Thursday, June 4, 2009

STUDENT REFLECTION - Township Tour - Artesia Willis

The moment that caught my attention and had the most impact on my stay in South Africa was the township tour experience. This experience was geared toward an exploration of the segregated society of South Africans in Cape Town. I not only learned about the racially segregated laws during the time of apartheid, but the fact that the people in the South Africa were once forced to go into certain sections of South Africa (both cities and rural areas) due to the color of their skin and the classifications of either being a white person, a coloured, or an individual who is considered black. This really struck me for the simple fact that I am a light-skinned African-American female who has dealt with the issues growing up related to similar stereotypes involving people who are all African Americans but have different skin complexions. It was told to me in high school and later my freshman year of college that darker-skinned individuals are more likely to become victims of segregation and teasing within the academic circle than individuals who have lighter skin and a nicer grade of hair. I was at that point in denial and could not grasp the idea of racism existing between individuals of a common culture. However, after attending and exploring the townships in South Africa, I became more observant of the behavior of individuals in the community and how strongly segregation has played apart of this culture since and during the apartheid years. It hurt me to see that so many people have been judged by simple test of skin coloration and the “pencil test” a test that separates an individual into a particular category based on rather a pencil either sticks to the scalp of the person’s head or slides through, dictating the level within the hierarchy between acceptance and poverty. It really hurt my feelings to even try to understand why this had become an existing factor, focusing on how African-American or Blacks were seen as people who stuck together as ONE through the textbooks and the educational system within a lot of schools. It hurt me just to find out and try to believe that things that I have learned over time, within my educational surroundings, were indeed incorrect. It wasn’t until that moment, as I stood standing on the top of the overview, that I was able to feel the pain, the struggle, and the sacrifices that these individuals were making on a daily basis. Not only were they fighting for justice, but they were in a fight to protect their identity.

As I sat there, I tried my best to compare and contrast these same issues to how things are in America and I realized that the only difference is that instead of people being judged solely based on their skin color, individuals highlight certain attributes of people and treat them negatively based on their appearance, their goals and ambitions, and through envious behavior. I found myself saying “ at least things are slightly better in the USA,” not realizing that just because it is seen as being better does not make it acceptable or equivalent to being alright.

I now know through this experience that a sense of community is an important attribute that should be implemented into society as a whole, but especially within the African-American community/culture. This experience has highlighted so many negatives within the black community that I felt that in order to change the behavior of people within society, one must first deal with the issues of overcoming common problems like low self-esteem, self- absorbency, and the individualistic take on life (thinking that everything is about “you.”)

It is important to note that we, as American citizens, take a lot of things for granted and live in a world of individualism. It has been imbedded in our culture to believe that it is great to think only of oneself, but if everyone thought about themselves all the time, then when will we reach a point to where we are able to assist those individuals who can not assist themselves? Who can not read, walk, eat, or even live? These are major questions that came to mind when I looked through these townships and I saw the looks on these people faces as they struggle to eat, sleep, and feel comfortable with their living situations and their inner being. The question that I pose now, is what have you done for your community?

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