Monday, June 22, 2015

A House Divided

This will probably be the one and only "opinion piece" that you get from me in response to the latest terrible thing that has fueled a mob of angry status updates and article repostings. I'm not trying to belittle the Charleston tragedy, but while social media can be a great platform to push for social change, it is more often used as a mask that people use to bait arguments and distance themselves from the consequences of saying hurtful or disrespectful things to others because of anger and other improperly channeled emotions. This is an important conversation and one that I believe needs to be had, but the social media network has become more of a place to yell for the sake of hearing one's own voice than a place to have open-minded discussion. This is one of the reasons I don't normally use my personal social media accounts to weigh in on political or social issues. I don't believe that putting my opinions into words on a digital page amount to as much as my daily actions do, but this time I feel the need to respond, even if only for myself.

I use Facebook as an outlet to the rest of the world and because it's the easiest way to keep up with my friends here and abroad. This week, though, I saw many hateful and ignorant posts from my own friends on both sides of this issue. One of these was a Washington Post article by a journalist who hails from South Carolina, but is apparently carrying around some very large White guilt baggage. While the article isn't completely off point, the author misplaces blame for upholding racism in America on the Southeastern U.S. and all of the White people living there. In his opinion, we as White people should feel responsible for the Charleston shooting and other acts of racism that occur in our society.

Well, I'd be kidding myself if I tried to say that racism doesn't exist in the South. It does, and it is a deeply rooted psycho-social epidemic that springs more from the subconscious than from active hate. The South has always been a society based on class and family ties, and discrimination is still easy to come by not only for Blacks, but for Hispanics, the lower class, blue collar workers, and even the "new money" rich. While I agree that this is a despicable part of our society, I cannot align myself with the author and claim to hate the South. I love the South. I love it because despite our great faults and tumultuous history, we're still a community. When the going gets rough your neighbor will not leave you out in the cold, regardless of race, nationality, income level, or if your moms belong to different sewing circles. We come together rather than turn away from each other in the face of tragedy, when the time comes to show our true colors. This is evident now by the rallies held in support for the shooting victims in Charleston this week. There were no violent riots, hateful picket signs or division of races, but rather a diverse multitude of South Carolina citizens gathering in support of one another and to pray for the souls of the lost. It is also evident of the responses of the victims' families to the shooter himself. These people suffered unspeakable losses, and while the mass media and internet communities yell at one another, they humbly bring their confessions of forgiveness to the young man who wronged them in a way most of us cannot even imagine. While the politicians, fueled by their own incentives, diverted attention to issues like the state flag and gun control, these people embodied Christ and His teachings perfectly as they swallowed the selfish desire for vengeance and begged God for mercy on the very soul that gave them none. But forgiving doesn't mean forgetting. They will never forget what happened to them that day, nor should we. They didn't do it to move on, but to move forward. Forgiveness is probably the most misconstrued, misunderstood, and most difficult of God's commandments, but there is no forward motion or growth without it. By this action it is apparent that these people are truly good people. These are the Southerners I know.

I feel no connection to those who started the White supremacy ideals in America or who uphold them today. They are not my family and they are not my kin. I feel no responsibility for their actions just as I would feel no responsibility for the Holocaust if I were to trace my German roots back to members of the Nazi Party. Shared genetics do not make brothers and sisters. People that perpetuate hate for others are not my people. I feel no connections or loyalties towards them, not only because they are wrong, but because they are so far outside of my sphere of beliefs on morality that shape who I am. How can I feel that these people belong to the same group as me solely because we share a similar shade of skin? In fact, my actual "legal" family is made up of multiple races, nationalities and bloodlines. The people who I consider to be my extended family are even more diverse. I don't divide my family along racial or geographical lines, but instead define them as the people that share with me a love and compassion for others. That's what draws us together in companionship.

I feel no guilt for what has happened in Charleston. I feel disgust, sadness, and disappointment, but not guilt. If I were to feel guilt for the sake of being White, guilty about the privilege that entails, what good would that do? The reason I won't feel guilty about racism in the South, or in America as a whole, is because guilt only results in patronizing and obligatory action. If you truly are going to take responsibility for racism existing in America, it must come from a sense of awareness, from mutual respect, and from a genuine desire to see all people as equals. If there are still division and hate in a society, and if souls are still considered unequal there, then responsibility has yet to be taken. There may be plenty of guilt and even apologetic actions taken, but the lack of responsibility remains.

I can't speak to the struggles of the Black American because I am not one. I have enjoyed and taken for granted the privileges that come from being both White and American for a significant part of my life. I have experienced prejudice and discrimination, though. Most of us probably have in some way or another. It is not a strange concept that any one person is incapable of understanding. I have been singled out and made to feel inferior or unworthy because of my religion and social status. I have been disrespected and held to a double standard because of my gender. I have been targeted and harassed by the police because of my race. I have seen girls sold as child brides and be denied education, opportunity and autonomy. And I know that everywhere in the world right now, people are oppressing and enslaving each other based on race, gender, nationality, tribe, clan, class, sect, political aligning, sexual orientation, age, and religion. This is not something we invented, and it's probably not something we will ever see the end of. But what a chance we have to try, and what strides we have made already. This is a problem that we can address, and it comes from people learning the value of life and the implications of hatred.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Terra de Boa Gente

They say the last six months of your Peace Corps service fly by. I'm not sure who 'they' are but I beg to differ. These next six months are gonna drag by...just like the months between finding out my date to arrive in Mozambique and actually getting here. I've already bought my ticket home and after a day in Berlin I'll be back on American soil by November 22nd! Knowing that no one short of God Himself can keep me here past that day elates me, but then I remember I've still got six months left and that's enough to mellow me out to just above apathy. Here I will hover and try to squeeze in as many adventures as possible and finish up all of my projects before leaving...all the while dreaming of cheeseburgers and pedicures.

So in celebration of the light at the end of the tunnel finally arriving, I'll update you on some things that have been going on around here. A while back I wrote a grant to fund a musical production group called POSITIVO to come Panda to create and record a song about malaria with some of my students. The group travels all over the country with their sound and video equipment to get young people involved in spreading positive messages to their peers and communities through music. A few weeks ago we were able to bring them here and the result was fantastic. The kids
collaboratively wrote a chorus and individually wrote their own verses. They then performed them over a beat that POSITIVO made and it sounds pretty darn cool. The song is in Portuguese, but the basic message is that we can overcome malaria together if we're not neglectful. After recording the music, they filmed a music video and also performed at our school during the morning break, which was awesome and made them all feel like rockstars.

Two weeks ago we had our provincial workshop for REDES, the girl's empowerment organization I work with. At the workshop all the groups and group leaders from across the province got together to talk about everything from income generation techniques to women's health. I brought along the girls in my group and I was so impressed with them. They had no fear about asking questions that would have surely embarrassed me too much to ask at their age. They also knew so much more than I expected them to about sex, HIV, domestic violence, and how to be successful in business ventures. One of them, Tarcia, was reading ahead and taking notes in her workbook, and when I asked her why she replied that she was "cheating" so that nobody could say that Mana Cara didn't teach the girls from Panda enough. I laughed out loud at that, but it also really touched me. I'm very lucky to be a friend to these awesome girls and to help them make good decisions to become independent and successful women in a place where most girls unfortunately will never have that chance. Also during the workshop the tshirts I designed for this year were unveiled! They have our emblem on the front and on the back they say "I AM....Strong, Capable, Beautiful, Active, Intelligent, Determined, Valuable...I AM A GIRL."

This past weekend I went to Bushfire, a music festival in Swaziland. I've never been to any of the big music fests in the States, but it was definitely a great first experience. There were a lot of local performers from Swazi, South Africa, and Moz but there were also some international groups I've never heard of that I immediately hit up on iTunes upon returning home. Aside from great music for 48 straight hours, the food was enough to make me never want to leave. I had a burrito for the first time since coming here, and there were even a bunch of American dudes with a corndog stand, complete with a lifesized cardboard cutout of Obama holding a corndog. I don't even like corndogs that much, but I definitely ate a few of those for old times sake. Not all new experiences are good, though. I woke up Saturday morning to find 1,000 people in line for about 6 private showers. The other option was the communal outdoor shower, or a partially tarped off area where you can take a freezing cold shower in the mud with a bunch of strangers while even more strangers and random workers on tractors pass by the exposed side. So, since my pride and patience have both been worn pretty thin so far by living the Peace Corps life, I said to hell with it and stripped down. If there was any argument left for how "hippie" I've become, that probably sealed the deal.

On my way back home from the festival, I relied on the kindness of strangers to get me back to Panda. On the final leg of my travel, the driver said upon entering Inhambane Province, "Terra de Boa Gente!" That's our province's slogan, kind of like the "City of Brotherly Love" or "Georgia on My Mind," and it means Land of Good People. It's true. The people I live with are my family. My neighbors, my colleagues, the guy at the post office, strangers on the street...they will all go out of their way to help you out as if they've known you forever. Good people with big hearts that show compassion and generosity towards others...that's what I'll miss most about this place. But I've still got six months to enjoy it! Not to mention projects to manage, lessons to plan, and reports to file, and yeah I'm gonna go ahead and stop procrastinating now. Ate ja!