What I Learned About Race By Living In Africa

Obviously, there are many lessons to be taken away from living in a place as different as East Africa.

I’ve gained insight and a more nuanced view on topics such as development, education, the meaning and importance of home, and the magnificence of mother nature.

Above all these, however, was one issue I felt was particularly interesting and important. So much so, that I drafted a piece on it and sent it to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The topic was race.

I began writing the article simply as a survey of where we as a society have come from and are now on the issue. I was going to offer a brief history of eugenics at the turn of the last century, how we’ve reacted after WWII to dismiss any notion of biological distinctions between groups of humans, and now how today we’re in a tug-o-war between those who maintain no biological divide vs. those who do with new evidence from the human genome.

I wrote this inspired by my placement–being the only white man in an African community–and so plainly seeing the similarities and differences between their ways and my own. And I was going to write the article as a argument in this “tug-o-war.”

But then I realized something.

As I was making my case in this article, which was becoming less a human interest story and more the kind of essay one would have offered to their college professor, I thought about the controversy surrounding this topic in the U.S.–and how misplaced it is.  Watching boys in my village playing soccer, I realized that research on whether or not athletic ability is a natural gift more readily bestowed on black humans is not a statement of how we value them.

I thought about my job teaching Tanzanian students computers. And it hit me that in practically all the ways we interact with one another, it doesn’t matter who’s right in this debate. In other words, whether race is real or a social construct is irrelevant when I’m sitting down with a student to show them how to save a Word document.

In all, I realized that more concerning than where anyone stands on the issue of biological vs. cultural differences and race, is the loudness of the debate in the U.S.

That’s the article I sent to the Star Tribune, and that’s the article I’m proud to say is in today’s paper. If you get or have a copy, check it out in the Opinion section. Or, just click this link: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/278863001.html

I look forward to sharing more lessons and experiences from East Africa on this blog each Sunday.

4 Responses

  1. Grande Pollo

    I was very suprised to read an article which doesn’t kowtow to the PC Komissars in the PravdaTrib, you’re a brave man Brandon.

  2. I am so excited that a skinny little blonde drummer from Blackduck has turned into such an insightful young man. Congrats on traveling the world with your eyes open and helping to educate us. You are doing a great job and I count it a blessing that I know you. Keep up the good work.

  3. Nicole Randolph Fernandez

    Looking forward Brandon to your insight, I have since left Mpls and moved back home to Boston be well…Hotep

What say you?