Saturday, September 13, 2008


I'm a little bit racist sometimes. It's a confession I've been intentionally ignorant of for quite some time, because addressing the statement means addressing the underlying issues. I've always thought I wasn't racist, and I'm not, I don't think, by what I say or do. But I am by what I think. It's a subconscious, creepy thing that has subtly made its way into my processing of things. I notice it by the way I feel. Why do I feel sometimes like I'm an offense just my my presence with a certain group of people? Why am I subconsciously surprised that an education at the University of Ghana is of the same caliber to a school in the United States? I think these are issues that are real to me, even if I pretend they're not, because that's just more convenient.

We recently had an encounter with a lady who was a little bit racist sometimes too. On our first day of African drumming (which I found to be incredibly fun and entirely entertaining watching my friends try to keep rhythm), as we were in the middle of a beat with our beaded calabash rattles, a lady passed by and began yelling at us. Well, she was yelling at our Ghanaian instructors for the most part. She yelled that they should not be teaching us, that this drumming was for Africans only, and that we should go back to Europe. Interestingly enough, she spoke with what seemed to be an American accent, and was debatably African-American. Hmm. That puts a spin on things.

I had a conversation with a friend on the trip that got me thinking. In the course of talking, we both described ourselves as "passionate about anti-racism," or something to that extent. Now, I'm not judging where she is coming from or her personal validity of that statement, but I began judging my own. In college, I've had numerous conversations about race at large, and I do feel strongly about some actions or words that have happened by me in my personal anti-racism campaign. But what on earth do I really know? Here I get the chance to be a minority, and in the Ghanaian context, in the center of the spotlight. For instance, today when a few friends and I ventured into Accra by ourselves for the first time, we tried all we could to do as the Ghanaians do. We all crammed into the back of a tro-tro and were surrounded by natives. At a red light, the street vendors came out with their plantain chips and toilet paper, and without paying any attention to our fellow riders called out "Hey white people, welcome to Ghana! Buy our chips and give us your money!" I could have died of embarrassment.

Here I get to be called "obruni" only becase of my face value. I get to be called a term of "white person" and have my name erased and my identity reduced to merely the color of my skin. I get to carry all of the stereotypical baggage of white Americans (and apparently Europeans) that every one of us must be filthy rich with even dirtier consumption habits. And I get to be the one to represent the actions of my ancestors and draw up every kind of connotation for historical atrocities that I personally had nothing to do with. Minority is a really ugly word. Minor. Young. Feeble-minded. Insignificant. Inferior.

I don't want to begin to say that I know anything about how to fix global racism. But I do want to say that I've felt it from the other side, albeit briefly. I see my own inadequacies and failures to see clearly. I feel now the way racism is institutionalized. I see now that it's not just one person's fault. I'm not angry at the lady who yelled at us, because honestly us white people don't get to hear reverse racism as much as we probably deserve. Racism is the fault of society, culture, and a history of a few making poor labeling decisions and messing everything up generations down the line.

When my identity is erased--who I am, my name, where I come from--and replaced with a general title, I see the way that I do that to others at home. When my individual complexities are overlooked, I realize how often I've silenced others' intricate voices in order to magnify my own. I am now aware of how much I've concerned myself with advocating anti-racism to a white audience, but have neglected others' perspectives. I seem to have been under the impression that my mission was an in-group thing, and that I don't need members of the out-group to talk about ostracizing . Since I've been here I've heard a few really beautiful metaphors about pianos. Just like a song would not be complete by using only the white or black keys, so in life we need each other for perfect harmony. Now that I'm more clearly seeing, I can be more properly thinking and processing everything hopefully in a more healthy way.

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