between Tivoli Gardens and Rema, between Crimea and Kiev, between Christians and Muslims in Central Republic of Africa. It is what grips 24 countries in Africa alone, another 15 in Asia, eight in Europe and eight the Middle East. It is what arms thousands of militias, guerrilla groups worldwide. Othering is why we have guns and wars, rape and murder.
It is why we have a government managing the affairs of this country as if too many of the people living here are unwanteds. It is why one group handed a public trust feels it can get away with making rules that provide for stripping some people of their citizenship. To feel justified in doing that, one has to first create the ‘other’.
It is a cliché to ask, yet, ‘if you cut us do we not bleed?’ Do we not all need air and water? Do we not all thrive most when we are shown that we are valued and when we are cared for? What is it that makes those conditions that are critical for every human to thrive disallowed for some? What is this malevolence that has so thrived among us that it becomes easier to disconnect from our common humanity? And for what did the Christ give his life?
One of the great gifts of Rastafari is “I”, to put into practice the awareness that there is no real separation among ones and ones.
This is not to pretend that there aren’t differences and disagreements, that would be naïve and unrealistic, but where do we stop ourselves from making those differences into declarations of war?
This being Lent, we could choose to allow the Spirit of the season to guide us to examine our life and to move toward a more perfect way. This would be a time to ask to what extent one has been othering, disconnecting from our shared humanity and making those around us into objects of judgment and condemnation. Some will fast, abstaining from certain foods, but it could be a time to abstain from certain unhelpful habits, as othering.
How about replacing othering with compassion for at least the next 40 days and 40 nights?
A note on positivity…
In the midst of a record-setting winter freeze, the song “Happy” by American artiste Pharrell Williams is a catchy bit of emotional sunshine. Well recommended for dancing yourself awake on a bleak winter morning.
Pat Watson is the author of the e-book In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.