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Human Trafficking Human Trafficking in Lebanon: A Guide to Its Current State and the Research Being Done to Prevent It Through Interviews with Hussein Hajj

Human Trafficking Human Trafficking in Lebanon: A Guide to Its Current State and the Research Being Done to Prevent It Through Interviews with Hussein Hajj

Here is a photo of the realities of human trafficking. Men, women, and children are modern-day slaves, chained and forced into physical labor and sexual exploitation. They are incapable of escaping, and want nothing more than to escape from this life. This photo is what Hussein Hajj is fighting for. Through his research, the reality of the victims of human trafficking will only be a memory.

Human Trafficking in Lebanon: A Guide to Its Current State and the Research Being Done to Prevent It Through Interviews with Hussein Hajj

Introduction

Human trafficking is a global problem. Each year, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children are exploited in human trafficking schemes. These victims are modern day slaves. They are trapped in lives of misery, often beaten, starved and forced to work as prostitutes or to take grueling jobs as migrant, domestic, or factory workers with little or no pay. It is a grave violation of human rights, and the victims that fall prey to traffickers can be shipped around the world, where they find themselves surrounded by an unfamiliar culture and language without identification documents, fearing for their lives and the lives of their families. Almost every country is affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or endpoint for victims.

What is Human Trafficking?

According to the  United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation includes, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

Statistics

  • Worldwide, there are 27 million people in modern-day slavery.
  • 1 million children are exploited by the global commercial sex trade every year.
  • 80% of transnational victims are women and girls.
  • 161 countries are identified as affected by human trafficking.
  • The total yearly profit generated by the human trafficking industry is $32 billion, with $15.5 billion made in industrialized countries.

The Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program and Virginia  Tech

The Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program provides ten months of non-degree academic study and related professional experiences in the United States. Humphrey Fellows are selected based on their potential for leadership and their commitment to public service in either the public or the private sector. The Humphrey Program fosters a mutual exchange of knowledge and understanding about issues of common concern in the United States and the Fellows’ home countries. The Program offers Fellows valuable opportunities for leadership development and professional engagement with Americans and their counterparts from many nations. More than 4,000 men and women have been honored as Humphrey Fellows since the program began in 1978. Approximately 200 Fellowships are awarded annually. Eighteen major universities in the United States host Humphrey Fellows. These host universities are chosen for their excellence in the Program’s designated fields of study and for the resources and support they offer Humphrey Fellows. Fortunately, Virginia Tech has been a host university for many years, and it is because of this amazing program that we were able to meet with Hussein Hajj. To be selected for this program, Hussein was required to have an undergraduate degree, a minimum of five years of substantial, full-time, professional experience, limited or no prior experience in the United States, demonstrated leadership qualities, a record of public service in the community, and strong English skills. As a host university, Virginia Tech allows for the Fellows to partake in specialized non-degree, interdisciplinary programs for a diverse group of people, and this is why Hussein is at this institution. It offers him unlimited resources in order to research human trafficking throughout the world, and our university provides specific programs that allow him to further his knowledge. As a research institution, Virginia Tech not only offers specialized learning, but supplies a greater variety of assets that benefit Hussein and his research to create a universal definition of human trafficking and explore the infrastructure needed in order to prevent human trafficking in Lebanon. Simply put, Hussein is at Virginia Tech because the institution provides him with the necessary resources to further his knowledge about human trafficking while a majority of other colleges cannot.  It is because Virginia Tech is so adept at fostering international relationships and recognizing the potential impact of the Humphrey Fellow’s research that Hussein believed our institution was the best place for him to learn how to combat human trafficking in Lebanon.

To learn more about the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program please visit the website at: https://www.humphreyfellowship.org/

Why We Care

In the United States, we are fortunate to have the infrastructure needed to battle this growing global problem. But in many countries, including Lebanon, this is not the case. Hussein Hajj, a Humphrey Fellow who works for the Interior Ministry and who we have conducted three different interviews with, has put his life on hold in order to research the definition of human trafficking and to figure out the most effective way to implement the resources needed in order to protect those that have been affected by this rising problem. His research has the potential to change the way human trafficking in Lebanon is defined and to change the way it is being combatted.

Background

In 2008, a project was published by the Ministry of Justice in Lebanon, in close cooperation with the Ministry of Interior and with the technical assistance of the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime to strengthen the legal and law enforcement institutions in their ability to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings in Lebanon. The report assessed the trafficking situation in Lebanon and the adequacy of existing legislation on trafficking in accordance with its obligations under the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons. This assessment was the first in the country and is part of Lebanon’s anti-trafficking efforts.

The problem of trafficking in Lebanon is not easy to asses. The government of Lebanon has a poor record of prosecution of traffickers for domestic servitude or commercial sexual exploitation. While the Lebanese criminal code does have laws that pertain to each criminal activity in a trafficking situation, the country lacks specific anti-trafficking laws. While it is believed that trafficking crimes are prosecuted under various statutes, enacting legislation to create a criminal offense for trafficking may not change the behavior of the judicial system unless sufficient training is conducted to demonstrate the process and benefits of using the new criminal provisions. Additionally, the current law does not define the victim of trafficking in persons, does not consider the acts which he or she was obliged to commit as nonpunishable, and does not mention any special measure in order to protect the victims of trafficking in persons and the witnesses.

The main areas of recruitment in Lebanon for human trafficking involve employment, where employment laws make migrant workers, female artists, and children most susceptible for this crime. Migrant workers who come to Lebanon must sign a contract with an employment agency in their country of origin and sign a second contract in Arabic, a language that they do not understand. Because they must sign this contract in order to stay and work at their new position, they may be under duress. Additionally since they do not understand Arabic, the second contract may not contain the same conditions as the first. This second contract is considered valid and binding in Lebanon. While the sponsor has obligations regard the domestic worker, the employer is able to control the domestic worker’s freedom of movement. Secondly, female artists from Eastern European countries who are poor, underprivileged, range from 19 to 28 years old are lured to the country with promises of higher incomes through modeling or dancing contracts. Then these women do not work as they were intended, working in nightclubs, massage parlors, and other adult clubs. Thirdly, children who are poor, influenced by the economic growth that has resulted in an increased demand for cheap laborers, are vulnerable to human trafficking. The poverty these children are experiencing creates a desire for a better life. Combined with the lack of education opportunities, overcrowding, and family disintegration, many children, particularly in rural areas, take jobs at a young age to help in household expenses. Poor children seek employment in industries, which often puts their safety at risk. Moreover, girls who seek domestic work are particularly vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation.

Talking with Hussein Hajj

Hussein Hajj’s main goal in becoming a Humphrey Fellow is to research four specific factors that combat human trafficking and allows for the Lebanese government to start developing detailed human trafficking laws. He stated that the most important factor is not only constructing a definition for human trafficking, but understanding the details of these definitions. Hussein said that every country has a different definition for human trafficking. He gave us an example of what this entailed, using organ selling as an instance in which the definition of human trafficking becomes important. If a person is alive and selling their organs, is it human trafficking? Are they doing it freely or are they under force? If it is not considered human trafficking in a particular country, does it mean that it should not be included in the description of human trafficking? Therefore, the definition of human trafficking on a universal scale becomes necessary in order to get rid of ambiguity. The second issue Hussein is studying is the implementation of civil associations, which are defined as the aggregates of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest interests and will of citizens. Hussein is studying how these associations work, what is their foundation, how did they get this foundation, how they protect victims of human trafficking, and what is the relationship between the associations and governmental departments that deal with human trafficking. By understanding how civil associations function, Hussein will be able to propose a structure that will further progress Lebanon’s mission of combating human trafficking and protecting its victims. Thirdly, Hussein is studying the feasibility of establishing health clinics specialized in treating victims of human trafficking. According to Hussein, Lebanese doctors have no experience treating these victims. Therefore, he is attempting understand what types of training methods should be used in order to treat these victims, how such a clinic would function, what would be the cost of such an institution, how the clinic should be run, and what the relationship between the clinic and the government should be. Finally, Hussein is researching how the police should act and investigate cases of human trafficking. Currently, Lebanon does not investigate the crimes of human trafficking, and therefore, victims have no place to turn and doctors, when they have experience in treating victims, have no place to report the abuse they see. Hussein, stating that the development of police training is the second most important aspect of his work in the United States, will be traveling to St. Paul, Minnesota in late July to early August to gain hands on experience and learn what training would be necessary in order to accurately prepare Lebanese police in dealing with human trafficking.

To Hussein, these four specific areas of research are important because Lebanon is unequipped to deal with this rising global problem. The Lebanese government does not have any departments that handle human trafficking, and due to the lack of anti-trafficking laws, the government does not do anything about these issues. Hussein states that one of the main reasons the government is unwilling to stop human traffickers is because they have no place to put the victims if they were to rescue them.  Lebanon’s lack of infrastructure means the country does not have orphanages, clinics, and women’s centers that could help victims recover from their traumatic experience and provide them with the resources they need to recover and be well cared for. Therefore, the government is reluctant to help the victims and invest in these necessities because the Lebanese governmental structure would have to be overhauled and remade. Not only would the governmental structure be restructured, by the court system would have to reflect this government renovation. Hussein described that in the past two years the government has arrested between ten and twenty people total for human trafficking compared to the United States arresting one hundred and eighty-five. However, the court system did not punish these people for their crime. Hussein says hopefully his research can change the way human trafficking is handled in Lebanon because something needs to be done about it.

Additionally, Hussein explained that not only migrants, female artists, and children are at a greater risk for becoming victims of human trafficking. He explained that in Lebanon, housemaids are also extremely vulnerable to human trafficking. Hussein states that in the Lebanese culture, many people have maids from Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh that live with them and help run the household. Under Lebanese law, employers are obligated to allow the housemaid to have one day off. However, many times the employers do not authorize the maids to take time off and therefore; she is subjected to forced labor. Moreover, because she is surrounded by an unfamiliar culture and does not speak the language, she does not know how to obtain assistance, nor does she know how to report her subjugation to the police. She is extremely vulnerable and unable to receive the help she needs.

Hussein also explained that women and children are the biggest victims of human trafficking. Hussein explained that many women in Lebanon are being lured, captured and forced into commercial sexual exploitation and prostitution. Traffickers trick women by offering them employment opportunities in Lebanon. Then, once they are in the country, they are forced into modern day slavery, becoming prostitutes against their will, and being used as sexual objects. He also said that the biggest issue in Lebanon in terms of human trafficking is the exploitation of children. Hussein claims that the civil war in Syria is leaving hundreds of children orphaned and alone.  This abundance of children, with no place to house them to ensure their safety, protection, and well-being, makes them extremely vulnerable to traffickers. Hussein states that commonly, traffickers hurt the children, such as blinding them or breaking bones, in order to get disability payments by the government. Traffickers not only hurt children for disability, but also to ensure that those children who are handicapped have a better chance of receiving more money when they are begging in the street. Not only are these children exploited and abused, they are also forced to perform sexual acts and enter into the world of prostitution in order for traffickers to receive more money from the exploitation of their parentless young victims.

Hussein’s goal is simple, he wants to gain knowledge about the practices and departments that are in place in the United States to prevent human trafficking, learn about other non-governmental institutions that work in order to combat human trafficking, and to create a universal definition of human trafficking. When he returns to Lebanon in a year and a month, he hopes to create the infrastructure needed in order to help the victims of human trafficking and help reduce its prevalence in Lebanon by creating orphanages and clinics, and by training police to handle human trafficking related crimes. While the Lebanese government states that human trafficking is a small problem, Hussein argues that the only way human trafficking is small is if the government ignores it.  By building these safe-zones for victims and ensuring their safety, on top of introducing proper training to doctors and police officers, he hopes to resist human trafficking and protect Lebanese citizens from its traumatizing effects. Hussein’s research has the potential to redefine the way human trafficking is being managed and operated in Lebanon.

Educational Experience

The world is a big place, and there are a lot of people in it. Every one of those people has an impact on the world as a whole, and every one of them has a slightly different perspective. Unfortunately, humans do not always take the time and effort necessary to understand the perspectives of others. If we do, these efforts are often focused on individual pockets of culture. However, history helps us understand that cultures impact one another and what one group does will affect another. There should be, then, an effort for individuals as members of this world to become educated about the inhabitants with whom we share it. This type of education has incredible value as we have really begun to understand following our own exposure to it. By meeting with the Humphrey Fellows and Hussein in particular, our understanding of the world and how to learn from it has grown. This experience has expanded our knowledge of language, culture and world interaction.

Because the Humphrey Fellows program is for the purpose of improving the fellows’ English, we were expecting for communication to be difficult. This proved true to an extent, but it actually was more rewarding than anything else. Speaking with Hussein helped us be more aware of what and how we were speaking. Being able to understand what someone else is attempting to communicate is the first step in learning from them. For all of us, it took more diligence and care to communicate effectively. However, Hussein was also very proficient in speaking English because he had already learned it previously and his wife is an English teacher. In addition to his native Arabic and English, he also speaks French and a little Spanish. This multi-language ability is something that his nation embraces. This ability to communicate with many different people is an important ability when attempting to understand the world. It would be wise for all of us to take the time to learn new languages so that we might improve our understanding. The significance of understanding languages is certainly one of the most important takeaways of being able to meet with Hussein and the other fellows.

Another significant part of this experience was the opportunity to learn about culture. It was a lot of fun just discussing aspects of American culture that are different and similar from Lebanese culture. For instance, Lebanon has many of the same fast food chains as the U.S. but according to Hussein the taste of the food is different. Also, the sport of basketball is very commonly played in Lebanon. An interesting difference came up when talking about career paths. Hussein joined the Lebanese security force because it was his dream since childhood to be like his father. He found it strange that, even though Chris’s father was in the military, he did not want to do the same thing. For us, learning even just a bit about the culture or the geography of Lebanon from Hussein was new. But for Hussein, this type of cultural exchange was normal as many Lebanese go to the United States and share their experiences and the culture they learn with those in Lebanon. This is a model that many in the world would do well to follow and one that I found very rewarding.

The final and main takeaway from this experience was learning more about how the world interacts. Hussein is in the United States so that he can learn more about how to stop human trafficking and then implement his learning in Lebanon. This effort is a clear demonstration of how different peoples are coming together to help influence the world as a whole. Acknowledging this is important to fostering even more world interaction. However, the point at which this becomes real is when we actually put this interaction into practice. For Hussein, this has meant committing to studying in the U.S. as well as traveling around the world whenever he has the opportunity. For us, the first small step was in speaking with Hussein and learning a bit more about a big world.

Obtaining the opportunity to better understand how the world works and how best to interact with its people is important. Even just a little knowledge about another culture or individual is useful as we found out with Hussein. Learning about how to approach language and culture through conversing with someone of a different language and culture was interesting and important. Learning about how the world interacts was an important step towards being a part of this interaction. Being able to meet Hussein has been an incredibly valuable experience. We have learned much about how the world works. While the world may be big, reaching out and interacting with our fellow inhabitants helps us to better understand and shape it for not only ourselves, but the future generation.

 

 

The Big Event

On Saturday, I participated in the largest Big Event in the history of Virginia Tech, with 8,000 volunteers and over 1,000 projects. The Big Event at Virginia Tech is a student-run community service effort that has grown into the 2nd largest event of its kind in the nation. Every spring, thousands of students, faculty, and staff come together to complete hundreds of community service projects throughout Blacksburg, Christiansburg and the New River Valley. Projects are completed regardless of need or socioeconomic status; instead, it is The Big Event’s goal to simply say, “Thank you.” Seeded in our university’s motto of Ut Prosim (That I may serve) students and community members come together for a truly unparalleled experience.

This year, I was able to complete two projects with seven other amazing women from my sorority, Chi Omega. We first went to a man’s house in Blacksburg to rake leaves. At first, we thought it wouldn’t be a huge project, but we were wrong. He had not raked his backyard since August. That meant his entire back and front yard covered in two inches of leaves. We spent three hours raking, filling over forty trash bags with leaves and other debris from around the backyard. Even though we put in hours’ worth of work, and by the end we were exhausted, the look of gratitude on the faces of these Blacksburg residents was all we needed. They not only thanked us profusely, but made us chicken caesar salad wraps and let us play with the family dog, Lily. To us, the hard work was worth it in order to make someone’s day better.

After we had raked leaves, we traveled to Christiansburg to help build a mailbox, rake, move branches, and garden. We spent two hours helping this lovely family, who had baked cookies for us as a thank you for our hard work. While we struggling building the mailbox, and provided lots of manual labor gardening the overgrown garden, the thank you’s this family provided were more than enough. We didn’t even really need the thank you’s, we would’ve been happy just knowing we had helped people within our community. The Blacksburg and Christiansburg area has given the students of Virginia Tech so much and it is the least we can do to spend five hours of our Saturday repaying the kindness they bestow upon us 365 days a year.

For me, this was a gratifying experience. While it was a lot of hard work, and my raking hand was sore the next day, I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. The Big Event is an extraordinary opportunity to show our love and gratitude towards the community where many of us spend nine out of the twelve months of the year. Participating in such a momentous and wonderful event really made me remember that Virginia Tech is not just a university; it is a community of special individuals. It is our duty as members of this community to give back. While the Big Event is one way, we should continuously give back every day we are a part of this community and afterword, for we are all forever Hokies.

My sorority sisters and I at the Big Event.

 

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Our group attempting to build a mailbox.

Intersextion

Today’s event, Intersextion, was a documentary that explored the experiences of intersex people. Intersex is a general term used to describe individuals who are born with sexual or reproductive anatomy that does not seem to fit typical definitions of male or female. Those that are considered intersex may be born with mosaic genetic or genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types. Intersex does not have to be an inborn condition, signs that one may be intersex might show up at puberty or even much later in life. In some cases, individuals live life without even knowing they are intersex. While there is some controversy on how common intersex is because in order to define its commonality there must first be an agreement on when intersex begins. But, on average, 1 in 1,500 births need a sex differentiation specialist to be called in because of noticeably atypical genitalia.

A person who is intersex is not a hermaphrodite because the term implies that one is fully male and fully female. However, this is physiologically impossible. The term is misleading and stigmatizing. Unfortunately, there are still some medical professionals that still use this outdated system of terms. For decades now, doctors have taken a concealment centered approach when treating intersex. This approach means downplaying the doctors of intersex as much as possible and may even lead to lying to patients about their conditions. Many recommend gender-identifying surgeries that doctors claim to make the patient “normal.” However, as the documentary showed, this surgery does not always work and it confuses the patients because many times these patients are between 3 months to fifteen years old.

Intersextion was an eye opening documentary to society’s perception of gender. To many, including myself, gender is viewed as a binary. You are either male or female. But this is not the case. There are many who do not fit this “normality” of gender, as those who identify as intersex have described. Generally speaking, those who are intersex are taught from an early age to hide anatomical difference. They are not told the truth about who they are and sometimes parents and medical professionals go so far as to hide their medical records. Because they do not fit into society’s perception of gender, those that are intersex are hidden away. Because they are different, they are professed to be unequal to those who easily fit into society’s gender standards.

Intersextion relates to this class because just like those who identify as intersex, Africans have been defined by their outward appearance and how it does not conform to societal expectations. Race has categorized people into “us” and “others.” This categorization requires judgment and human psychology tends to exaggerate the unity with and also exaggerate the differences between categories. The assumption of “otherness,” affirming the unity of one’s own group and assuming they “they” are all alike within their groups, underlies the logic of racism. Just like the Africans, intersex people have been categorized into a binary way of thinking in which they do not fit.

The Rise of the “Locals”: Citizens Initiatives, Neighborhood Revolts and Slow-Growth Politics in the Global 1970s

Last Thursday’s event, The Rise of the “Locals”: Citizens Initiatives, Neighborhood Revolts and Slow-Growth Politics in the Global 1970s, by Suleiman Osman who is an Associate Professor of American Studies at George Washington University offered a unique look at protest that became a common occurrence throughout the world. Osman, through copious research and observation, that in the 1970s, those that engaged in community activism often used architecture as a form of resistance. Movements, taking place all over the world, have made alternative homes in abandoned buildings, or even building homes, in order to protest the demolition of areas which were of significant importance to the community. Protesters viewed areas that had been disregarded as critical to their own communities and sense of identity, and they would fight for these areas with a passion.

These activists began to use occupation of space as a form of political protests. Throughout the 1970s, these “locals” protested against infrastructure, against growth, against the destruction of their own cultures. These buildings and areas were not just pieces of the community. They became an integral part of the community that gave identity and meaning to those living within the community. It gave them a sense of purpose and united cultures, despite political beliefs. These forms of protest combined left and right wing parties and created an idea of new change. These abandoned buildings or areas were used as a cauldron of new social change, and sites began to be viewed as a way to change the status quo and offer new political ground.

Before attending this lecture, I had no idea what it was about. The idea of citizen initiatives in neighbors was something that I felt occurred only for small scale initiatives. However, going to Osman’s lecture showed me that what these neighborhoods created a large scale movement by using their own communities as catalysts for social change and ideas of change.  They created a movement that fueled a unity in New Localism, a do it yourselfism that held deeply in self-determination and autonomy. What these activists did impacted the lives of people all over the world. It empowered people to change what they believed were unjust actions against their community and their sense of self. To me, this was empowering in its own right. As an American, I take for granted the ability to stand up for what I believe in. And in a day and age in which many are apathetic towards their political voice, it reminded me that I have the power to change society for the better, to define society based off of ideals that connect instead of issues that divide. I learned that it is possible to come together and create social change. Going to this lecture was incredibly eye opening to my own power as a citizen, not only of the United States, but the world as well. I learned that activism wasn’t just a thing of the past, it could be my future.

The Rise of the “Locals”: Citizens Initiatives, Neighborhood Revolts and Slow-Growth Politics in the Global 1970s relates to this class because it highlights the ability of African Americans to come together not only locally, but nationally and global, to affect a change in societal thinking. They united, determined to gain their own autonomy and define themselves in a way unrelated to the way they had been defined by Caucasians for hundreds of years. They believed they could change their perception within society through activism within the 1960s and 1970s. While their form of protest changed and developed over time, African Americans each had the united goal of defining themselves, just like those who used architecture as a vehicle for change. African Americans, just like the activists, used this sense of togetherness in order to promote their own culture and showcase their own identity.

Emmanuel Jal

Last Tuesday’s Event, Center for the Arts: Emmanuel Jal, was an eye opening experience that focused on Jal’s life from a child soldier to activist for human rights. Born in Sudan, Jal was a young child when the Sudanese Civil War broke out. When he was seven years old, Jal’s mother was killed by those loyal to government of Sudan, while his father had already joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Now alone, Jal decided to join that thousands of children seeking refuge in Ethiopia, but along the way, the SPLA recruited him, and before he knew it, he was a child soldier, fighting a war that had plagued his life and that a seven year old could not possibly understand. Jal stated during his talk that “Many kids there were so bitter, they wanted to know what happened to them. And we all wanted revenge.” For nearly five years, he was a “child warrior,” put into battle carrying an AK-47 that was taller than he was.

By the time he was thirteen, Jal was a veteran of two civil wars and had seen hundreds of his fellow child soldiers reduced to taking unspeakable measures as they struggled to survive on the killing fields of Southern Sudan. He was eventually rescued by a British aid worker who smuggled him into Nairobi, Kenya to raise him as her own. While Jal had escaped the horrors of a child soldier, he lived in the slums, experiencing a new type of hardship in his short life. However, the one positive thing out of this hardship was Jal’s discovery of the spiritual and political power of hip-hop. Hip-hop allowed Jal to express his story and ease the pain that he had experienced within his short life. Through his music, Jal counts on the unity of the citizens to overcome ethnic and religious division and motivate the youth in Sudan. After escaping to Kenya, he fell in love with hip hop in the way that it identified issues being faced by the neighborhood, which he was able to identify with in a unique manner. Although he lacked any music background or knowledge of its history, he felt that hip hop could provide the easiest and most effective vehicle to express his story and lobby for political change.

Jal, whose own childhood was robbed from him, aims to protect the childhood of others through music. “Music is powerful. It is the only thing that can speak into your mind, your heart and your soul without your permission.” Asked in an interview in a New Statesman magazine article if politics and art should mix, Jal answers: “When there is a need, they should mix. In times of war, starvation, hunger and injustice, such tragedy can only be put aside if you allow yourself to be uplifted through music, film and dance. It can be used to communicate messages to the masses and create awareness, to influence the people positively. Despite his accomplishments in music, Jal’s biggest passion is for Gua Africa, a charity that he founded. Besides building schools, the nonprofit provides scholarships for Sudanese war survivors in refugee camps, and sponsors education for children in the most deprived slum areas in Nairobi. The organization’s main mission is to work with individuals, families, and communities that have been affected by war and poverty. Based in both Sudan and Kenya, Gua Africa focuses on providing children and young adults with an education that would otherwise be unavailable to the majority. Emmanuel Jal’s most recent project is a Global Peace campaign called We Want Peace 2012. The project is a steady effort to inform the world that peace is a possibility.

Emmanuel Jal was the most powerful speaker I have ever seen in person. His grace, message, and positivity is impossible to put into words. To see him is to see someone who has been through so much and overcome it. He is truly an inspiration. He has turned his tough and hard life into a way to promote activism, to make people aware of the hardships facing those around the world. His words inspired me and made me want to be a better person. He showed me that there are those in this world who are struggling and it is my responsibility to help these people. My problems are not as great as those within the Sudan, or any place in which rampant poverty and injustice are an everyday occurrence and a typical way of life. Emmanuel Jal affected me and my thinking forever. I will always remember his words and the feeling of inspiration he instilled in me.

Emmanuel Jal’s story directly relates to this class because it shows the power of hip-hop on the African culture that was affected by the African Diaspora. Rap developed as a musical rebellion emerging out of depressed black neighborhoods in cities of the northeastern United States. Rap emphasized the anger of the young male artists at the social inequalities surrounding them. It drew on Niger-Congo traditions, as speaking through music is widely known and practice on continent and diaspora. Rap spread across many lines and became better known as hip-hop to account for the entire cultural complexities of dress, music and style of social interaction. In this way, hip-hop has encompassed the voice of Africans all over the world as an ability to speak out against injustice in society and as a way to express their own individual identities. Rap, therefore, could not exist without cultural influences from the Niger-Congo, not without the African Diaspora.

The Clothesline Project

Today’s event, The Clothesline Project, develops and breaks the silence of a serious issue throughout the world, violence against women. The Clothesline Project, an effort to raise awareness of violence against women, is a visual testimony to the shattering effect of violence against women and the impact it has on society. Survivors of violence, and friends and families of victims, create shirts emblazoned with direct messages and strong illustrations. The shirts demonstrate the pain and suffering of the survivors, aid in their healing process, and celebrate their strength and courage to overcome the past.

The creators of The Clothesline Project wanted to find a unique way to take staggering, mind-numbing statistics and turn them into a provocative, “in-your-face” educational and healing tool. The concept was simple: let each woman tell her story in her own unique way, using words and/or artwork to decorate her shirt. Once finished, she would then hang her shirt on the clothesline. This very action serves many purposes. It acts as an educational tool for those who come to view the Clothesline; it becomes a healing tool for anyone who make a shirt – by hanging the shirt on the line, survivors, friends and family can literally turn their back on some of that pain of their experience and walk away; finally it allows those who are still suffering in silence to understand that they are not alone. It is the very process of designing a shirt that gives each woman a new voice with which to expose an often horrific and unspeakable experience that has dramatically altered the course of her life. Participating in this project provides a powerful step towards helping a survivor break through the shroud of silence that has surrounded her experience.

The shirts are hung side by side on a clothesline, as though the survivors were standing there themselves, shoulder to shoulder, bearing witness to the violence committed against women on a daily basis. The shirts are color coded: white for women who have died of violence; yellow or beige for women who have been battered or assaulted; red, pink, or orange for those raped or sexually assaulted; blue or green for survivors of incest or child sexual abuse; purple or lavender for women attacked because of their sexual orientation; and black for women handicapped by violence.

Seeing the shirts was an emotional experience for me. Many of the shirts were emblazoned with personal messages and heart-wrenching testimony. Many women quoted their assailant. These were the hardest to look at for me. The shirts, red, pink, orange, blue, green, purple and lavender  read “Stop pretending like you are a human being,” “I’ll prove to you you’re straight,” “It wasn’t rape, you were being such a tease,” “Turn around and shut up…This is just a game (I was 5),” and “By the time I am done, no one will want you. I will break you.” The drawings were even more heartbreaking. My heart reached out for these women. I couldn’t believe in this country, men still treated women with such utter disregard and distain. It made me want to change the way women are viewed within society.

In relation to this class, this project highlights the hierarchies that still prevail within society. Just like with the African Diaspora and racial hierarchies, women of all ethnicities and races are perceived at the bottom of this social construct. Hierarchy does not exist in nature, but it is in the choices of individuals and groups. As a result, violence against women has its own history, where people label and discriminate and hurt others based on visible differences, instead of seeing them as people. They see them as “others” and the need to define this “otherness” recurs again and again, as demonstrated by these shirts. All through the history of human interaction, people have placed women below men because of a perceived hierarchy. As these shirts demonstrate, it is time for that to change.

 

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The Stiletto Monologues: Walking without Shoes

Today’s event, The Stiletto Monologues: Walking without Shoes, written by Wendy Kellam, explores the issues that have plagued African American women for decades.  These stories, beginning with slave women, share the heartbreak, sadness, joy, happiness, and pride of women of African descent, and their hopes for the future.  These monologues uncovered the rich history of African American women, and their struggles and successes. They explained the prejudices of society, and their pride in their heritage, culture, and background.

Throughout the Stiletto Monologues, these women talked about the struggles and preconceived notions African Americans have, not only because of society, but in their own culture as well. Many of the talks emphasized society’s reactions to African American women, with many commenting that they have been called “pretty for a brown skinned woman.” Comments like this make them feel worthless, because their physical characteristics are things that society has deemed important. And it is something they cannot change. The monologues also highlighted the judgment they feel within their own culture. Those that are considered “light skinned” are thought to look down upon those who are “dark skinned” because they are closer to the Caucasian accepted perception of beauty. These monologues stressed that African American women cannot expect other races to accept them when they cannot accept themselves.

These monologues also accentuated the necessity to find pride in their physical appearance. They stated that just because African American women do not fit the skewed notions of societies perception of beauty does not mean they are not beautiful. They stated that they should find pride in their appearance and the rich heritage it represents. African American women, these women stated, need to learn to love being who they are and embrace and enjoy being women of color. They stated that they should not let anyone else make them feel inferior and not to let preconceived notions ruin their lives. All African American women are special, important, and beautiful, just the way they are. And I have to agree. Before, I believed that beauty was just a concept. But what society tells women, especially African American women, is to reach for an unattainable look. Society tells African American women that they are not beautiful because of their appearance. Attending this talk helped me realize that women need to take control of society and remember that,  no matter what society tells us, our difference make us beautiful. Homogeneity does not because it robs us of our individuality and our stories.

All of this relates to our Critical Issues in World History class regarding the African Diaspora. The socially constructed notion of race emerged because of the African Diaspora. People believe that “race” and beauty are associated with what a person looks like and it accentuates the mentality humans have of “us” and “them.” For this reason, practices of racism have long existed. However, these monologues suggest that even societies permeated by racial hierarchies humans are more readily able to ignore or reach across the racial divide and recognize other’s talents, culture, and humanity. 

The Status of Underrepresented Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

Today’s event, The Status of Underrepresented Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), allowed me to understand the challenges African Americans in the United States education system. Today,  one of the most frequently discussed topics in academic and governmental circles is what should be the role of colleges and universities and governmental agencies at the Federal, State, and Local level in increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in the professional ranks of mainstream America and how the United States can find effective and systemic strategies in which to improve the racial climate and promote understanding and sensitivity on various campuses, and improving recruitment and retention of minorities. By attending this lecture, I discovered that this is a continuing problem within the United States.

Before attending this lecture, I believed that as a country, we are all given equal opportunities to education at higher institutions, and that if minorities do not want to be STEM majors, it was their choice. I believed that being involved in math, science, technology, and engineering fields meant that those with a natural inclination towards these studies are already given the opportunity to major in them. However, I was not only wrong statistically, but socially as well. Throughout the lecture, Dr. Milton Slaughter of the University of New Orleans emphasized that in 2006, there was a 13% gap between Caucasians and African Americans in STEM majors. 69% of those in these majors were white, while only 55% were black. In 2007, African Americans comprised roughly 4% of all employed doctorate degrees in science and engineering, even though they comprise about 12% of the population.

Socially, the problem of gross underrepresentation of minorities stems from the inability of universities, government agencies, and other institutions to identify, attract, motivate, retain, and prepare talented African Americans to STEM majors. This is because these institutions, while adhering to affirmative action, still succumb to human nature, which has taught us to choose those who look, think, and act like us. Dr. Slaughter proposed that to correct this ongoing problem, universities need to invest in programs that recruit minorities. They need to have resources and a critical mass of motivated personnel to push the systematic nature of education to make underrepresentation of minorities in STEM programs a thing of the past. In order to do this though, universities have to be willing to take this step.

The issue of underrepresentation in higher education of African Americans relates to the African Diaspora. By the 1980s and continuing into 2010, the results of the previous years of expanded education in black communities became apparent. This means that the activism and the work of African Americans throughout the 1960s had spread, not only throughout the United States, but back to Africa as well. This means that the African Diaspora is not only one way, from Africa to the Americas, but is a continuing cycle that influences all parts of the globe. It is because of the ties the African Diaspora created that allowed for the tremendous influence of reflective culture that is exemplified by this acceptance of higher education. While black individuals are underrepresented in prominent majors in universities today, their influence in attaining a position at these schools suggests a greater cultural shift allowed by the African Diaspora. While the problem in the United States education system relies on underrepresentation and segregation, and African education system the number of schools, it demonstrates a connection and an ideal of higher education that can only be fostered, and successfully implemented, through something like the African Diaspora. It is time for African Americans in math, science, technology, and engineering to gain recognition, not just in the United States, but all over the world as well. It is time that the African Diaspora to push their reflective cultural knowledge back across the Atlantic to where it all began, Africa. 

An Evening with Spike Lee

Tuesday’s event, An Evening with Spike Lee, allowed me to comprehend the struggle of African Americans in education in the United States. Lee, a well-known director who is often associated with sincere and provocative socio-political critiques, is an advocate for education for African Americans. In interviews, Lee has previously stated that his “number one issue today is education. Half of today’s black males don’t graduate high school. Only 2 percent of the nation’s teachers in America are black men. There are more young black men in prison than in universities. So education is the key.” During his two hour long presentation, Lee described not only the importance of education on African Americans, but the impact it has to their past, present, and future.

Before Lee started his talk, I believed that the United States education system afforded every member of every race the opportunity to exceed and fulfil the American dream. Lee, however, disagreed and put into perspective that intelligence has become something that belongs to white individuals. Lee stated that with the United States education system, ignorance is championed. This ignorance is a deadly effect to African Americans, as they, like many children, are susceptible to the peer pressure of being “cool” or to fit in with the stereotypical notions of people of color. Lee states that many African American students want to improve their lives through education. However, due to the color of their skin, this academic mission is jeopardized because they are categorized as “talking white.” People of color judge them because they are not embracing what they believe to be the true meaning of their nationality and identity. To them, according to Lee, being intelligent is the same as being white. And ignorance, what they have been taught all their life through the education system and through the Western world, is to be a soldier of their culture.

Lee went on to state that for those of African descent, education is the key to releasing 400 years of bondage. The true legal equality of African Americans did not occur that long ago, he reminded us. He also reminded the audience that there was a time when states made it illegal for Africans to read or write. They could be hanged, beaten, and tortured. But despite these threats, slaves continued to hope and persevere for the gift of education. He stated that today, while only half of African American men graduate high school, there was a time where people would die for the privilege of education. He continued, explaining that to let go of such a gift is to prove those who believed slavery and Jim Crow laws correct. By ignoring the values of education, because it is perceived as white virtue, is to not appreciate the sacrifices that others made so African Americans could go to school.

Many times, education is taken for granted by students. It is seen as something we must do. But on another level, education is an opportunity not afforded to everyone. And at times, there was a vast majority of people in the United States that were excluded from receiving an education because they were not white, Protestant males. I forgot this until Spike Lee fully acknowledged that education is still a white world, influenced by people who have not been excluded from society. Even though this is true, I recognized his message. Education is the key for African American success once they accept their past and the present in which they live, and overcome these obstacles to create a new meaning of education for people of color. This message ties into our class. While forces such as dominance and oppression have been influential, they should not be focused on as a singularity of life. At the center of the African way of life are the campaigns of black people to counter this succession of obstacles surrounding them and the innovations they created through their struggle to advance in the world. While education is the key to Spike Lee, it is also a campaign to counter the oppression they once faced. As our Critical Issues in World History class dive deeper into the African diaspora, we will be able to appreciate and acknowledge the devices, such as education, that Africans used to defy their captors and propel themselves into equality.