Books & arts
* Resisting Racism and Xenophobia: Global Perspectives on Race, Gender and Human Rights
by Faye Harrison, ed. (2005) Altamira Press
2005-11-29, Issue 232
‘Resisting Racism and Xenophobia’ is a collection of papers on a multitude of inequalities and injustices, all of which are related to racism. The book is edited by Faye Harrison, professor of African American Studies and Anthropology in Florida, who already made her mark in promoting justice, for example when she edited ‘Decolonizing Anthropology’ and more recently when she organised a group of academics to go to Durban, South Africa, to the UN World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in 2001. In large part, the book contains contributions delivered at WCAR, but is also a response to the event that occurred almost immediately after the conference, namely September 11.
The introduction, written by the editor, is an activist’s overview of the struggle for human rights, its aims, concepts, obstacles, achievements, challenges. Encouraging is that this is of interest to anthropology. At second sight, this is not surprising, because anthropology includes the study of difference and identity. Because our ‘differences’ have an impact on our socio-economic - and psychological - status, anthropology on the one hand and politics or community development on the other, are interlinked. Hence Harrison’s opening statement by Mamphele Ramphele on the proximity of these disciplines (p.1).
Harrison reminds us of what opportunities the UN has afforded us such as the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) from 1969. She analyses the “diversity of racism”(p.8) and how different definitions point at different aspects of injustice. She explains why racism is also specifically a women’s issue, namely because “women bear the brunt of much of the discrimination perpetuated against racially subordinated people.”(p.10).
Casteism, another dimension and variant of racism, particularly in India, is discussed by Devaki Jain. She also gives us an interesting insight into the proceedings of WCAR. The “conference revealed the ugliness of the human species, what it can do to the Other”(p.36) and “The air at the venue was one of conflict, conflict between peoples within countries.”(ibid.) This is useful feedback for us as activists: Did people not feel a sense of togetherness in each of them having the opportunity to raise the respective aspects of injustice that they are subjected to?
Subhadra Mitra Channa gives a further insight into casteism as it operates in India against the Dalits and Dhobis, so-called ‘untouchables’ who face immense discrimination despite a constitutional ban on ‘untouchability’ decades ago.
A perspective from Aboriginal Australia is given by J. Maria Pederson who, like other Aboriginals, was not born a citizen of her own country (p. 67). Cheryl Fisher, another international human rights activist, speaks as a voice for rural African Americans, as opposed to the ‘urban voices’ that we hear more frequently. Helen Safa explains to us the link between marriage and racism in America: the American state itself is to be held accountable for the high incidence of black single mothers because they did not allow Blacks to get married and they did not enable black men to be sole breadwinners. Melissa Hargrove discusses the link between sex tourism and economics with racism. The governments of poorer countries such as the Caribbean view tourism as a tool for development but the tourism promotes exotic images of the black female. Given that concurrent structural adjustment programmes in her country reduce alternative (normal) opportunities to make an income she is forced to engage in “Structurally Adjusted Intercourse”(p.123).
Esther Njiro’s discussion of racism is on gender, HIV/AIDS and racism in Africa and with it opens up important topics within and beyond African feminism. Fatma Napoli and Mohamed Saleh’s aspect of racism under discussion is the situation of women in Zanzibar, which, as an island, experienced multiple colonisations and whose women experienced colonialisms parallel to and in addition to the colonisations that the men would experience, such as sexual abuse(s): colonized space and colonized bodies.
Philomena Okeke describes the struggle for “new Africans in diaspora”(p.175) in Canada, as opposed to those that have been in the diaspora since the onset of slavery, namely the African Americans. Her contribution is of particular significance to all those Africans from the continent who had to migrate in this lifetime, as this is a growing group but still neglected by academic literature on ‘black people in America’. Jan Delacourt discusses racism suffered by immigrants in Northern Italy. Haitian-born Gina Ulysse contributes a poem about her country of conceptual significance “My country in translation”(p. 209) revealing mechanisms of distortions, consequences of assumptions.
Camille Hazeur and Diana Hayman describe the faults and challenges of diversity training, an important topic as diversity training is one avenue of fighting racism, so we need to know what exactly is wrong with it and why.
The editor, Faye Harrison, gives a detailed analysis of the intersection of struggles for human rights being waged in the US South, a struggle that includes issues of and for various disadvantaged groups and individuals. Groups whose rights have been neglected – or never even established – form ‘evidence of injustice’. Hence her chapter is entitled: “What democracy looks like.”(p.229ff). Harrison also shows commonalities between the US South and the Global South throughout the chapter.
Finally, Fadwa El Guindi’s chapter on the struggle over Palestine, the crisis in the Middle East and the intensification of that crisis after September 11, illuminates the extent that victimisation has assumed.
The book is inspiring for all activists, insightful for all social scientists, educational for all who are not yet aware of the urgency of a global struggle against injustice. The book is unique in giving perspectives by and about voices from all the five continents of the globe. In this age of globalisation it is most useful and necessary to know how each one of us is affected. Reading the book is an inspiration to carry on our respective struggles and link up with one another.
* Reviewed by Ursula Troche. Ursula Troche is an Activist, Artist and Anthropologist. She does performance poetry on political issues; did Intercultural Therapy at Goldsmith's College; participated in a conference on Anthropologists Against Racism in the Czech Republic; founded Culture-Net-Work, and teaches adult education in Southall, West London.
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