Post 404.

I keep wanting to write about joy, to ask people what gives them joy, and to remind us that joy is needed as much as food and shelter. I imagine each of us finds kernels of joy that give our days meaning, connection and purpose, and I’ve been wondering what those are. There’s something missing in our analysis if we don’t observe and value those kernels for the way that we draw on them to endure aches, self-esteem challenges, scarcity or depression, particularly in these difficult times.

For myself, over this year, when so many have struggled with money, lockdown, injustice, and covid19’s stress on relationships or our own mental health, I’ve learned to pay more attention to my partner’s desires for joy, understand them as a priority, and more fully recognise joy as the substance of our goodwill, care and co-operation.

She’s lovely and beautiful, but I can get lost in my own world, and I’ve had to do a lot of learning about not taking joy and its necessity for granted. I’ve begun to notice those moments more, and to try to create them, observing that we can withstand so much, but not if joy is missing.

It takes mindfulness to consciously attend to what makes us or those we care for feel good. It takes effort to look at negative possibilities and to find or make small lights of joy, like a candle’s warm flicker in the dark or like the deyas we light daily to give small fire to our intentions as we navigate frustrating or unfulfilling realities. Amidst the troubles of our CO2-laden world, joy is like oxygen, like ocean breeze, like the songs of frogs on cool nights when you are sitting quietly and feel safe.

Attending to joy isn’t the same as being solution-focused because we are nowhere near achieving the solutions we need in the world nor even within our imperfect selves. It is more about what enables us to find life worthwhile along the way there. It’s not about escapism or simply being positive either. Rather it’s about how we negotiate sadness and happiness, and what we balance on the scales each day.

In one of many conversations over the last months, my long-time comrade and fellow columnist Colin Robinson mentioned wanting to choose to spend his remaining time in ways that brought him joy, laughter and togetherness. I listened carefully. Indeed, the work of trying to create a better world is meaningful, even if overwhelming, but joy is a different kind of momentous triviality; hardly an achievement and, yet, incomparably rewarding.

I find joy that enables me to feel my heart beating in the smallest of experiences, such as putting Zi to bed at night or having opportunities to tell her I am proud of her, now that we are home together all day.

In the midst of humdrum shopping, we would often catch her or her friends dancing (without consciously realising) to the music playing in stores. One explained that it’s because dancing (apparently wherever there is music) brings children joy. More power to them, just watching filled my heart.

I’m yearning to have different conversations than I usually do, to ask migrant women what are the joys we can amplify, to ask women who became unemployed over covid19 and who I know are struggling what are the joys that we can help ensure, to ask all those with difficult stories what are the joys that we can instead emphasise.

I’m trying to move from problems and their analysis, and from what needs to be transformed to instead delve into what gives us hope, brings happiness, and can be powerfully drawn on. I’m not coming with recommendations or neat conclusions. Instead, I’d like to listen, sharing in gratitude, and learning from what I hear.

Post 307.

When UWI students protested their vulnerability to robbery and rape on campus, we witnessed the brutality of overly-weaponised police unnecessarily roughing up two young dreadlocked male students, pressing their faces to the ground with their knees on their necks, and then throwing them in the back of the police jeep in order to later charge them for protesting feelings of insecurity to crime.

There didn’t seem to be any sense of irony that that dealing with such feelings of insecurity through repressive state force misses what a younger generation is legitimately telling both police and the nation about our own institutional failures. It was clear that police escalated the situation and that their training to deal with illegality – whether student protests or gang turf wars – is a single-minded and excessive hypermasculinity that strikes back to strike fear in the hearts of anyone out of order.

I thought about students’ lack of familiarity with strong-arm policing, and their naïve investment in police benevolence. Students believe they have a right to pursue a neoliberal dream of individual study, advancement and success as if the society isn’t falling apart around the borders of the campus.

Rather, students have to recognize that such a dream is a myth. Individual advancement is threatened night and day by wider social alienation, by widespread gender-based harm, by state institutional failure, and by systemic inequality and injustice – and this will reach students through threat of all kinds, whether robbery or rape, on campus just as anywhere else.

I’m not saying there isn’t more that the campus could do, but that fear and insecurity are social and economic problems, requiring institutional responses from an integrated justice system, and collective citizen investment and involvement in everything required for such transformation.

I thought too about how those very students probably don’t think too much about such policing as the modus operandi in poor and insecure communities, and the necessity of their solidarity with them, having experienced what that m.o. looks and feels like when the “good”, versus ghetto, youth get violently put in place.

We are all horrified by the murder rate and widespread fear of armed robbery and random shootings. We understand justification for shooting back at criminals who shoot at police. We understand that police are defending law-abiding citizens, and even wealthy non-law abiding and corrupt elites, with their working-class lives and families on the line. We understand that police share our fear as individuals and experience even greater occupational fear.

However, there is more to this seductive, simplistic, narrative. Where do individual badmen come from? Do they emerge in our society from nowhere? Is the gun-talk of “a war they want…a war they will get” going to change the disturbingly low rate of convictions or the shockingly slow pace of the justice system which institutionally reproduce the problem? Will it solve the fact that crime also continues because those responsible for patrolling streets and borders also are those running blocks or, as Rudder would put it, letting the guns and cocaine pass? Will it solve the fact that men in prison have higher than average rates of illiteracy or that they come from poorer households and communities, and schools failing children or, often, from situations of familial neglect and abuse?

In countries where crime has been reduced and jails emptied, has it been through being “rottweilers of aggression”? What of the fact that prison creates criminals by mixing men convicted of smaller offenses with gangs to whom they must show loyalty both in and, later, outside of jail in order to survive inside and, later, outside? As the restorative justice movement has long warned us, the fact that prisons officers, and police officers, are at risk of death is a problem exacerbated by how we imprison.

Anti-punk policing seems like the solution we have been waiting for, but fighting firearms with more firepower may leave us without sustained pursuit of real solutions. UWI students should know, only those solutions will offer greater safety. Who else in their generation will make them happen? As students should also now know, police can very quickly and forcibly turn against you, no matter how good a student you are, how respectable your family or how just your protest.

Students must invest in a creating a different society as part of investing in themselves, for peace is not the imprisoned security of greater surveillance and more guns, nor a society where support for police killings intensifies a spiral of excessive violence without end.