Almost all of my shoes have heels. Three inches minimum. I had wanted to wear them since I was a little girl. They made you look taller and undeniably more mature. But the best part about them, thought I at age five, was the sound they made.
It’s a sound, I later learned, that some people think ought to be suppressed. In the film The Devil Wears Prada, Andrea complains about her job and mentions a group of women she calls Clackers, because of the sound their stiletto heels make on the marble lobby of her office building. “They worship her”, she says of Miranda Priestly, Andrea’s boss and the editor in chief of Runway, the fashion magazine they both work for.
I remember older women in school (frumpier than those I admired) and even some of my peers (who I guess admired these frumpy older women) saying that women do not make that clacking noise and that it’s perfectly possible to cross a hard floor in heels without doing so.
And it is. If you want to meekly tiptoe across, terrified of anyone noticing your presence.
Ever wondered how long it would take to travel from Rome to Constantinople at the peak of the Roman Empire? Or from Luna to Larissa? Or Parma to Thessalonica? This map of the Roman World created at Stanford University is awesomely realistic â all the ancient transportation lines on it actually existed 2,000 years ago.
A faculty member at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Shannon Gibney, received a formal reprimand for her handling of a discussion about structural racism in her Introduction to Mass Communication course.
According to Gibney inan interview with City College News, a white male student asked her, “Why do we have to talk about this in every class? Why do we have to talk about this?”
She claims she was shocked, because “[h]is whole demeanor was very defensive. He was taking it personally. I tried to explain, of course, in a reasonable manner — as reasonable as I could given the fact that I was being interrupted and put on the spot in the middle of class — that this is unfortunately the context of 21st century America.”
Gibney says another white male student followed the first, saying “Yeah, I don’t get this either. It’s like people are trying to say that white men are always the villains, the bad guys. Why do we have to say this?”
When Gibney attempted, again, to inform the students that they were mistaking a systemic critique for a personal attack, the students continued to argue. Eventually, she told them that “if you’re really upset, feel free to go down to legal affairs and file a racial harassment discrimination complaint.” This is exactly what they did.
Gibney is familiar with white male students taking discussions about structural racism as personal attacks, as it has happened before: ina 2009 incident, an editor of the school newspaper took offense at a similar discussion. In both that case and this one, Gibney received an official reprimand. After the latest accusation, the Vice President of Academic Affairs appended a letter to her file, in which he said he found it “it troubling that the manner in which you led a discussion on the very important topic of of structural racism alienated two students who may have been most in need of learning about this subject.”
“While I believe it was your intention to discuss structural racism generally,” he continued, “it was inappropriate for you to single out white male students in class. Your actions in [targeting] select students based on their race and gender caused them embarrassment and created a hostile learning environment.”
Gibney told lawyers at an investigatory meeting for an anti-discrimination lawsuit she and six other professors are filling against MCTC that the vice president’s words “have helped those three white male students succeed in undermining my authority as one of the few remaining black female professors here.”
There’s a lot of irony in this story. In the students’ subsequent freak out about feeling “singled out” about structural racism they went over her head and tried to get the professor fired…indicating structural racism.
Bousso Dramé is a young Senegalese woman who recently won a French language competition organized by the French Institute of Senegal. She was awarded a return flight ticket to Paris and a training in documentary film-making for winning said competition. She however renounced the whole thing after finding herself on the receiving end of vexing and humiliating comments from employees of the French Institute and of the French Consulate in Dakar.
This could have ended there and nobody would have ever known about it. But unlike those who have been in her shoes before her, Bousso Dramé penned a candid and eloquent open letter to the French Consul-General in Senegal, first published on DakarActu and later republished on Rue89, that has been making the rounds of the French-speaking African net. This letter, translated in English below with her consent, explains politely but firmly why France can keep the visa, the flight ticket and the training.
She makes clear that her decision, in her own words, is “not a sanction against individuals but against a generalized system” in which visa applicants are met with suspicion and contempt before anything else, and that she renounces “in the name of those thousands of Senegalese who deserve respect”. Those words have brought her much praise from fellow anonymous visa applicants and Africans in general. They have however been met with more interrogations than approval from French readers who have been asking what she is refering to exactly.
Indeed her letter speaks volume to those who already know what she is putting her finger on but appears elusive to those who do not. She did go into more details in the interview that she gave to Jeune Afrique. More than the clerk at the French Consulate who reportedly told her “she wasn’t paid to hand out smiles” — the kind of rudeness one can face in any (French) administration no matter who you are, it is the “recommendations” from French Institute staffers that are most telling: because she would be “representing the French Institute”, she would have to “behave” and resist “shopping temptations” despite a “very generous per diem”. The concerned White man telling the little Black girl to keep clear of his world’s niceties for fear she be bedazzled into oblivion… Sounds familiar yet?
But that’s not all. What Bousso Dramé faced was not just your run-of-the-mill neocolonial paternalism, she also got a taste of the discrimination faced by many migrants applying for visas when her request to stay three days longer than the training required, to visit friends and family, was denied. “Nobody looks like a prototype of illegal migrant,” she was told, implying that anything out of the tightly controlled schedule was suspicious activity, meant to evade the authorities and remain in France.
Bousso Dramé represents the future of Senegal: young, highly educated and determined. It is with people like her that France and other former colonial powers will talk and negotiate ten years from now. Singing the praises of this young new African middle class generation is easy on paper, and we have seen plenty of that recently. Yet when time comes to act on it, this generation is met with the same harrowing attitude as its forebears. Except times have changed and the Bousso Dramés of the continent are unafraid to say “no, thank you” and move on without France. As far as Senegal is concerned, this is all very good news and confirmation that the Nouveau Type de Sénégalais called forth by Y’En A Marre comes in all shapes and sizes. It is however a pity and an outrage that France has not yet come to terms with such a simple reality.
Open letter to the French consular and diplomatic authorities in Senegal: No, thank you.
To His Excellency the Consul-General, To the Director of the French Institute of Senegal,
My name is Bousso Dramé and I am a Senegalese citizen who, on this day, has decided to put pen to paper so that a message that I care deeply about can be heard loud and clear.
Out of interest for the language of Molière, I decided last April to take part in the 2013 National Spelling Competition organized by the French Institute as part the Francophonie Prizes. The competition brought together a few hundred candidates, aged 18 to 35, in the French Institutes of Dakar and Saint-Louis as well as the French Alliances of Kaolack and Ziguinchor. After some written dueling about an excerpt of L’Art Français de la Guerre [The French Art of War] by Alexis Jenni, which received the 2011 Goncourt Prize, I had the honor to be declared the winner of said competition. I was rewarded with a Dakar-Paris-Dakar flight ticket and a CultureLab training in documentary film-making at the Albert Schweitzer Centre.
During my short life, while being open as the citizen of the world that I am, I have never ceased to defend my pride of being a Black and African woman. It goes without saying that I absolutely believe in the bright future of my dear Africa. I am equally convinced of the necessity to put an end to prejudices that prevailed about Africans and Africa due to the colonial era and the difficult contemporary situation of this continent. It is high time for Africans to respect themselves and to demand they be respected by others. This vision of a certainly generous and open, but also proud and determined, Africa, demanding the respect that it is owed and that it has been denied for far too long, is a strong conviction of mine that enables me and literally carries me forward.
However, during my numerous interactions with, on the one hand, some staff members of the French Institute and, on the other hand, civil servants at the French Consulate, I have had to deal with conscending, insidious, sly and vexating behaviors and remarks. Not once, nor twice but multiple times! I have really tried to ignore these behaviors but the appalling welcome I have been greeted with at the French Consulate (a “welcome”endured by most fellow Senegalese applying for visas) has been the last straw that, unfortunately, broke the camel’s back.
As an authentic individual who does not know how to cheat, a difficult but necessary decision became an obvious one for me. An all-expenses-paid trip, even the world’s most beautiful and enchanting one, is not worth the suffering that my fellow citizens and myself endure from the French Consulate. No matter how exciting the training, and God knows this one really appealed to me, it is not worth the pain of enduring these kinds of behavior unfortunately widespread under African skies. As a matter of coherence with my own value system, I have, therefore, decided to renounce that offer, despite being granted a visa.
Renounce symbolically. Renounce in the name of those thousands of Senegalese who deserve respect, a respect they are being denied within the walls of these French representations, and on Senegalese soil moreover.
This decision is not a sanction against individuals but against a generalized system which, despite the ever-increasing list of complaints from my fellow citizens, does not seem inclined to question itself.
Furthermore, I find it particularly ironic that the partial headline of the training that I will not attend reads: “Is France still the homeland of human rights? To what point are French citizens also European cizens and cizitens of the world?” It would be, without a doubt, an interesting subject for a documentary shot from an African perspective and I hope that I will have the chance, by way of other means, to participate in a CultureLab training in the future.
I shall thank the French Institute nonetheless, for this competition initiative, which in my opinion deserves to continue to exist, and even to be held more frequently in order to stimulate the intellectual emulation between young Senegalese and for the pleasure of those who love the French language, among which I count myself.
To the lady clerk at the France Consulate’s visa counter – I do not know your name, but regarding that visa that I will not be using, let me tell you: no, thank you.
Proudly, sincerely and Africanly yours, Bousso Dramé.