“You owe it to all of us to get on with what you’re good at.” — W.H. Auden
“You shall love your crooked neighbour, with your crooked heart.” –W.H. Auden
Note: This is part of the poem “Jubilate Agno” [“Rejoice in the Lamb”], Fragment B, by Christopher Smart (1722-1771); an excerpted version of this poem is set to music in Benjamin Britten’s festival cantata “Rejoice in the Lamb” (1943).
For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord’s poor, and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually–
Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Icneumon rat, very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.
Hello, White People! I hope you have been practicing diligently! Today we finally get around to something you’ve been wanting to do for so long, I know: TALKING.
White people love to talk at people–but they are definitely at a disadvantage when they are attempting to sustain meaningful conversation with People of Color, due to not being able to shut up; this is in addition to their congenital disability concerning listening, which we touched on in the last exercise. This three-step exercise should help you as a WP to oil the wheels of conversations with POC in a spectacular and surprising way; you may even really communicate with each other.
1. Wait for an answer. Stop after you ask any question, and count to ten as you wait. This is especially good if you find that a) you frequently ask rhetorical questions, not real questions, and/or b) you get half-hearted or no responses when you talk. This is because waiting till you count to ten will elicit a real response from your interlocutor, often in less time than it takes for you to finish counting to ten.
2. Don’t correct your interlocutor! Listen to the answer you get and allow it to hang there unrefuted and unchallenged for a while. Think about it. Squelch that impulse inside you that says, “They misunderstood my point!” or “They just said something that makes no sense!” Remind yourself that the problem could be your understanding, not theirs. It’s literally amazing how many times this does turn out to be the case for WP talking with POC (not to mention men talking with women, but that’s a different blog).
3. When you are telling your story, be aware that it’s only your story. This part of the exercise is hard for WP because we all think we can speak for everybody we know. Don’t non-apologize: “Hey, I know I’m just one person, but I really think everybody in their right minds agrees that…” Just don’t do that! Stay literally, painfully open to the possibility that your interlocutor may disagree even with what you think is basic human instinct, or sheer logic.
Post-script: When your story is over, stop talking. This is actually probably the hardest thing to do ever, so practice in the mirror first.
Have fun, and write back about how your conversations are going when you use these practice steps! We all want to hear! Ciao for now.
Hey, WP! Glad you could make it back! Today we’re going to do some exercises focusing on HEARING. White people have notoriously feeble auditory senses when in the vicinity of people of color; and often, because of inattention, they miss POC’s speech entirely. But you can improve! Here are a few suggestions:
- Listen carefully the first time around, and don’t ask a person of color to repeat what they just said because you weren’t paying attention. You should feel embarrassed and apologetic if you have missed what anyone said, of course; but if I had a nickel for every time this has happened for a White person when a person of color was speaking… well, I wouldn’t be poor, you know.
- Write down and look up words, names, places, historical references you did not understand when you heard them in conversation with a person of color. Especially if your school did not offer the rudiments of non-White history to you (and most American ones don’t), and you didn’t take more than four years of Spanish. No kidding. Educate yourself, ’cause there’s a ton of stuff you still don’t know – and definitely do NOT interrupt a POC who is speaking to ask them to explain a reference you did not understand. This is what Wikipedia and Google is for, folks. Use it to find out about everything from Audre Lorde’s mom’s roots in Carriacou, to Egyptian art and Ethiopian music, to modern Dominican authors’ books, to MLK’s visit to Ghana, to Ho Chi Minh’s time in New York City, to the World Cup championship, to Mary McLeod Bethune, to Malcolm X in Omaha, and beyond.
- Practice staying silent, even when you want to insert a supportive argument, or add something so relevant about your own experience onto the story that a person of color is telling you. Instead of speaking, nod, and wait for more. Be attentive, and keep your mind focused on what this person is saying to you. You would be surprised how many times simple silence will elicit honest and interesting conversation and facts that you were not aware of. (Check out some thoughts on this by Greta Christina if you are interested in more background to this idea!)
Have fun, and don’t forget to practice both SEEING and HEARING exercises every day, for best effect!
Hey, White People! Time for our first yoga lesson: today we will practice SEEING. It’s a common brain impediment for White folks to skip over people of color visually. To address this issue, here are several methods of correction through practice:
- When looking around a restaurant or other public venue, slow down and literally count the individual people of color who are dining or hanging out nearby. Don’t forget to count wait staff and old ladies waiting to be seated, children sitting in high chairs or sleeping in strollers, and others who might be easy to overlook. Do not make ignorant comments about how “mixed” the place seems to be, etc.; simply look and count. If the count is zero or one, or only wait staff are POC, rethink your dining or hanging out venue.
- When walking down the street, especially around playgrounds or near schools, deliberately look at and smile at each child of color (especially; you are also permitted to smile at White children, but you probably usually do anyway). Notice the children of color, if any. Don’t be creepy, but do notice them. Gently toss back lost balls to children of color when they roll near your feet. Reminder: “Child” means under 18 years old. Don’t forget to smile at all teenagers.
- Keep on smiling no matter the response. Do not expect a smile in return in all cases. Do not judge based on whether people smile back at you. White folks have done a lot of nasty stuff (not your fault, but still), and it should unfortunately not surprise you if POC respond slowly or not at all to apparent overtures of friendship from White people. It may take a few centuries for this to play itself out. Be patient, meanwhile.
Enjoy your practice, and see you again soon for more exercises!
Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself. –John Dewey
“We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain of life. Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot. Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made, and his senses are being developed. To him we cannot answer ‘Tomorrow,’ his name is Today.” —Gabriela Mistral, Su Nombre es Hoy
In the practice of our politics we do not believe that the end always justifies the means. Many reactionary and destructive acts have been done in the name of achieving “correct” political goals. As feminists we do not want to mess over people in the name of politics. We believe in collective process and a nonhierarchical distribution of power within our own group and in our vision of a revolutionary society. We are committed to a continual examination of our politics as they develop through criticism and self-criticism as an essential aspect of our practice. –The Combahee River Collective Statement (1977)
“But people can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life.” –James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room