Have you ever heard of Lorraine Hansberry? No? Me neither, until earlier today.
I was listening to one of my current favourite narrators, Adjoa Andoh, read “The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter’s Memoir” by Aminatta Forna. The book is not what I was expecting when I clicked “buy”: admittedly, I purchased it not because of the author, but because of the narrator, and although it’s non-fiction, I’ve enjoyed it.
Aside from gaining a better understanding of Sierra Leone’s history from the perspective of the author, today I learned that Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was the first black female author to have a play performed on Broadway. On March 11, 1959, her play “A Raisin in the Sun” appeared on stage, and at the time became that youngest American playwright (at 29) and only the fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play.
Forna included a quote from the book in “The Devil That Danced on the Water”, and it struck a chord with me.
“It isn’t a circle—it is simply a long line—as in geometry, you know, one that reaches into infinity. And because we cannot see the end—we also cannot see how it changes. And it is very odd that those who see the changes—who dream, who will not give up—are called idealists…and those who see only the circle we call them the “realists”!”
— Asagai to Beneatha, Act III. In Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun. With an introduction by Robert Nemiroff. NY: Vintage, 2004.
Asagai says this Beneatha after she loses faith in the idea of progress (in the context of the book). She says:
“And where does it end?
An end to misery! To stupidity! Don’t you see there isn’t any real progress, Asagai, there is only one large circle that we march in, around and around, each of us with our own little picture in front of us – our own little mirage that we think is the future.”
— Beneatha to Asagai, Act III. In Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun. With an introduction by Robert Nemiroff. NY: Vintage, 2004.
There are certainly days where I think that there’s no point. There is no point in talking about gender equality, or social justice, or trying to make racists see that we’re all just human, or in contemplating the world in which we live and trying to make it a little better through whatever means I have, because ultimately humans are stupid. We seem unable to learn lessons from our all-too-bloody history. In spite of our clever scientists and extraordinary body of learning, the masses – regardless of colour and often regardless of wealth and education – remain ignorant. As a species, we do seem to go around in circles, going down the path of peace and progress, then regressing into a period of war and regression.
But now, when that depressing cloud of negativity hovers, I can simply think of Asagai’s quote, and in particular, this:
“And because we cannot see the end—we also cannot see how it changes.”
I feel reassured that, although we can’t see the end, it’s still worth doing what seems to be the right thing for “people and planet”, even if on the surface, it doesn’t seem to make a difference.
Here’s to being an idealist.
And yes, I’ve now bought the play and look forward to reading it tonight in bed!
Although I swore off news for a month, I only lasted 14 days. The good news is that not much in the world has changed, and that I have more time, so I can easily make another attempt starting tomorrow. But that’s another story.
The featured item on the BCC’s website today was:
Trade tariffs: Chorus of condemnation intensifies
Massive US tariffs have come into force as condemnation of the Trump administration’s move intensifies.
I read the article and whilst shaking my head at Trump, it occurred to me that perhaps there is an upside to his import penalties. As a fan of transition and of the lovely Rob Hopkins, I am continually taking steps to live a more sustainable life. I am not perfect, it has to be said, but the journey of a lifetime starts with one step and all that, and one of my steps is to not only grow more of my own produce and to reduce my consumption, but also to do what I can to buy products produced or made locally, and failing that, to purchase products from local stores.
We buy vast quantities of “stuff” from US-owned online store like Amazon and E-bay. We use services provided by US companies, like hosting providers and domain companies and payment processors (like PayPal, for example). And with Trump’s tariffs in mind, my intention to buy “local” has been intensified.
Obviously what I contribute to the US economy is peanuts, but I think that I’ll take those peanuts and invest them nearer to home. It’s a bit of a pain, it has to be said – you must know what it’s like transferring 50 websites to a new server, for example. It’s also more expensive. It’s often significantly cheaper to purchase something in the US and have it shipped to Europe than it is to simply buy it in Austria where I live. And sadly, I have to say that it also means opting for poorer service in many cases: I can’t speak for everywhere, but the concept of good service hasn’t really arrived in my part of Austria as far as I can see – often I feel as if I have to apologise for purchasing something or asking for a drink.
But that’s okay. Perhaps I don’t need all the stuff I buy from the US. Perhaps I need to review the services that I use and see if I really need them. If I have to pay more, the upside is that if something goes wrong, I can just pop into the local store and sort it out. And as for poor service in Austria (yet another story and one of my pet irritations here in Innsbruck)… well, maybe I’ll create a course or a seminar. Whether I can live without the instant gratification of buying Kindle books or my beloved Audible remains to be seen.
As I said, it’s a journey and I can only take one step at a time.
Not just “not buying from the US”
Before anyone shakes a finger at me and asks “Why punish the US for their idiot president”, let me say that I plan to extend my grand plans to cover the globe.
I’ll have “circles” of “localness” – I’m usually based in Innsbruck, so for food I want to buy products within a 20km radius. For art and crafts, perhaps I’ll cast my net wider and extend it to 100km or 500km or only to products that are made in a certain radius but sold locally so that I don’t have to travel to far to buy them. I bought a new laptop and camera this year and a new phone in 2016 so I’m in good shape on that front for the next 5+ years, but if my laptop dies, I’ll have to extend my circle because computers have components made in loads of different places and I can’t work without one.
When I home in South Africa, the same would apply – circles.
I haven’t quite worked out the details, but in principle, “Made in Austria” followed by “Made in Neighbouring Countries” followed by “Made in Europe” will be my mantra. “Based in Austria” might also need to be on there, because international businesses with a local presence hire local people who contribute to the local economy and community, and that’s important, too, regardless of whether the company is owned locally or not.
My first step: tomorrow, a trip to Hall to the farmer’s market to see what local produce, beer and crafts are on offer.
And after that? well, I’ll keep you posted.