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White Anti-Racism: No Hairshirt Necessary

Reconsidering Content of Earlier Post Re: Desmond Tutu’s Decoded Genome

It’s such a complex issue! So many questions are raised by the motivations of the research, the scientific results and the media’s reporting of it.

The one thing I am absolutely confident about, is that this research will encourage positive health outcomes for people of African descent in the future. With the addition of Archbishop Tutu and the Bushmen, the human genome project includes 5 of European descent (two of whom are James Watson and Craig Venter– both prominent geneticists), 3 of Asian descent (2 Korean, 1 Chinease) and 3 of African descent (Desmond Tutu, Bushman, Yoruban) plus another three partially decoded Bushman genomes. This distribution is not reflective of the actual percentage breakdown of the global population. VERY importantly, it is not representative of the indigenous populations of the Americas or the Pacific Islands.

Read these for background: 1.  Time– “What Secrets Lie in Archbishop Tutu’s Genome?” 2. Sydney Morning Herald– Cracking an ancient code: Scientist believes Africa can unlock the secrets of disease. (what a headline!) 3. LA Times– Scientists find great genetic differences among southern Africans 4. Newsweek Blog–Desmond Tutu’s Sequenced Genes: How Increased Diversity Helps Doctors Heal

More thoughts to come!

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Filed under: Current Events, Journalism, News, Philosophy & Theory, , , , , ,

2010 Whiter Olympics

Thanks to Zoe M. for linking to White Snow, Brown Rage: The Case Against the Winter Olympics published on Slate. Aside from figure skating, I’ve never had much interest in any of the winter sports, aside from figure skating. And, while I grant that the requirements of figure skating are no less athletically legitimate than those of other Olympic sports (and probably MORE legitimate than those of Shooting), I have always viewed the sport more as a competition of spectacle as opposes to quantifiable ability.

I’m glad people are speaking out against the intertwined racial/geographical exclusion of the winter games; it is absolutely true that, as Raihan Salam puts it, “brown folks hail from largely snowless, tropical climes.” However, I think the selection of sports for the winter games presents as much of a problem within just the US as it does from a global perspective. I don’t care about most winter sports mostly because my family was never wealthy enough to arrange for such excursions and equipment. Most winter sports don’t just require expensive limited-use equipment; for US citizens father than a few hours by car from snowy mountains such activities require entire vacations! Because of this, I don’t think that the winter games have the same capacity to foster a sense of national pride and togetherness. (It’s pretty rare that I advocate for more nationalism…hm) I don’t know how to prove it— might do more research– but I’m sure that the level of enthusiasm within the US for the winter games is markedly lower than it is for the superior summer ones. Thoughts?

Filed under: Current Events, Personal, Pop Culture, Society, , , , , ,

On appreciating Africa

From Loveisntenough:

Do [you] acknowledge that there is no such thing as one African culture–that the continent is one of many nations and peoples with unique cultures? Do you, for instance, work to teach your son about his Ethiopian heritage rather than “generic Africa?”

Do you recognize modern-day Congolese, South Africans or Kenyans as real, living, breathing and nuanced people?

Earlier I posted about my reluctance to teach pre-schoolers to appreciate Africa as part of Black History Month at my school. I don’t like making generalizations about the continent and I don’t think it’s ok to host a project which makes assumptions about each student’s unique heritage and about their families’ attitude towards that heritage. I think the questions asked in the loveisntenough post address this issue quite well.

Filed under: education, Personal, Society, , , , , , , , ,

Portraying Africa

A great paragraph somewhat related to my earlier comments about the dangers of condensing all African countries, from Real Media Ethics.

The problematic element for me was the generic country, which I thought fit too neatly into uncomplicated Western ideas of an unstable African nation. The script’s use of details picked from various African conflicts (ethnic violence, an uprising “in the south,” genocide perpetrated against a once-powerful ethnic minority that sounded an awful lot like “Tutsi,” child soldiers abducted, drugged and forced to commit atrocities, a charismatic and ruthless leader, etc.) and lumping of them into one generic African genocide seemed to play on the audience’s expectations about the Bad Things that happen in Africa. The conflation of conflicts separated by decades and thousands of miles undermined the unique horror of the real conflicts. And it erroneously suggested that those conflicts were interchangeable, apparently bound together by some vague tie of “Africanness.”

I hesitate to draw to neat a comparison between House’s treatment of the continent and the aforementioned project for pre-schoolers; I’m quite sure that neither had malicious intentions. But, while I do think that this episode of House is damaging to our cultural understanding/recognition of Africa, I imagine there is an argument to be made about the possible benefits of small children  approaching the idea of heritage even in a very generalized and unspecific way–I think it’s just not an argument I am interested in making.

Filed under: On TV, , , ,

Age Appropriate Black History Month

I commented on loveisntenough.com earlier and thought it would be appropriate to repost here in slightly edited and expanded form. Sorry if some of the background info is redundant to readers of this blog!:

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I’ve been thinking about the huge variety of opinions regarding what should be involved in Black History Month. I’m not a mom [really only relevant to the fact that this was first written for loveisntenough.com] – I run an afterschool program at a charter school for 3yr olds to Kindergartners with a 95% black population. On Monday my employees and I started to plan activities for the week and to kick off BHM. I’m white and the three employees are black. Each of us had very divergent thoughts about what the focus of BHM is– probably thoughts you’ve all heard before. What really interested me though was the divergence of opinion on what race issues are appropriate to talk about with 3 yr olds. One person wanted to do a project in which the kids placed pictures/drawings of their families on the continent of Africa to symbolize heritage. I’m very in favor of teaching kids as much African history as we do European history, but I really didn’t like this project for three year olds. Firstly, I’m not confident that they would understand the idea. But secondly, I think it’s problematic to treat the continent of Africa as a unified monolithic landmass from whence all black Americans came, with absolutely no knowledge which countries the families’ have actually come from. [Granted, I imagine that it is quite hard for black Americans to trace their lineage back to Africa because of the discontinuity and trauma caused by slavery.]

One of the other people wanted to do a project focusing on the idea that “difference is beautiful/special.” I totally agree that acceptance and respect for one’s differences should be instilled in all children, but I wasn’t comfortable with planting the idea of black as different in the kids’ heads. They go to an all black school in which I don’t think there’s any reason why they would think of themselves as different. While I’m sure they have an awareness of different skin colors and perhaps vague awareness of cultural differences, I’m not convinced that they already associate racial issues with the tension and discomfort that I think this project idea was ultimately intended to address. I’d love to hear thoughts from parents with young kids!

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