So I'm in Stellenbosch,a town about 45 minutes outside of Cape Town, in the heart of wine country. It's also what's known as the heartland of the Afrikaner.(Oh,and I learned that there's only 1 A when refering to the people,and 2 A's when it's the language, ie.Afrikaans).We're staying with a very nice family with 3 boys ages 14,11 & 8. They've had lots of students before so they are very laid back and have been WONDERFUL in dealing with my wheat issues (which seem to only have gotten worse since being here). It's a big change being here in an almost entirely white city after exploring the rest of South Africa.There are 'colored' neighborhoods and a 'black township' here as well,but in town itself,just about everyone is white.It feels a lot like an old European town or colonial America. Lectures so far have been sort of interesting,but the best part was yesterday when we had to do a photo project with Stellenbosch University students. We were told to walk around and take pictures of what is different & what is the same between our two countries. Instead of rewriting everything I'm just going to type up what I wrote in my journal so you can not only read about what I've been doing & thinking,but you can see how I've been writing to myself.
After lunch Susan and I went over to the Stellenbosch market. It was an African craft market with sterotypical "African" art and crafts. It was very odd for us to go around and talk to people in English when we could heart them speaking Xhosa,it made us feel like tourists when we've mostly not felt like that,although we are,to some extent. Susan was trying to find a painting of Langa(the township we'd been living in) and many of the salesman where very confused as to why she wanted one of that specific township. In the afternoon we were grouped together with 3 Stellenbosch University students and told to walk around and take pictures of the differences & similarities between our countries. Our 3 girls started off really quiet but as we walked we started to talk more and more. One of the first things we decided to take a picture of was a STOP sign because they're the same in both countries. I mentioned that I had seen one where someone had spray painted "war" underneath it, and how we had those in Portland as well. One of the girls in our group admitted that it was her who had done that, so that was pretty cool. Next we took a picture of the restaurant Spur, which is a Native American themed restaurant that's really popular. Susan & I talked about how a restaurant like that would be considered hugely offensive in the US(their symbol is a 'typical Indian' in a feather headdress and inside everything has little red cartoon people in feathers and leather clothes), this didn't seem to make much sense to the girls,but they were interested to hear about that big difference. Next they wanted to go take pictures of the market, but we deterred them from that because it just didn't seem appropriate. Instead we told them how there's this commodification of culture in the US and we had noticed it here, where other culture's art and music was being taken in to American's homes as a symbol that they're worldly,without those people knowing anything about the other culture.I'm not explaining this very well,and I guess we didn't explain it well yesterday either,because they thought we were talking about a good thing.
As we walked down a block that was mostly colored and black people the girls told us to 'hold on to your bags tightly here,and be careful.' We had literally walked 10 feet from where we'd been before,but they instantly got nervous. As we walked down the street it became increasingly evident that these girls were uncomfortable with non-white people. We did have a lot of fun,although we all agreed we would have learned more by going out to a bar or club together.
When we returned to the classroom all the groups showed their pictures and explained what they'd talked about. When we talked about the Spur picture some of the South Africans said that they were surprised that this was not appropriate in the US because in South Africa using a black, 'native' African as a symbol in a restaurant or something is perfectly appropriate and even considered a form of respect. I'm not sure if that's totally correct or just the opinion of one white Afrikaner. My feeling on the matter is that what is inappropriate is when using a cultural symbol depends on who has ownership over the use of that symbol. But then again,I'm not sure how I feel about Indian casinos in the US; I don't think they're the same as the Zulu parks here because of the ownership issue, but I'm not sure that makes them right.
What started out as sort of boring exercise ended up really making me grapple with big issues, something that I feel like I haven't had enough of since coming to UW, or even since coming to South Africa.
Friday, March 27th,2009
This morning we had a lecture on Afrikaner collective guilt & responsibility,which I had been looking forward to. It was absolutely fascinating and certainly the most thought provoaking lecture we've had. We began by talking about what responsibility means. I said that,to me, responsibility means that if you see a horrible thing happening it is your responsibility to act to end it and if you do not, you are responsible and guilty for what happens. Obviously the class was centered on Afrikaner collective guilt and what Afrikaners could or should be responsible for, although we also talked a bit about the American war in Iraq. When asked how you would react to responsibility, how others would know where you stand, I spoke about the various ways one can either support or fight against injustice, that one must actively work to stop it otherwise they are implicit in the activity.
We also spoke about the difference between guilt & responsibility-guilt is a response to a personal action or inaction, whereas responsibility can come from something being done in your name even if you aren't personally committing the crime. Towards the end of the lecture the lecturer asked us if we could think of any group that was not politically responsible in any way,and her answer was 'refugees' because they lack a state. I responded to this by saying that I believe although responsibility as part of a state is different, we are all human beings and are therefore responsible to each other. She said she agreed in some senses but that it's a different sort of responsibility.
During the Q & A period Elizabeth asked a question about how cultural relativism plays out in the concept of collective guilt and responsibility. The lecturer said that she doesn't really believe in the idea of cultural relativism because we are all people and we recognize others as human,and cultural relativism can sometimes excuse things that are not ok to anyone. That's one huge issue I always grapple with-how far should cultural relativism go? I'm still not really sure how I feel about it,but whenever people talk about cultural relativism I feel like it goes too far. It's certainly something I'm still struggling with and I hope I can come more to grips with it,although maybe that's something I will always go back & forth with?
As you can see lately we've been dealing with a lot of big issues,like I'd hoped we would,and it's making me think a lot,and in different ways then I've done in the past of this trip. Being here so far has been quite the experience,although different from the rest of the time. I hope that some of my 'readers' can offer some insight into these issues although I know that I have to discover the answers for myself when it comes right down to it.