Monday, April 10, 2017

Rhizom and blues

We’re waiting for the asparagus, my sister and I. We have to wait three years for the roots of these slender green plants to become strong and densely networked enough to produce the delicious asparagus shoots. Every year for three years we have watched the straight green stalks sprout up directly towards the sky, and then turn into a waving, ferny forest of feathery leaves across the asparagus bed.

When can we eat them? I asked.

The root systems have to grow for another year.

I knew that.

But we can watch the leaves grow, and remember they are sending power to the roots.

I’m no biologist but this was interesting, and vaguely familiar.

People often invoke the metaphor of a plant putting down roots, or uprooted, or with roots spreading over the globe, to describe a migrant experience. We know you need roots to grow leaves. But I had forgotten that you also need new leaves to grow roots. Without the fresh green shoots photosynthesising like crazy, no solid stable base can survive, let alone expand. We praise the values which we impose onto roots: immobility, duration, strength, inter-connectedness, community, history. But we forget to praise the fronds and the tendrils which channel the sun’s energy back to them.


Without mobility, and novelty, and adventure and development and movement, no roots will be strong enough to keep the plant alive on their own. The roots and the shoots are inter-reliant. The roots keep the rainwater, but the stems and leaves reach, capture and transform the rays of sunshine.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Labour, migration and a divided country

The 1963 Bristol Bus Boycott successfully fought a racist bar on Black and Asian workers by the Bristol Omnibus Company
Over the last couple of months, a series of public statements has muddied the Labour Party’s position on free movement in the EU after Brexit, and its wider position on migration to the UK. The wider reaction to these conflicting messages is a shambles, with the right criticising Labour’s alleged commitment to FOM while the Green Party take them to task for abandoning it. This is an updated and edited version of the letter I sent to the Labour leader before the first Article 50 vote. 

Since the election of Jeremy Corbyn, a large part of the mainstream media has been obsessively biased and vindictive in its representation of the Labour Party leader. He is under great pressure from outside and inside the party to change his line on freedom of movement and migration, in order to pander to an inevitably racist attempt at populism. If the Labour Party is going to succeed in future elections, it is crucial that Corbyn stands firm and sticks to the anti-racist, migration-friendly approach that has characterised his 30 years in Parliament. Labour's loss in Copeland, and the embarrassing scramble of much of the shadow cabinet to gain a secure foothold somewhere between the will of Party members and the urges of the PLP before the next, inevitable coup, put even more pressure on the Corbyn camp. But for thirty years Corbyn kept our respect (and was continuously re-elected) by doing the right thing over the popular thing. Is he going to fail now, after so long?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Underground Imaginaries

Harriet Tubman's birthplace on the Eastern Shore of Maryland: https://www.flickr.com/photos/10349297@N00/89963262
"A Grandmother Has Been Deported With Just £12 In Her Pocket Despite Living In Britain For The Past 30 Years. Irene Clennell was put on a flight to Singapore on Sunday before she had the chance to speak to her lawyer, or see her British husband to say goodbye." - from Buzzfeed 
As a child, my overactive imagination was captured by some story in one of those 'True Histories' books about the Underground Railroad, the network of friendly allies, safe houses and known routes which helped a small number of enslaved people escape the Southern states to Canada and the Northern USA in the first half of the 19th century. It was a straightforward story, of good versus evil, and of the strong helping the 'weak'. A story about the heroism of Harriet Tubman and hundreds like her, and one which of course chimed with my nascent guilt about my own privilege. 
There is a good article by Kathryn Shulz in the New Yorker which describes how the Underground Railway was reported and mythologised, how history has placed a misleading focus onto white allies, particularly religious people such as Quakers, while not always highlighting the far greater risk faced by black people, particularly former slaves, who worked around the network. It doesn't shy away from exploring the complex reasons which make someone in safety help someone in danger, and the range of emotions, some perhaps more worthy than others, which draw us to the story today.