January 8, 2007

CULTURE WARS

Visitors to a Texas Library Learn about Admirable ‘Traditional Values’ of Marriage and Community...IN AFRICA!

...An occasional report from the “People’s Republic of Austin” (Photo of Elizabeth Kahura)


UPDATE: See Thomas Lifson's comments on this article at The American Thinker.


By David Paulin

Ann Coulter delivered a speech in hip and liberal Austin, Texas last year and nearly provoked a riot. The catcalls and boos that left-wing University of Texas students hurled at her hit a pitch when one student posed a vulgar question, intended to attack the conservative columnist's concepts of marriage and traditional values.

“Let him go” chanted supportive students at LBJ Library Auditorium, after nearby campus police quickly arrested the 19-year-old man.

Curiously, no such protests erupted during an event on traditional values a little over one week ago at a city library. Why? Perhaps it’s because the values being discussed were not American – conservative or otherwise.

No, this event focused on traditional African values – or as a library news release explained: the “traditional African values of family, community, responsibility, commerce, and self-improvement.” That, at least, is the virtuous picture of Africa that Elizabeth Kahura, a native of Kenya and professional “storyteller,” would have you believe. She spoke during an event associated with Kwanzaa week – the controversial African-American holiday which ended a little over one week ago.

In one sense, Kahura is the perfect cheerleader for the Africa-oriented Kwanzaa, which is taken very seriously in Austin.

Sixteen years after arriving in America, Kahura makes a career out of idealizing her native Africa – all while keeping both feet firmly planted in multicultural America. Her mission is to “enlighten the world on the true meaning of Africa,” as one Austin Public Library news release puts it.

Kahura, who settled in Texas, has spent ten-plus years playing up Africa’s virtues. At libraries, schools, and day care centers, she utilizes colorful presentations to show off African clothing, music, and dance. She was a big hit last year among grade-school kids in nearby Bastrop: They got to “dress up like an African King and Queen to demonstrate African Village life.”

In Austin, Kwanzaa gets plenty of serious coverage from the politically correct daily newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman. No matter that conservatives of all colors have long derided Kwanzaa as racial hucksterism with Marxist and racially charged overtones.

Nearly 40 years ago, Kwanzaa was dreamed up in California by Ronald Everett, an African-American who was an adherent of various black extremist groups and causes. In the early 70s, he served jail time for the false imprisonment and torture of two women who had been his followers. Completing his sentence, he reinvented himself. Today he’s Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of black studies at California State University in Long Beach.

Over the years, Kwanzaa has been variously described as an African-American alternative to Christmas or a focal point for African-American pride and community. According to one survey, however, it's celebrated by a mere 1.6 percent of Americans – or 13 percent of African-Americans.

At Kwanzaa events you see few if any white faces, yet Kahura insists, “Kwanzaa is not just an African-American concept. It can help anyone."

She went on, “It’s about teamwork, unity, and people walking together. It celebrates culture and it can link African-Americans to their roots and their mother language.”

Oh really? Kahura obviously needs to learn more about her adopted country: American culture has always embraced the civic-engagement aspects she touts. Indeed, America’s remarkable levels of civic-engagement were highlighted in Alexis De Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” his seminal volume first published in 1835.

To be sure, a debate is underway about the status and possible decline of America’s levels of civic-engagement. Some experts say it remains healthy. Whatever the case, it’s doubtful Kwanzaa has contributed anything to America’s virtue of civic-engagement, as the holiday has morphed from its racist and militant origins into mainstream respectability. Today it’s utterly beyond criticism or probing questions by the mainstream media.

Multiculturalism Gone Berserk

How did this happen? Obviously, Kwanzaa’s ideologues rode the wave of multicultural and politically correct ideology that eventually infected the mainstream media. As a result, questions that ought to be asked are stifled. One example was a recent Kwanzaa puff piece from Cox News Service, owners of the American-Statesman, whose headline trumpeted: “Kwanzaa glows even brighter after 40 years.”

Completely missing was any mention of Dr. Maulana Karenga’s sleazy past; not a word about his criminal record and extremist associations, observed the NewsBusters blog. A provocative headline accompanied its incisive comments: “Cox News Honors Kwanzaa Creator, A Rapist and Torturer.”

As to Kahura, nobody has dared to publicly ask an obvious question about her: How can a Kenyan immigrant be so presumptuous as to settle in America and then make a veritable career out of lecturing Americans about traditional African values?

Let’s face it. The values she admires are mostly a product of her imagination. One reason Africa is a basket case, after all, is precisely because of its values.

Indeed, the idealized Africa Kahura extols would be unrecognizable even to the high-minded readers of America’s most liberal newspaper, The New York Times. Consider a Times article from May, 2005: “AIDS Now Compels Africa to Challenge Widows’ ‘Cleansing’.”

It focused on a bizarre yet common practice in rural areas of Zambia and Kenya and “a number of nearby nations.” After a husband’s funeral, a ritual takes place: “sex between the widow and one of her husband's relatives.”

Its purpose is “to break the bond” with the husband’s spirit, according to The Times. “Widows have long tolerated it, and traditional leaders have endorsed it, as an unchallenged tradition of rural African life."

Did the school kids whom Kahura dressed up as African kings and queens learn anything about this? I have yet to attend one of Kahura’s lectures, to be sure, having only had the pleasure of reading about them and seeing her on television. Even so, I doubt she’s ever waxed poetic about the joys of sex with bereaved widows – whether they want it or not.

Kahura caught my attention two years ago, not long after I moved to Austin. Reading a news item about one of her upcoming presentations, I was dumbfounded by what seemed to be a case of multiculturalism gone berserk. I dashed off a protest letter to the America-Statesman: It wasn’t published.

I complained to my public library which was hosting her presentation. A library official responded that Kahura was a well-respected “educator” and much in demand for events such as Kwanzaa, Black History Month, or for various educational purposes.

Conservatives, incidentally, have an epithet for this town: “People’s Republic of Austin.”

Child Sexual Abuse

Presumably, Kahura’s presentations about her idealized Africa also skip over the pesky issue of child sexual abuse in Africa. The problem is persistent in Kahura’s native Kenya – not to mention in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, and Sierra Leone, according to an article in The New York Times last December, "Sex Abuse of Girls Is Stubborn Scourge in Africa." Dr. Rachel Jewkes, a specialist on sexual violence with South Africa’s Medical Research Council, was quoted as saying: “The prevalence of child rape in South Africa goes from really, really high to astronomically high.”

Some traditional values, huh?

Presumably, Kahura also skipped over another traditional African value: promiscuous sex. Once again, the venerable New York Times dealt with this in an article, “AIDS in Africa: Experts Study Role of Promiscuous Sex in the Epidemic." It was published way back in 1990, about the time Kahura first left her idyllic Kenya and came to America.

That article, believe it or not, actually stated that sexually promiscuous behavior may have something to do with Africa’s legacy of colonialism!

Presumably, Kahura’s lectures also have overlooked another ritual based on traditional African values – “female circumcisions.” Last June, The New York Times dealt with this in a delicately titled article, "Genital Cutting Raises by 50% Likelihood Mothers or Their Newborns Will Die, Study Finds.”

It stated, “In a number of African cultures, genital mutilation is part of a coming-of-age ceremony, and defenders have contended that it is a cultural practice, like male circumcision among Jews, with few, if any, proven long-term health consequences.”

Incidentally, the term “genital cutting” is the euphemism preferred by multicultural types who consider the more graphic “female circumcision" (the removal of the clitoris) to be too negative and judgmental of cultures that practice this procedure.

Modern-day Slavery

Some African-Americans and Kwanzaa diehards may idealize Africa – and Kahura may cater to their fantasies. However, they can count their blessings for having grown up in America, not Africa. Consider the plight of many African children – the subject of a New York Times article last October, "Africa’s World of Forced Labor, in a 6-Year-Old’s Eye."

African children sold into indentured servitude work up to 14 hours per day and “are part of a vast traffic in children that supports West and Central African fisheries, quarries, cocoa and rice plantations and street markets,” reported The Times.

“The girls are domestic servants, bread bakers, prostitutes. The boys are field workers, cart pushers, scavengers in abandoned gem and gold mines.”

Not very idyllic, huh?

Here’s a suggestion. The next time Kahura delivers a lecture on traditional African values, maybe the school or library or daycare center that’s hosting her can provide some counter-balance: Get a patriotic professor from the University of Texas to give a talk on American and Western values – with the aim of illustrating how those values have made us who we are.

Yeah, I know. In my dreams.


From the author:
….Readers that got this far may be interested in an Op-Ed piece I wrote in July, 2005 regarding the uproar over Mexico’s allegedly racist postage stamps. The piece, “All the Colors of the Rainbow,” ran in The Philadelphia Inquirer and Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

All the Colors of the Rainbow

Mexico’s ‘Racist' Stamp


By David Paulin

Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and White House spokesperson Scott McClellan all agree that a Mexican postal stamp plays upon racist stereotypes. Their unqualified agreement – from across our racial and political divide – is probably shared by most Americans. Our condemnation, though, may say a lot more about our culture than about Mexico's alleged racial insensitivity.

Don't get me wrong. I’m also put off by the stamp of a beloved Mexican comic-book character that, to me, also resembles a racist Jim Crow-era caricature: a goofy black male with exaggerated features such as thick lips. But Mexicans like the stamp, and President Vicente Fox has defended it.

So are Mexicans lining up to buy the stamp racists? I have my doubts, in part because I recall all too well how complicated racial politics can be in other countries, including in Venezuela and Jamaica where I have lived and worked.

Like in much of Latin America, for instance, Venezuela’s racial politics is complicated by the fact that it’s hard to tell just who is black -- and who isn’t. The reason is that 80 percent of Venezuelans are mixed race or mestizo. You find all sorts of gradations of colors and facial features. I first realized I was out of the loop when I asked a white upper-class Venezuelan friend why his country lacked any prominent black politicians.

“What about Claudio Fermin?” he asked with incredulity, referring to the dark-complexioned politician in the Democratic Action party.

"He's black?"

"He's as black as can be," he assured me.

He was right, of course. No doubt if I'd met Claudio Fermin on a street in Detroit or Atlanta, I would have figured that, yes, he was black. But in Venezuela, racial distinctions seemed harder to make.

It was an epiphany

How an American like me perceived somebody abroad, in terms of their race, often had more to do with culture and class than with skin color or features. It also had a lot to do with how people perceived and defined themselves.

Not all Venezuelans, to be sure, felt the same way. My Venezuelan girlfriend and I once visited one of the country’s venerable fortune tellers, called brujas. We were so impressed with Fanny – she provided correct numbers for a 4-digit Florida lotto, among other things – that my girlfriend referred a friend to her.

Fanny wasn't pleased.

"Why are you sending blacks to my house? I don't deal with that kind of clientele!"

I was shocked. I hadn't given it much thought until then. But Fanny was black. At least that's how she struck my girlfriend and me (who I guess, incidentally, would qualify as mestizo).

Perhaps Fanny was perhaps using one criterion that some in Venezuela used to determine race: kinky hair.

In overwhelmingly black Jamaica, racial politics and classifications were a lot more complicated. One strange thing I quickly realized: After a few days, I didn't regard Jamaicans I met as being "black.” The reason is that most ordinary Jamaicans, unlike many black Americans, didn’t define themselves by their skin color. Instead, they regarded themselves as Jamaicans – no matter what country they were in. It’s an attitude that upsets some black Americans.

For Jamaicans, however, that attitude affects how they perceive themselves – and how others perceive them. One Jamaican friend related how he was visiting Miami and was in a car with several white friends and acquaintances. Somebody blurted “nigger” in a casual conversation. An embarrassing silence ensued for a few seconds – for my Jamaican friend is black – until somebody in the group quickly clarified: "Of course, we're not talking about you. You’re a Jamaican!”

“It was like water rolling off a duck,” recalled my friend.

Interestingly, such an easy going attitude seemed common among Jamaicans, except for members of the left-leaning elite: newspaper columnists, university professors, and politicians. Many of them viewed the world through a racial prism – an obsession that gives them a lot in common with many black Americans, and with many left-leaning whites.

Ordinary Jamaicans, to be sure, also could be extraordinarily complicated about race.

"P-F-W” was one expression they applied to light-complexioned and upper class Jamaicans who, they complained, tried to “Pass for White.” They joked about whether those P-F-Ws could pass for white in America.

My Jamaican girlfriend, who looked something like the beautiful actress Angela Bassett, once referred to a fellow employee as “the woman with very African features.” I was a bit surprised, for my girlfriend had some African features of her own: sensuous lips that were far more beautiful than what any thin-lipped white women could get from a plastic surgeon. I never learned at what point sensuous lips morph into “African” lips, although it was one of many instances I encountered of blacks making seemingly harmless distinctions or judgments among themselves, based on racial features.

Interestingly, my girlfriend’s beauty opened doors throughout the Caribbean, though not in Cuba. There she was interrogated every time she tried to enter a Havana tourist hotel she was visiting

“Well, you look just like a nice Cuban girl!” the hotel manager of Spanish descent told her sympathetically, after she had vented her outrage. It’s a common complaint – one that left-leaning Jamaican and black American elites, curiously, never complain about.

When retelling her story of being wrongly “profiled,” incidentally, my girlfriend displayed none of the venom and insecurity one often finds among members of minority groups in America, when relating similar incidents.

For my part, I was surprised a Cuban doorman didn't find my Jamaican girlfriend as captivating as I did. But what constitutes beauty or “blackness” can be complicated, I realized. The same can be said for racism. You’d think decent people would know it when they see it. But I’m not quite so sure anymore – except to know that today in America it’s overused more often than not due to our hypersensitivity about race. There’s also no doubting that our ideals are simply much higher than in other countries – though we never get as much credit for those ideals as for our failure to consistently reach them.

As to Mexico, I’m withholding judgment on whether the country has a serious “race problem.” Despite that ambivalence I won’t be buying any of those postage stamps.




5 comments:

Anonymous said...

more racist ranting by someone who has probably never traveled...some guy who sits in a redneck office in texas with a warped view of the world getting all of his information he writes from right wing radio

David Paulin said...

Anonymous:
Generally, I don't publish these types of comments from anonymous readers, but I am making an exception in your case. FYI: I lived nearly ten years abroad -- just over seven years in Caracas, Venezuela and nearly two years in Kingston, Jamaica. I've traveled twice to Africa -- Gabon and Botswana. I've visited Cuba for nearly ten days. In Europe, I've visited France twice, England once, and I've lived for nearly three months in Madrid, Spain. I spent two days driving through Northern Italy. In Latin America, I've traveled to Costa Rica, Guatemala, Trinidad, Tobago, Belize, and Puerto Rico. Frankly, I wish I were more well traveled than I am. Also, it may interest you to know that it was my overseas experience -- in large part -- that turned me into a conservative. Finally, I think the gal I dated in Jamaica would be surprised to hear I'm a racist. Thanks for writing, and please don't be shy about leaving your name next time you write.

amieres said...

That's a beautiful reply...

David Paulin said...
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David Paulin said...
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