Sunday, January 01, 2012

Where do we meet?

I have only been a 'minority' a few times in my life.  When I was 18 I went to Hawaii for several months and experienced being a minority for the first time.  I was living in a neighborhood with very few white people.  Every day I took the bus into Honolulu and heard Samoan kids calling each other Haoli as an insult.  It is the word for 'white'.

In Vietnam I stood out like a sore thumb.  I towered over most people, with my crazy red hair and well-padded physique. Little old ladies would giggle and poke me to see what my skin felt like.  

In Mali, you can't miss me.  My skin is not just white... it is white.  I slather myself in sunblock to stay pale in the hot West African sun.  I wear hats and shades and cower from the bright light.  In a crowd, my clothes and skin and hair mark me as utterly different.  I met a few kids with albinism and wondered how they manage to keep from burning to a crisp.  Once we met a little baby who took one look at us and started howling from fear.  He was inconsolable until his mom took him to another room to calm him down.  He had never seen a white person up close.

A few times as a minority is not the same as a lifetime.  And I don't carry baggage from generations of oppression.  For me, being a minority once in awhile is a reality check, but it isn't my normal reality.

So, really, I am not sure what to make of an African language forum on the internet that wouldn't let me join because I wrote 'caucasian' in the application questionnaire.  It is a forum for people of Afrikan descent.  I wanted to join because they offer West African language information.  I want to learn Bambara because, although I can get by in French, it is the language of the colonial powers.  The Bamanakan word for French, in fact, translates as 'White persons language'. I have become convinced that if I want to know the Malian people, I need to learn their language.

When I got the rejection email today, I knew right away that the forum owner was not, despite his name, an African.  I knew he had to be American.  I have yet to meet an African  who decides things based on race.  That seems to be an American phenomenon.  But maybe this isn't just about race.  Or, maybe it is, but in a less obvious way.  This is a club for people with a shared ancestry and a shared experience.  An experience that I truly can never understand. 

So, I won't be taking classes on the Afrikan Language forum.  Instead, I will be learning Bambara from my friends in Mali.  And will pray for healing for all of us.

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