Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Clean White Dot


Note to reader: One of the boring complaints people might make about Dzodze, Ghana is that the Internet is spotty. Compared to the deep richness of a culture that continues to astound me with its vitality, humanity, welcoming spirit, extraordinary music and dance, who cares? But just to explain that anyone interested in the chronic logical order of my comments on my experience here at Orff-Afrique needs to go two blogs back to the 99 Bottle Bender. I'll alert you if there's a similar lag in the future. Meanwhile, enjoy!

Yesterday, my teacher Kofi Gbolonyo shared one of the most revealing and heartbreaking stories I’ve heard in a long time. Would you like to hear it?

A short preface. Ignorance is always harmful, but when ignorance is married to power, the results are disastrous. In this case, the power of the media to spread ignorance far beyond a casual conversation at a dinner party and plant the destructive seed of malignant images. When I say media, I’m talking about playwrights, poets, novelists, journalists, TV producers, film-makers, radio talk show hosts and though less powerful in terms of sheer numbers of people infected, priests, ministers, teachers. When people who know nothing about other people feel that they have the right to portray them and define them, that’s where the cancer begins to grow.

And so the story. Kofi was a guest at a school kindergarten and after doing some things with the children, gave them crayons and paper and said, “What comes to your mind when I say Africa? Draw me a picture.” Then he asked the children to explain their drawing and one little girl showed him a scribble scrabble chaotic drawing with a small white circle in the middle.

“All of the messy part is Africa. The clean white dot is you.”

Do you understand? Because she had met Kofi and she liked him and he was humanized because he was kind and friendly to her, he became the exception, the clean white dot amidst the chaos that at 5 years old, the media had already imprinted in her mind. That’s profound.

So that’s the deal. Anything that de-humanizes, that de-personalizes, that leans on stereotypes imposed by people who either purposefully plant them for their own privilege and political gain or ignorantly pass them on because they never challenged the images put into their brain, anything that fails to challenge those images, carries the damage forward. And conversely, anything that humanizes, makes personal, allows people to simply be themselves and speak on their own behalf, that challenges and asks us to think and feel beyond Tarzan and Little Black Sambo and what and how the news chooses to portray, is a step toward healing, towards erasing the jumbled scribble-scrabble of brainwashing. It not only helps heal the damage of ignorance, racism, purposefully perpetuated hatred and division, but enlarges our own world and opens our hearts to people, places and cultures that make us happier, more loving, more of our better selves.

And again to personalize it, we begin to make friends of people with names who we couldn’t imagine having never known. In my own case, my world would have been so much poorer and I would be so much smaller if I hadn’t met and known Lumpy, Avon, Joshu Sasaki Roshi, Narayanan, Sainaba, I Wayan Suweca, Wolfgang, Sofia, Soili, Nanna Hlif, Rodrigo, Mayumi, Ga, Mom Dusdi, Hao Su, Cao Li, SK Kakraba, Estevao, Jacqueline, Ezo, Ade, Mandana and hundreds more who are not your typical Tom, Dick and Harry, and yet, at the bottom, share the same human possibilities and promise, frailties and vulnerabilities. All those clean white dots on my paper and far outnumbering the remnants of my Tarzan-like scribble-scrabbled upbringing.

So if you have been blessed with such friendships, have read the books and seen the movies that humanize people and places, have traveled to places that have shown you new ways to live and to enjoy this life, you have an extra responsibility to bring the good news to those still in the dark and to encourage them to refuse the mediated brainwashing that continues unchecked.

Now off to have breakfast with Miguelito, Thiago, Juno, Melonko and of course, Kofi.

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