Monday, May 16, 2016

Week Fourteen: Continuing on the Path of Decolonizing Our Minds

by: Ashly Brun, Molly Weilbacher & Sydney Wipperfurth

With just two final weeks left of the semester, it really sank in with the CGEE students that our time in Namibia is coming to an end. Most people said goodbye to their internships, co-workers and for the most part our classes. Last week we had two incredible learning experiences in our Development and History classes. For Development, we visited the International Organization for Migration (IOM) where we learned about the reality of refugee and migration issues in Namibia. In History class we had Mr. Forrest P. Branch, an economist, and Pastor Tyrone M. Cushman (both originally from the states) speak to us about Africa’s economy, the question of “why Africa is so poor,” the civil rights movement, what it means to be black in America, and the issue of race both in specifically Southern Africa and the U.S.

Our visitor passes when we went
to the International Organiza-
tion for Migrantion.
As defined on the United Nations Namibia website, “the IOM is the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration and works to help ensure the orderly and humane management of migration, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search of practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need…” The IOM established their in-country presence in 2011 after a flood displaced a significant number of Namibians ("International Organization for Migration." Namibia. ). We learned that there is a refugee camp in Northern Namibia which, at this time, is home to about 5,000 refugees. Originally, there were about 25,000 refugees, but the majority of those has been either relocated or repatriated by the Namibian state and incorporated into Namibian society. Although, we did learn that because of some xenophobia in the country, resettling of refugees and migrants into Namibia can be a difficult and lengthy process. After learning about societal difficulties with migration in the Namibian context, we learned more about the legacies of racism and the difficulties experienced by those during segregation, in our history class. 

History class challenged all of us to face the reality and legacy of racism and resistance. Forest Branch, our speaker, told us he moved to Africa when he was 25 and has lived here for the past twenty years. He spoke to us about what it means to be a black American in Africa: that while he is not African, he feels more at home and at ease here than when he visits the States. He spoke specifically about how he feels safer to be black here, with an especially chilling remark: “If I get shot here, or put in jail, it won’t be because I’m black.” Hearing about his experiences here really brought home what we have been studying in our history class in terms of the difference of race relations in North America and Southern Africa. 

Furthermore, Forest is also an extremely successful economist and business owner. He spoke about the history of colonization in Africa and how it set Africa up for its current day problems: for example, how Africa went from over 6,000 diverse kingdoms to becoming consolidated into 53 countries, creating false borders and conflicts. Because of Africa’s history of colonization and oppression by foreigners, Forest argued, the “biggest thing that has impacted Africa is the lack of self-confidence," the self-confidence to run companies, to be employees that take initiative, and the self-confidence to exist in the public sphere. He spoke a lot about foreign aid to Africa and the question of where does it go and who does it actually serve. He spoke about foreign trade agreements, saying “80% of problems we have in Africa are imbalances in trade, 20% is with political instability, and half of those instabilities are caused by interference from the U.S.” He spoke about how absolutely rich Africa could be if it didn’t have an imbalance in paternalistic trade agreements with Western countries who extract Africa’s natural resources for purely their own benefits. It was so important to hear someone speak critically about Namibia’s economy and situate that in the larger economic issues of African countries. The narrative Forest offered was integral for us to hear as it is vital to deconstruct the common narrative and myths about Africa’s economic status. 

Forest brought along his friend and mentor, Pastor Kushman, who spoke to us about his experiences in the civil rights movement, race issues in America, and what it means to be black in America versus Africa. His speech brought home our whole experience at the CGEE. The room fell silent as we attentively listened to Pastor Kushman. He described how he marched alongside Dr. King in Michigan just a week before his “I Have a Dream” speech. He read passages from his book in which he explained how he felt as a black American who fought in the Civil Rights movement when Pres. Obama was elected for his first term in office. We all had goosebumps–you could feel the energy in the air as he so passionately recounted history. He spoke about the church’s role in combating racism, and how "the worse racism of all is the racism that uses God as the cover." He called on white people, specifically white churches, to take cue from fellow black churches to combat racism. He spoke about how "in order to get to the root of change we need to deal with cause and effect, we need to deal with cultures and the good and bad," and the difference in the upbringing of a black child versus white child. 

The radical voices of both Forest and Pastor Cushman commanded the attention of the whole room, and really made each student reflect upon the reality we are re-entering at home, after spending four months studying the reality of race in Southern Africa. We had experienced people opening old wounds to share their story of oppression, and people who were willing to share their culture with us. We were called upon to remember our duties are not done, that we still need to fight, and decolonize our minds as the issue of racism in America is rampant. We need to feel equipped to stay alert and challenge issues of racism, economic, and social inequality back home. 
In order to challenge issues of racism and inequality back home, it’s vital that we recognize our position as anti-racists. In order address racism, we need to recognize racism within ourselves. Recognizing racism within yourself requires introspection and a capacity to critique oneself. However, recognizing is not enough. Here is where we call for anti-racism. Being anti-racist requires that you actively oppose racist actions, structures, and institutions and recognize your position of power in those institutions.

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