Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More on "Saving" Africa

This article published in the Washington Post on July 15th nails it. For those of you "Save Darfur"-ians out there, take a deep breath, open your big heart, and listen.

This is a great piece of writing and is creating a lot of discussion.

Stop Trying To 'Save' Africa

By Uzodinma Iweala

Sunday, July 15, 2007; B07

Last fall, shortly after I returned from Nigeria, I was accosted by a perky blond college student whose blue eyes seemed to match the "African" beads around her wrists.

"Save Darfur!" she shouted from behind a table covered with pamphlets urging students to TAKE ACTION NOW! STOP GENOCIDE IN DARFUR!

My aversion to college kids jumping onto fashionable social causes nearly caused me to walk on, but her next shout stopped me.

"Don't you want to help us save Africa?" she yelled. More...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


So I wrote this post sometime last week thinking it was a little silly, and not well written. I asked the friend who got me started on all this blogging business if I should really let myself blog every thought that comes to my head, his reply was something like this...
i am thinking a blog is a description. etymology. a cripted, coded idea that you want other people or yourself to see through language or some form of decoding. you can't censure yourself. or build a police station inside.
So the police station has been closed and we are letting all the bad ones out. Here goes...
Sweat. Its something almost all of us are acquainted with. Its natural, and it helps keep our bodies cool. I have been thinking a lot about sweat lately while walking around in 90 degrees heat with oppressive humidity. I said to a friend that I felt disgusting with all the sweat on me, and he insisted that it is not a disgusting thing. I replied that when I run, I love it. Thinking about this further took me to the ideology and sociology of sweat. Historically, naturally, and currently, those who do the most ardent physical labor are those who sweat the most. They are farmers, construction workers, sweatshop workers, and factory workers. Those who live relatively sweat free lives probably do so in air conditioned offices with ergonomically correct chairs and keyboards. Those with power, in general only sweat when they choose to; perhaps at the gym, or over the grill.

What I am getting at here, is that maybe we see sweat as being disgusting because it is something associated with those who work (physically) for a living. It is also associated with those who don't have air conditioning, or cars. Here in this country we even go so far as to try to get rid of sweat by way of chemicals we call anti-persperents. We try to cover up the smell when we do sweat. Is sweat a part of the classist ideology that permeates this country? I think so.

But sweat is good. It provides temperature control, can attract the opposite sex, and detoxify our bodies. It is not something gross or disgusting - it just is! So lets stop turning up our noses at sweat, and even more importantly at those who sweat, and appreciate what our bodies can do.

Friday, July 6, 2007


I recently ducked into an exhibit of photos that a woman had put together after a trip to a hospital in Rwanda. The pictures were mostly of very thin Rwandans lying in hospital beds with different tubes or bandages attached. The commentary on the photos described the impoverished condition of the people, the high level of HIV, and the womans struggle between feeling the need to stay and help, and the need to take her ailing son back home to the United States where he could see a proper doctor. Also prevalent in the commentary was the genocide that happened 13 years ago.

I was with some close friends of mine and one of them asked the other - What is the point of showing those pictures? Now for some of you that might seem like a strange question. Just a few short years ago I would have thought the exhibit a wonderful brave and courageous thing - I would have donated a few dollars to whatever non-profit the artist had worked with, patted myself on the back, and left feeling great about my awareness of the poor people in Africa. But lets take another look. What has led to the extent of poverty and war in this small central African nation? Lets start with colonization, first by the Germans and then the Belgiums. Both groups took what had been some loosely defined groups, divided more by occupation and power, and racialized them. They distributed identity cards to make clear who the Hutu were, and who the Tutsi were. They then used the Tutsi (who comprised around 15% of the population) as their slave masters essentially, forcing them to force labor on the Hutu in order to provide the resources demanded by the Europeans. This, of course, did not make the Hutu and the Tutsi best of friends. Indeed it created a lot of anger, so when independence came in the 1960s, and the Hutu majority gained political power, there was a lot of bloodshed. The poverty created by colonialism, and growing global capitalism have forced these two groups to share, or fight over increasingly scarce resources. Not only did we set the stage for genocide, we probably provided the weapons. in 2005 82% of weapons were manufactured in five industrialized countries including the United States, Germany, and France. Over two thirds of the worlds weapons were bought by those living in Africa, Latin America, or Asia. Further more, when looking at those pictures, we not only fail to see our historical and present day contribution to the photo, we have an unspoken tendency to either blame the person in the photo or to see them as only a victim, waiting to be saved by white hands, or money. Both of these lines of thought are founded in white supremacy.
Essentially this is all to say that we go and look at pictures of Africans on hospital beds, we give money, money that was at one point stolen from those same Africans, we feel pretty good about ourselves, and we shake our heads thinking "wow, those Africans sure are violent, they just can't seem to get it together, good thing we are there to help." And we go on our merry way. I am sure the woman who created the exhibit had the best of intentions, as did many people who saw the exhibit and dropped some cash, or wrote a check. But we are only returning stolen money, maintaining our position of power and control, deciding who should be saved when from the nightmare we created.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Jim Crow 2007 Style

I have been following this story for just over a month and am appalled. This is the most recent truthout.org article. There is also a BBC story from just over a month ago...

In a small, still mostly segregated, section of rural Louisiana, an all white jury heard a series of white witnesses called by a white prosecutor testify in a courtroom overseen by a white judge in a trial of a fight at the local high school where a white student who had been making racial taunts was hit by black students. The fight was the culmination of a series of racial incidents starting when whites responded to black students sitting under the "white tree" at their school by hanging three nooses from the tree. The white jury and white prosecutor and all white supporters of the white victim were all on one side of the courtroom. The black defendant, 17-year-old Mychal Bell, and his supporters were on the other. The jury quickly convicted Mychal Bell of two felonies - aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. Bell, who was a 16-year-old sophomore football star at the time he was arrested, faces up to 22 years in prison. Five other black youths await similar trials on second-degree attempted murder and conspiracy charges. More...

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Wrong Question

In a recent phone interview, I was asked if I thought all students should be held to the same standard regardless of race or class background. This is a loaded question. My immediate response was "no." In the same classroom I may have one student who comes from an upper-middle class family, whose parent is a college professor. The student has a computer in their room, receives support from their parent whenever necessary, has a car so they can stay afterschool and get help. Another student comes to class most days hungry. After school goes to work for 4-6 hours. Maybe the student's family just received an eviction notice. when she gets home she helps take care of a sick parent, makes dinner and tries to stay on top of house cleaning. The family has an old computer that doesn't get internet and frequently shuts down. How can I possibly hold these two students to the same standard? At the same time, how can we let students graduate from high school who can not read. Obviously I am talking in extremes here, but they are still a part of reality.

The question that should be asked instead is "How can schools make it possible for all students to reach the same standard?" There are some things, like universal health care, that schools may not have to take care of themselves although they can advocate for it. There are many things that schools can do better. They can work more to ensure that every student has a full stomach in a way that does not make obvious which students are receiving free or reduced lunch, and does not ostracize students. Schools can provide resource rooms both during and after school where students can get extra help. Computer labs could stay open late, with late buses running to take students home. These are all manageable steps that the last school i worked at failed to take. The results were painfully obvious. When students were held to the NCLB standard of a standardized test, lower income students failed while higher income students excelled. If schools are going to create equality and opportunity in this country, they must start thinking outside of the classroom. they must become radically restructured, and also radical in the demands they make on the government and society to provide services beyond the scope of school. Only then can we truly say that we are striving to bring all students to excellence.

Of course another important question in this debate is that of whose standards one is held to. We will save that for another blog...