How America disguises “shithole”

One week from today, in 2015, I was hopping on a plane to fly half-way around the world to the capital city of Rwanda, a country in East Africa, known in America as the home of the movie Hotel Rwanda and the 1994 genocide.

One week ago today, in 2018, the President of the United States clumped all 54 African countries together and used language about them being a shithole that we should not allow immigrants from.

Three years ago, many were wishing me well, as most do for any student studying abroad. I knew, however, that going to Rwanda also garnered a lot more of “be safe” than my friends flying off to Rome. It wasn’t because there had been a genocide (any classmate going to Germany wasn’t getting the same treatment), it was because it was Africa. Even more, I was getting the comment that I would make such a difference. I was never going to Rwanda to make a difference, though. I was going to learn from Rwanda and Rwandan people. I was hearing it because it was Africa.  Three years ago, people around me assumed that my experience would be more dangerous than those of my peers and that I would be completing service work to help those in need in Africa.

Last week, many were silent about the president’s comments about African countries as “shitholes” or they were more concerned about the profanity of the POTUS. I tried my best to understand why there wasn’t more immediate outrage from all and recognition that the comments were racist. It made me think back to the comments I had heard three years ago. It also made me think back to one of the reasons Donald Trump was elected in the first place: “he says what others are thinking but are too afraid to say.” The trouble with Donald Trump’s comments about African countries isn’t just that the President of the United States said shit or that he was the one that said it. The trouble is, America (our education system, our politicians, our media) continues to teach our children and validate our adults that Africa in fact is “third world,” extremely impoverished, ravished with disease, in need of America’s help, and, frankly,  a shithole.

The general population doesn’t use that language because we disguise what we teach about Africa with Sarah McLaughlin music and church service trips. It is as if it isn’t wrong to miseducate about an entire continent if we donate “just 25 cents a day to help a child in need” or spend a week building homes. Philanthropy and service is not inherently bad, but every country in the entire world could use food for malnourished children and housing for the poor. The reason we target Africa is because we continue to equate blackness with savagery and being uncivilized. We target Africa because we can’t seem to come to terms with how we are the reason much of the natural resources of the country are deplenished and their rich, early civilizations were destroyed.  We target Africa because we don’t educate ourselves about the things truly going on in its 54 countries that are beautiful, insightful, and impressive.

That was my intention of this blog that I started three years ago; to share that the place I was going was rich, splendid, and was helping me way more than I was helping it. The people of Rwanda deserve for us to know about them and their country, just like everyone in Africa and in the world. They deserve for us to rightly educate one another and stop believing that they live in a shithole country. They don’t.

This isn’t about immigration policy or profanity, it is about the livelihood and humanity of over a billion people. Don’t disguise it as something else.

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