Will Call #54: Standing Together Against Othering in the Berkshires
In the wake of the November election, people  across the country have seen fear and anger and exclusion become part  of a national public conversation. Many people are sharing the  experience of feeling that they do not belong in their familiar places.  It’s called othering — making someone feel pushed to the edges, unwanted  or different. It can happen in daily meetings and conversations, at  work, at school, even at home.

In the Berkshires, movements are growing in response, art and  lectures and performances and rallies, to explain what othering means  and what it looks like — and to draw people together instead.

“Eyes Opaque With Terror,” by Marcelene Mosca and Freya Segal; Mixed Media, 2014; photo by David Edgecomb.

People are saying in different ways, I feel threatened. I feel alone.  And people are saying that hate is not mine. I want to stand with you. I  want to live in a country where we can all live and love and work, pray  or not, speak and play music. People are saying we need to talk to each  other.

In the Berkshires, efforts are growing to bring people together. In Pittsfield, on a November afternoon, young WordxWord  poets and storytellers reflected on how it felt to be excluded or  pushed to the edges, as part of “Othering,” a month-long show curated by  the Berkshire Art Association at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts.

In Great Barrington, Asma Abbas, Associate Professor of Politics and Philosophy at Bard College of Simon’s Rock, invited Moustafa Bayoumi,  American Book Award–winning  writer and professor of English at  Brooklyn College — who wrote one of the most re-tweeted tweets of the  2016 USA presidential debates, according to Twitter—to speak about Muslim American experiences in the last 15 years.

In North Adams, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel, joins Rabbi David Markus, her co-chair of Aleph,  the central organization of the international Jewish Renewal movement,  in a call for solidarity. If a national effort to register Muslims  becomes real, they are calling on all Americans to register.

Nick Cave’s “Until”

One of 16,000 dangling items in MASS MoCA’s Rauschenberg gallery that are part of the installation, “Until,” by Nick Cave, on view through August, 2017; photo by Kate Abbott.

And in December of 2016, MASS MoCA, offered free admission for Berkshire residents until the solstice, as Nick Cave’s installation, Until,  opened to take a close look at the ideal of “innocent until proven  guilty” — and what happens when it becomes “guilty until proven  innocent.”

Soprano Brenda Wimberly and organist Sereca Henderson   perform at the opening of Nick Cave’s ‘Until,’ at MASS MoCA. His  installation fills the Rauschenberg gallery, and everyone who walks in  stops at the doorway. The room is as large as a football field. And it  is full of light.

It’s like walking into an optical mobile. It’s a maze of stars and  spirals and suns on 16,000 strings. They spin like tops, and they  transform from pinwheeling color to faint lines, until they become  invisible. In some of them, at the core, he has set the image of a hand  gun.

Nick Cave  is known for Soundsuits, wearable sculptures that cover the whole body,  and he often performs in them. But here he has created something new.  It’s a landscape. It’s a cloudscape made of chandelier crystal. It’s a  place where he invites other people to perform.

Benjamin Clementine gave a concert on opening night.

Nick Cave created this installation holding in mind the lives and  deaths of Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Yvette  Smith and Michael Brown and more like them. Mass MoCA curator Denise  Markonish speaks about his work.

Moustafa Bayoumi and Asma Abas

John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme,’ a jazz classic from 1965 has echoes  of Middle Eastern scales in its improvisation, and echoes of Islamic  prayer in its inspiration, professor Moustafa Bayoumi writes in his 2015  collection of essays, “This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the  War on Terror.”

Moustafa Bayoumi has explored the concept of Othering in both How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America (2009) and This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror (2015); photo by Neville Elder, courtesy of Moustafa Bayoumi.

Coltrane often performed with Muslim musicians, he says, and anyone  with an ear attuned to Islamic influences can hear them in Coltrane’s  words and music.
He quotes Coltrane’s liner notes: “No Matter what … it is with God. He  is Merciful. His way is in love, through which we all are. It is truly —  a love supreme.”
Moustafa Bayoumi is an internationally recognized journalist. He is a  columnist for The Guardian; his writing has appeared in journals from  the New York Times to the Nation; and he has appeared on CNN, FOX News,  National Public Radio and many other media outlets around the world.
He is an associate professor of English at Brooklyn College, and in 2008  he won an American Book Award for “How Does It Feel to Be a Problem:  Being Young and Arab in America.”


Asma Abbas is an Associate Professor of Politics and Philosophy and
Emily H. Fisher Faculty Fellow at Bard College at Simon’s Rock; photo courtesy Asma Abbas.






“How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?” takes its title from writer,  Civil Rights activist and Great Barrington native, W.E.B. DuBois, who  asks that question in Souls of Black Folk.

In his book, Bayoumi tells the stories of seven young men and women in their 20s living in Brooklyn after 9/11.
Rasha and her family were imprisoned without trial and without evidence;  Sami served in the military in Iraq; Yasmin fought discrimination in  her diverse high school — and won.
In December, professor Bayoumi came to Bard College at Simon’s Rock in  Great Barrington to talk with professor Asma Abbas, and her students and  the community, about the experience of being Muslim American in the  past, in the last 15 years and today.
Many Americans misunderstand a great deal about what Muslim Americans believe and how they live their lives, he said.

To begin with, Muslim Americans have lived in this country for almost 400 years.

Aleph takes a stand against othering

Rachel Barenblat of Williamstown is the rabbi and spiritual leader of  Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams, and she will serve as the  interim Jewish Chaplain at Williams College in the spring semester. She  is also co-chair of Aleph,  the central organization of the international Jewish renewal movement,  with David Markus, associate spiritual leader of Temple Beth-El of City  Island in the Bronx. He has Berkshire ties as well — like Rachel, he is a  Williams College alum. (In full disclosure, I am also a Williams alum,  and Rachel is an old friend.)

Jewish Renewal, founded by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, is a  movement across Jewish denominations. At its center, Aleph includes a  rigorous liberal seminary and a growing network of congregations and  communities around the world.

“Arab Women Bonding,”
by Muriel Angelil;
Monoprint, 2014; submitted photo.

In response to the U.S. president-elect’s campaign promise to require  all Muslims to register with the government, Aleph has sent out a call  to all Americans, if that day comes, to register as Muslim in  solidarity.

That call comes out of values central to Renewal, Rachel and David  say, from a respect for all faiths, and a core Jewish value (Lev.  19:18), to love your neighbor as yourself.

The experience of being treated differently — the ‘Othering’ that  David Markus talks about — is also the name of the Berkshire Art  Association’s biennial juried show. In November, it filled the  Lichtenstein Center for the Arts in Pittsfield with abstract paintings,  collages and drawings.

The art association sent out a call for work reflecting on  experiences of exclusion and separation. More than 30 artists from  throughout the Northeast had work in the exhibit — from a twenty-year  veteran of the U.S. military who served two tours in Iraq to an  African-American Pittsfield High School graduate now studying art at  Williams College.

On Nov. 13, the Pittsfield organization WordxWord hosted an afternoon  of poetry and storytelling on the same theme — WordxWord uses spoken  word, poetry and storytelling to celebrate diversity and creativity and  make connections.

“Kylie Jenner,” by Merudjina Normil; Drawing, 2014; submitted photo.

Four of those poets have given us permission to share there work  here. We thank Izzy; our second poet, who has asked to remain anonymous;  Sage; and Doni Smith.

“This Is Normal: 4th grade,” by Dina Noto, Ink Drawing, 2016; submitted photo.

Looking Ahead

On Saturday, Jan. 7, on the 76th anniversary of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, a new Four Freedoms Coalition will invite the Berkshire community to unite against hate and bigotry in all its forms. The Berkshire County branch of the NAACP, BRIDGE, Berkshire Immigrant Center,  United Africans of the Berkshires, and the United American Muslim  Association of the Berkshires and others will gather for a rally and  march in downtown Pittsfield.

The Four Freedoms Coalition is a non-partisan, diverse coalition of  community organizations and people working together to unite the  community and reaffirm the  American values outlined in President Roosevelt’s speech:

Freedom from fear
Freedom from want
Freedom of speech
Freedom of religion.

All are welcome. To find out more, check out the Four Freedoms Coalition on Facebook or email [email protected]


On Jan. 29 at 3 p.m., Doni Smith and WordXWord  will welcome the new year with a free poetry reading to celebrate  sharing and caring and reflect on the consequences of greed at MCLA’s Gallery 51, at 51 Main St., North Adams.

Nine days after the presidential inauguration, poets and spoken word  artists will bear witness to a world where greed appears to have no  limits, and yet every day holds moments of generosity and compassion.  The event will accompay Josh Ostraff’s exhibition, OFA ATU, which opens  Jan. 26.


Also in Pittsfield, Georgene Poliak has formed All Band Together as  an initiative in compassion and solidarity. At the holiday Shindy at  Shire City Sanctuary, she showed arm bands with a crescent and a star  that she is making out of upcycled t-shirts and sweaters. They recall  the bands that Jews in Europe were made to wear under the Nazi  occupation. But these mean the opposite — they mean that people of many  faiths can stand together.


And in the spring, new artists will come to Mass MoCA to create and  perform work inspired by Nick Cave’s ‘Until.’ Internationally acclaimed  dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones will present a new solo work on  March 4.

And choreographer, writer, and actress Okwui Okpokwasili will create and offer a site-specific dance on April 7.

Okwui Okpokwasili "Bronx Gothic" trailer from Peter Born on Vimeo.

Grammy-winnter and living legend Mavis Staples, known worldwide as a voice in R&B, Gospel, Soul, folk, rock and blues, will also perform at Mass MoCA on March 25.

And Toshi Reagon and Dorrance Dance will return to the ’62 Center at Williams College with tap masters Derick Grant and Dromeshia Sumbry-Edwards.