Monthly Archives: January 2015

Warsan Shire’s “Conversations About Home (at the Deportation Centre)” and Refugees

A dear friend gave me a copy of Warsan Shire’s “teaching my mother how to give birth” over the holidays, and I’ve been savoring the book, published in 2011. In fact, I just finished it tonight. Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali poet who currently resides in London. The poems and essays deal with many topics surrounding women’s lives and experiences. She has powerful things to say about refugees and immigration in Conversations About Home (at the Deportation Centre.) The first part of this amazing piece is read by Warsan Shire here. It gave me shivers.

I found the last part, not included in the recording, particularly powerful, and potentially useful in my social diversity class:

I hear them say go home. I hear them say fucking immigrants, fucking refugees. Are they really this ignorant? Do they not know that stability is like a lover with a sweet mouth upon your body one second; the next you are a tremor lying on the floor covered in rubble and old currency, waiting for its return. All I can say is, I was once like you, the apathy, the pity, the ungrateful placement and now my home is the mouth of a shark, now my home is the barrel of a gun. I’ll see you on the other side (Shire 27).

Although I teach about immigration in class, I don’t know much about refugees.  According to this piece from the Guardian, the number of people forced to flee their homes has crossed 50 million last year. This is the first time the number has crossed this threshold since World War II. While there are various reasons people are forced to abandon their homes, the solutions need to be political. The solutions also need to address women and children’s needs, as they are at a particular disadvantage as refugees.  Furthermore, human traffickers take advantage of displaced persons for their own ends, and this needs to be addressed. Once people arrive in a new country like the United States or Germany, they face many barriers, as is discussed in this article from the American Sociological Association about refugees in the city of Dayton.

Until we address topics like global inequality, war, and climate change, millions of people will continue to suffer, year after year. As Warsan Shire points out with her line “escaping the mouth of the shark,” refugees escape dire situations only to arrive in places where they don’t fit in and often aren’t welcome.  It’s our jobs both as individuals and collectively to decide how we can help the refugees in our communities. I want to investigate this organization in Raleigh to see if there are opportunities to help in my own city. 

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Filed under poetry, Sociology

“Cibola Burn” Meets “Lord of the Flies”: In-groups and Out-groups in the Face of Anomie

[Galaxy-sized spoilers: Beware]

Cibola Burn, the fourth book in the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, continues the adventures of James Holden, his crew, and their ship, the Rocinante. (For a general review, this piece from NPR gives a nice summary of the book.) The series continues to be a romp through the galaxy, although most of this book takes place on an Earth-like planet, called Illus or New Terra, depending on where the characters hail from. Although the plan was to study planets for years before colonizing them, a set of refugees dashed through the gate without permission.  A year later, they were followed by a exploratory science team sent by a corporation, Royal Charter Energy, from the UN government (meaning Earth.) Some of the colonists fear the arrival of the corporation, and instead of just destroying the landing, they accidentally damage the corporation’s shuttle, killing the governor and some members of the science team.  This event solidifies the rival in-groups and out-groups.  Both groups feel they have legitimate claims to the planet: the corporation is sanctioned by governments while the colonists have been trying to escape oppression and finally feel they have a place to call home.

This book is reminiscent of the dystopia, Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. The plot doesn’t track exactly, but it explores similar themes of being isolated from “civilization,” as well as what happens to people when they are facing anomie, or the breakdown of the norms in society. When I first read the book, I contemplated how the book dealt with themes of control vs. loss of control, action vs. inaction, and fear and anxiety. Questions are asked (and answered) like: Will people from the different groups destroy one another? Will they collaborate to survive a hostile environment? Who will take advantage of the chaos to exploit his or her needs for sadism? How does fear motivate people to undermine the bonds in their society?

However, the children in The Lord of the Flies, didn’t have James Holden (and his team) to intervene to help them through mediation, force, and by representing governmental authority. Furthermore, some of the settlers and scientists worked across the boundaries of their in-groups and out-groups to solve problems. For example, a major disaster happens, and the groups on Illus have to work together to survive. This is true for the ships still orbiting the planet, as well. Collaboration is the key to survival in harsh situations, and one gets the sense that there shouldn’t be a place for someone like the head security officer Murtry, who seems to be getting a sadistic pleasure out of killing and threatening other people. He makes it harder for them to survive. Lest it seem one sided, there are people, mainly men, among the settlers who also take an “us or them” perspective, murdering investigators from the security team.

And at the end of the book, it is revealed that Undersecretary Avasarala of the United Nations and Fred Johnson, President of the Outer Planetary Alliance sent Holden on a fool’s mission.  They hoped he’d fail, and it’d be a warning to the many settlers watching the events unfold.  On the other hand, success on New Terra would leave Mars at a huge disadvantage because who would want to live on Mars, when one could find planets more similar to Earth that didn’t need terraforming.  And with people leaving Mars, Mars would then turn to its one resource to sell: the weapons of war. Thus, people like Avasarala wanted New Terra to be a failure. Although the heroics of Holden and others saved the day, it turns out that it may have brought about an even worse breakdown of human civilization.

In terms of recommending this book, I found it to be a good read.  I didn’t enjoy it as much as the third book in the series, but it deals with some important issues and sets up further adventures. All in all, I’m looking forward to where the adventures of Holden, the Rocinante, and the human race go next.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Science Fiction, Sociology