26 February 2013

Porcelain Idols

I am having wonderful, eye-opening experiences just one after another; I feel like my time here in Ghana is being so well spent. This weekend I went to the Volta region and fed wild monkeys, climbed the tallest point of Ghana, and swam in a waterfall- awesome. However, I have to admit….I am mentally exhausted. They say that studying abroad is like a roller-coaster- one minute you’re at the climax of your life and feeling unstoppable, and the next your stomach is turning and you just want your mother.  There are so many cultural and social differences that I just want to understand, but the adjustments needed to fit in have proven to be very difficult. I’m having no problems connecting and making genuine friendships, but at the moment I am being faced with constant cultural challenges. Being white in Ghana is much different than being, well, anything else but white in America. Let me explain…

Chapter Four: Porcelain Idols

Cape Coast Slave Fort

Everywhere I go I am constantly stared at; this wouldn't bother me so much if it were simply because I’m different, but that’s not the case at all. Yesterday I spoke with a Ghanaian man about his opinion of Ghana and America; he told me something that just about broke my heart. A Ghanaian actually said, “The white way is the right way, because they have everything they want.” He told me the reason they all stare at me so much is because they idolize me; they see a wealthy human being with all the means in the world to make her dreams come true, all because of my ethnicity. The bit that really bothered me about his view was when he said, “white people are the most powerful and wealthy people in the world and that’s why Africans want to be your friend.” Ouch…I understand that education brings truth and awareness that not all Ghanaians are privileged to have, but my feelings are, nonetheless, hurt. I’m getting very worn out on looks of monetary interest and Africans trying to take advantage of me just because of this ideal my skin color falsely portrays.  I am trying not to be discouraged; after all, Americans have their own perceptions of Africa as well. Many think all Africans hunt and gather and live in mud huts…some do, but most do not.  Some of the world’s first and greatest civilizations were based in Africa- where would any white man be without African foundations and labor? I see every single day just how privileged I am to be American, so I can understand this Ghanaian perception -But is white culture and history the one to idolize?

My conversation with the Ghanaian man started by him asking what I thought of racism; I explained to him that I believe it is a crime to humanity. Racism implies a genetic superiority and difference between human beings according to this socially constructed ideology of “race”. Race itself doesn't even exist; someone of a completely different color and gender can be more genetically similar to you than someone of your same color and gender. The foundation of race comes from times of slavery when the Europeans believed that buying an African meant saving him or her from a barbaric way of life otherwise. When I got to Ghana the first things I learned, beside how humid it is, was the truth about slavery. To bluntly and briefly explain- Europeans planted the seed of dependency in Africans to the point that they would do anything to obtain European comforts. Africans, long ago, banned their criminals to other societies that would take them in and allow them to start over and rise within that social system, but after the Europeans came along the criminals were sold off. The rise in demand and prices for slaves forced Africans into an economy solely of short-term interests rather than long term, an economy that is still affected today. Maybe I’m just behind, but regardless, my schooling never taught me this truth; I never knew that Africans actually sold their own people. I never had to experience the great suffering their economy still feels, until now. The slave trade got them into patterns of trade and business that only helps them so short-term and never in the long-run. They played just as much a part of the trade as white people...but the oppression they face today is mostly on us. 

Africa has been, for the last couple hundred years, a primary producer- they give us the raw, natural goods for very cheap and we secondary and tertiary producers utilize these goods for further production…only to sell it back to the very source we bought it from for a much greater price. Take chocolate for example- cocoa from Africa is bought for very little by America and Europe, who adds all the fatty ingredients to make it tasty and then sells it to industries and corporations that just sell it right back to Africa for much higher prices than they sold the cocoa for…talk about oppression. They give more than they are able to receive.  Africa does not have the money, or rather is not allowed the opportunity to gain money, and not yet the education to become secondary and tertiary producers; they are forced to allow other countries to take their resources for granted. Some say this is their fault, but as human beings we should all know better to not take advantage of a culture that way.

White culture has been, and still is, to take ruthlessly without thinking of the harm it may do to others. Yet, we are all porcelain idols. Our history shows that white people came to power and wealth by suppressing those of other cultures; it’s an ugly history, but there is nothing to do but remember and move forward. We must be thankful for our privileges, forgive ourselves and one another for historic relations, and move on…or like those kids of the 90’s would say: “Cry me a river, build me a bridge, and get over it.” That puts a whole new, positive, spin on the phrase don’t you think? Education prevents history from repeating itself, if it’s taught truthfully.If we are truly learning from our ancestor’s mistakes, then why are we moving so slowly? Why do we human beings put our own countries and economy before one another? Why are we not yet entirely human beings for human beings? We are all equals, equally at fault...and it is time to be equally involved.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 
― Margaret Mead

Nante Yie.
Emily Chamberlain