By Alexis T.
This week’s discussions have really worked to decolonize my mind and open my eyes to a new perspective. The week started with a thought provoking conversation on race. After a presentation by a University of Namibia professor, we gained an understanding of how racism has been woven into society despite the constitution that guarantees rights to all. He provided examples such as the price of private schools being unaffordable for Blacks, expensive gated communities that reserve the right of entry to certain persons, and admissions exams in Afrikaans, a language spoken predominantly by Whites. During our discussion after the presentation, the white students in the classroom came to the realization that because of the color of their skin, and the privileges that come with it, they had been blind to these forms of discrimination. Jamila pointed out that for the first time in our lives, as whites, we were fish out water, a reality that was everyday for her and Gail, the two American people of color in the classroom. This was a reference to Pastor Allen Story’s talk on the way that race is perceived. As white Americans, we are like fish in water, we are blind to the substance surrounding us because the water is our state of normalcy. For any person of color in America, they are constantly taken out of the water. They are told they must be from somewhere else, are reduced to stereotypes associated with their race, and judged for their accents or foreign languages all because their skin is darker than the majority. It was not until I came to Southern Africa that I began to experience these things. For the first time in my life my existence was questioned. Where was I from? What kind of accent is that? I have had my hair pulled and I have been stared at like an animal in a zoo on multiple occasions. For the first time in my life, I am a fish out of water. However, although I am a fish out of water, my experience does not compare to those of color. Although I am questioned and looked at funny, I am not discriminated for my skin color. For these reasons I can only try to understand the suffering and struggles of people of color, and not assume that I know how they feel and that I have, in fact, been in their shoes.
|Photo of University of Namibia where the lecture by a UNam Professor took place.|
The reality is that people of color have been discriminated against since the start of colonization and not much has changed. The ways in which discrimination is perpetrated is just done cleverly and around the law. Further, despite our knowledge of this discrimination, not much is done to amend for the tragedies of the past or bring an end to the subtler forms of racism. Shark Island in Luderitz, one of the largest concentration camps in Namibia, for example, has been reduced to a campsite. People pay to live on an island that forced members of the Herero and Nama community to build a railroad and homes in just three years with minimal food and water in harsh, windy conditions. An average of 112 people died per day, and the only acknowledgement is of the hero Captain Cornelius Fredericks. Nowhere on the island is acknowledgement of how many people died, what the community went through, the experimentations that occurred in the hospital, or even the mention of any names other than Fredricks. Instead, there is a memorial for German soldiers who perpetrated the violence, complete with names. Very few people understand the history of Shark Island and it is believed that the name is derived from the shape of the island. Oral tradition, however, states that those who died during the genocide were fed to the sharks since the ground is mostly rock and it would be impossible to give hundreds of people a proper burial. It is insulting that former concentration camp has been written out of history and that is has been reduced to a campsite, rather than becoming a sacred space that acknowledges the discrimination the Hereros and Namas faced.
|The memorial of Captain Cornelius Fredricks located on Shark Island|
|The area in which the Herero and Nama were forced to live|
on Shark Islant without proper shelter in the harsh, windy conditions
Another example from this week in which the plight of people of color was erased from history is that of Kolmanskuppe, the ghost town. During our tour of this former mining town, we were shown all of the entertainment facilities for the Germans in town. The tour guide boasted about how every individual was given a block of ice and gallons of water free of charge. We saw the large homes of the principal, doctor, and entertainment coordinator, one of which had a marble bathtub. It was not until prompted that the guide acknowledged that hundreds of Namibian workers did not have access to these entertainment facilities, and that the food and water they were consuming was deducted from their pay check. We were not allowed to see the living conditions of those workers whose homes resided in the restricted area of the town. Despite the knowledge, little is done to acknowledge the suffering of people of color or right it. If you are not doing anything, you are contributing to the problem. As individuals we must do better to bring the injustices of the past to light and right the wrongs of the present.
Abandoned homes in the mining town of Kolmanskuppe.