Somewhere each of is, “The Stranger”

Poefrika wrote a brilliant and heartfelt account of The Soweto Uprising. I was moved to comment on his post, but my comment just got longer and longer, so I have decided to make it into a post.

Regular readers of this blog know that I very seldom write a post that is not poetry specific. But with this subject I couldn’t just walk away, and not write a post, because in Poefrika’s post, he at one point asks an important question. “So, whatchu gon’ do?”

The Mistrust of “The Stranger”

To mistrust the stranger – for all of us, at least to some extent, this is what we do. It feels natural to be this way, to be protective of our identity, and so on – I know that I am this way. I fear “Strange” strangers. I want to protect myself from them.

I am a natural person, who makes rational and self protective decisions about survival all the time. In fact survival is my primary predicate.

Most of my beliefs are based on abstractions, and distortions though, and this is something that I have learned to work through, to mistrust a bit my first impulse and further ask myself, is my survival really threatened, or do I feel threatened because I have not asked myself to understand the humanity, or the complex of nuances that make up a strangers motivations?

“So, whatchu gon’ do?”

I am a poet, and by that gift, my focus is memory, and how the collective memory of all of us is indeed accessible by all us. In other words, I can walk with Hastings Ndlovu as Hastings Ndlovu.

I know what it means to be betrayed as one who was just out walking, as one who was curious or incitefull of change, as one who has been caught up in the mix of something, and then somehow has been signaled out by the fate of it, and visited with a fatal consequence.

And because I can do this I would never shoot Hastings Ndlovu! (Soweto Uprising)

Utopian daydreams are for the intellectually weak!

I have no fantasy Utopian ideas that we should just all get along, or that we will any time soon.

But that does not mean that I have no fantasy idea.

Here is my fantasy idea:

That we learn from mistakes, that to do so is evolutionary, and psychologically redemptive.


I have learned from the conquerors, I have no wish to be a conqueror.

I have learned from the hangings of others, I have no wish to hang others.

I have learned from the gassing of innocents, I have no wish to gas innocence.

I have learned from the beating of strangers, I have no wish to beat strangers.

To understand how to change we must learn that somewhere each of us is “The Stranger.”

If there is anything even remotely resembling salvation for us as a species, I think that it will come through the one ability that I hope is universal, and that is our very human experience of empathy -to know how it feels to be transgressed upon.

I am not writing about sympathy (the ability to feel sorry for someone else’s experience), sympathy is too dissociative to be of much use here. I mean the sort of empathy that is so fully associative that one can feel the noose tightening, or the air becoming thinner. The sort of empathy that leaves a bruise on the muscle of your heart.

I think most of us already have this ability for clan or country, and through a more profound effort, because it is sane to remember “The Other” this ability must be, and can be accorded to “The Stranger.”


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4 responses to “Somewhere each of is, “The Stranger”

  1. An important post. The “I have learned” sequence efficient. Thanks for posting. This (and others) must not disappear from memory because then we risk doing them again.

  2. Beautiful, Poetman. Yes, this is an important post, as is Rethabile’s. Like I said at his site, I was a kid when it occurred. What astounds me most is that by the time I got to high school, none of my teachers bothered to teach it to us. They weren’t evil people. The silence of good people is chilling to me. What I learned, I had to actively seek out in books.

    I also like your “I have learned” section. I wish everyone could remember these lessons. I’ve been thinking a lot about Rethabile’s question today. It is a good question. Teaching others is a start. I’m sure there are organizations to support. Maybe someone has recommendations, or we can search the internet for more.

    Your description of empathy is right on. That ability to feel is much more than simply saying, “oh gosh, that’s terrible.” Thanks, Poetman.

  3. “I mean the sort of empathy that is so fully associative that one can feel the noose tightening, or the air becoming thinner. The sort of empathy that leaves a bruise on the muscle of your heart.”

    but can one, really?

    no. we reach. but no.


    “In other words, I can walk with Hastings Ndlovu as Hastings Ndlovu.”

    again, no.

    as the reader, the writer, the poet; we can absorb what’s spilled out, what’s available.

    walk with? no.

    but close, with what’s available to us. less the open feet.

    that’s the version of human we claim. but that’s as close as we get. without getting so close we have to be it. do we have an obligation to realize that?

    just a couple pennies worth. and thanks for the attraction toward the piece.

  4. Rethabile – Thank You for your post, I am very moved by it. Our ignorance and or forgetfulness about events such as these, borders on the unforgivable…

    Julie – Thank you for your comment. My small effort here is but a drop in the bucket.

    Dame – Without posting actual picture on this site of the real scars I have on my body, or going into too much detail about my childhood experiences, let me just say.

    You are right, at least to some extent in my eyes. I am not Hastings Ndlovu.

    I have not ever lived in Soweto, nor have I lived in a place like Soweto.

    But I have experienced siege. I have been choked, and beaten – known terror. Maybe my experiences pale in comparison, maybe I just don’t get it, perhaps I will never get it – what it’s like to be so systematically brutalized by the state.

    But here is the point. If I don’t attempt to find what is common to me and Hastings Ndlovu – if I do understand his experience and his fear, as something that my own body is capable of experiencing then I will only have sympathy for Hastings Ndlovu.

    It is through sympathy, I think that too many, at least to some extant, maintain their aloofness, and distance themselves from Hastings Ndlovu very real experience.

    This to me is the way we abstract the experience of others…create frames of sympathy for ourselves to feel better about ourselves, never fully taking in, that we have necks too, that it may be ours on the line, maybe sooner than later.

    Thank You Dame…

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