Can I make this joke?

Is it ever OK for an academic to make jokes? I would like to think so, yes.

Is it ever OK for an academic to make jokes using phrases she tries to fight against in her work? I don’t know the answer to that. I want to say yes, that everything should be taken in its context, but I’m not sure. As I am not sure whether it is ever OK, or when it’s not OK, to make racist or sexist jokes.

I believe in the power of words and narratives. I don’t think words come out of a vacuum, I do think history and power dynamics are embedded in most words we use. And I also think choosing certain words over some others influence how we perceive the exact same thing those two different terms are meant to designate. This is why we are continuously cultivating a Politically Correct culture, and trying to change our perception from ‘less developed countries’ to ‘developing countries’ or from ‘queer’ to ‘gay’ and back to ‘queer’. Most of the time, there is a dominating group and an oppressed group represented in words we use, and almost all the time, we tend to follow the narrative of the dominating group. Unfortunately, we also focus so much on the PC culture that we forget about the bigger system that makes the PC culture necessary in the first place. But that’s for another discussion.

Yet the world and our lives are riddled with subtle and not-so-subtle expressions that betray the inherently unequal system we are living in, and which, as a person and as an academic, I try to speak up against, one way or the other. What I want to believe is that a word has power only as much as we intend to give it. And that this power changes over time and place. There was a time when the word ‘Oriental’ was used in both academic and daily settings to designate the ‘non-West’, and the word was not just a jumble of alphabet letters but also a betrayal of the different and the exotic the ‘non-West’ represented. Today, rare are the instances when that word is used to describe what it intended (or at least by the people I personally know – whether or not these people have had that word thrown at them by others, I can’t vouch for). Instead, I would be OK to use it to make fun of a system and time period that came up with that word and concept in the first place. Power was given. But I choose to take back that power and treat it as the nonsensical word it should have been. I think the same can be said for the word ‘queer’. Although I’m not an expert in Gender Studies and Sexuality, the word ‘queer’ in its dictionary sense, means ‘weird, strange, unusually different’, and was used to designate the LGBTQ population. Today, the power given to the word ‘queer’ is different. Because change happens. We change ourselves, our norms, our values. There are no rules as to how these things change and who has the authority to change them. But I would like to believe I have the power and perception to be part of these changes. To take back the power that the oppressing group gave and turn it as a joke against them and why not, against me, since I also have privileges others don’t. To make a joke without fearing the backlash from other ‘intellectuals’ and ‘academics’ who assume they have the monopoly on what is right or wrong, without realizing that by doing that, they are only giving back power to the word, power that I had taken away.

So yes, maybe, I’m allowed to make certain jokes using ‘offensive’ words. Or maybe not.

I would also like to think that as academics, we are first and foremost human beings. And as human beings, we live with other people. We learn how to be social. Do I, perhaps, feel a teeny tiny speck of discomfort when my friends make fun of Asians? Maybe. Sometimes. Do I stand up to them and tell them I’m offended and I’m the only one that is allowed to make these jokes? Certainly not. I love making ‘That’s what she said’ jokes. No, I pride in making them when they’re least expected. Does that make me less of a feminist because by making the joke, I do not question how it is based on a purely sexualized version of the woman? I don’t think so. Life would just be too sad without ‘that’s what she said’ jokes.

Academics are so engulfed in their perspective of what is right and wrong in the world that they often forget their complaint about ‘not reaching out to the rest of the population’ is on them. I mean, yes, our indignant cries about how climate change is real and how racism is real fall on deaf ears, and that may not be solely our fault – there are stupid and irrational people everywhere. But academics can take on the responsibility of ‘educating the world’ without necessarily being a jerk, using some humor and there appropriately. There is a reason so many people love Jon Stewart, Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, and the likes, and so few people read our boring articles filled with jargon and fixations on less important things.

I believe in making this world a better place and in changing people’s minds, however little my contribution may be, all the while still managing to be somewhat ‘human’. The other day, I was talking to this very nice European woman who shares my Airbnb about intercultural experiences. When she mentioned about the ‘negative effects’ of colonization – which revealed that she also assumed there were ‘positive effects’, I didn’t express my indignation, although I firmly believe whatever so-called ‘positiveness’ there was through colonization, it all becomes meaningless in face of the destruction it left. Why? Because I knew her grandfather was in Africa and worked as a colonizer and I didn’t want to tell her that her grandfather was a horrible human being for complying with what was happening at the time. Because we were having a nice conversation and I knew we would be seeing each other fairly often, for quite some time during my stay. Because I didn’t think it was my place to stain her own experience and family history. I thought that I did enough by not reinforcing that, yes, there were indeed positive effects. Did that make me a bad academic? Maybe. But I would rather be a mediocre academic than a jerk of a human being.

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We don’t need your white guilt

Yesterday, I had my very first argument on Facebook – with someone I barely know, as go all Facebook arguments. I, unlike many so-called ‘intellectuals’, do NOT believe in Facebook arguments. There, I said it. I don’t think Facebook is the right platform to conduct healthy discussions on issues that matter. Let’s face it, Facebook is oftentimes an outlet for people to brag about their deeds and their ‘morality’ with the appearance of caring about the world and humanity. Yes, sure, I do acknowledge that it’s a good way to be up to date with current news and issues (but even then, your feed will probably be covered with things you already agree with). But unlike what it professes to be, its ‘social network’ only expands to people users are already close to. Otherwise there wouldn’t be any privacy setting. I personally use it to ‘be moral’ and share news articles that I think are important and that I think make me look smart. I also use it to put funny and sarcastic statuses and pictures because that’s my vanity – believing my friends when they tell me that they like my Facebook statuses because I’m a funny gal. Yes, I know. I take pleasure and pride when people like me, or when they tell me they like me. Sue me.

This is why Facebook arguments are often (not always) useless because no matter how long my comments are, they will never truly be able to show my history, my identity, my background, and my experiences. They will be taken out of context by people who don’t know me and interpreted according to their history, identity, background, and experiences. When we live in a world where people can barely get through decent conversations face-to-face, how likely is it that we would be able to change people’s minds drastically through Facebook? Let’s not kid ourselves.

No, it is not possible to ‘have intellectual conversations’ where our ‘personal’ feelings don’t get involved. Everything is personal. So don’t blame me for being ‘defensive’ and ‘taking things personally’ when I’m being insulted and attacked under the guise of ‘intellectual debate’. It is possible to be ‘insulting’ while using words such as ‘sorry you feel that way’, ‘yes that is fair’, or ‘I didn’t mean to offend you’. Just because you use ‘civilized’ expressions doesn’t mean you can’t be insulting and condescending.

Having put this very long preface, this is what happened. It’s too long and complicated to summarize, and I wanted to be as objective as possible, so here goes – I explicitly made this post ‘public’.  (Click on the picture to see the comments). On another thought, I could have made the ‘commenter’ anonymous to protect her privacy, but that would have been too much trouble (ain’t nobody got time for that) and she chose to be on this public intellectual debate in the first place, so….

I have MANY MANY things to say about this, but will say this one thing – for now. I may go on several ranting posts after this.

One of the fundamental truths White People (WP from hereon – and I put this in capital letters because I am not speaking about all white people, but the history and privilege white people represent as a racial group) seem to believe, is that it is absolutely degrading and immoral to see Africa or African countries as both ‘poor’ and ‘wealthy’, as being the homes of both ‘joy’ and ‘pain’. They have (and still do) portrayed Africa in such a negative light for so many years in so many ways that the ‘woke’ thing to do now is acknowledge that Africa has much more to offer than just ‘poverty’, ‘malnutrition’, and ‘child mortality’. And yes, that is true. Africa is much more than that. Like ANY OTHER CONTINENT.

Why do WP go on talking about wealth gaps in ‘developed’ countries like the States, but the moment we mention that ‘some’ Africans may not practice Yoga (a very privileged leisure in places other than India), we have committed an immoral crime? Why can’t WP acknowledge that, like in ALL societies, poverty AND wealth cohabit in African communities? Why do WP feel the need to protect Africa, like it’s a child that knows nothing and stumbles into the harsh real world completely blindfolded? Colonization has been over for more than half a century now, but the white guilt coming from it is so strong that now the reverse has occurred – there is absolutely no way you can talk about serious issues in Africa, such as poverty and civil wars, without being a ‘racist’. You MUST acknowledge its potential! Its future! Its people full of hopes! WE  ARE ALL EQUAL! WP fail to see this is just ANOTHER White narrative they are imposing on their former colonies. A ‘more positive’ one, sure, on the outside, but just as condescending.

WP love talking about ‘African culture’ and admire it because it offers hospitality, a sense of community, and so forth. This is still another form of ‘exoticizing’ Africa. Africa is not the ‘black continent’ where people die under miserable conditions. But neither is it a place where children run happily without shoes because, you know, that’s happiness for them.

So no, it’s not OK to use the hashtag #firstworldproblem assuming Africans don’t have cell phones or don’t have to deal with mosquitos. But it’s also not OK to impose your white guilt on everything and pretend yoga is a national pastime. It is OK to think some people would have found my downward dog on the yard ‘the whitest thing ever’. I’m sure the Senegalese maid at the house I’m staying at rolled her eyes at me. And so did her brother that came in later. And I’m OK with that. I had never felt ‘whiter’ than that moment I was doing my Vinyasa being bitten by mosquitos (this is meant to be sarcastic – just pointing it out). It is OK, no, necessary, to understand a community, a country, a culture, a region, with all its complexities and differences. It is OK to think and say that problems and hope exist together. Denying either one only shows your white superiority complex that YOU know what’s best for them, because it makes YOU feel better.

 

What Women Want

This video enrages me. Among all the crap I’ve read and heard related to the Hollaback! video, I think this one makes the top of my list. Let’s for a moment set aside the fact that white men have been omitted from the original video and that the issue of race/color is one that has been made nonexistent, when it shouldn’t.

There’s a point in the video where the man interviewee says something in the lines of “Women love being complimented”. And you know what, that is absolutely true. Women love to be complimented, we enjoy when we are told that we are beautiful, that we have a nice smile, that we have a cute outfit that fits us perfectly.

A-Compliment-for-the-Lady

Yes, we love to be complimented, as opposed to men who obviously do not care the least bit whether they are complimented or not. They absolutely do not understand the concept of being told nice things; telling them their new jacket looks perfect on them, or that you love their new glasses will just be lost on them. Men are simply immune to those words, they are special that way. And yet, they go to great lengths to please us, us the ungrateful women, even when they do not really understand how compliments work. So really, I mean, we should nod and smile and say thank you like the nice polite girls that we are, I mean, that we should be, because, ladies, men have once again surpassed our utmost imagination and expectations to do things just to make us happy. We should be ashamed. Indeed.

All right, kidding aside, who the fuck doesn’t want to be complimented? I love it when my friends notice my new earrings or jewelry, I love it when my students tell me they love my jacket or my dress. And yes, I even rejoice, I have to admit, when my relatives/acquaintances tell me I’ve lost weight (although I do know it’s none of their business). But that is NOT the point.

What this nice gentleman does NOT get, and what all those men who say that these guys were just being nice do not get, is that once again, women are not given any choice in the matter. I mean, you would think we would be used to it by now, when choices have been made for us for centuries and when we’ve rarely been given chances to raise our own voices. But hey, that’s what we are, the women, we are crazy and hormonal, so we always want change. Geez.

When friends compliment us, there is an understanding, between people who know each other, that a safe space has been created between us. By being friends, we have, in a way, allowed each other to say a number of things that we would not allow to total strangers. That’s how compliments work. When the person saying them means them, AND when the person that is being said to takes them that way.

What men don’t get is that one guy may say, and believe with all his heart, “Sexy mama”, and walk away, but women will meet more than that one guy throughout her day and throughout her life. What men don’t get is that women have to live in constant fear when they are out in the streets. I don’t mean to say that fear overwhelms me the moment I step foot out of my door. I’m not saying that I walk out in broad daylight giving glances to everyone every step of the way, suspecting them to be potential attackers. But rarely does a day pass by, whether it is when I go home late at night, or when I jog through areas where there are not many people, or when I’m in a crowded bus/subway, when the scary thought of ‘What if…’ doesn’t cross my mind. And unfortunately, men will never get that.

I’m not saying that men never get attacked or harassed. They do, absolutely, and unfortunately. But not only the argument ‘Well, men get attacked too, so women really shouldn’t make a big deal out of this’ is a very bad one, but also and mostly, this is not the point here.

The point women want to make is, as it has always been, Why do men always have to determine and tell us what is good for us and tell us how we should feel and behave? Why does it matter that men meant it ‘in a good way’ when we are telling them we can’t possibly take them in a good way? Why do women have to listen to men tell us that we should feel flattered and not be an uptight ass about it? Why are men still allowed to be so entitled to say anything they feel like to women, regardless of how they feel?

I’m not saying that we should all stare right ahead when we walk in the streets and not share any hellos, goodbyes or thank yous. It is nice when a stranger, man or woman, smiles at you and you still feel perfectly safe, when you know that a smile back will not be construed as an okay for ‘Hey, now that you’ve smiled at me, you can grab my ass, please.’

What a beautiful world it would be, if we could all say hi or smile without fear, and share compliments that are meant as such and that can be taken as such. And the first step in making such a world is to develop an environment where women will have no reason to fear hellos and smiles. In that world, men won’t tell women to smile for them, won’t say demeaning things such as ‘Sexy mama’ or what not, won’t stare at their cleavages or behinds, and won’t follow them for 5 minutes. And to develop such an environment, maybe it would be helpful to listen to those most affected by this.

And we are shouting, loud and clear, that we do not want your so-called compliments.

'You're beautiful when you're docile and compliant.'

A response to #ALSIceBucketChallenge Haters

For the past week, my Facebook and Twitter timeline, and I suspect that of many others as well, has been filled with videos of people dumping ice water on themselves as part of a movement to raise awareness for ALS, also known as the Lou Gehrig’s disease: the #IceBucketChallenge. People all over the world, celebrities and non-celebrities, have been willingly soaking themselves in ice-cold water for the sake of this movement (thank god for them this became “a thing” in Summer). And just as any other popular movement, it has drawn as much criticism as praise; the main argument for the former being that it is a waste of water, a precious resource, which, among other people, “many Africans lack” and that could have been put to better use, like “saving poor African children”.
Yes, there is no denying that pouring bucket loads of water on yourself is, technically and literally, a waste. But no, I do not think that constitutes a valid argument to disregard the cause or the movement.
 
Sure, in an ideal world, people would donate money to fund better research in ALS without the Ice Bucket Challenge and hence without wasting away gallons of water. Unfortunately, in reality, let’s face it, we are preoccupied with our own little lives and our own little problems to really care for others’. In reality, there are just too many causes to support, from animal rights to proper health care, to even notice something like ALS unless we are personally involved in it some way or the other. Organizations that work based on donations know this too well. They have to focus their marketing strategies to not only raise awareness but also to make people  believe in their humanity and goodness to proudly pull out 10 dollars out of their pocket so that they can later boast about it on their SNS platform. This may be a callous way to put it, but that’s what it is. If all of us were capable of caring and actively contributing to the improvement of all the problems the world is facing without that extra push, the world would be a much better place. But we do need that extra push to be inspired and donate “out of the goodness in our hearts”.
 
The other part of the criticism I am very much uncomfortable with is that tendency of ours to always brandish images of “dying African children” for anything, really.
This picture has been circulating quite a lot among my FB acquaintances.

This picture has been circulating quite a lot among my FB acquaintances.

Whether it’s the death of a respectable man such as Steve Jobs (I have to admit, I’m guilty of this one) or the fact that more than 5,600 people are newly diagnosed with ALS every year, we always hear someone say “Yeah, but you know, hundreds of children in Africa are dying everyday.” I’m not denying that people are dying in Africa or that we should care less about them. But please, don’t strip “African children” of their dignity by making them the “go-to criticism” for everything. They deserve a little bit more respect than that. And frankly, regardless of your intentions, that’s quite a racist move.
 
Furthermore, why doesn’t Anthony Carbajal deserve our attention and empathy as much as any other “African child”?
What allows us to judge that one’s suffering is more worthy of our care than another’s? Are we so limited in our capacity to be concerned for others that we have to choose one over and in the expense of the other? Would it kill us to care for both? And before you voice any criticism, did you actually donate money to either cause?
It’s important and necessary that we should have a critical eye and ask questions first before accepting facts as they are. I am very much for that. But there’s a fine line between being critical and being, simply put, a hater. Let’s make sure that there is enough humanity and empathy left in us not to cross that line.
After all, the initial challenge of either dumping ice water on yourself OR donating 100 dollars to ALSA doesn’t seem to hold anymore. People do the Ice Bucket Challenge AND donate money.
The ALS community, like any other, deserves our attention for at least the span of a month or two. Believe me, not to be a cynic, but people will have moved on to another worthy cause by the end of next month.
And if what I’ve said is still not reason enough to support #ALSIceBucketChallenge, well… I’m sure you’ll be a big enough person to donate money to the association sans water and sans SNS recognition.
Plus I still think these videos are quite enjoyable.
 
 
 

“Every Day is for the Thief – Fiction” by Teju Cole

This book says ‘fiction’ but it is to be read with a very strong sense of reality, I’m afraid. It struck me even more because I could relate so much of what Teju Cole was saying about Nigeria to what I myself feel about Korea, something I wrote about before. Koreans think they are so far from Africa, not only geographically but also culturally, historically, politically or economically. Yet the more I learn about the continent and the ordeals some countries there are going through, the more I am amazed at the striking similarities between the two places. Maybe it’s the pressure of the fast development they had to go through in the 20th century, or maybe it’s the similar values they always had. Whatever it is, I think they both have much to learn from one another, and hopefully improve.

Cole deals with the different ailments his country and his people in Nigeria have to go through everyday, something he knew but was somewhat not prepared to face as harshly upon his return to the country. One of the biggest ordeals Nigeria faces and sees no way of finding a solution for is Corruption. In Cole’s words,

“I feel that my worrying about it is a luxury that few can afford. For many Nigerians, the giving and receiving of bribes, tips, extortion money, or alms – the categories are fluid – is not thought of in moral terms. It is seen either as a mild irritant or as an opportunity. It is a way of getting things done, neither more nor less than what money is there for.” (p. 20)

The more fragile is the system and society, the more various and ‘creative’ ways the people can come up with to use corruption to get what they want, be it something as simple as a car registration, to something as big as a job. Sometimes, a bribe here and there that does not affect the totality of your wealth or of your integrity seems almost harmless.

“But corruption, in the form of piracy or a graft, also means that most people remain on the margins. The systems that could lift the majority out of poverty are undercut at every turn. Precisely because everyone takes a shortcut, nothing works and, for this reason, the only way to get anything done is to take another shortcut. The advantage in these situations goes to the highest bidders, those individuals most willing to pay money or to test the limits of the law.” (p. 23)

I think corruption is, to say the least, ‘bad’, not only because it is illegal and even immoral, but mostly because it deprives opportunities to those who do not have the means to take that shortcut. This goes against everything that freedom and democracy represent, which should ideally provide the same opportunities in life regardless of your social status or wealth. Corruption does not only affect our leaders, but us, the ‘people’, who strive to live our everyday lives with a minimum sense of security. But when corruption sips into all aspects of society in such a way that it becomes even difficult and fuzzy to distinguish what is corruption and what is not, it spreads, silently and slowly, but critically. We, as society, become ill.

“The problem used to only be the leadership. But now, when you step out into the city, your oppressor is likely to be your fellow citizen, his ethics eroded by years of suffering and life at the cusp of desperation. There is venality in abundance here, and the general air of surrender, of helplessness, is the most heartbreaking thing about it.” (p. 75)

And I feel like this is what is happening in Korea as well:  the whole Sewol ferry sinking, taking away more than 200 lives, mostly high school students who had so much to dream and hope for, and recently with the problems in the military system condoning strict hierarchy and violence, leading to the death of young men whose sole crime was to comply to the duties imposed by their nation. The link with corruption may not be obvious at first sight, but oh yes, the link is there. When large firms corrupt the government to go easy on their security measures and regulations, ferries sink because no one prepared them for it and innocent people die. When the military is drunk on maintaining hierarchy and so-called order that even the most decent men perpetuate the most unthinkable violence and some other fail to report them, young men are killed without getting justice.

Corruption is not simply the exchange of bribes. It does not have to involve an exact sum of money. Corruption is a refusal to obey rules and laws because we tell ourselves it won’t affect many people. Not too much anyway. Corruption is not an act, it’s a mentality, it’s a way of life, one to which we quickly get accustomed, especially those who can afford it.

These ‘incidents’, ‘accidents’ that should not have happened in the first place, may provide a platform for unity and cooperation among the people for a short while, but when nothing is done day after day and year after year, we cannot escape the “general air of surrender, of helplessness“. So what if we organize protests and peaceful marches? Nothing changes. People ‘up there’ resign without taking any responsibility, mumbling a pathetic ‘sorry’ and mimicking a pitiful bow, but nothing happens that could actually change how things are.

Protesters mourning the Sewol ferry victims and demanding that the government take responsibility being stopped by the police force. Source: http://news.naver.com/main/read.nhn?mode=LSD&mid=sec&sid1=102&oid=032&aid=0002478464

Protesters mourning the Sewol ferry victims and demanding that the government take responsibility being stopped by the police force.

From the outside, sure, things seem great. South Korea from the 1960s and South Korea of the 2010s are so different it is almost unbelievable, for anyone, to think so much change and progress could be possible in 60 years. There is wi-fi almost everywhere, shopping malls are thriving, people drink expensive coffee on a daily basis, the subway system is much better than the American one or the French one, there is rarely an international brand you can’t find in Seoul. My parents themselves are still often astonished at how much cleaner the country has gotten compared to what it was in their youth.

“But are these the signs of progress? Yes, partly. Business is booming, there is free enterprise and, with it, the hope that people might be lifted out of poverty. But it is as yet a borrowed progress and it is happening in the absence of the ideological commitments that can make it real.” (p. 149) (emphasis added)

“we do not foster the ways of thinking that lead to the development of telephones or jet engines. Part of that philosophical equipment is an attention to details: a rejection of only the broad outlines of a system, a commitment to precision, an engagement with the creative and scientific spirit behind what one uses.” (p. 148)

But see, economic and material prosperity only matter so much. People are buying expensive cars and designer purses, but there are those that still die working in the labs of the so-called ‘best Korean company’, Samsung, because security measures are not reinforced. I’m a Samsung user but everything they come up with seems a tweak of something Apple came up with first. People talk of the importance of innovation, but when they are confined within the mandatory long working hours and lack of proper rest, where will they find the time or the leisure to bring creativity to the table?

This is my first visit to Korea after barely a year in the US, and it only took me a couple of days to destroy the sympathy it had taken me a decade to build for this country. I was excited at the thought of the food, the friends I had missed, the excitement and exuberance Boston sometimes lacks. But what I found instead saddens me, but I just can’t deal with all this.

“Am I ready for all the rage Nigeria can bring out of me? The various run-ins a “humanist” might have in such a place as this?” (p. 72)

Why I hate Studying

Yes. Big surprise, I hate Studying sometimes. Actually, I hate Studying more often than not. Ironically, I have come to hate Studying at a time when I need to enjoy it the most. I’ve come to recognize and realize this sentiment more and more recently and have decided I am in a “It’s complicated” relationship with Studying.

We had something good going on, you know, until I made the foolish decision to push it a bit further, without realizing the consequences. Honestly, I think I’ve been having this feeling for quite some time, ever since it introduced me to Feminism, but I guess I was trying to ignore it, hoping it would go away, that things would get back to normal after a while. But I don’t know. I think I’ve put myself in a destructive relationship that I can’t get out of.  I do hope we’ll sort things out soon though. I do. I still hope.

But you see, Studying is forcing me to ask questions I didn’t even realize needed to be asked, and it refuses to give me clear answers. While I try to figure out right from wrong, it just sits there, probably concocting the next enigma and puzzle it’s going to haunt me with. Sometimes, it directs me to a certain direction, and when I’m trying to familiarize myself with it, it smiles and points to a different direction, often quite the opposite and I just sit there, confused and helpless. I want to ask, Is there ever a right or wrong answer? And all I get is a shrug, a sympathetic smile.

A few days ago, it introduced me, first to Samantha Power, and just when I was about to get her know better and perhaps be friends with her, because I did like her, it brought along another friend, Mahmood Mamdani. Mamdani brought one of his kids, “Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror” and I’m not sure  I liked it, or what it was trying to do to my relationship with Power.

Mamdani is very critical about the international ‘buzz’ around the Darfur issue, and mainly the Save Darfur Coalition that worked hard on the lobbying for humanitarian intervention in Darfur because of the ‘genocide’ that was going on. To him, the international community’s stubborn decision to give the name ‘genocide’ to what was NOT a genocide represents: an effort to redeem itself from the colossal mistake it made in Rwanda, an excuse for a military intervention without understanding the context of the conflict, a reincarnation of Western colonialism and imperialism accompanied with the binary distinction of evil versus good, another facet of the anti-Muslim discourse, a pathetic proof of our stupid tendency to simplify complex issues and forego the historical legacy, a pet project, among many others, of self-righteous celebrities and privileged people with the savior complex; well, you get the idea.

Although my heart is still with Power and the need (and now this word sounds totally wrong too – I’m being ripped off of my vocabulary as well) for the ‘international community’ to take interest in atrocities around the world and somehow contribute to the lessening of individual suffering, I cannot help but nod alongside Mamdani’s arguments. Of course, it’s not that Mamdani is denying the massacre of civilians in Darfur or the severity of the situation. His critique is rather directed at how the international community uses these issues as a way to brandish their so-called morally high values without really trying to understand the history and background that led to these conflicts, which inevitably results in the prescription of the wrong ‘cure’.

Darfur and other conflicts in Africa are often used as ‘shows’ to reassure the non-African bourgeoisie that we are still human, that despite our inability to actually be in the field ‘to help’ and despite our real current focus on the next Hunger Games movie, we can still feel compassion towards starving African children and feel good about ourselves for feeling that compassion. We can be proud to have donated money to charity groups and NGOs without so much knowing about what is really going on, or without even finding out the details of these organizations, because, well, George Clooney and Angelina Jolie told us to, and how could they possibly be wrong?

George Clooney in Darfur

George Clooney with the ‘poor innocent’ children in Sudan

Angelina Jolie's Charity Work3

So now, after having had a 30-dollar meal of oysters and other delicacies, I can sleep at night in peace, with my 5-dollar contribution that will most certainly feed five children in Africa.

The world was so much simpler before Studying.

I felt so good about myself after donating money to the Kony 2012 project (which was a disaster in many ways, I later learned).

I would have shed a few tears at the pictures of starving children and admired them for keeping their smiles despite all their hardship! all the while enjoying some singing by U2 and Mary J. Blige.

I would have considered the fact that Ben Affleck talked about the Democratic Republic of Congo at the Senate another good reason for me to like and admire him (and fangirl every time I saw him with Jennifer Garner). I would have applauded him for his effort to let the world know that there are other things going on beside the Oscars or internet cats (as much as I like both of them). But now I have to ask myself, Does he really know what he’s talking about? What does his organization do exactly? Where do the funds he gathers really go? Is he really genuine? Will his efforts do more good than harm? Has he even considered the political implications and ramifications of this conflict? Is he aware that his argument for increasing “US leadership” in the area can vaguely sound neo-colonialist and imperialist?

I still love him though...

I still love him though…

And then, I think about how we all like simple things. Reading about the very complex history of Sudan… I’m sorry but who has time for that? Is there nothing we can genuinely do, without any other ulterior motives, to really ‘make the world a better place’ and prevent another genocide if -God forbid- we ever put in such situation? Or is that too pretentious of us? Is the international political apparatus, with the UN, the ICC, and others, ever actually useful? Or are they and will they always remain pawns of the more powerful states?

Gawd, I hate Studying sometimes.

And I also hate it for making me love the fact I wrote about it in terms of ‘relationship’.

PS: I am aware this mildly sounds like a #humblebrag and maybe also a #firstworldproblem. Oh well, I sometimes lack humility and live in the ‘first world’. I’m only human.

Words and pictures – a genocide

Pictures are worth a thousand words, is the popular saying, and today, with the vast array of videos, web-based material and what not, none of which I know how to use unfortunately, that could not be truer. Who would want to spend 30 minutes of their precious time reading a paper when a 10-minute, well-edited video could efficiently and more interestingly, deliver just about the same message?

Yet there are some things that cannot be conveyed through images and interviews, there are some things that do need the power of words and well-written inspiring sentences for us to fully grasp the intensity and severity of the issues at hand. And more importantly, words do have the ability to move us beyond images.

The article “Bystanders to Genocide” by Samantha Power is the very first (academic) article/paper, I can say, without hesitation, that made me cry. It will probably be the last. (Indeed the path towards a PhD is filled with surprises – who the hell cries reading an assignment for class?)

(She later developed this article into a 600-page book, “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide”, which I hope to read some day)

In my defense, Power’s account of the world’s blatant disinterest and of a few individuals’ sincere efforts and frustration as they saw these efforts disappear into thin air after hitting the walls of “national interests” without so much leaving an echo, is quite powerful. Maybe it was her purpose all along, to instill every one of us with a pinch of guilt for not understanding, not doing anything, not being interested in what happened to be one of the most horrible tragedies of the 20th Century.

Reading about a genocide involves many elements, each one more heart-breaking than the other: its development, the meticulous planning of it, the stories of individuals with names, faces, families and friends disappearing under other individuals’ gunshot, machete, finger, the annihilation of humanity crushed under the excuse of “national interest”, the lack of care, the drowning efforts of a few individuals who did want to ‘make a difference’…

It is sad that in the face of the worst crimes humanity can commit, Realist theories remain unabated in the world of international relations and politics; and human lives are calculated in terms of how much resource/capital it would cost a country.

Aside from Romeo Dallaire and a few other individuals, the Rwandan genocide leaves us with only bleak sides of humanity, including the unchanged stereotypes and general ignorance we have towards Africa and our reluctance to engage in global action (because governments often naturally presume military intervention is the only option) despite sufficient information. And two decades later, it doesn’t seem we have made much progress.

And for those to whom pictures still convey a stronger message:

http://www.hrw.org/video/2009/02/13/confronting-evil-genocide-rwanda-featuring-alison-des-forges