who do you think you are? (identity, constructivism, and colonialism)

I am not an African, I am not an American, I am not white, I am not black, I am not a Michigander, I am not a catholic, I am from no country, I am of no nation. I like to consider myself a global citizen, a person of the world. The constructed boundaries of countries hold no bearing in my mind, I see no lines drawn upon the earth and I believe that no falsely imposed blockade of governments can hold me back. We are all people of this world and being so we all hold the same basic hopes and dreams. Everyone wants enough food to eat, clean water to drink, a shelter to be warm or safe, education for themselves and their children, and most importantly to be loved by one another. There are no boundaries when people care.

So you may be thinking, this guy is a crazy social constructivist and an idealist – sure if you’d like to use the language of old, white, men with too much time spent on picking at the elements of human nature, then sure I am a social constructivist and an idealist.

A recent article in the BBC: Identity: Who do you think you are? explores the changing roles of ‘African’ identity. Soon Ghana will be holding its 50th Anniversary of becoming independent from colonial rule. If you do not know the history of Africa and colonialism, the continent was divided at the Berlin Conference of 1884-5 by the leaders of Europe. These leaders gave no attention to ‘nations’ of people, or ethnic groups or lands held, or really anything that would pertain to the continent besides gaining the most property. This led to the division of nations within countries.

What I believe is the most important excerpt from the BBC article follows:

“People should be able to move freely and transcend all forms of mental and physical boundaries. Family and national belongings should not be used to divide us but to better understand each other and bridge our gaps because we have a lot that unites us. I have become a black man in Europe but I try to move beyond that and not to let others impose their will on me. I am what I am because of circumstances and choices I make in life. I believe I am my own country: the clothes I wear are my national flag; the song I sing in the shower is my national anthem and all my body parts are the different departments and ministries of my government. The social ministry goes to the eyes, mouth and ears. The home affairs ministry functions through the heart and the brain and my sexual organs have the most important portfolio covering foreign affairs. To be a human being is to understand oneself by understanding others. This can only be achieved by creating relationships with other fellow humans on the basis of true humanism: one love; one heart and one destiny.”

Who do you think you are? This question I feel goes along very well with YP4’s question of ‘What do you stand for?’ Do you identify with family, ethnicity, religon, region, or country? Who are you and what do you stand for?

what’s in a language? . . . what’d you say?

Language is a beautiful thing. The exciting flow of espanol, the beauty of french, the hard sound of german, the elegance of italian, the omnipresence of english. . . but wait those are all European languages, what is so great about them? This is a question that crosses my mind when I think of my dreams to live and work in Africa. I need to know English (got that down) to communicate in former British colonies. For example the national language of Uganda is English, but there are over 50 local languages. I will need to know French, which I am currently taking, to communicate in most West African, former French colonies, and Portuguese and German for some areas. I can’t say that I am too thrilled by that except that I love to learn languages. This year at University I am taking my first year of French and my second year of Swahili.

I won’t even begin to delve into the extremely impactful consequences of colonization, but I will say that I hope if you plan to travel for an extended period in Africa that you learn an African language. Before I graduate and move on from my undergraduate studies I plan on knowing Swahili, Arabic, French, some Hausa and some Zulu. I am prepared to be able to immerse myself into the culture of the people who I will meet and to communicate with those people in their native tongue.

The other day in my French class, the student from Zambia was having trouble pronouncing the difficult french words where you don’t pronounce half the word and the teacher was giving her quite a hard time about it. It is my first year taking French as well and I can understand the difficulty, but our teacher seemed to be overly harsh. She is a native French-speaker and I assume quite picky about how her language is articulated. The first thing that flashed to mt mind was the colonization of Africa and the colonizers forcing their language on the native-African people. Zambia was not colonized by the French, but the image is no less disturbing. How can someone even come to think that they have the greater knowledge on how to live and work than another? How can one person believe that they have the claim to walk all over someone else because they are not from the same area or background? This I don’t know, but it happens still today. Don’t be that person. Learn a greeting in a new language today!