Traveling the World while World Traveling

abeardall's picture

As our trip to Ghana draws closer and closer, I find it more and more necessary to revisit Lugones's piece on code-switching and world-traveling. I find myself torn between excitement and anxiety in regards to travelling to Ghana.

On one hand, I worry about the implications my mere presence will have in Ghana. I have blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale skin: the epitome of what the stereotypical American is. I have the appearance of a colonizer, my ancestors were most likely colonizers; no matter how good my intentions are, I feel as if it is impossible to detach myself from the power and privilege of being an elite liberal arts college student who has no business pretending like I can fully understand and grasp Ghanian culture. I also feel very limited in knowing only a few phrases of Dagbani, which I'm certain I will butcher with my. Without the ability to code-switch, I feel like my ability to world-travel is much more difficult since I will be conversing in the language of the colonizer, which is used primarily in professional and academic settings.

On the other hand, as a low-income student from a single-parent household, I feel so priviledged to have the opportunity to gain new perspectives, learn, explore, and grow in an international setting. As a Community Diversity Assistant, a Civic Engagement Office coordinator, and a Bryn Mawr student, I am passionate about social justice and have worked with people from a diverse range of backgrounds. This question can be applied in many of the contexts I already participate in: what business does a white girl from a homogenous hometown have talking about diversity? What right does she have to go into low-income communities? My answer to this would be that my role has been to provide resources to empower communities and students, not to belittle them. While bouncing East vs. West a few weeks ago, a student from another school accusing me of being racist for not letting an African-American student enter through the exit (which no one was allowed to do.) This accusation deeply offended me, coming from a family that often makes racist remarks, I am proud of the fact that I have rose above this. In a way, I'd rather be called a bitch or something along those lines because that would have reflected badly on his character rather than mine. The alternative is to never leave the Main Line and stay in a bubble, to never push my comfort zone, to never break past stereotypes, to be satisfied, "Well I am not [blank] so I shouldn't even try." It's true, I will never be able to fully imerse myself in Ghana or any other country because of my background and skin color. All I can do is to recognize my privilege and worldview and to be open-minded. There will be moments of cultureshock and times when I make mistakes but my genuine enthusiasm will hopefully outshine these obstacles.

Comments

alesnick's picture

"conversing in the language of the colonizer"

I greatly appreciate this phrase and observation: that the language we use and the settings in which we use it constrains our modes of participation in various settings.  At the same time, your discussion of your own positionality shows how complex it is, and how complex a mix of imposed and willed/chosen, too.  To me, these dynamics create cracks, openings out of "the language of the colonizer" into ways of using that language and connecting via other languages (in addition to verbal) as well.

Very rich -- how do you see these issues now?

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