Sunday, January 29, 2006

The bend of my hair, the palm of my hand

Last night I went to the culture show put on by the African and Carribbean students' group. There was a little girl sitting next to her grandfather in front of me, so as I watched the skits and dances I kept wondering what she was making of it. My first reaction was that the shakings of African dance weren't something I would choose for a child to watch, but as the night went on I realized what a weird Puritanical standard I was holding up to the situation.

Given that this girl probably sees Shakira on TV doing far worse, I was glad she was in this room. Given what else is out there that she could be hearing, I'd much rather her be hearing Maya Angelou's “Phenomenal Woman.” Given the reality of violence in our world, I'd rather her hear a condemnation of domestic abuse and violent African political regimes than be at home playing Tomb Raider or watching Kill Bill (or for that matter, ignoring the violence entirely and thus doing nothing to change it). During the fashion show at the end, as we watched each smiling woman in costume from Ghana or Haiti or Cape Verde sway and shimmy up the aisle to “African Queen”, I was so glad that she was watching them instead of the identical, shiny-haired contestants from Miss America or any other pageant.

Why is it that we consider certain aspects of adulthood appropriate for children to see and others not? A dance that shows off the shape of the adult female body is considered inappropriate because it's considered sexual. But when I saw my classmates on that stage and saw how much the little girl loved seeing them perform, I saw a celebration of themselves, their bonds to each other, and their national cultures. Here was a presentation of adulthood that was positive for once, something for her to aspire to. Long live Africa.

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