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June 15, 2011

Let me clarify: I was not trying to understate the danger that Kate, Margot, and others are facing in Uganda.  I understand what it’s like to have no authority to rely on.  I’ve lived in a country where the police and the government were incredibly corrupted and the danger of being attacked, physically, sexually, whatever, was very real, so I can see where Kate and Margot are coming from.  As women, we’re taught to be careful when walking around by ourselves, regardless of where we are.  How high up we put our guards, though, depends on the area we’re in and all that’s associated with that area.  Being that, in general, the governments in Africa are more corrupted than here, Kate and Margot, you should definitely be cautious.  But remember that we, as Americans, sometimes try so hard to separate ourselves from others when, in fact, there are a lot of similarities; we just choose to ignore what we don’t want to confront.  Just because we don’t openly talk about rape in the States does not mean it happens less frequently or that the consequences are better than in “underdeveloped” countries.

Anyway, my point was not about the risk of getting raped in Africa and what that implied about the continent and its peoples.  My point was to encourage people to be mindful of what they say and how they say it.  Sometimes, we make comments that perpetuate biased ideas and thoughts.  Obviously, that is not our intention, but it’s really easy to repeat the oppressive behavior we’ve been taught unless we’re conscious to act against it.  We’ve been conditioned to internalize all sorts of stereotypes and prejudices, including ones of Africa.  So when we hear “This is Africa,” automatically there are all those preconceived notions we’ve been trained to believe, whether they be negative or positive.  I just want us to be aware of those thoughts and how we can un-train ourselves from that sort of thinking.  I am not in any way criticizing Margot’s host mother, but think of the difference between “People get raped here” and “THIS IS AFRICA.  People get raped here.”  There is a connotation there, a connotation we don’t want people to take as truth.  This is the same when we describe something as “ghetto” or “gay.”  One may not hold any prejudices against the LGTBQ community, but describing something as being “gay” still puts the gay community in a negative light.  And “ghetto” is not even an adjective.  If we’re choosing to use it as one, we should at least know the history of the word and why it’s such an oppressive term.  These two examples are still so commonly used and this is how our generation speaks, but we need to change that – we need to be more conscious when we speak.

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