What's the best way to behave when we encounter others? The answers to that question properly should begin, "It depends." It's truly facinating all of the permutations of culture. I've always loved this anecdote:
Some part of me is very keen on this process of discovering and composing civilized ways of being. Perhaps I truly misunderstand what Gandhi was saying--if indeed this anecdote actually transpired--but for me the great wisdom in his response was to turn our attention away from a static view of civilzation to a dynamic view where our behaviors matter.
Reporter: What do you think of western civilization?
Mahatma Gandhi: I think it would be a good idea.
Yesterday I read a blog post at Black Academic and I cringed at this:
the national asociation of black social workers argues that when white people adopt a black child, it is cultural genocide.Even with my very limited knowledge, I think it's fair to say that the position of The National Association of Black Social Workers about cross racial adoptions is more nuanced. But I'm sure the shorter version is widely held. I'm uncomfortable with using "genocide" in this way, partly in fear that the meaning og genocide is diluted. My ideas about culture are also loosey-goosey and that gets me into all sorts of trouble.
Pictured is a photograph taken in Ethiopia of a traditional meal. The pancake is called engera (injera) and it's made from a grain called teff. Teff is a grain from a grass called Eragrotis tef. As a hobby gardener learning the names of plants comes slowly and grasses have proven to be really hard for me to learn. Still there are several varieties of Eragotis that grow in the U.S. mostly annual bunch grasses. The name comes from Eros + the Greek word for grass, so sometimes the common name: love grass. The grain is very small so another common name is lost grass. Teff is extremely important in Ethiopia and Etreia but somewhat mysteriously isn't grown for grain elsewhere in Africa. Perhaps one reason is the difficulty in harvesting as the stems tend to flop when the grain is ripe.
I was interested to see a news report by Roxana Hegeman of A.P. about experiments growing teff here in the U.S.
WICHITA, Kan. — When Kansas farmers Gary and Gil Alexander were approached with the idea of growing teff, an Ethiopian cereal grain, they were intrigued by the crop's connection to Africa.It may seem a little derisive to use Ann Douglas's term mongrel for American culture, but there's an appealing honesty to it. The Alexanders were first interested in teff using the connection between Ethiopia and their personal connection to Nicodemus, Kansas but soon realised that the grain had wider appeal as a low-gluten alternative to wheat.
The cousins, who are descendants of former slaves who first settled the northwestern Kansas town of Nicodemus, decided to plant their first teff crops there last spring in hopes of finding a cultural niche.
A rather well-known pitfall of development projects in Africa--and probably elsewhere--occurs when scientists from the Global North go to Africa with a "pet" plant, animal, or technique they imagine as a panecea. I'm always interested in finding out about commercial crops that might have potential in Africa, but I have to remind myself of the pitfalls of too great an attatchment to them. So in reading about the Alexander's experiments in growing teff, I thought the cultural connection that first captured their imagination was significant. It was a kind of dialog with their historical roots that has important ramifications for agricultural research in and for Africa.
I am often told by black Americans that I lack cultural sensitivity, and since I hear it often enough, it's something I really ought to pay attention too. If that's true here in my dealings with my fellow Americans, it's probably doubly important for me to keep in mind when engaging with Africans. I want to eat more Ethiopian food, it's quite tastey. I like to mix things up, and it stems from my view of culture being alive and creative. Clearly culture contains memory like all living things. It's hard sometimes to know where the line lies as far as cultural appropriation versus theft.
Black Academic asks in re cross racial adoptions:
why aren't these white folks using their power and privilege to help place black children into black homes instead of taking away children and "colonizing" them.I'm sure that I'm not conciously aware of my "priviledge" and surely it is good thing to bring that a little more to the surface, especially in encountering Africans. When I refer to "my African friends" it's something like fingernails across a blackboard to many of my black American friends. For me "colonializtion" requires a bit more intent than my unconsciousness of my "white priviledge" would make. Clearly I don't imagine myself as a neo-colonialist. But Black Academic raises a very important point that goes beyond the U.S. and is very relvant to Americans, especially white Americans towards Africans.
It's a conundrum that seems only answerable through openness and dialog. One of the really important innovations that the Internet allows is many-to-many communications. It's very important that Africans make their voices available. And human civilization depends on our ability to listen to the many voices.
I saw news of a major earthquake in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire. The AFrican continent is the most stable geologically in the world, so the news surprised me. This explanation intrested me; I learn something everyday:
It is a rare example of an active continental rift zone, where a continental plate is attempting to split into two plates which are moving away from one another.
Update: I received a nice email from Oscar H. Blayton the writer of the truly wonderful All African (Self-Help) Bazaar and he provided me with a wonderful African saying:
Keep encouraging your friends in Uganda to do more blogging.
"Until the lions tell their own stories, only the hunters will be said to be heroes."