Asni: Multimedia Art & Design
DIGITAL PRINTS now available on Ebay • Greeting card selection now available on Etsy • ASNI'S GARDEN: Original Watercolour paintings available on Etsy
SHEET MUSIC: Diego Fernandez de Huete: Compendio numeroso – original music for harp from baroque Spain
TREAT YOURSELF TO SOME MUSIC: Harp sheet music store * Travels in Middle Earth CD • 700 Years of Pop CD
Asni the Harper digital downloads: CD Baby ** Amazon MP3 * iTunes
NOW AVAILABLE: New Zealand Film Locations map: A3 poster * Snowflake Christmas/seasonal card * Queen Galadriel holiday card * Easter greeting cards
Yang lately had made it her business to wriggle herself out of every enclosure I tried to put her in. The very night I was sending out my last newsletter with all the photos of my team, she was on the loose, and I failed to get her in for the night. It was one of those very windy nights, and frankly, I was a bit tired of chasing after her. I needed to get the newsletter out, and I'd been dealing with an unhappy chicken all day: Buten had been very upset all day having trouble laying her first egg, and I was worried about her. I'd taken her to sleep inside and put some pain killer in her water, thinking I might have to take her to the vet, but to my relief, next morning she had popped her egg and was clearly feeling better.
Yang, however, was lying on my front lawn, stretched out as if asleep, with a big red hole in her neck. I'd spotted her the previous night when I went out to fetch some firewood, and she came up to me, but then changed her mind and hopped away to further bright adventures, a pale ghostly shape in the in the near-full moonlight. She was cold and stiff by the time I found her. Nothing I could do for her but wrap her in an old nightgown and bury her under my apple tree, in the moonshine which she loved. Such a gentle, loving creature, and so full of joy of being alive. But oh! Stubborn.
This has obviously unbalanced the universe quite considerably, as I now have only Yin, and no Yang. Yin took the loss of her sister badly. They had never been separated for more than a couple of hours and they were so loving with each other, constantly grooming each other and cuddling up next to each other, and now all that was suddenly gone. She was spending far too much time lying apathetically in her basket, and I was trying hard myself not to get depressed about it – so I figured the best thing to do for both our sakes, was find another rabbit quick.
Within less than a week, I picked up Te Po to join our little family – a blue Flemish GIant doe just about a month younger than Yin. She's a stroppy ball of fur with a bit of a bossy streak, and the two girls had to settle some differences first: they went at each other in a proper boxing match, in which Yin, who had up to that point been rather under the thumb of her larger sister, evidently was the winner. All that running around outdoors has made her into a strong sleek creature, and she quite literally hopped all over Te Po, who despite being younger, is already the same size – but rather less agile. I think she's spent most of her life penned up in a hutch so far. They've been best buddies ever since, and are now just as cuddly with each other as Yin and Yang ever were.
There is no replacing Yang. She was special: I was planning to teach her some computer, since she clearly had an affinity with technology! She and her sister made a happy pair of clowns. Te Po doesn't quite have the same sense of humour, but she is sweet, in a dour sort of way, and a beautiful creature in her own right. I'm glad to have her around.
Guinea fowl are my friends. They eat bugs, and are particularly good at clearing up ticks. I felt I ought to get a couple of these birds before early summer! There was someone selling them in Tawa, and though they were a tad on the expensive side compared to the general going rate for guinea fowl, I wouldn't have to pick them up in Auckland or Levin, which was definitely a bonus. I figured I could justify paying for them out of my medical expenses account.
I would have been quite content to just take one, to add to my chicken flock, but then I considered that this would be unfair on the fowl: they are very social creatures with a strong flock instinct, and one bird on its own would probably have gone mildly psychotic, even with chickens around. So I settled on two as a minimum package, and planned a round trip to Wellington and Tawa.
Meanwhile, on one of my poultry trawling visits on Trademe, I spotted an add for some rescue geese looking for a loving new forever home, in Johnsonville. That's just on the way to Tawa. I've always fancied having a goose, so I thought, why not check it out. Obligation free and all that. I called up to ask if they had any female geese – I have what they need, they can eat my grass and I even have a pond – and could I have a look at them day after next? No, I was just interested in one. The person on the other end said they had two female geese, one was a bit lame, the other had her wing sticking out – and would I consider taking both (pretty please)? No really, I said, I was just learning how to keep chickens, and it was going to be a bit much for me.
When I'd hung up, I immediately proceeded to the important business of settling on a name for my new goose, whom I had apparently just committed to adopt. I couldn't decide if I should call her Selma, or Sophie, so I popped the man an email saying actually, I might as well take both geese – it seemed the perfect solution to this particular dilemma.
As it turned out, one of the geese was already called Lucy, a name which suits her well. She has a condition called an angel wing: a deformity of the wing joint which makes the tip of her left wing stick out at right angles. It is apparently caused by wrong nutrition during a goose's adolescence. The other goose is a bit lame on her feet: the people I got her from, Wellington Bird Rehabilitation Trust, who seem to be running something like a hospital for ducks, geese, and other birds, think she's got arthritis. She is a grumpy old character with strong opinions – like as to when I should be getting up in the morning – who is definitely called Selma. I suppose one day I will still be looking for a goose I can call Sophie.
Having loaded up my car with two geese, as well as a supply of wood shavings and hay, and some bits and bobs I'd bought in Wellington, I proceeded to Tawa for my guinea fowl. The lady there seemed to be positively impressed that I'd turned up when I said I would, and gave me a crash course in guinea fowl keeping while transferring the birds to my transport cage. Actually, she said, she had only four birds left, and would I take all four, same price? I mean what do you do when someone offers you four instead of two of something, same price? Do you decline? Heck no.
When I got home with my carful of birds – having nearly doubled my population of poultry in one fell swoop – the geese made a beeline for my pond, and have stayed there ever since. Whyever did I ever think having a goose would be complicated? They are the easiest animals around. Apart from the fact that if I still want to grow waterlilies, I had better make another pond – because geese and water plants really don't mix! There's a gardening project for next month.
The guinea fowl, on the other hand, turned out to be some tough cookies. I'd been warned that they needed to stay in a fully enclosed pen for a few weeks, until they'd know where home is, but between screaming chickens, cranky geese, and impatient guinea fowl, things got away a bit on me, and in the end I just chucked them in the chicken enclosure with the rest of the chickens. It was a lovely sunny day, and they seemed happy enough all afternoon: they were neither particularly noisy (as I'd been warned they could be), nor particularly inclined to fly off anywhere.
Come sundown, I took the chickens back to their pen inside my shed, and then proceeded to attempt to catch the guinea fowl. Guinea fowl won't be caught. Guinea fowl will scream and panic and flutter and run around, but to catch them, one really needs to have them in a confined space where they can't get away. I'd been told that they'll go pretty dopey after dark, and would be easy to pick up then, and since they were all huddling together on the opposite end of the enclosure from where I was, I figured I'd just wait until they'd fallen asleep. What I did not expect was that with the last daylight, without the slightest warning, all four of them took off simultaneously, vertically to the top of the highest tree they could find, to roost there for the night.
Nothing much I could do about that except wait for next morning, and hope they'd somehow find their way back to my chicken lawn. One of them had gotten separated from the others and was sitting in the hedge next to the enclosure, so there was some hope that the others would join her there.
With the first daylight, I and the rest of the neighbourhood were treated to a first hand demonstration of just how loud guinea fowl can scream. Turned out that, having lost one of the members of their little flock, calling out to locate each other was the way to go. And call out to each other they did. The acoustic locating mechanism in guinea fowl, however, still needs some work, for it took them *ages* to figure out where their lost flock member was.
By that time, they'd flown down from their tree top but missed my lawn and carried on across the street, where three of them were running up and down in perfect sync, while the fourth was sitting on a rooftop, not finding them even when the group of three were screaming their heads off right below where the fourth was sitting. I was out in the street in my pyjamas, trying to somehow herd the panicky birds back to my property, all the while mentally estimating how much I could sell my house for, and would it be enough to start a new life elsewhere anonymously?
Thank goodness, Featherstonians by and large have a good sense of humour. My neighbour across the street, who has moved in fairly recently and whom I thus got to meet for the first time, offered her help, and we were just plotting how to circle the birds and chase them into my driveway, when the other neighbour's dog appeared on the scene, to see what the hubbub was. This was too much for the birds – they spooked and flew up into another tree, and there they sat. And sat. And sat until afternoon, by which time I had finished reading up on the internet on how to catch guinea fowl (basically – you don't), and decided that my best bet was to try to lure them back with a sound recording of their call. This got them to respond alright – oh boy! – but unfortunately, it wasn't convincing enough for them to leave their perch and make their way back to my lawn.
Meanwhile, all of Featherston knew that I have guinea fowl, and that they got out. After discussing the situation with yet another neighbour, I put a call for help on the Featherston Facebook page, and then investigated how I could contact the local fire brigade – might they be able to bring a ladder and a torch, and pluck the birds from their tree after dark, when they'd have fallen asleep? I really didn't feel that my hard working neighbours, who presumably wanted to have a well deserved sleep-in on a Sunday morning, deserved a repeat performance. I managed to obtain the private number of our local fire chief, who told me to call 111 and make it an official animal rescue call.
The fire brigade, it must be said, turned up on my door before I had time to put my boots on. They assessed the situation, but said it was too risky to put a person on a ladder for a bunch of birds. They tried to get them down by drenching them with a fire hose, but this only made them move higher up the tree, except for one bird who came down and wound up sitting drenched and extremely resentful in a cage in front of my fireplace, while the rest of them had a miserable night of it sitting in their tree through gale force winds and pouring rain.
I woke up at first dawn waiting for the screaming to start up again, but perhaps the trials of the night had subdued them, for this morning thankfully, there was no calling. So I pulled my blanket over my nose and turned around, deciding that the bloody birds could wait, until sometime mid-morning I heard a knock on my door and someone calling for me. Turned out that it was Anna, my neighbour on Harrison Street – the one who bought my plants and gave me her blessing to keep a rooster. She had spotted the three remaining birds wandering in the street, and managed to herd them back to my property. Obviously, she'd had some previous guinea fowl experience!
The neighbours were lovely. They keep chickens themselves, and are fully supportive of my poultry keeping efforts. Their little four year old girl was ecstatic over my geese. They lent me their spare chicken pen so I could confine the guinea fowl for the next few weeks, and gave me a bunch of stuff – wooden frames, bits of corrugated iron, and some surplus chicken wire – to build shelters with. Then they invited me over for a cuppa, and we got into discussing poultry keeping and organic gardening and Featherston's future as a book town, among other things.
I was lucky to get all my birds back, but decided that four really was too many – I'd only wanted one or two to begin with! So I listed two of them Trademe on Sunday night, it was close to midnight by the time I got round to it. They sold on Monday morning at 5.12 am. Maybe I should think about breeding them?
They went to the Wee Red Barn in Masterton, where I buy my organic potatoes and blueberry wine when I get the chance. It will be a great new home for them, and I got most of my financial investment back, plus a free sack of organic potatoes for dropping them off.
Perhaps the damn doctor was on to something, when he told me I should have a damn pet. Last time I saw him, he asked me how many beasts I have by now, and after doing a swift mental calculation – I haven't yet mentioned Muerte, my baby golden axolotl, who alas is no longer with us (bad choice of a name?) but was still alive at that point – I came up with the number: fourteen. His face? Priceless.
News & Current Projects
The garden paintings are back! I'd managed to lock myself out of my studio some weeks ago: that is, the door slammed shut and the lock broke, and I could not open the damn door any which way. I finally got the locksmith to come and sort it out for me, but it took a while.
Next thing I discovered was that I was nearly completely out of canvas – so I put in a big order at Gordon Harris, who conveniently just had a 60% discount canvas sale on, and who shipped it all to my doorstep for all of $ 8.50, which is a whole lot less than the cost of a trip to Wellington.
It feels good to be out in the garden again, sitting in the sun and painting my daffodils: even though we are officially still deep in winter, they are already in full swing. While I was waiting for my order to arrive, I filled the last couple of pieces of canvas: two small size painting of a daffodil and a rose, and there are also the autumn cherry leaves from last month. Plus a very quick and possibly not quite finished painting of my apple tree.
These paintings are, once again, for sale: The autumn cherry leaves are 76 x 38 cm / 30 x 15 inches, and sell for NZ$ 230 / Euro 150 / US $ 180, plus shipping. The Daffodil and Rose 'Lemon and Lime' are small size (for easy shipping): 30 x 30 cm / 12 x 12 inches. They sell for NZ $ 150 / € 100 / US $ 120 each, plus € 10 / US $ 12 regular airmail, or € 20 / US $ 24 tracked courier, anywhere in the world. Shipping rates within New Zealand and to Australia: please ask.
Please contact me if you would like to purchase one of these paintings.
Asni's Garden: Cherry leaves
My children's book about the hares has found the approval of the little girl next door, who loves it so much that the mother has asked to keep the copy for a little longer. I went over for a cup of tea the other day and brought the book to say thank you for all the help with the guinea fowl, and sat in front of their fireplace while she read it to her daughter. It went down well with both the little girl and with her parents, and has apparently turned into a favourite nighttime story.
I've signed myself up to attend my first ever SCBWI meeting and workshop in Auckland next weekend, and meet some fellow illustrators, as well as people involved in the NZ publishing industry. Then there is the Tinderbox conference for children's writers and illustrators coming up in Wellington in October – that's a must. I am hoping to have the book published and launched by then, to coincide with Featherston's Book Town festival, but it will be a good opportunity to get in in front of some people's noses, and perhaps discuss my next project? I have a couple of ideas on the back burner already.
So, time to get busy again! I have still been in recovery mode this month, getting lots of sleep and relaxation, and have not been very motivated to sit behind the computer. I've been dealing with all the new poultry, making plans for the next garden season, and getting on with tidying up my place to I can continue my redecorating project. But I have now finished my course of antibiotics, and the days are slowly getting longer again and spring in in the air – that should help! Plus, I now have a cranky goose who demands that I get out of bed in the morning!
Asni's Garden: Apples (unfinished)
On Amazing Stories, I started a new series of posts featuring the aesthetic appeal of modern technology: Space Stations are a technological reality, but also a locus to project dreams of a bright interstellar future. More ubiquitously, Power Lines have been a worthwhile subject for photographers. Visit my author page, with a list of all my blog posts on Amazing Stories.
Nothing much new on the shop front, but it's time to start thinking about Christmas! Get your greeting cards early this year, there are several season-appropriate motives to choose from: Snowflake, Tree of Light, or the very Christmassy Farewell Song. These images are also available as posters! – Or stock up to treat yourself or friends and family to some extraordinary harp sheet music.
After jumping ahead in leaps and bounds, my digital download account on CD Baby has stalled a bit: but I am just over $10 away from the next payout, so I may well get there this month! Which would be brilliant, because I could use the cash to pay for some children's-book-publishing-and-promoting related expenses.
You can keep helping by sharing my music, and of course by listening to it yourself! You can download tracks on CD Baby directly, or on iTunes, Amazon Mp3, and a bunch of other online music providers : just search for Asni the Harper.
Between the rabbits, the chickens and the geese, I am never going to need a lawnmower again. My garden has gone all wild and weedy and overgrown this last summer, since I wasn't really up to doing a lot of work. So I've put my team on to the job of tidying it up, while I am sitting snugly on the couch working on my newsletter! Brilliant.
The rabbits have been great at reducing some of the long grass, and they love dock and wild fennel, which grow through my garden and are tough to weed out. When they are done, I send the chicken in to scratch and tear out the roots. After that, all I need to do is get a spade and turn the earth, and voila! A new vegetable bed ready for planting.
Meanwhile the geese, like a pair of living precision cutters, eat the grass from between my flower beds, and keep my lawn areas nice and short. I can forgive them for also tearing up my just-established water plants from my pond: it's winter, so the damage is limited, and those plants will grow again once the geese move to their own dedicated goose pond.
The egg supply has also been coming along nicely: Big Mary pops a big brown egg with fair regularity nearly every day, the two campines are both laying about every other day, and the silkies make a fair contribution too: I am happy to report that Feng has now joined the egging crew, so she is not a cockerel after all. She's turned into quite a regular layer, for a silkie. Between them, they pop the eggs faster than I can eat them!
I am still not sure about wee little Stout, who is not so wee little any more, but I am beginning to think that the little fella might grow up to be a hen as well. In which case, I may be in the market for a black Orpington rooster: but we'll cross that bridge when we get there.
I've put in a large order with King's Seeds this year – vegetables, flowers and herbs – and the next thing I'll do after finishing this newsletter, is tidy up my verandah and set up a proper dedicated propagation space with lots of room for seed trays. It's time to start sowing, and this time I won't be raising plants only for my own planting, but also with a view of selling them on Trademe. That will keep me pretty busy through the spring!
I also need to look into setting up proper fencing to keep my animals safe inside my property, and any stray dogs or cats outside. I'll need to build a chicken coop: currently the chickens sleep in a makeshift pen in my shed, but this means I have to take them out every morning, and in again in the evening, and while this has been a good way to establish a personal relationship with all my birds, and get them used to me and to being handled, in the long run it is just too time consuming. So, never a shortage of things to do in Asni's Garden!
Cecil the Lion
Ok, I am not actually going to write about Cecil the Lion. I am going to write about Sandra Bland. But if I had titled my article "Sandra Bland", or "Black Lives Matter", how many of you would have clicked on it?
When I look at the photo of Sandra Bland, the latest in a long series of fatalities caused by police brutality against black people in the US, I see a young woman who reminds me a lot of some of the people who are my best friends. Someone whom we might have liked to hang out with. Someone who reacted much in the same way that I have found myself reacting, on occasion, to arbitrary bullying by people who would look for the flimsiest pretext to give me a hard time, simply because they have a problem with the kind of person I am.
Fortunately for me, I am not black, and I don't live in the US, so my actions have not cost me my life. Sandra Bland was not so lucky. Whether she really committed suicide in her cell, or whether there was foul play involved, it was the police who killed her. No ifs, no buts.
I cannot pretend to know what it is like to be a black person in the US – or elsewhere, for that matter. I do, however, have people in my life whom I care about, and who are "black" – here in New Zealand, that term would encompass people of Maori, Pacific Island, and of South Asian ethnicity, as well as those of African extraction.
I got into a conversation on Facebook recently with Deva Mahal, my friend Nani's sister. The whole Mahal clan are outspoken about black civil rights (or the lack thereof), so my Facebook feed provides me with frequent updates on the latest instance of arbitrary, racially motivated police brutality, among other things. It's a perspective I don't get from the rest of my social connections!
Deva had posted the following video, which I encourage you to watch (it's just over a minute) – showing a black woman being unloaded from a Tampa, Florida police car and dragged along the floor, while another person stands by and watches:
https://www.facebook.com/nolimit.bibby.56/videos/1607978599474188/?pnref=story#Posted by Brandon Dickinson on Thursday, July 23, 2015
This isn't Sandra Brand but it is a real case, with a real woman being treated like live stock. If anything, I feel worse having that knowledge because then it becomes a more common placed occurrence. Can we, as a nation, accept that this happens to anyone?............I fear for my life and safety more and more everyday. I am more comfortable with walking past the drug dealers on my block than the police that patrol our streets. To me, that is very, very unacceptable.
She also responded to my post – I had clarified that although the video did not show Sandra Bland, as she had stated, this hardly made it better! But I was concerned that it wasn't helping the cause to attribute it to the wrong person, since such a misattribution could be used to question the credibility of those trying to draw attention to this issue.
I agree. Although I am at a loss as to what will actually make a difference. These days it seems like nothing makes any difference. Waking up everyday and expecting such tragedies is the norm and there is no feeling of hope for me.
Also speaking to this experience, is this article in the New York Times. I am not black, and I cannot know what this is like. But I can listen, and I can believe that what I hear is true.
The transcript of the dashcam video of Sandra Bland's arrest makes it utterly clear that the police officer was completely out of line, deliberately escalating the situation and giving unlawful orders, while Sandra Bland followed his orders as long as they were within the frame of his duties, then challenged them when they were no longer in fact lawful. Yet I have had conversations on Facebook with friends of friends, who think that Sandra Bland brought it on herself, that she could still be alive if she had only been "polite" and "obedient". A good little black girl. Obedient to a police offer who was breaking the law and bullying her. Obedience: that quality valued by fascists. And no one else.
Although I am not black, I do know what it is like to be arrested by police simply on account of being the "wrong" sort of person – wrong accent in my case, plus wrong gender, wrong age and wrong lifestyle.
When I was still living in Wellington, at my last address on Pembroke Road – a neighbourhood in which I felt completely isolated and there was absolutely no sense of neighbourliness at all – I persistently had noise issues with the people occupying the upstairs flat, due to the complete lack of insulation between their floor and my ceiling. As it eventually turned out, the space was hollow and actually amplified every tiny sound! It should never have been rented out that way.
Some of the upstairs occupants were more understanding of the issue than others, but one tenant simply would not acknowledge that she might have to change any of her behaviour to accommodate the fact that there was another person living in the house. This was a young Chinese woman, in Wellington to study, like many children of well-off Chinese people do. For the first three months of her tenancy, she had her elderly parents stay over. The girl struck me as a fine product of China's one child policy. The parents acted as if I did not exist at all.
One Sunday morning, after having repeatedly pointed out where my bedroom is and would they at least respect the fact that I was sleeping there, I was woken up by stomping and a noisy conversation directly above my head. I went upstairs and knocked on their door, to once again ask them to keep the noise down on top of my bedroom on a Sunday morning.
I was fairly angry at that point, and gave the door a solid knock – but I certainly did not expect that I would be able to break the door glass panel with my bare fist! There must have been some fault in the glass. This wasn't going to help the situation, and it certainly didn't make me happy, but there was nothing for it, I waited for them to open so I could make my complaint. They told me to leave, then chose to call the police and apparently told them some tale of a berserk woman "threatening" them – which I was not – and they also alleged that I had broken their glass panel on purpose – which was plain ridiculous. The idea that their own behaviour had been provoking this situation, seemingly never penetrated the outside of their skulls.
Two strutting male New Zealand police officers turned up on my doorstep a short while later. I was still in my pyjamas, and I was still very angry, and they quizzed me in my kitchen for at least half an hour, before I'd even had a chance to take a shower. They insisted to know if I had broken the window on purpose, and I repeatedly and consistently asserted that it was an accident, and had taken me by surprise. When I subsequently received a copy of their report, the officer had stated that I had admitted to breaking the window on purpose – which I never did.
It must have been obvious to those trained police officers that a fat angry woman in her 40's and living alone, and moreover speaking with a German accent, must be at fault – probably some mental health issue, they did suggest that I might be going through a "difficult time" (hint hint wink wink saaaaay no more) – while a sweet Asian girl in her 20's and living demurely with her elderly parents, would obviously be an innocent victim, and feel justifiably threatened by this crazy hulk woman who breaks windows with her bare fist. Besides, being German, I was obviously a racist and prejudiced against Asians, everyone knows that. Unlike most New Zealanders, who have no prejudices at all. And certainly not against Asians.
They then took me down to the police station on a charge of trespass – for knocking on my upstairs neighbour's door! – and for breaking the window on purpose, which I had not done. When I arrived there, one of the other officers present saw fit to remark on how many Germans they had roped in that morning. Perhaps they'd all gotten a bit bored with the lack of real bad ass crime in sleepy Wellington on a Sunday morning, and decided to go for a bit of a real-life role playing game of Shoot-The-Bad-Nazi?
Having lived my entire life as a meticulously law abiding citizen, I was in a state of disbelief that this was happening. They offered me to speak to a lawyer, which I should have insisted upon, but I just thought the whole thing was ridiculous, and wanted to go home and have breakfast. They took my mugshot and my fingerprints, and gave me a date to appear in court, then put me out on the street to find my own way home.
I've felt completely violated by this experience – and I wasn't even brutalized and beaten, or jailed. I didn't have my head slammed into the ground by an officer crouching above me as if he was about to rape me – things that are shown in the dashcam video recording of Sandra Bland's arrest.
I didn't have the money to pay for a lawyer, so I went to see the community law service, who advised me that the least stressful way for me to go would be to admit to the charges, which would result in no criminal record seeing that it was a first time offence, and I'd likely have to do some community service (which I did – 30 hours of pulling weeds in Karori cemetery, all for wanting to have my beauty sleep on a Sunday morning). The lawyer cautioned me that in his opinion this was the easiest thing to do, but not necessarily the right thing, or the best.
I was at a pretty low point in my life at that time and didn't have the psychological stamina – let alone the cash – to fight for my rights, but I am still angry about it. If I am ever financially in a position to seek proper legal advice, I am entirely prepared to go and fry the balls of the police officer responsible for this. It is not acceptable, and it is one of the reasons why I have decided not to apply for New Zealand citizenship, even though I have been eligible to do so for a number of years. I don't identify with a nation whose civil servants act this way, and act this way with impunity.
Sandra Bland was pulled over for a minuscule traffic violation, by a police officer who had apparently been tailing her, which would have made me nervous too, if I'd been in her car. She was then bullied, beaten, arrested, and put into jail, by people whose job description and public mandate is to protect her from these very things. If she did commit suicide, I can totally relate. Sometimes one simply does not want to live in a world where these things are allowed to happen.
My doctor asks me why I have no social life. One reason for it is that time and again, in the social circles which are accessible to me, I find myself confronted with such a heavy load of unreflected, deeply entrenched, taken-for-granted racial, gender based, homophobic, xenophobic prejudice, that I often find it impossible to carry on a conversation without breaking the rules of "politeness". The "politeness" that looks away, smoothes over, ignores, minimizes – and thereby condones and helps to preserve attitudes that are ignorant, hateful, harassing, and plain fascist.
All in the name of "not preaching politics", of "not giving offence", of "not discussing controversial topics". So showing some basic respect and consideration for people of a different skin colour is a controversial topic? For whom? Whose racist sensibilities am I in danger of offending? And why would I respect their point of view?
Mind you, these are quite often people I like. They aren't evil, or stupid, or mean. They are your run-of-the-mill, self-defined liberal, educated, socially interested fellow artist, or business contact, or friend's friend, or neighbour. It begins with that standard question which is so widely considered an appropriate opening for starting a conversation, here in New Zealand: "Where are you from?" When people ask me that, right after asking my name, they've already lost me. I've learned by now that there is no future in any relationship that begins with that question.
A fellow artist whom I respect and like, recently stated at a party that "she wouldn't get into a taxi with a dark skinned driver". The last time I rode in a taxi, my driver was a very dark skinned man from Southern India, who told me he had a master's degree in languages, and had originally come to New Zealand as a translator for the scale doubles of the four hobbit actors in "Lord of the Rings". Now, of course, he was driving taxis – so we had something in common. I consider myself privileged to have met this person and been driven in his taxi. And guess what – he didn't hit on me or try to rape and murder me. I'm a fat woman in my forties – and he drove taxis for a living.
The good doctor himself is what they call "black". He speaks English with an educated native speaker's accent, and reminds me in his attitudes much of my good friend Luke from Sydney, a large blonde and blue eyed Anglosaxon-as-they-come, whom I used to share a flat with when I lived in London. But he happens to walk around in a South Asian skin. I suppose one reason why I felt I could talk with him more openly than I have with other people, was that he was not going to tell me that prejudice does not exist in New Zealand.
I told him this once, when he tried to send me off to the shrink. I told him I found it more helpful to talk to him, because I was certain he would know what it is like when people judge you by the way you look, not who you are. He didn't elaborate, he just acknowledged this with a brief nod. He's also stopped trying to send me to the shrink, by now.
I have to wonder, though, how my artist friend who is so particular about her taxi driver, would feel about taking her top off in his office?
The threat of sexual violence is ever in the back of the mind of, well, just about every woman. I felt threatened, not rationally but on a visceral level, when I had two strapping male police officers quizzing me in my kitchen, living on my own as I do. If a police officer, for no good reason, were to put his hands on me and force me to leave my car, I am certain that, consciously or subconsciously, my alarm bells would go off, interpreting this as a possible prelude for sexual abuse.
No wonder Sandra Bland resisted the police officer's attempt to make her leave her car. It would not have felt safe. It would probably not have felt safe for any young woman, even one who had no reason to suspect the police, even one who was not black. Sandra Bland was someone who spoke up against police violence toward black people, and who would therefore have been very aware of the danger she was in. She must have felt profoundly afraid – felt that now it was her turn. Which, as it turned out, it was.
"Can you blame a Black Woman for not trusting the cops? Especially after the #SandraBland situation? Details: Someone called the police on this woman because she left her children in the car to pick up a package. The officer is doing all of this to get her ID, which she had previously shown him outside. She came back inside because she was scared and the officer is demanding that she go back outside to give him information. (Notice how concerned he is with the bystander videotaping). Three more officers arrive to assist him.Posted by Your Black Reality on Thursday, August 6, 2015
Ironically, it is precisely the fear of sexual violence which perpetuates racist attitudes like my artist friend's reluctance to take a cab with a dark skinned driver. I have grown up a product of sheltered white middle class myself, and I can vouch for it that the fear of dark skinned men and their alleged sexual cravings continues to be inculcated in women like myself from a very young age.
I have been flashed, inappropriately touched, sexually harassed in workplaces, stalked, followed in the street, leered at, hit up when I wanted to be left alone, and on one occasion forced to give some sick poor sucker a hand job behind a bush when I was about eleven. Oh yeah, and that story I was writing in my previous newsletter, which I still owe you the last and nastiest installment of. Not one of these men was dark skinned. Not a single one. They were all of them northern European, most of them German or British or Dutch – that is, average native inhabitants of whereever I happened to live at the time.
I've been chatted up by young African men on occasion. They chatted – sometimes rather too persistently, but they just chatted. They didn't touch me or expose themselves, let alone try to drag me behind a bush. One guy asked me once, late at night in a street in Switzerland, if he could walk with me as we were both going the same way. I said I'd prefer to walk by myself, and he simply accepted that. A little longer ago, at a party in London, a somewhat older man who I had been dancing with, asked if he could drive me home and, you know, have a bit of fun. I didn't quite take his meaning to begin with, not being used to people asking so straightforwardly, but when I did, I politely declined. He still drove me and my aforementioned friend Luke home, and wasn't even peeved.
I've been in taxis with any number of dark skinned drivers, of various ethnicities, in any number of places, and not one of them ever did anything but their job. I've never assumed that I would be any less safe with any of them, than with a white guy. In fact, if given the choice, I would probably feel safer. Or at least treated more politely.
Perhaps it is the shared experience of being permanently on one's guard against random, unprovoked violence, which women and people of darker shades of skin share, and which it is next to impossible to get across to most white males, who are the one group of people on this planet who do not have to live with that kind of fear.
The people I am really afraid of, are white men like those New Zealand police officers who quizzed me in my kitchen. Men like the out of control macho who dragged Sandra Bland out of her car because she questioned his right to bully her. Or for that matter, men like the entitled American dentist who shot Cecil the Lion: their attitudes are most certainly related, although I am also scared by people who will tie themselves into a knot over a lion who happened to be the darling of wealthy Western tourists: "Who would kill such a magnificent creature?" – but who obviously do not consider that Sandra Bland was a magnificent enough creature to take much notice of how she died.
These are men – and women – who live in the sure belief that they represent the pinnacle of human decency, and who see anyone who questions that self-image they hold so dear, as a threat which must be eliminated: be it by bullying them off an internet forum (if they are white), or by causing them to die in a jail cell (if they are black).
White fragility – a term which is beautifully defined in this article – is what makes any constructive discussion of matters of race such a thorny issue these days. It is a sentiment I have absolutely neither sympathy nor patience for: and "fragility" is an euphemism. Let's call it out for the cowardice that it is.
I honestly do not think I should have to "respect the feelings" of someone who cannot face the fact that their culture and their country's wealth is built on the suffering of millions of African people, who for centuries, were denied their very humanity. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade carried on for round about three hundred years and resulted in millions of deaths (no one has exact figures because no one has cared enough to keep a record), as well as untold suffering, dislocation, poverty ... the lasting effects are still felt on the entire African continent, as well as in the "black" communities in America.
Why should I have to be "polite" to people who do not extend that same courtesy to someone of a different colour of skin? Who cannot admit to themselves that their own attitudes haven't changed nearly as much as they should have, since those dark days when people still were free to openly admit their racism.
Having grown up German, I can assure you that those same people never worry about how they might offend my feelings, when they drag up their ill-informed views on what went on during the Nazi regime, and imply that myself and everyone I grew up with, are somehow genetically predisposed to be fascists. Or even worse, people who tacitly assume that just because I happen to have a German passport, and the blond hair to go with it, I would sympathize with views that are not all that different from those of the Nazis.
The difference between Germany, and the Anglosaxon countries, is that Germany has taken responsibility for their history. As a culture, we have spent the last 70 odd years trying to figure out how this could happen, and how one can prevent it from happening again. It has been a painful process. It is not nice to be confronted at every turn with all this evil and human ugliness, or with the fact that people who may belong to one's own family circle, may have been implicated in it. It is not easy. But it has most definitely been worthwhile: Germany has become a better society for it, and I often notice that these days, young German people are the first to speak up when they notice racist attitudes in any form or shape.
There is a recent article in the New Yorker about Sandra Bland, which particularly addresses the video of her arrest. It is written by Margaret Talbot, a white member of New York's cultural upper class. "In the age of dashboard video cameras and cell-phone-captured arrests, there is so much that we see and can’t ever unsee", she begins her article. It sounds rather as if she regrets the fact that the video documentation of some of the most recent instances of unjustifiable police bullying and violence against black people, no longer allow people like herself to ignore the whole issue, if they want to be able to look themselves in the face in the mirror in the morning. "It puts us in a strange, morally exigent position: we can’t say we didn’t see, we never knew; we have no plausible deniability. The videos keep coming out."
We didn't see, we never knew: that is exactly, word for word, what so many German people of my grandparent's generation said, when asked about the concentration camps. Those were the words the whole world, very much including the white liberal cultural elite of America, has shaken their collective unbelieving head over for the last three quarters of a century. Those are the words that indict an entire generation of German people for complicity with the holocaust, through their failure to speak up against it.
One thing I learned during my years as a musician, is that you cannot correct your mistakes, unless you notice that you are making them. That's what honing a performance really comes down to: figure out what you are doing wrong, and then fix it, do better.
Racist attitudes – in big, small, and minuscule ways – and the mechanisms of institutional racism need to be pointed out time, and time, and time again. Otherwise they won't get better. Otherwise people will keep dying, with a regularity that is completely unacceptable in any society that claims to be even barely civilized – let alone a society that considers itself the beacon of freedom and humanity.
"I'm tired of hearing it" really does not cut it. Sorry.
Arohanui, from Asni