Three Books for the White Savior

Three Books for the White Savior

By some slim chance the last three books I have read have all touched on a similar theme that has been in my mind for a while. With the situation in Aleppo as well as the rest of Syria heating up, I think of the US’s role as a first-world country in international human rights work, and especially the role of those here in the United States who are financially privileged. I attend a school that places a lot of pressure on serving abroad as a student missionary, with almost all posts located in third-world countries. I see the value in this program and recognize that it helps rather isolated students experience a different culture while also bringing important help to the location. However, I think sometimes in the effort to be helpful, people or organizations may lose sight of what’s most important in a region, and priorities can get mixed up. If I were to be called to be a student missionary, the most important question I would have to ask myself is “What is my motive?”

I won’t try to find an answer to this dilemma. It’s been around for quite some time, and I don’t think there’s a simple conclusion. Each of these books explores situations with people from both the United States and England trying to give aid to people who they perceived to need their help. In each story the social intricacies of the situation are explored in a way that helped give my mind a better understanding of how my presence or aid in a foreign country can affect more than I may intend it to. In the hope that they help someone else to think, too, here they are:

71yzyd54wtlSwing Time

Zadie Smith

Swing Time follows a young woman who works as a personal assistant to a well-off pop star. In the latter half of the story, the celebrity decides that she’d like to build a school for girls in western Africa. The protagonist then spends time living in the town where the school is built and sees how it affects the social situation in the surrounding area. The pop star also adopts one of the African babies with less-than-legal privilege. It’s a real trip, and raises interesting questions about the effectiveness of rapidly-introduced foreign education.

9781408834671State of Wonder: A Novel

Ann Patchett

State of Wonder follows a woman who works for a pharmaceutical company funding a research project in the Amazon jungle in Brazil. When their first liaison dies after going to report on the drug being researched, the company sends Marina to find out why he died and how much progress is being made. During her stay, she sees the effect the researchers have had on the native tribe, as well as how inter-tribal relations are affected by the pharmaceutical companies’s presence. It’s a fast-paced story with a strong mystery plot, but reads like a literary novel. It left me mildly uncomfortable, and was deeply stirring.

81qzmyqka8lWhite Teeth: A Novel

Zadie Smith

White Teeth was written by Zadie Smith prior to when she wrote Swing Time. The two books share many of the same themes, but where Swing Time took the reader abroad, White Teeth looks at the legacy of “white aid” in domestic Britain. A well-meaning WASP-y middle class family takes several muslim kids under their wing and begin raising them as their own kids. In the process, the kids’s parents feel their children have let go of their native culture at the cost of receiving a private education. White Teeth is much more complex than the previous two books, but gives a greater reward in return.

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The Exciting Future of Gender

The Exciting Future of Gender

fateofgendercoverI recently finished The Fate of Gender: Nature, Nurture, and the Human Future by Frank Browning, a former NPR reporter and writer for several other publicatins. There’s been a strong buildup to this book for me and it came at the perfect moment in my life. I spent the last spring from January – April studying gender and sexuality at Oxford through the lens of western european medieval literature which introduced me to both new ideas and ways of processing more complex sociological information, something I’ve had close to no training in besides my independent reading. My spring semester at Oxford in connection with new levels of maturity that enable to me see more clearly how I perceive and interact with my own gender identity provided the perfect time for me to read The Fate of Gender and it was not a disappointment.

I don’t want to diminish the value of my time at Oxford because it taught me important research skills, but I learned much more about how we as humans perceive sex and gender while reading this book than in all of my tutorials. And all it cost me was $10. The book clearly demonstrated to me how the biological and social sides of gender have affected us as a society and how the changing landscape of how we see gender is directly linked to many current world events in both politics and culture. (One brief passage of the book even explains Trump’s success as a backlash against changing gender politics.) And the language of the books is pretty accessible.

Since the beginning of history (/documented civilization), humans have almost entirely lived within masculine societies. As far as I can tell, this status quo is protected through monotheistic religions that use masculine gods to enforce a male superiority that has gone unquestioned for thousands of years. Though we are far from removing the masculine bias from human culture, we’re beginning to see a shift and it is causing a mix of fear and excitement. Early on Browning states:

“To the traditional pinstriped executive in his smoking room or to the laid-off line workers at U.S. Steel, or to the evangelical ministers in Alabama, Kentucky, and Arkansas, these arguments for “equity” constituted nothing less than a full-fledged assault on the natural order of the universe as designed by a singular and unmistakably male god leading to the current unwinding of strict masculine and feminine roles.” p. 10

I see a gray area here that I know will scare many people: how are these changing gender norms not natural? Nature is not constant. Even strict creationists must admit that nature is constantly undergoing an evolutionary process. What is “natural” one moment may not be natural the next. Furthermore, people who argue against the changing face of gender assume that what is natural is good. Is it? (Though this argument can go either way.)

The gender norms that we have developed as a society, though perceived as “natural” by some, may not therefore be good. This can be applied to my previous thought as well. More gray area, but that is barely the beginning of why this excites me.

“You cannot invoke Nature as the basis of human behavior. For if you do, then you might as well legalize infanticide too since certain animal species practice that! But seriously, these days when we very often hear references to what is supposed to be ‘natural’ it’s very often a cover for people who oppose marriage and adoption for everybody.” p. 114, quoting Frank Cézilly


 

Though gender is far from over, it’s changing. I suggest you pick up a book and figure out your own feelings about the changing face of sex and gender in our society. It excites me, and I hope it excites you as well.

A Note on Growing up Gay in the Christian Church

A Note on Growing up Gay in the Christian Church
(This post was originally published on Facebook. Please like/share/comment on it here.)
I’m really encouraged by Trey Pearson and the positive reaction to his coming out. I see this as an important opportunity to learn from his story.
Similar to Pearson, I grew up believing that being gay was wrong and, more importantly, a choice. I saw my church ask LGBTQ members to leave, and I accepted this as normal and the will of God. Though people in my community had the wisdom to not run around like some infamous churches (WBC), their actions were not lost on my young mind and I absorbed the same homophobic beliefs of those around me.
I assumed that my lack of attraction to women was normal. I even thought I was an extra nice person for not struggling with the horrible lust for women all my high school teachers wouldn’t stop talking about. Sure, I was attracted to men, but growing up in a community that ignored LGBTQ people taught me to believe that my feelings were not legitimate—causing me to sweep my feelings under the carpet and live as someone I was not. Though many are able to sustain this for a long time (like Pearson), it is unhealthy and I am still dealing with the mental repercussions of living a lie.
Luckily, much of the homophobic rhetoric that I was exposed to is beginning to fade away. Maybe it’s because I’ve found better friends to hang out with, but I’m seeing less and less of the heteronormative behavior that taught me to hate my sexual orientation.
However, our work is not done.
At my school I am one of few openly gay individuals. It’s not a joyride, but it is necessary. I recognize that much of what made my coming out process so arduous was the lack of gay role models. Up until my time at Walla Walla University, I had met few (if any) out gay men. They simply did not exist in my world. Though it is not my first choice to submit myself to the public eye as a gay man, I know having visible LGBTQ individuals is important to our next generations, especially within the church. And to church leaders: your actions that continually marginalize and exclude LGBTQ churchgoers are only preserving the lack of visibility and encouraging more bigotry. The less visible gay people are, the easier it is to teach our children to be prejudiced against them.
My point for you, people of the church who read this, is simple: it is extremely important to affirm to your children and peers that you support and accept LGBTQ individuals. Though you may already be supportive in your heart, your silence will be taken as affirmation of the hate that some churches choose to spread.
Please, speak up. I cannot do this alone. I am excited to be seeing some changes, but we still have a long ways to go.

The Conscientious Eater

The Conscientious Eater

I recently found myself at a small restaurant that marketed itself as an eco-friendly establishment. Their ingredients were locally sourced, their water glasses devoid of straws, they used small rags instead of napkins, and so on. I love seeing examples like this of how the environmental movement has made an impact on mainstream businesses. As I began to explore the menu it came as no surprise to me that most of their dishes relied heavily on eggs, meat, and other dairy products. This isn’t unusual, yet when you consider that this is an establishment which values its environmental friendliness, there seems to be a paradox of marketing and product.

Many who brag about being hyper environmentally aware fail to realize (or accept) that what we eat has the potential to have the largest environmental effect of any part of our lifestyle. I question the motives of those who choose to forgo personal transportation or other modern amenities for the sake of the environment but continue to eat normal amounts of meat, when in reality cutting out beef from your diet alone can be much more effective at reducing your carbon footprint than giving up cars altogether.

I could go on about this for days, throwing all sorts of statistics and depressing articles at you, or could even go as far as one UK Green Party representative who advocated for treating all meat-eaters like smokers, campaigning for rehab programs meant to help omnivores transition to an herbivore diet. Instead, I’ll leave you with this simple, cruelty-free recipe for the beginning of summer. 

 

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetA Simple, Guilt-free Summer Treat

1 qt. Strawberries

1 c. Vanilla Yogurt (Dairy or soy)

½ c. Coconut Shavings (Sweetened, because why not)

 

This one is a doozy. Simply dip, dip, and kick back.

 

 

This article is the first of many that I will be writing for my school’s newspaper The Collegian for the upcoming school year. All issues can be read online at https://issuu.com/aswwucollegian.