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July 2009, Vol:2, Issue:2

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The Fall Edition of Urhalpool will be published in the next few days.

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- by Goutam Datta

Historically, we are in the midst of a confusing time.  Somewhere in the world walls have fallen flat, while somewhere else new barricades have been put up. The first black president of the United States was elected, while in Bangladesh the father of the nation, Sheikh Mujibar Rahman’s party Awami League came back to the helm, and the so-called communists in the Indian state of West Bengal became marginalized after 30 years in power. Revolts and grievances have been created by people raising their heads here and there, as in China , particularly in Tibet , and in Iran , where we just witnessed the population’s disenchantment with the powerful ruling mullahs.  In Turkey , democracy is trying to bring Islamic leaders to power and Kamalists and a strong military are fighting to keep secularism alive!  Italian-born Sonia Gandhi is the most powerful leader in India , while the trafficking of women is thriving worldwide.  Blacks in Africa won their hard-fought liberation against white rulers and dictators.  Now, their black hands are red with the blood of other African blacks. In France , the UK , Turkey , and other European countries, well-educated Islamic girls are wearing burkhas and headscarves and trying to practice Talibani orthodoxy.  This is a really crazy juncture!  We shouldn’t see through only black and white glasses anymore. The old equations and formulas are no longer working.  The infamous slogan of the 70s—“My name and your name is Vietnam , Vietnam ” –has been replaced with the explosive tune of the jihadist’s flute.  Mother Nature doesn’t allow us to maintain vacuums and therefore, since the fall of communism, religious extremism has spread throughout the world like a bonfire.  Even if you want to avoid it, there is no escape from it.  You may be living in Kolkata or in Dhaka, or you may be on your honeymoon on the pristine beaches of Bali island, maybe you’re riding the subway to go to your office in Spain, maybe you’re a hawker on the platforms of Mumbai’s Victoria Station, or maybe you’re sipping an ice-cold glass of beer sitting at Windows on the World on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center and have no idea what is going to happen to you in the next moment.  The blind destructive fire of hatred touches our lives in one way or another.


We have become soulless while trying to sell everything!  The economy of the superpower the United States is laughing like a skeleton during this time of unchecked greed. This country’s economic engine used its black populations’ sweat and blood to run, and now a large section of the African-American population is behind bars. The United States has less than 5% of the world's population.  However, it has a staggering 25% of the world's prisoners. (With more than 2.3 million people behind bars, the United States leads the world in both the number and percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving far-more-populous  China  a distant second, according to a study by the nonpartisan  Pew Center on the States.)  Black males represent astonishing 35.5% of the prison population. Look what happened to Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates!  He was arrested at his own home in Cambridge , Massachusetts . In 1992 he wrote, “It's important to remember that ‘race’ is only a sociopolitical category, nothing more.  At the same time ... that doesn't help me when I'm trying to get a taxi on the corner of 125th and Lenox Avenue .”  (Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars)  I guess it will take many years and many Barack Obamas to change this ugliness. 


I have been working with African-American workers over the past 15 years, and I have come across so many Tyrones, Nasans, Hassans (all had changed their real names) who have been in prison for minor infractions of the law—that changed their lives forever.  This is only because of their fear of the system and inability to hire good lawyers. Recent Latin American and even African immigrants have replaced African-American workers in the workforce in New York and New Jersey .  These African-American youths are pushed out of the way, and they have no place to go. America is so busy fighting wars in Iraq and Iran , she has no time to take care of her own African-American children. The system pushing them like explosives under the carpet, and it is bound to explode!


And we, recent immigrants who are eating happily the icing on the cake, crossed 8,000 miles to create our own safe islands (true for all immigrant societies). We didn’t have to run through the jungle to reach freedom, we weren’t lynched or hanged from trees; our daughters have not been taken away by slave masters, only to be raped next door. Our children are also caught between two cultures and create their own worlds while we are running after the American golden dream to earn more green, never having learned the story of Miss Crandall’s School or Fredrick Douglas’s life. We are only able to criticize and blame the African-American populations’ economic misery as their own fault.  It is easy and comfortable to see through the old black and white glasses.  Recent immigrants create their own ghettos, because it is easier to sleep if we see only our own faces in the mirror. Is this the life we want?  Is this enough reason to live?


Hey Adam and Eve, what did you eat then?  I only know that either Adam showed his brutal teeth or faked love to eat most of the apple while Eve was crying in hunger. In the medieval Bengal, Khana’s (may be 1st Bengali female poet) tongue was cut by her husband and father in law because of her fame in writing, Gragi, a prophetess and female philosopher in ancient India, presented the brilliant argument in a philosophical debate against the angry voice of the ruling Brahmanic saints, who threatened to behead her for asking too many questions. Still we are trying to put down the givers of life every day!  Today, billboards in Kolkata depict only fair-skinned women with Western features.  Because of centuries of Parsian and British influence, Indian definitions of beauty have been shaped by them. We need to fight a real war within, the war for independent thought, and reevaluate hundreds of years of teachings from many types of rulers on everything from the definition of female beauty to the definition of good and bad.


My seven year old daughter told me other day very casually that her friend Olivia (a white girl in her class in public school in Warren , New Jersey ) told her that she can smell a bad odor whenever she stands next to a black kid like her. How did the hatred of racism infiltrate the pure heart of a 7 year old?  It is quite impossible for one Obama to bring down all inequality. Just as the female leaders of Bangladesh or India cannot stop the suffering of millions of females in those countries. While the animal goes by its instinct, we are human so we can use our education and brains to analyze and get rid of our own biases.


We are dedicating the July issue of Urhalpool to the women and minorities of the world. We are honoring the work of Indian poet and writer Kamala Das (1934-2009) and celebrating the centennial of the birth of female Bengali author Ashapurna Devi. Let’s listen to poet Toi Derricotte, founder of African American poet’s organization Cave Canem, and our American inaugural poet, Elizabeth Alexander, regarding their works and missions. We thank all writers and poets for their contributions to show diversity in literature.  Let us enjoy reading their works.