This week at my school each class will be giving a cultural presentation on a country for the annual International Thanksgiving Showcase. As luck would have it my class got Africa as a continent (mind you, I’m the only African-American in my school). I suggested that we present on Tanzania since I’ve been there before and could offer a small dose of information.
Sounds like a great opportunity to share knowledge with my students, right?! NOT.
Not only have I been working with clueless students, I’ve also been working with a clueless teacher whom believes that all of the input she has must be true because she has one African friend… from Nigeria.
Weeks and weeks of watching them just type in “African ________” instead of “Tanzanian _______” because ALL Africans must dress, eat, and dance the same; Google half-naked pictures of tribes men and parade the pictures around, turning the class into a zoo of animal noises; dance wildly in a circle and chanting nonsense language; laugh at
Tanzanians Africans: what they wear, how they dance, how they look; assume anything remotely primitive, made out of sticks and dirt would do because that’s how Tanzanians ALL Africans live, weeks and weeks of this crap, of trying to undo all the ignorance that has plagued their minds for years has me emotionally worn out.
Weeks and weeks of trying to tiptoe around cultural corrections among students and teachers so as to not come off too strong, because as one student said: “It’s just for fun.”
But culture should never be a mockery or some 5 minute act in flamboyant costumes. It should be respected and treated with decency.
So when Kyla Lacey opens up with the first words of her poem: We learned your [insert numerous languages]” it’s not just clever words in a line for me, I’ve seen this truth lived out for weeks and weeks. My students had no idea what Swahili was, they thought that all people from Africa spoke “African”.
I kind of get it. Why? Because during rehearsal even the MC, an educated teacher, told one of students to “say something in African.”
I’ve been staring in the face of white privilege for weeks, worn out, and counting down the days until all of this ends, when they step off the stage and the curtains close.