Short Memories: Thoughts on Complicity

We have short memories.

They are selective. One of the running jokes in my family is my mother’s ability to recall how she dressed me on a certain fall day twenty-nine years ago, but not what we discussed five minutes ago. It is funny, then – innocuous things remembered, or simply gone. We would worry about incipient Alzheimer’s, except that she has been this way as long as I’ve known her.

Family memory works similarly. There’s an old story about how we ended up here, in the US, in an indefinite exile that turned into a permanent one. My great-grandfather’s cousin, or brother, or friend, depending on the rendition, had revolutionary sympathies. He may or may not have been part of a pro-independence organization once known for its terroristic tactics.

He was a kid.

He was pushed up against a wall and shot by authorities trying to protect the population from itself. The rest of the family got on a boat. We have not forgotten being marked, by our religion and accent, name and complexion. The injustice of it all colored my youth. For nearly a century after my ancestral homeland achieved independence, I avoided visiting the former colonial power, convinced that it would be unpleasant for people like me, and shocked when it was quite the opposite.

We remember the wrong of 1900. We remember what it was like to be marked as Other, and killed for the difference. Then we act like it only happened to us. We remember being perversely special, exceptional in our oppression. We forget in an instant that our Otherness was passed to other groups. We gave it to them, gleefully, when we walked into City Halls and police forces, and then we held the difference that we bestowed over the heads of the perversely special. We can’t let it go.

We have short memories.

My father was one of too many children. He was poor. His father was an abusive alcoholic. His mother was a saint. My father remembers being spat upon as a child, because he was destitute, and because he was the wrong ethnicity. His particular family misery was never individual. Too many kids, too much drink, too much abuse, too much foreign.

My mother’s mother had children out of wedlock. Everyone knew it. At school, my mother had to “confess” why she and her siblings needed a turkey from a religious benevolent organization. Her father, in one of her fuzzy memories of him, told her that she was a mongrel. She lived in a public housing project whose brutalities nobody escaped. She worried about making us look respectable, moved us to an all-white neighborhood, and cried when I took a Black boy to my first school dance. When my sisters and I were teenagers, she was always convinced that we might be pregnant – that we would be marked, again, by our origins.

My father almost never drinks. He moved us to a neighborhood where the white people are his white people, so he wouldn’t be the only one. By then, though, they all identified us with the racially-mixed place I’d grown up, and with its people of color – so the kids would hiss “Blackawanna” when I walked past.

My mother frowns at women who have children with different fathers. She shops at the second-fanciest grocery store in town, to appear afloat but not pretentious. She volunteers, like a proper middle-class white lady from the suburbs. When told her that I had found information about her muddy family history, she was overjoyed. When I told her what it was, she pretended not to hear me. When the pastor of the Baptist church where her great-great grandfather had preached told her – gently – that the congregation and its preachers had always been Black, she smiled. “No, we’re white.”

They have short memories. Or long ones. I’m never sure.

I was home for Christmas. My mother was talking about one of the women at the shelter where she works – a Black woman pregnant with her ninth child. My father shook his head. “Those people would be much better off if they’d stop having so many children.” I stared. I called him out. His mother had been one of “those people,” a generation ago. He conceded, that time. But he still doesn’t see it – how we got to be white. How we yanked the ladder up behind us.

My brother, who is affable, works in a prison. He looks like a cop. He believes that the people in his jail put themselves there. He feels bad for them, but he thinks that the justice system works. I want to ask him about our great-great-grand-uncle, and if the system worked when he was shot against a wall because of his religion, and his accent, and his complexion, but I know that he wouldn’t see the connection.

We have long memories, but they only work backwards.

We have short memories. We walk through the streets unmolested, because we know that nobody will shoot us like they shot great-great-grand-uncle. We remember our ancestral injustice and carry it like a banner of protection. It isn’t a very roomy cloak, but we’ll be grateful for it when we see the ones without it being shot in the streets, or strangled. We remember our roots, then get too entangled in them to see out. We forget that our root ball connects to a tree, or a water source, or even the soil. It’s just us, underground, blind to what we’re perpetuating.

On Shaming Seven-Year-Old Fame-Sluts: A Rant on Rape Culture, Revisited

I don’t know what kind of a person Woody Allen is. Actually, I don’t even believe in “kinds” of people – you know, racists, sexists, rapists, good, bad, ugly. I have seen people I otherwise like engage in awful behavior, and people I find difficult have impressed me with unexpected acts of kindness. So let me rephrase it like this: I don’t know what Woody Allen has done, aside from his work in cinema. I find some of it compelling, and some of it boring, and some of it self-indulgent.

Allen’s talent was initially a large part of what some internet commentators are disingenuously calling a “controversy” over his daughter Dylan Farrow’s accusations of sexual abuse. (If you are somehow unaware of this, come out from under your rock and do a quick Google search.)

At first, the issue was whether one can appreciate the films of a sexual predator. (We’ve been here before, with Roman Polanski and similarly ambiguous conclusions). We were asked to contemplate whether Woody Allen deserved his Lifetime Achievement award at the Golden Globes, following tweets from two members of the Farrow clan excoriating the decision to honor him. The world seemed focused on the moral conundrum of praising a flawed genius, or supporting the work of a likely criminal, who was investigated but never charged. It was about the man and his actions. For some, it was an assault on his character, whether it was merited or not.

Then, after Dylan Farrow wrote an open letter to the New York Times, the dialogue turned from Allen-shaming to slut-shaming. The problem is, one can’t easily slut-shame a seven-year-old, even when she becomes a grown woman. So it is open season on her memory, and her maternal family’s visibility.

Attacks on the Fallacious Farrows have been most pointed at the Guardian, where Suzanne Moore writes off the social-media discussion of the case as little more than an ill-informed “kangaroo court.” Michael Wolff suggests that entire situation was manufactured by the Farrow family to improve their profile and return them to the ranks of Real Celebrity. Even Dylan’s first-person account, Wolff argues, is carefully crafted to appeal to famous young women who will provide public (read: impersonal) moral support in return for some undefined increase in their own popularity. He says that Dylan’s story has resurfaced at a convenient moment for the careers of her mother and brother, and that her allies are swayed by emotion rather than “outside facts” – whatever those would look like.

Neither journalist is accusing her of lying; they’re just telling her that her story only matters in its ability to make and break public lives.

All of these might well be valid philosophical points, and the extreme culturalist in me wants to acknowledge them. All the while, the extreme feminist in me is trying to scream louder than the cacophony of Allen defenders and Farrow detractors. BULLSHIT. BULL FUCKING SHIT, and please don’t pardon my language.

It is the same routine we see nearly every time anyone comes forward with their story of sexual assault. I haven’t yet heard anyone questioning Dylan’s own morals, but that is a small victory. Instead, they are calling out her mother’s family history, mental health, and public profile. They are finding fault in her brother’s recent ascent to the fishbowl. They can’t very well say that a seven-year-old child was drunk at the frat party, or call her a slut, so they use other words so often used to dismiss women’s complaints to undercut those around her. Crazy. Manipulative. Fame-obsessed. Desperate.

It is another way to silence people we find inconvenient. When we insist that the voices in question are coming from people who are mentally unstable (in itself, another rant for another day), who have another agenda, or who are vindictive, their complaints can’t be legitimate, and we don’t have to listen to them. Telling the Farrows not to mar a supposedly brilliant director’s career because they are barmy third-rate celebrities – or, as it seems now, telling the Farrows that they are lying because barmy third-rate celebrities couldn’t possibly have real grievances against a supposedly brilliant director – is part of an old refrain. Don’t talk back to Holy Father. Don’t ruin the young man’s life. Don’t destroy his football (lacrosse, soccer, hockey, accounting) career. Don’t hurt your mother. Don’t you know what kind of pain this would bring upon your family? Don’t tell anyone, and if you do, nobody will believe you anyway.

It takes a good deal of courage to speak up. I imagine that it takes even more to do so knowing that every word will be subject to media scrutiny, amplified by Facebook and Twitter.

If you have a vagina, or your parts don’t conform to your soul, or you are brown, or you act in any way that the herd finds difficult, you probably know what I am talking about. (I am not saying that normative white men can’t understand this, because I know many normative white men who are compassionate, caring, and capable of great empathy… but they also tend to be aware that they’re playing with a stacked deck.) I am sure every person reading this has experienced a moment in which your words were taken with a heaping tablespoon of salt because you were  _________ (insert adjective describing other-ness here). Those with vaginas and melanin and non-normative gender identities don’t get a free pass here, though, because we vagina-wearers and non-normative folks are often as guilty as anyone else of slut-shaming, crazy-calling, and manipulation-card-waving.

This is not about determining whether Woody Allen raped his daughter. There were two people in that room. There are no other witnesses. There are no “outside facts.” This is about allowing people to recount their stories of victimization (which is not the same as victimhood) AND TAKING THEM SERIOUSLY.

We could have a long academic conversation about memory and celebrity, or the relationship between narrative and political investment. We could interrogate the idea of consent. But today those things make me feel like we’re running around the problem and allowing its perpetuation. When we question Dylan Farrow’s narrative, we’re not just circling the wagons around the perpetrator. We’re telling another generation of women (and many men) to sit down, shut up, and hide their pain. Don’t ruin a beloved person’s life. Be a good girl and take it.

We can’t know what happened in that room. We don’t know what happened in a billion other rooms on a billion other days to billions of other people. But we can at least try to create a safe space for telling, because while silence is painful, pushing back against the crushing, relentless public doubt that greets a broken silence is much, much worse.

Pressing Flowers

[I wrote this several months ago, as I was preparing to leave Paris. I had only accomplished a fraction of what I had planned to do during my year abroad, but the imminent digitization of many of my archives promised to make my academic life easier once I returned to the United States. It will be a convenient way to conduct research, but the prospect of working that way makes me unspeakably sad. I love my field in part because I get to interact with old things. Digital collections, for all their accessibility, just aren’t the same.]

I’m sitting in an archive. Today is one of those rare days when everything works – I arrived on time, the building was open, my documents were available. I have not had many of those days, here in France.

My documents are spread out in front of me, on a too-small table, threatening to crowd out the elderly researcher to my left. He’ll do the same to me as soon as I move.

With these pages, bits of information, figures, photos, and other flat things, I am trying to create a three-dimensional, living world. Some of the information jumps off the page – things related to China. Porcelain. Lacquer. Sometimes I go back to look over what I’ve read before, and the characters are dead again. I don’t always know how to revive them. Sometimes they haunt me. Maybe I haunt them.

Someone’s short brown hair is in the fold, almost one with the binding. I wonder how long it has been there, whether it is a relic or just the body-print of another researcher.

I suppose that’s a relic, too.

The document is a palimpsest of bodily leavings.

When they digitize it, I won’t see the hair.

The old-man smell, too, will disappear. I’ll forget that real people touched the paper. The dust won’t invade my nostrils.

Someone – a student, an overworked librarian – will scan it, too quickly, and fail to notice the black blotches and white patches that even technology can’t rectify. I will see it and skip over those parts. I’ll mourn their loss, but nobody will re-scan the original, because it will be “incommunicable,” locked in a temperature-controlled vault so that it can’t decompose too quickly.

The democratic, easily-accessible version won’t be legible.

Much of what I work with is illegible anyway. There are days when I can decipher one out of every hundred words, and when I come to the moment when the secretary changes, when suddenly the letters are shaped carefully and lovingly, as if to call my attention, I want to hug this being with the lovely handwriting.

Monsieur De La Tour had good penmanship. Monsieur Edan did not. Guess whose work I’ll be using more frequently.

I’m collecting pressed flowers. There is nothing essential here. Gather the dust, add water, shape it as I like, knowing it might fall apart, disintegrate, blow away.  Sometimes the documents themselves do. The archivist looks at me suspiciously when I return the book with its cover half gone and the pages crumbling. This is partly why they’re digitizing everything, to keep my American hands from destroying French patrimony.

It’s a strange irony – I’m trying to preserve this, or at least tell a story with it, and I’m killing it in the process.

No Golden Tickets

Hundreds of thousands of Quebec students and supporters demonstrating Law 78 and tuition increases on 22 May.

On paper, hundreds of thousands of people came out to protest Quebec’s tuition increase of a couple of hundred dollars.

It’s a bit more complicated than that, but my American friends – and many of my Canadian ones – think it’s crazy. Tuition in Quebec is cheaper than anywhere else in North America.

That’s not saying much.

When my father went to the state university in our hometown, he paid one hundred and seventy dollars in tuition. Per year. This is why he could work his way through college, and even have some money left over to support his numerous younger siblings.

That would hardly be possible today. Yes, many students work to support themselves during college (university), but I don’t know anyone who has gone to school full time who has not accrued absolutely crushing student loans. I went to the same institution that my father had. Twenty-odd years later, the tuition had increased to $3,400 per year, not counting fees, which ran another grand or so. Today – in a recession – it costs $5,200 to attend. That increase exceeds the rate of inflation. The school itself has posted on its website that the true cost of attendance FOR COMMUTERS is over $14,000 per year, including books, student fees, and transportation; given the institution’s desire to set its own tuition, independent of state oversight, the figure is likely to climb even higher in the near future. Yet it is far less than a private school would cost.

There are scholarships, but those require above-average success in high school. There are grants, but those exclude middle-income students. There are loans, but there are ever fewer avenues for students, with no credit and little or no income, to secure them, and they have no guarantee that they will be able to repay them when their education ends. I had benefitted from a partial scholarship, but before I returned to graduate school, more than half of my income still went to pay my student loans. The other half paid my rent. I didn’t starve, but only because my then-boyfriend fed me.

One acquaintance suggested that families should simply have the foresight to save for their children’s education. This presupposes an income sufficient to put money aside. My white, urban family looked middle class, but my parents had nothing left over after feeding and clothing us and paying the mortgage. They were not spendthrifts. We wore secondhand clothing. There was simply not enough for a college fund. My siblings and I had no choice but to take out loans, which were, at the time, subsidized and easily acquired. My parents now help us to make our payments. I have friends who are not so fortunate. I’m sure that this is not what society envisions when it thinks of college graduates.

Quebec’s de-facto “user fees” for higher education don’t quite match New York’s, but they set a dangerous precedent. Rather than standing up for educational equality, Quebec is following in the footsteps of a broken American system.

What is it about equality in higher education that people find so troubling?

Based on responses to one of my Facebook posts this week, I’d say it has something to do with faith in a capitalist economy, where one invests in one’s own education and wields it on the job market. A college education, we are told, improves one’s prospects, yields a higher salary when employed, and creates a meritocracy. All you need to succeed are brains and drive.

Except that it’s a lie.

You need money to play, and then there is no guarantee of a job after graduation.

It’s not a question of building roads and bridges OR funding education. We simply need to prioritize.

The”job-creating” wealthiest companies are rewarded with tax breaks and bonuses even as they downsize to maintain their own prosperity.The government will subsidize bombs and jets, glow-in-the-dark corn and GE’s fat cats, but not education for “adult” eighteen-year-olds who still need mom and dad’s insurance. We have pushed, more and more, for higher education to be a commodity, because it is comforting to think that we can buy success with a degree.

We can’t.

So it isn’t about job training. It’s about shaping society.

We earnestly send minor children to school. Even the ones who don’t want to be there. Even the ones who get nothing out of it. Even the ones who would make better artists or welders or tailors. We don’t do it so that they’ll be gainfully employed. We do it, and send our taxes to fund it, because we believe it is good for people. We send money to poorer countries so that all children can benefit from schooling. We pat ourselves on the backs for intervening in Afghanistan, because NOW GIRLS CAN GO TO SCHOOL. It’s the most important thing in the world, until you turn eighteen. Then it’s a white-collar vocational institute, and if you want it, you’d better be willing to pay for it. Or go into debt for it. And then you’d better find a practical job, or the little bit that we – UPSTANDING, TAX-PAYING CITIZENS, UNLIKE YOU ENTITLED LEECH-STUDENTS – put into it will have been wasted.

This disgusts me.

It isn’t an investment. I will never be considered a financial success. That’s not why I’m here. I went to college – and came back for graduate school – because thinking is important. I don’t want people running the world who think that only numbers matter. I think that governments should know about the effects of the wars they start, and bankers should know about the famines of the late nineteenth century. They were caused by environmental factors, but it was human involvement and blind allegiance to ideologies of free trade that exacerbated them.

I want everyone to know what exacerbated means.

Likewise, everyone should know how to fix a car engine and sew a dress. Then we can choose a career path not based on money, desperation, or inertia, but based on what we know and like.

I think that bricklayers’ children should be able to study history. That was possible for my father’s generation. I’m not sure that it’s possible for mine, not without shackling oneself to a lifetime of loan repayment.

Access to different kinds of knowledge, and to critical thinking, and to the arts, shouldn’t end at high school.

We’re not investing in job security. We’re creating an educated population that can make its own opportunities.

Sarko’s Elysian Dreams

I was on my way to the Petit Palais today, when I walked unwittingly into a pro-Sarkozy rally at Place de la Concorde. With the presidential election one week away, each had their supporters out in full force in different corners of the city. I didn’t have the good fortune to happen upon the others – Mélenchon’s took place earlier, at the Bastille, and Hollande held his in Vincennes, near his working-class constituency.

When I was learning French in Besançon ten years ago, my professors liked to use a discussion of the national flag to demonstrate what they viewed as fundamental political differences between Europe and the United States. French people were uncomfortable, they insisted, with Americans’ propensity toward patriotic display; the tricolor might designate government buildings, but it would never fly outside of the average French home. Flying the flag in a domestic space would recall a Fascist past when defining national belonging ended tragically for those deemed outsiders.

Today, however, I found myself in a sea of red, white, and blue, with a strong wind whipping the drapeaux in the hands of nearly every one of the rally’s participants. Ninety nine percent of them were what I like to call “Nos ancêtres les Gaulois”-French – middle-class whites whose origins lie in the hexagon. The entire event was carefully orchestrated to legitimize Nicolas Sarkozy’s by placing him among the symbols of French sovereignty.

Speaking from a white tent in the center of the Place de la Concorde, where Revolutionary France brought its former nobility to the guillotine, Sarkozy stood in the shadow of the Luxor obelisk brought from Egypt in 1833, a gift from Mehmet Ali to thank France for its support of his revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Rectangular banners lined the circle, each one of them suggesting the column at the center. One side read “La France Forte,” the other, “NS 2012.” Giant video screens repeated the slogans on either side of the candidate, the blue and white colors drawn from the national flag, but noticeably banishing the third color. Red is the color of communist internationalism and is used by both of Sarko’s left-leaning rivals (Jean-Luc Melenchon’s Front de Gauche and François Hollande’s Socialists).

Every sightline reinforced a narrative of national supremacy – the Louvre behind the candidate, simultaneously evoking monarchical power and cultural patrimony; the Eglise de la Madeline to his right, attesting to France’s Christian heritage; the National Assembly and the Ecole Militaire, containing Napoleon’s tomb, to his left. As Mr. Sarkozy looked out over the crowd, he would have had a clear view of the Champs Elysées, all the way to the Arc de Triomphe, erected by Napoleon to celebrate his victory at Austerlitz in 1805. Behind it the Avenue de la Grande Armée and the Esplanade de General de Gaulle stretch all the way to the Grande Arche de La Défense, which celebrates modern French technological development. The Eiffel Tower, in the distance, hovered over it all.

The symbolic weight of the event could hardly have been coincidental. Sarkozy has spent his presidency attempting to recreate France in a nationalist mold. From strong-arming the European Union under the guise of leadership, to deporting Roma migrants, to calling for restrictions on immigration, he has sought to position himself as a new Napoleon, strengthening France internationally and internally. The placement of the initials NS on his campaign posters attests to that – it is the latest installment of a series of inscriptions bearing imperial initial “N,” on the Louvre, on the Pont Neuf, and on all the trappings of royal power.

Yet Sarkozy’s campaign rests upon reviving a France that never was. Supporting Mehmet Ali in the 1830s left France isolated and fearful of decline as the British empire expanded. Catholic France was always contested, from the Wars of Religion in the seventeenth century, revolutionary deism in the eighteenth, secularist movements in the nineteenth, and general religious apathy today. The Monarchy lost it head – literally – and Napoleon lost his empire. His descendants, temporarily returned to power, were stripped of it in the nineteenth century, and humiliated internationally.

Holding his rally among the symbols of French sovereignty, Sarkozy stood with his back to the ghost of the Tuileries palace. He had forgotten that he spoke among the ruins of another France, the one invaded by the Prussian Army and burned down by Communards in 1871, overrun by Nazi tanks in 1940, and occupied by students in 1968. Sarkozy’s slogan of “La France Forte” is supposed to imply strength; instead, it suggests a France under siege, from immigrants, from Europe, and from the less glorious aspects of its past. Burying these elements doesn’t make them any less a part of France’s national history, and Sarko has unknowingly built his fortress upon their foundations.

Virtuous Circles, Vicious Cycles

My work is predicated on complexity. As a scholar of French colonialism, I advocate moving away from simplistic binaries of colonizer and colonized. I insist that we must rethink these categories and unpack the range of interactions and the spectrum of subjective agencies in the processes of empire and colony. Nothing, after all, is ever simple.

Then, I read this. Commenting on an article on India’s lifting of the Raj-era bans on “buggery,” as it was then known, a young Briton wrote:

“Ultimately… if not us then who? It’s not like India (which didn’t really exist as a political entity until we created it) would have been left to muddle along on its own. Another power would have imposed itself and I’m pretty confident they’d have been worse than us. The British Empire in my opinion was probably better than any likely alternative, a net benefit to India and the least damaging in Africa.”

It makes me want to scream from the rooftops: “COLONIALISM WAS NOT A POSITIVE FORCE, STUPID!!!”

As a historian, I spend a fair amount of my time trying to convince my senior colleagues (and sometimes even my partner) that colonial relationships were infinitely complicated. I am far from the first scholar to say this; Ann Stoler and Julia Clancy Smith blazed that trail years ago. In my field, however, too many scholars fall into easy schemas of East and West, China and Europe, Asian and European. Indeed, I’m guilty of doing it myself, for the convenience of vocabulary.

Yet, for all my efforts to differentiate among nations, classes, individuals, to argue that European power was scant, and to show how indigenous actors were always part of the process of ruling colonies, I have nothing but this visceral reaction to that comment. Every nuance I’ve ever tried to bring out collapses in my mind, back into the nasty imperialists and innocent locals that, I normally maintain, did not exist.

Because, in a way, they did.

They existed in the racist discourse that the perpetuated the expansion of empire. They existed in the laws that forbade the colonized from entering white space. They existed in campaigns to convert, to save, and to educate, in which the actors were of one kind and the acted upon, another.

They exist today, in the minds of those who can’t imagine why the colonized so despised imperial rule and who dream of extending it again by building hospitals, roads and schools in the “undeveloped world,” by telling Muslim women that they can’t be free until they accept secular restrictions on their clothing, in the fears that the brown fruit of colonization will tarnish la patrie.

There were historical exceptions, of course. They were the Khans, Shahs and Maharajas who took the waters in European spas and sent their children to boarding school, and the merchants who profited by trading opium, tea, and people. Intellectually, I can stand by my argument of complexity, because I see it in my sources. For instance, Parisian seminarians seem to have respected a learned Chinese priest, even if they dismissed his pagan countrymen. A French diplomat’s wife saw a common plight among all women, seeing the parallels between shuttered concubines and her own restricted freedom.

Nevertheless, none of these examples can erase a pervasive discourse of difference. It circulated among the nineteenth-century subjects of my research, and it circulates today. That discourse produces the difference; the category of colonial exists because colonizers created it, and placed themselves in opposition to it.

Their word was made flesh. In India, British civil servants, historians, ethnologists, and sociologists codified the caste system, turning what had been a flexible corpus of guidelines into a set of firm social divisions. In Africa, British attempts to ban genital cutting ultimately encouraged the practice; it became a mark of communal belonging and an act of defiance against colonial coercion.

The practice was far from unique to Euro-Americans empires of the 19th century. The inscription of colonial categories on the bodies of the colonized has long been one of the preeminent technologies of Empire. Look at the nationalist queue-cutting in Manchu and Republican China, forced name changes (Turks in Bulgaria, among others), ethnic cleansing, population exchanges, forced conversions (take your pick) and forced marriages (Alexander the Great, I’m looking at you).  It might be a slippery category, but the very questions, “who belongs?” and “who doesn’t?” inevitably seem to entail desperate attempts to define, separate, and “civilize” the Others.

The impulse hasn’t gone away.

In a recent joint interview, Tony Blair declined to comment on Liberian president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s support of a law criminalizing homosexuality in her nation.

I was appalled that Sirleaf discussed the law in terms of time-honored tradition. It was unsettling to realize that  colonial powers had so successfully impressed Victorian prudery that it now passes for local custom. I was deeply troubled by how such legislation would affect gay Liberians. Make no mistake: the criminalization of homosexuality is indistinguishable from the oppression of homosexuals. It is oppression, a legal pogrom against a minority. It disgusts me.

Yet I also fear that every time someone like Tony Blair (or better yet, Hilary Clinton) promotes gay rights in the Global South, the idea becomes yet another European or American imposition, another imperial demand to be resisted. By assuming a latter-day White Man’s Burden to “civilize” the “savages” the North invites the South to push back as an articulation of its independence.

So I find myself in a horrifying position: I am glad that Tony Blair kept his mouth shut.

Euro-America can’t erase its imperialist past by engaging with Africa in an imperialist manner. When domestic movements for change and liberation arise in the erstwhile colonies, local authorities can easily dismiss them as the products of outside interference, forces to be resisted lest they fall once again under the control of the part of the world that still thinks it is better… and that resistance will convince it that it is right.

Ultimately, every potential course of action seems unbearable; one legitimate demand for justice seems irreconcilable with the other. I am paralyzed.

Some days I despair for humanity.