Thank the human alarm clocks

Suzani textile from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, by Madina Kasimbaeva. Image description: A spread of a Suzani textile from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Floral motifs adorned the entire spread, made up of the earthy colour combinations (red, brown, green etc.) against a dark navy blue background.

In the previous edition of Courtney Martin’s the examined family, she quoted a line from Sharon Salzberg’s Real Change, which asks:

How many people need to be doing their jobs well in order for you to be able to do your job well?

The idea that we are never sole individuals, that we are social beings first and foremost, and that the achievements and successes we have built are sustained on the actions of other people in close proximity or peripherally around us, is never new, but something that needs to be reminded from time to time. I realised this specifically as I wrote down my acknowledgement section of my thesis as I tried to include the names of everyone who have helped me tremendously throughout my project while trying to keep to the page limit (brevity isn’t my strongest suit). Not only that, however substantial the amount of work comes from my own blood and sweat, much of them was guided by the previous work of the scholars and the learned of the past and the current — this whole standing on the shoulders of giants. This almost always made me emotional and grateful for others who opened the doors for other people. And that is how I would always strive to do too, once the doors are opened for me, I will keep it open for others, particularly those who had to jump through more systemic hoops than any of us less marginalised folks do in order to achieve their lifelong dreams.

I think about this article by Rebecca Solnit and specifically this phrase a lot, particularly after encountering (sometimes, well-meaning, passionate, new) activists who insisted on knowledge gatekeeping — a symptom that sometimes are prevalent among academics too (and also something I must have done in the past, and have reminded myself every time I found myself being judgmental too):

I wanted to yell at some of the people I run into, “If you think you’re woke, it’s because someone woke you up, so thank the human alarm clocks.” It’s easy now to assume that one’s perspectives on race, gender, orientation, and the rest are signs of inherent virtue, but a lot of ideas currently in circulation are gifts that arrived recently, through the labours of others.”

When the cathedrals you buid are invisible, made of perspectives and ideas, you forget you are inside them and the ideas they consist of were, in fact, made, constructed by people who analysed and argued and shifted our assumptions.

Solnit also shared a beautiful passage Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza wrote in the wake of the 2016 election:

This is a moment for all of us to remember who we were when we stepped into the movement — to remember the organisers who were patient with us, who disagreed with us and yet stayed connected, who smiled knowingly when our self-righteousness consumed us. Building a movement requires reaching out beyond the people who agree with you. I remember who I was before I gave my life to the movement. Someone was patient with me. Someone saw that I had something to contribute. Someone stuck with me. Someone did the work to increase my commitment. Someone taught me how to be accountable. Someone opened my eyes to the root causes of the problems we face. Someone pushed me to call forward my vision for the future. Someone trained me to bring other people who are looking for a movement into one.

There is also a fitting Zulu sayingUmuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, which basically means ‘a person is a person through other people.’ 

Do you have a list of the human alarm clocks that you wanted to thank?

Reading in my tabs:

  • What we can learn from the world’s largest fully remote company.
  • This position paper by the Indigenous Protocol and Artificial Intelligence Working Group is a great resource for folks interested in designing and creating AI from an ethical position that centres Indigenous concerns. Thank you The Engine Room for sharing.
  • The lesson of COVID-19 is that scientific and technical expertise stripped away from humane wisdom — social, moral and political knowledge of what matters, what we value, what needs preserving, repairing and caring for together — is a mere illusion of security. It’s an expensive life raft lacking rations, a compass, a map or a paddle. It cannot carry us safely into the futures we all need to build, for our nations, humankind and for coming generations of life on this planet.”
  • “Hustle culture isn’t the wave anymore. Not by a long shot. Now it’s discernment and shrewd allocation of resources and boundaries galore.” Author Mary H.K Choi on working through a pandemic.
  • I was on Readwise free trial once, and I loved that it sent me daily snippets of what I have highlighted from my Kindle and Instapaper to my inbox — that way it refreshes my mind about what I have read and learned and found interesting. Recently I learned it had added more useful features, such as grabbing clips of podcasts which will be automatically transcribed into texts, and they will be sent to my inbox. Honestly, I have a long list of things to get and do and help when I am financially secure, and I am adding Readwise subscription to one of them.
  • What does it mean to love the life we’ve been given? / To act well the part that’s been cast for us?”


  • Reading: Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, rereading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated, and Pablo Neruda’s bilingual version of Los Versos del Capitan in an attempt to learn Spanish.
  • Listening: This Earshot episode about Kylie Webb, who compiled her ‘sonic bucket list’ — a list of “11 sounds that I want to commit to memory” after being told that she has a condition that at some point she will lose her hearing.
  • Watching: Netflix’s The Social Dilemma, which is, uhm, OK. (I have a lot of thoughts actually, but it might require another edition.)
  • Food & Drink: Still under enhanced lockdown, and making anything out of the pantry leftovers — today it is super fiery nasi goreng belacan idc.

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