Published on www.kuirthiy.com on May 28th, 2022
The mass anti-racist protests that followed the murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin of Minneapolis Police Department on May 25, 2020 provided a glimmer of hope for victims of racism. For the silent men and women of African descent who experience constant societal stigmatization and police brutality, the protests showed that societal attitude can change.
While the protests were emblematic of what is possible in the fight against systemic marginalization and its mitigation, these protests have a way of ending up becoming events rather than sustained anti-racism processes.
To change social attitudes and bring about sociocultural and systemic changes, therefore, sustained and accessible educational and cultural strategies become necessary. Fighting Anti-Black Racism or Afrophobia need a multi-sectorial, multi-layered approach.
This essay suggests that reading fiction and history should be encouraged among elementary and high school students. This suggestion may sound odd. In the age of social media and Netflix, however, reading books has become less attractive.
I once asked a teenage mother during an intake if she had an email. I wanted to send her some resources. She told me she had Facebook but not an email. When I asked how she could have a Facebook account if she did not have an email. She told me she did not know.
When I asked another young man about reading, he told me he liked to read. When I asked what he reads, he couldn’t really tell me. He then smiled and said, "some articles…online.” He couldn’t even tell me the website and the topics he likes.
Reading books is not everything. But it opens a world one does not see every day. It makes you travel without travelling.
While students are encouraged to read in school, most students take up reading because it is required. For young people brought up to face the reality of racism, this is a travesty.
However, reading for self-empowerment or to develop empathy among children and the youth needs the involvement of parents and community mentors. This, I hope, would make reading part of children and youth social and cultural growth. Emotional strength in the face of racism is a necessity.
Reading may encourage students from dominant social groups to develop a sense of empathy with “racialized” students.
“Racialized” students may not only develop empathy, but they may also be empowered to resist misinformation about their history. Students of African descent are confronted by two things in the school curriculum: Lack of history about them, or a distorted version of their history. This is a consequent of institutionalized racism.
But we cannot leave corrective measures to people who are not affected by a distorted history. It is like making racism fix racism.
There is now, however, a cautious optimism in Canada’s campaign against racism.
People in positions of authority are thinking of curriculum changes to include ‘Black history’ for all students. This a hopeful beginning. But this is not enough. It is more mechanical than sentimental. We need both. People are more motivated if they have a sentimental connection with the moral issue in question. Why would people care about racism if it doesn’t affect them?
Making reading a cultural pastime for young people therefore becomes important. It may take a young Toronto teenager to Nigeria of Achebe’s Arow of God, the South Africa of Peter Abrahams’ Mine Boy, the Barbados of George Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin, the Ohio of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, or the West Africa of Leo Frobenius’ The Voice of Africa….etc.
Consequently, reading fiction, African and African diaspora history become important. This can be buttressed through literacy programs at young age. In a multicultural country like Canada, this is vital in the fight against racism.
Below are important examples of reading programs.
In Toronto, The Reading Partnership works with parents and children to help develop a reading culture at an earlier age.
As Camesha Cox, the founder of The Reading Partnership has argued, encouraging literacy and reading at an early age can create “a culture of reading and learning.”
Using the work of late American novelist David Foster Wallace, the California-based Reading Partners writes that reading helps ‘build developmental skills of emotional intelligence and empathy, enabling our young readers to better connect with other perspectives and human experiences.’
Maria Nikoleja, a professor of children literature at Cambridge University argues that ‘the main attraction of fiction is the possibility of understanding other people in a way impossible in real life.’
For young people whose histories and cultures do not feature in Canadian educational curricula, this aspect of reading becomes important.
What exacerbates marginalizing experiences when young people find themselves stereotyped are lack of constructive strategies they can use to push back while informing others and remaining safe.
When they encounter racism, they either fight or become sad.
‘My brother is always getting into fights over’ the N-Word, said Zora, who was interviewed by Jennifer Kelly in her book, Under the Gaze.
This violence is instigated by a sense of helplessness. But when these young people fight, they are easily stigmatized and criminalized.
Even a child as young as a six-year-old has been handcuffed by the police without parental consent.
This would not happen if this child was not of African descent.
In a multicultural Canada where meaningful inter-ethnic and inter-racial cross-cultural exchange is extremely limited (or non-existent), equipping young people with historical knowledge about themselves and others can help in combating stereotypes.
Not only does reading enable young people to develop positive feelings towards others, but it also offers them constructive ways to express their emotions.
In the age of negative social media influence, encouraging students to read fiction is something teachers, parents and youth workers need to encourage in all students because research supports its usefulness.
Reading may also help “racialized” youth to self-educate. This may help them resist stereotyping through corrective engagements.
One of Jennifer Kelly’s participants said he knew a historical fact his social studies teacher didn’t know. “I told him,” Desmond said to Kelly, ‘that the first lady in the newspaper industry was a Black lady [Mary Ann Shadd], and he didn’t know.”
Desmond added that these “Black stuff”, which are supposed to be taught in social studies, are missing.
More than 20 years later, what Desmond said is sadly still the case. "I would love to see more about Black history and about racism in our society today and how we can face it in the future,’ said Bayush Golla to CBC on June 17, 2020.
Desmond felt empowered, but he was not alone. “Last year I was able to teach people stuff about Steve Biko,’ said Grace. ‘You feel so much better,’ added Kathleen, ‘You walk away thinking, “yeah we did we did that.” You want to brag. I would go to school and say, “did you know?”’
Like Desmond, Grace and Kathleen, Dagmawit Worku, a year 12 student in Cameron Heights Collegiate in Kitchener, Ontario, is still self-teaching “Black History.”
This is an educational, community-based empowerment racialized youths, especially Africans and students of African descent, do not have access to in school curricula.
If there is anything history has taught us, then it is this: It is morally dangerous to assume that people will do something because it is morally important. A sentimental connection is most of the time a moral motivator.
Therefore, parents and students resort to ways of getting this empowering knowledge. Lorraine, another student Kelly interviewed said that her father ordered books from the United States “books you don’t see around here.” Kathleen puts it well when she said that “If it was your own culture…you would work hard so much harder.”
Canada may be multicultural de jure, but it is monocultural de facto.
Encouraging children to improve their literacy at an early age and then urging them to take reading as a cultural activity may help raise informed and compassionate youths. Excluding “Black history” today is not a question of malice or racism per se; it is a question of sentimental connection.
As Kathleen has put it, “If it was your own culture…you would work hard so much harder.”
Garang, K. ë. (2022). The autodidactic: Reading for social resistance and empathy. The Philosophical Refugee. https://www.kuirthiy.com/2022/05/the-autodidactic-reading-for-social.html
Published on www.kuirthiy.com on March 17th, 2022
African American historian, Nell Painter, argues in her book, The History of White People , that what we believe depends on what our cultures and society has educated us to look for in anything we do. This is a social reality we tend to overlook; or we attend to it only when it becomes relevant.
The problem with contemporary social justice discourse in the west, especially in North America, is that advocates expect the target of their campaigns to know everything about anything; and they also expect them to believe things in their culture in the same way they believe social issues in other cultures. This is not only impractical, it is also a natural impossibility.
Discourse, as a social use of language, affects or changes how we perceives things. But that depends very much on the culture and the epistemological forces behind the use of language in this context. Take for example, how Americans and the western media describe wealthy and influential Russian billionaires and how they describe American billionaires. Russians billions are 'oligarchs' and western billionaires are, well, just billionaires. But morally, according to the western intelligentsia, western billionaires are philanthropists not oligarchs.
While western billionaires affect politics, cultures and social values globally, they are still not considered oligarchs. How many of us would refer to Bill Gates or Elon Musk as oligarchs? Maybe only a few. But this is not because they are not oligarchs but because our linguistic resources come from a defined western discourse that shape our thinking.
Here is another example about African history. In 1960, the father of African Studies in the United States, Melville Herskovits, describe Africa as a 'geographical fiction.' While this statement is true, I have always wondered why this statement is restricted to Africa when every country in the world, and I mean every country, is a geographical fiction. All borders in the world were arbitrarily created. (I address this issue in "Birth of a State).
But many African historians and analysts have taken this Herskovitsian view that Africa is a geographical fiction without being critical of it. The reason? The discourses and epistemologies that influence our thinking about Africa and about ourselves are informed about what western scholars have written about Africa.
Our understanding of Africa and African issues is proscribed; it is determined by the linguistic resources, the historical and modern discourses coming the west or the legacies of slavery and colonialism. This is why postcolonial scholars attempt to rethink African history as UNESCO has attempted to do with the General History of Africa. It is also the very reason why The Empire Writes Back.
However the average man and woman in Africa has little luxury to rethink history so they rely on a group of people that French existential philosopher, Merleau-Ponty has described as 'the community of thinkers.' They believe a world that has already been structured for them. This is the case with the oligarch epithet.
Even when it is factually accurate to describe Bill Gates as an oligarch, one would find oneself at the receiving end of the western media disparagement because the western culture has trained us to think of Bill Gates as a 'philanthropists'.
He cannot possibly be an oligarchs.
We ignore these seemingly simple issues; but this is how the human mind is shaped internationally. So, anytime you commit to a certain social issue, especially a social justice issue, always remember that people don't believe something because it is simply the right thing to do. They believe it because they have been convinced about its usefulness to them; or that social, political and legal conditions are such that they cannot do otherwise without being penalized.
We only doubt things because we have reason to doubt not because others expect us to doubt because they doubt it themselves.
So, is there any special fact why western billionaires are 'philanthropists' and Russian billionaires are 'oligarchs'? There is none; it's all about the discourses we have been raised or taught to believe.