The day after Leonard Cohen died.

Suddenly the night has grown colder. 
The god of love preparing to depart.*

The chill of the 2016 US elections is still in my bones. Glued to any and all forms of media, I watched what Van Jones and Judith Butler have called, “whitelash” unfold in graphs, charts, and all forms of measurable outcomes. I watched as the states of my country turned red one by one. This was not the first time I had seen this, but there was something unique about this time. This time, it was not just me and people who looked like me, who felt precarious, but rather I watched as the whitelash was aimed at and betrayed the white Left/Center Left. I watched and felt the hush over the newscasters in the newsroom as they realized the precarity of the first amendment, particularly of free speech and thus, their very existence.

Without intending to, I consumed/embodied that hush. I could not respond or say anything about the election. My inbox was flooded with messages of coping, my social media was a manifest of betrayal, blame, violence, fear, and ultimately action. I was still silent. For me, as a Muslim woman of South Asian descent who has been working for decades on issues of social justice, sometimes through decolonizing anthropology, sometimes through collective action outside the academy, these results were not surprising. I wish they were more surprising. I wish I was surprised by white supremacy in America. I wish my idealism in the human spirit could have learned to forget or misplace that constant in my life. What I found myself wishing instead was that this outrage on my social media feed had coincided with the mapping of police violence, particularly on black bodies. Or the ways in which indigenous people are being arrested and violated for peacefully protesting the Dakota pipeline. Or the rising issue of domestic violence, or really anything, except the reiterating fact that the (white) Left was taken by absolute surprise, and that they did not win. As a person of color in the United States, I have never won. Obama was probably the closest thing to winning I came to, and even he ended up with drone issues (among others).

As more political news flooded my world, I realized that the impact of our elections were not just about the American Left but a global crisis with the Left. This was clear as the far right parties from around the world started congratulating the President-elect, and a quick tally of all the countries that had already voted in right wing governments or policies (Turkey, India, Brazil, Ecuador, UK etc). The silence engulfed me as I realized the implications far beyond issues related to US race relations and white supremacy (although these are very serious, should not be taken lightly and can also be extrapolated globally). This impacts all of us everywhere. All of us women, all of us LGBTQIA folks, all of us differentially documented folks, all of us people of color, all of us anthropologists… all of us for as far as I could imagine who ‘us’ would/could be.  This was fascism. This is fascism.

To mediate the violence of that realization, my silence had a meditative impact. It kept secure my small flickering light of idealism, hope, and love. I could not speak because every time I did, I found people lashing out and blaming each other. I was silent as a way to safeguard myself and my years of work. But suddenly, I was out of my league in terms of estimating impact and what it might mean to build solidarity across movements, and I was questioning if there was anything radical at all about the Left.

It was in that moment that I quietly entered the yard of Al-Serkal, to Cinema Akil, 11,000 kilometers away from where I sent my absentee ballot. I sat under an open sky to watch Malik Bendjelloul’s film,  Searching for Sugar Man (2012). The co-founder of Cinema Akil, Butheina Kazim opened the film with a short introduction, talking about Leonard Cohen, the elections, their impact on the world, and with a voice full of emotion, she brought the words of Toni Morrison to lend weight to the enormity of the crisis, and located her own position within that discourse: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self pity, no need for silence, no need for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

Listening to the words of an American poet, in Dubai, as a statement of action of what we do in times of crisis, just before a film about a Mexican-American singer from Detroit who was big in South Africa, made by a Swedish-Algerian film maker, cracked my silence. But what brought me here, to this post, was the story of Sixto Rodriguez, who taught me through his actions that it could never be about winning in the here and now. The struggle is in the every day, and there is an intense beauty to that labor, and there is meaning in that action that makes it art. His seemingly seamless shift from manual labor in Detroit to concerts in South Africa demonstrated that for him these were not different actions. They were both poetry. They were both art. They were both part of the same struggle.

As someone long prepared for the occasion;
In full command of every plan you wrecked –
Do not choose a coward’s explanation
that hides behind the cause and the effect.

And you who were bewildered by a meaning;
Whose code was broken, crucifix uncrossed –
Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving.
Then say goodbye to Alexandra lost.*

I don’t know if Rodriguez knew Cohen personally. I don’t even know if they crossed paths. But the two of them, one by passing and one by pausing, created the space in my slowly collapsing world for Toni Morrison’s words to resonate, and for me to find meaning again in what I do.

And what I do is write.
And what I do is love.
And what I do is dream.
And what I do is resist.
And what I do is labor.
And what I do is anthropology.

 

*Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson, Alexandra Leaving (Ten New Songs, 2001).

Note: An edit has been made to the original post to correct information by the author.

Uzma Z. Rizvi is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Urban Studies at The Pratt Institute of Art and Design, Brooklyn, NY. She is also a Visiting Scholar in the Department of International Studies, American University of Sharjah.

16 thoughts on “The day after Leonard Cohen died.

  1. Why is everyone making this a race issue? America voted against failed policies. Socialized medicine and globalism don’t work. Please, stop calling it racism and misogyny. It’s not.

  2. Why will no one post a dissenting voice? It’s nothing but “racism”, “fascism”… we have the right to dissent. I know you won’t post this. When you delete it, remember… you could live in North Korea. That is true fascism. Stop, please.

  3. Many of us on the Left knew it was coming here in Ohio, where Trump won the popular vote by nearly 10 points. Many voters who had voted for hope and change with President Obama voted for Trump change this year.

    My concern is that the Left is more concerned with diagnosing racism and misogyny than it is winning campaigns. For example, in Northwestern Ohio we are preparing for a natural gas pipeline that will get federal protections which will make it virtually impossible to hold the contract owner accountable if there is a leak. Rather than tie this pipeline to the concerns of the Dakota pipeline, rural Ohioans were trying to parse the meaning of Clinton’s basket of deplorables. We heard nothing of Clinton’s platform on environmental protections for rural communities.

    In a recent edition of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah reminded his viewers that rural communities – like the lands between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – have no place to go to protest. There is no one who voices their concerns in the mega cities of the West and East Coasts. For many voters in rural Ohio, it was simply easier to support an unfiltered, potty mouth candidate like Trump than a judgy elitist insider like Clinton.

  4. Thanks for your comments, everyone.

    For those questioning the race and misogyny issue – please go back and read my post. What I am saying is that race, misogyny and class issues are always issues no matter who is voted in — it seems endemic to my country. I wish it wasn’t – I wish I didn’t experience racism, sexism, or classism, but I do – and that is what I’m calling on all of us to change. This post was not about policy – it was about structural issues that maintain themselves through time and leadership, and how we might think of change.

    I wish your votes for Trump was not at the expense of my feelings of safety and security – but that is just what it is – I now feel unsafe because people are calling out for violence on my body. And as for your comment, Robert, unfortunately, I don’t believe issues related to pipelines in Dakota or Ohio were on either of their policy plans. I too, like you, wish it was on their radar. I’m sorry that such things are happening in your community.

    And yes, you are correct, I am more concerned with working through racism and misogyny first because otherwise everyone always loses – racism and misogyny are harmful to everyone – even the perpetrators of such policy and violence — so everyone loses, no matter who wins the election.

    Thank you all so much for reading and engaging, even if you disagree.

    Cheers,
    Uzma

  5. “Violence on my body”? How and who is “calling for this”? The dramatic element is over the top here, Uzma.

  6. Uzma, I’m sorry. I have no idea what it is like to be you. I’m sorry.

    I am a white Christian male, and I agree with you that this misunderstanding needs to stop. I thank you for posting my comment, and I vow to you now… I will begin to look at the world from your perspective. Violence must end. Your fear is valid. As my respected fellow human, I apologize to you, sincerely.

  7. If the death of a Jewish man can bring a Muslim and a Christian together, I think Leonard would smile and support it whole-heartedly. We both agree on good music!

  8. As someone who is highly vulnerable to the whitealsh, I have to take serious issue with this analysis. The narcisstic self pity on display here is a deliberate cover for Clinton’s grotesque policies. Do you buy your security at the cost of Syrian and Honduran refugees whose countries Clinton destroyed? She had no sympathy for their plight. Do you soothe your anxieties about racism by deliberately forgetting her gloating over the murder of Gaddafi and her willingness to nuke Iran, China and possibly Russia?
    The “racists” in the Midwest who stayed home rarther than vote for the mosmtrous war candidate fielded by the Democrats actually voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. They couldn’t bring themselves to go out and vote for endless war and impoverishment this time around.
    Another narrative is necessary and possible, but it isn’t the one you’re peddling here. It would be about the drawdown of empire, about new and sustainable technologies and jobs, about learning from our past mistakes. Apparently, not something academic anthropology is interested in.

  9. Hi smallbluedot,
    Thanks for your response. I would encourage you to re-read the piece – I believe everything you are saying is addressed in the piece. Also, please do let us know about the new narratives because they are important and if you have written something, please let us know and post the link so that we can all benefit from it.
    Thanks again for reading and engaging with the material.
    All best,
    Uzma

  10. Thank you for your response and the willingness to engage my less-than-politely worded critique. And I do apologize for the tone of my previous post. I have read and re-read your post and the comments section but apart from a passing mention of Obama’s “drone issues” don’t see any consideration of the catastrophic foreign and military policies followed by his “natonal security” advisors and Clinton as Secy of State. The sad truth is that in this election the Democrats were the war party and that’s a major contributing factor in their defeat. As are their economic policies which offer nothing new. As a female of South Asian origin, living in rust belt Ohio, I’ve seen at first hand the despair that lost the Midwest for the democrats. This loss was not at all about racism but the absolute lack of alternatives.
    Those alternatives need to be crafted now. As a recovering academic myself, I’m not even sure how anthropology or academia in general would go about that. Perhaps even recognizing the new emerging multipolar reality rather than the doom- laden narratives of western military dominance, which in and of themselves stifle the possibility of change. And of course, it’s the economy and even more, the environment. I do have a couple of pieces on environmental ethics under review and would be happy to share them here if/when they are published.
    All the best to you too.

  11. Hi smallbluedot
    Thanks for the follow up. I absolutely agree that the alternatives need to be crafted now, and as an academic I am struggling to figure out what those might be. After reading your first comment, I thought of Yasmeen Elkhoudary’s recent piece in Al Jazeera, ‘In Gaza, we aren’t mourning Clinton’s loss’ — and thought it might be one of the more clear critiques in case you haven’t seen it. But honestly, I cannot believe that a fascist government is better than status quo. The lack of alternatives is dismal. The system has not been working for many for generations – this is not a new struggle. But I still cannot back a Fascist government. Also, honestly, this piece was not written for any deep political analysis -this was me trying to make sense of what had just happened. Thanks again.
    All best,
    Uzma

  12. We all need help trying to figure out what the alternatives might be. But a word of caution: you can’t assume that anyone dissenting from your analysis either voted for trump or supports fascism. That’s a very dangerous narrative being put about by Clinton supporters to explain her loss, without bothering to face her negatives. This story in the NYT illustrates the complexity of voting choices including reasons for not voting.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/us/many-in-milwaukee-neighborhood-didnt-vote-and-dont-regret-it.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

    Also, alternatives to fascism cannot be found in the language of race or gender. Most of Obama’s disastrous national security team were women, including women of color. They can be warmongers just like anyone else.
    Good luck to us all.

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