Thursday, September 22, 2005

A response from Senegal

I have been in dakar Senegal for over a month and I've had two responses to the hurricane: the first is always "it is a horrible thing that has happened", and the second is always "now, maybe Americans will show compassion to the rest of the world when they experience tragedy". What strikes me as strange is not the comments, but the lack of comments. Maybe it was my naivete of just plan wishful thinking to believe that people would be outraged at what is happening. I have family members who where displaced by the tragedy and even an aunt we fear as dead but none seem to share my rage at what has happened. I could not figure out why until earlier today when a Haitian American student shared an experience she had with an African student from Benin and it went as follows:

Benin Student: So what is the deal with the US and Discrimination
US Student: I don't really understand what your asking
Benin Student: You know people have this perception that Blacks in the US are thieves, uneducated, and people are generally not good and you Blacks say this is wrong.
US Student: Well, there are lots of reason for this and all Black people are not the same in the US. The media shows you what they want you all to see.
Benin Student: Your the cause of why people see you this way, you all don't go to school and you do all sorts of bad things.

At this point the conversation continues, but this was the gist of it. This student is a representation of so many people I have incurred while here in Senegal. We are in the mist of a tragedy and I'm fighting a public relations war. I continually tell people that no America is not a horrible place, but it is far from perfect. I explain this over and over again, but America is still seen as a great place with people who cause problems. I am hopeful that with time this perception will change along with their opinions of Black people. Until then we are looked at as a people who have caused are own problems and have no one but ourselves to blame.


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