"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

3.13.2010

the lens of our perception

I think my concern is that all too often Sudan and other places in the world are represented through the lens of our perception of them, which is a lack-oriented view, where we see the only the things that people lack, or suffer from. We view things in this way, because we ourselves have those things – perhaps we even take them for granted – and our societies tell us that these are inherent entitlements of all human beings. It is difficult coming from a different cultural position, to see the many things that people in places like Sudan DO have, which we don’t; or the many wonderful ways of doing and being that exist here, that we can learn from. Interaction is always two ways and this is not reflected in this kind of discourse.

Even in difficult situations like conflict or food shortages, there are day to day relations between people that are somewhat normal and/or mundane. There are the ‘normal’ identities of people as fathers, mothers, friends and neighbours, which form an equally important part of who they are, and how they cope in these situations; more importantly there are many beautiful and inspiring things that people do in difficult times, to help themselves and each other. Shouldn’t this be highlighted too?

Another thing that I question in such narratives is what purpose, or rather whose purpose, do they serve? I often feel that we select our representation of people and places based on achieving our own goals as advocacy organisations. Granted this mostly stems from a desire to help, but I cannot see how perpetuating a stereotype of Africans as oppressed, fearful, hungry and poor, is the right way to help Africans.
That's a quote from Neha Erasmus of Justice Africa in a debate on representations in advocacy with the Enough Project's Maggie Flick at Making Sense of Sudan. I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been working in South Sudan for the past 3 months or so and I've been struggling with this for the whole time. I've been meaning to write more about what I've been experiencing, but I've had a hard time writing about anything other than death and destruction. I've worked in Tanzania and Uganda in the past. In both places I've had a rather easy time conveying the positive aspects of their respective cultures, how they support one another, and all the various reason to remain optimistic. I want to be able to convey the beauty and vibrancy of South Sudan, but every time I sit down to write all I can think about are how our vehicles get held up at gun point, or our staff gets beat in the field by SPLA soldiers during disarmament, and all the things people here lack or suffer from. One main reason is that things really are bad here. Life is hard, even compared to poverty in Tanzania and Uganda. So my compromise has been to say little publicly because I don't want to perpetuate myths, and instead I've written personal emails to people that I know don't think of Africa of the land of 'rape and lions'. It's probably not the best compromise. I probably should try and convey the positive aspects of this place (other than the mangoes). But it's been something of a challenge.

Sunday, March 14, 2010 5:43:00 AM

 
Blogger texasinafrica said...

Anon, I know that feeling. It's really hard to capture the full essence of a place in words, isn't it? Especially when that place can be scary and exhausting.

Sunday, March 14, 2010 5:56:00 PM

 

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