Out of Africa
This is kind of an anti-book review and an opportunity to share a tiny example of my personal decolonization work.
Some months ago, in preparation for a trip to South Africa, I decided to read Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen; such a classic and somehow, I’d never read it. I had seen the movie many years ago and what I remembered was the beautiful cinematography—I think I need to take another look and see what I missed in my pre-awareness days. Within the 1st ten pages I found myself and my “white fragility” extremely triggered. The way the author spoke of Black African people like they were a different species hit me hard and deeply offended me.
Why am I saying it triggered my white fragility? Because, that uncomfortable feeling, that something-here-is-not-quite-right feeling most white folk get around racially charged situations, well that is what happened. I did push on and I did have to rant about my feelings to a friend or two and also try to journal my way through it, but in the end, I closed the book. This was not white fragility; it was drawing a line. How is it that I’d never heard what a profoundly racist book this was? How is this book still on reading lists for travelers to Africa – without a warning at least that this is a prime example of colonialist writing and a sad and violent period piece? Tolerating the discomfort, using it as a tool to dig in to a charged place in myself is how I turn my white fragility into awareness and hopefully action, however small.
Dear white bodied humans, we can build a muscle of tolerance for these uncomfortable feelings and from there, we can grow our voices. I wish this was not such a small baby step towards making things right, towards participating in the needed changes BY US, not our black friends, neighbors, and family. We are fragile around these subjects and tend to do the thing; look away, shut down, or shut up. I am here just to say; sit in the ugliness, face it, wonder what your place in it all might be – and where your own sense of innocence might want to mingle with where you may be complicit or ignorant. We are late to this party, everything I am saying to you I am saying to myself first; for most humans, activism is the series of small actions we DO take… they can add up. They do matter.
I can’t recommend Out of Africa, except as an opportunity to build your muscle of WHOA, this happened, this was real, parts of it still linger in me and in my culture, but I am becoming vigilant and I am not going to leave the speak-up’s to someone else.
Motto of 2024: do hard things.
Reminder to self: it’s not that hard.