Bare Witness: The Good and the Bad Sides of Activism
As Nikki shared her story, it suddenly made sense why the man in the slums attacked Suzanne and I the way he did. His outrage made perfect sense. I felt incredibly ashamed that instead of coming into their homes to provide support and aid, we had instead violated them on a deep and primal level. I suddenly imagined this woman moving through the village ooh and ahhing the children and calling them monkeys, much to the disbelief and horror of the villagers. Inadvertently, we perpetuated the continued racism and separation that affects so many people in their lives everywhere. This was the last thing we ever intended to do.
I pulled the woman aside later to speak with her. She was still defensive, and I was truly shocked that I had to explain to her why calling black people in Africa, or anywhere, "little monkey" was offensive. I had to go into detail about why that word would have a negative association. I spoke about the history of African oppression and what had been done to the people and how, as a result, there still might an inherent lack of trust toward foreigners. I explained to her what had happened in the village with the man, his attack and venomous outrage. Her casual use of that word triggered within him hundreds of years of deep trauma, violence and pain on a very tribal level. She ignited that explosion, and he was justified in his reaction. As I spoke, I could see her begin to understand what she had done, and she was horrified at what her words might have created. She kept apologizing, saying she truly didn't know how offensive it was and would have never said it had she been aware. Which I absolutely believe.
Seane's life-changing realization