January 22, 2016

This land is your land

FILE - This undated file photo shows folk singer Woody Guthrie playing his guitar and singing. Guthrie's writings, recordings and artwork will land in his native state after an Oklahoma foundation bought the collection, with plans for a display that concentrates on his artistry rather than the populist politics that divided local opinion over the years. Guthrie, known for the anthem, "This Land is Your Land" and his songs about the poor and downtrodden, is remembered mostly as a musician, composer and singer, but was also a literary figure and an artist, said Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society.   (AP Photo/File)

Woody Guthrie (undated)

Early in the US depression (1929-1939) Guthrie abandoned his family and joined the migration of Oklahoma farmers (Okies) off the land they had impoverished (made into a Dust Bowl) and on to California looking for work, any work. He learned their blues and other songs creating a strong foundation for his own song writing. But it was not until February 1940, while the US was sitting on the sidelines of World War II, that he penned what may be his most well known song: This land is your land.  You have probably joined in singing the first two verses at least once in your life. Just in case they have slipped your memory here they are. These verses have been covered by numerous performers since the 1960s: most recently in a full-length performance at President Obama’s inauguration in 2009 by Pete Seeger and others.

This land is your land, this land is my land,
From California to the New York island;
From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

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April 6, 2014

Talk Matters #3 – Coloniser talk: knowing the natives

For most going to a new country, the key issue is: ‘what are the people like?’  It was no different for those coming to New Zealand in 1839. One colonist, Henry Petre[1], assured his readers he and others had made inquiries about the hostility of the natives (and had probably read) the section about the ‘native inhabitants’ in the travel guide/prospectus prepared by John Ward (Secretary of the New Zealand Company) – Information Relative to New Zealand: Compiled for the use of colonists (1839).

Promoting the destination, Ward also provided words, ideas, images – prefabricated knowledge – that settlers could use to interpret and understand New Zealand.  He introduced Māori, “[They] are physically and intellectually superior to the New Hollanders [Australians]; but although their capabilities of cultivation are great, they are yet essentially a savage people” (p.62) immediately anchoring them as ‘other’ in European understandings.  On Malthus’ ‘Great Chain of Being’ they were not the bottom, being far enough along to fit European imaginings of ‘noble savages’.

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February 13, 2014

Talk Matters #1 – Taken for granted assumptions

This is the first of a series of postings that are concerned with talk – language in use.  The focus of the series is the language that masks the institutional racism imposed by colonists making it seem a natural state of affairs that we can do nothing about.  For that reason I start by sketching why language in use is important.  

It’s very easy to overlook the effect of words – most of us do that most of the time. It’s as if we think words and language are simply convenient labels for people, events and situations that we already know about.  That way of thinking about words and language makes sense, so much so it seems obvious yet there are serious problems with it.  Most important of those problems is the presumption that our knowledge about a person, an event, or a situation is separate from or exists apart from any talk about it.

 head in sand


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