I hate to start this blog with a cliché or an understatement, but I can’t help myself — this week was insane. I learned more about South Africa’s history and current political climate these past few days than I have in my entire life. However, I am not going to talk about that here, rather I’d like to explore my takeaways from the week, which is why I am choosing to throw that all out the window and focus on my stream of consciousness.
My entire first week on this program I have been asking myself where to draw the line in the aftermath of casual misogyny, and to this day I don’t have the answer. On one hand I think it is imperative that as outsiders in a foreign country, specifically Americans, we don’t expect people native to South Africa to subscribe to our cultural norms and standards. At the same time, why should I have to compromise my own? And at what cost?
This week I experienced sexism in invasive ways both physically and mentally. I was reduced to the price of ten cows and forced to hold hands with my waiter. In both instances, I decided that the cost of perceived American hostility outweighed the benefit of standing up for myself and my feminist ideals. So I let it slide, as most women do on a daily basis.
What does it mean to be culturally competent while feeling secure in one’s self? Are these ideas mutually exclusive? I’ve been asking myself these questions all week. Yet, part of me wonders why I even reacted so strongly. It’s not like I haven’t experienced similar scenarios before; in fact, I’ve had it much worse.
What stood out to me in these scenarios was my role as a white person living in one of the most racially contentious places in the world. Did I have a right to be offended? How did my positionality affect the appropriateness of my response? And did being white make me more susceptible to these invasive practices?
I don’t have answers to these questions, but I’m oddly content with my lack of clarity. In fact they have inspired me to dig deeper into the women’s movement in Cape Town and specifically to unpack the idea of intersectionality — a classic Duke buzzword. I know for a fact my understanding of this term can extend even further, and I hope to achieve this level of inquiry through my work at District 6. Instead of shrugging my shoulders, I want to hear from others. What is it like to be a young woman in today’s South Africa and to what extent has the legacy of apartheid influenced the role of women in society?
In the sprit of big questions, my blog post would feel incomplete without addressing one idea — what in the world happened to the history of Native Americans in the U.S. and why is it missing from the American psyche? Through our extensive journey this past week through the history of South Africa, this idea has always been in the back of my mind. Our pasts seem so similar, yet the outcome is so different. How did we go down such different paths? Where are the Native American memorials, oral histories, and museums? Where is the TRC equivalent for Native American history?
This week showed me the disparities between historical records of the native tribes in South Africa and the U.S. Not only has the history of Native Americans been suppressed in the U.S., but also it is actively ridiculed to this day. Safe to say I will no longer be able to look at the Washington Redskins jersey in my room in the same way.
I know how disjointed this blog is, but it is weirdly refreshing. As a Duke student, I often face a constant pressure to articulate my thoughts in the most even manner possible and use every buzzword known to man. To be brutally honest, I have never felt more out of my comfort zone academically than I have so far on this program, and I love it. Despite studying apartheid briefly freshman year, before this program, I knew basically nothing about South African history. Forgive me for breaking my own rule, but I want to use this blog to deconstruct this idea of “positionality” and how it applies to me. I want to use this as a space to have questions rather than answers, and to let my stream of consciousness run wild. I want to look at my privilege and acknowledge my ignorance. And perhaps most importantly, I hope to let my mind wander and fully immerse myself in the rich history of this amazing country.