I, personally, enjoyed the film Shoah. The word Shoah is another term for the Holocaust, in which the film is focused around. The film was produced by Claude Lanzmann, and took over eleven years to make. The film was fascinating and really drew me in. I remember my early educational years, learning about the Jewish Holocaust during World War II. This film enhanced my previous teachings by utilizing eye-witnesses.

It is the way in which the film was produced that intrigues me. I found it odd that Lanzmann did not incorporate any historical footage or archival materials. He relied heavily upon interviews with people and visiting the sites that still remain. I have never been to a Holocaust concentration camp or any memorials that exist in Europe except for one that was in Normandy, France. I have seen footage from such remembrances, but not like this.

After watching this film knowing that the film struggled financially and with trying to ensure ethical integrity, I have a much deeper respect for Lanzmann. I never understood those who believed that the Holocaust never existed. We’ve all seen historical images and footage; however, Lanzmann’s lack of historical archival materials, to me, enhances the reality of the Holocaust’s existence. Initially the film had the support of Israeli officials, but they eventually withdrew. I am curious to know why they chose to withdraw their support. I believe that with some of their financial support Lanzmann’s film could have gone through better editing, enhancing the overall experience.

Nevertheless, Shoah is a must-watch film. While I was reminded of Schindler’s List, Lanzmann does not need fictional characters to bring the truth of the Holocaust to life. These first-hand accounts and visuals of actually visiting the sites and memorials does justice to those who were victim to such atrocity.

Errol Morris

Truth isn’t guaranteed by style or expression. Truth isn’t guaranteed by anything.

-Errol Morris

I personally like this quote by Errol Morris. After watching two of Morris’ documentaries, I feel as though I understand his perspective a little better. Shawn Rosenheim’s article Interrotroning History: Errol Morris and the Documentary of the Future, clarified some of my misunderstandings that I had while watching both: Fog of War and Standard Operating Procedure.

I actually like the interrotron idea. I could feel the personal touch between the people being interviewed and myself. It was as if they were talking to me and not at me. Occasionally a voice would sound engaging the interviewee to continue speaking or to change the subject, but it was as if I was a part of the set process.

Now the content was a lot for me to take in. I found both films quite boring for both entertainment and intellectual engagement. While I enjoyed the personal touches, the way the message was relayed to me just didn’t take. Perhaps it’s that I find the history of which he is trying to depict, unflattering. I can tell he has a fascination with people in authority, or at least think they are. It is funny because he has a way of twisting the lens to portray the negative aspects of the American government.

In Fog of War, archival footage is used to help support the film’s narrative based on information supplied by McNamara. Standard Operating Procedure relies heavily upon the interviewed subjects. The film focuses on the brutality of war, rather than the concept of warfare. Looking at a specific military prison, Morris tries to provide an understanding to the photographs that were taken of the violence occurring.

Now re-analyzing Morris’ quote, I question where is the truth. The narrative follows the perspectives of the interviewee(s) and doesn’t deviate too much from their personal accounts. I wonder how other perspectives would have explained the same event. Is Morris acknowledging that even he cannot depict Truth with the capital “T”? I think there is much that can be said. I think that Morris understands that there are multiple versions of the truth because each person has their own experiences and biases and reasons to “forget” details.

I know this blog post is different than my usual ones. While Morris does utilize his films to focus on certain areas of historical wars, I just couldn’t retain much of the information. Instead, I chose to look at everything around. He relies on interviewees to help dictate the narrative, but he also engages archival resources to enhance the personal accounts with visual meaning. Using an interrotron provides a personal touch for the interviewee, interviewer, and the audience watching. There is consistent eye contact made, which makes the interviewee appear to be honest. There is some music, but not so much where the film needs it to assist in narration or dramatic effect.

For style, I like Morris. If I were to try and create a documentary I would do something similar. The personal touch makes it seem inviting. With new technology available, the audience can now feel as if they are there with the person. I have never seen a documentary quite like Morris. I do suggest watching at least one just to understand the clear difference.

Beginning to Think About Film

After completing the readings for my course this week, I found a similarity between André Bazin’s article (“The Ontology of the Photographic Image”) and Bell Hooks’ article (“The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators”). I honestly didn’t know what to expect while reading these. There was no film to back it up, but one film did come to mind after being taken aback by some of the messages.

The gaze the Hooks refers to is a gaze that “has been and is a site of resistance for colonized black people globally […] Certain looks were seen as confrontation, as gestures of resistance, and challenges authority.” Hooks previously stated that “when most black people in the United States first had the opportunity to look at film and television, they were fully aware of that mass media was a system of knowledge and power reproducing and maintaining white supremacy.”

The film that most readily comes to my mind is actually a TV miniseries, Roots inspired by Alex Haley’s novel. It is this film example that enables me to understand Bazin’s statement that “cinema is also a language.” Cinema I knew was an art and a way of seeing a different aspect of reality: literally or figuratively. Roots allows Black America to experience a new telling of their history. A history that begins for them in Africa and how they came to be in America and the reality of the hardships they experienced. The “photographic image has changed the very essence of the picture.” We see how Africans lived during the 1700s in Roots, and unfortunately many interpret that as truth. At the same time, Alex Haley’s family history was called into question.

I do wonder how others may interpret and draw enlightenment from these readings. Is there a sense of understanding? Is it because I identify as a female, racially black spectator that I understand and enjoyed these perspectives? While Hooks encourages and empowers the African American female spectator, I neglected to acknowledge the oppression of African Americans within film and photography. That may be for a different post, but for now, these are my thoughts.

Tell me what you think below…





Rodney King Beating Footage

What comes to your mind when you hear the name, “Rodney King”?

Initially, what comes to my mind is:

  • Los Angeles, California
  • LA Riots
  • Police Brutality
  • O.J. Simpson Trial

These are the initial thoughts that I have. When I finally went to see footage, I watched three different versions (supplied below).

Looking at the original footage, I can tell that it was taken from a distance, compared to the other two videos that depict zooming in effects and possibly enhanced lighting. This distortion removed the true number of cops that were present at the scene of the crime, but draws attention to the true brutality and inhumane nature that the cops were acting out. However, if we, for a second, consider the videographer, we start to try to understand the setting. The individual is speaking and seemingly trying to justify what is going on. We can also tell that maybe the individual was nervous or anxious from the shakiness of the camera. There is a brief period where the camera may have been put down.

To me the interpretation is still one-sided. The same one video that was cropped and edited, still makes the cops look bad. In the ABC News video, I question why now? Why now is police brutality amongst the African American community being recognized. As a viewer I am curious to know more about the history of police brutality against African Americans. It is noted that because of the footage, this became a national case, why?

After a discussion with my class about the videos, I truly felt enlightened. Some of the things I noted were observations of my fellow classmates. Some these observations I would not have, and did not, initially pick up on. I didn’t consider the multiple angles to interpret the footage and the effects one video can have on the nation. I wonder how I would have reacted had I been born and older during this time. I know that this footage only tells part of the story, but no one deserves to be treated that way. I’m sad that this footage and the results of the case impacted justice in future court cases that involved African Americans. At the same time, I’m glad that this surfaced so that people could retaliate and protest for fair justice.

Where to Next and Why…

It’s been a while since I have written a personal blog post. I have been strapped down by my studies and trying to spend quality time with my family. As most of you know, I am a dual Master’s student at Simmons College – changing to Simmons University come fall semester – majoring in history and archives management. I am set to graduate in May 2019, and while I am beginning the process to write my Master’s thesis, I must also come face to face with the daunting task of deciding what’s next.

Of course, my family comes first. I know that whatever I decide will be in the best interest of my family. At the same time, I also must follow my own dreams. I have been given the opportunity to apply for a Fulbright Scholar award and apply to continue my studies. These opportunities come with having a supportive family.

While I intend to apply for both, my heart is set on furthering my education. Fulbright would be an opportunity of life time. If awarded, I would go to Kenya, specifically the ancestral towns of my husband and his maternal family. I would conduct research on the people and culture of the Luo tribe. I would analyze which characteristics influenced my husband in his upbringing. I would investigate his family history. Looking at the family identity and how culture and genetics married to create his unique identity. I would also see which customs and traditions are similar to those of African Americans. Identifying what aspect of culture slavery couldn’t erase would be fascinating and an insight into the shared cultures African Americans have with our African mother nations.

On the other hand, I am really intrigued with trying to achieve a PhD before I turn 30. With a PhD, more opportunities are available. I’m sure many of you can guess what my PhD would be in; however, while this post is an explanation into where my head is at, it is also a comparison post into the fields I am most interested in. Let’s begin at the beginning:


I was born in Texas and adopted shortly after birth to single woman of Italian (Sicilian) descent in Medford, Massachusetts. As a young child, I was introduced to family history. I listened to my grandparents talk about their ancestors and their ancestral home in Italy. In school, we did family history and family genetics projects, but I always used my adoptive family. From a young age, I was curious to know who and where I came from. Fortunately, during my senior year of high school, I was able to meet and connect with my biological family. To this day, I continue to have a relationship with them. My birth family helped me begin to chart my own biological family tree. I dove head first into genealogy: digging in the archives to find records and using ancestral DNA testing to help advance my ancestral understanding when the records began to dwindle. I didn’t know it, but genealogy would soon become the answer to my life and how I identify.

After graduating from high school, I packed up and moved down South. I attended Spelman College. Initially I was interested in veterinary medicine, but my love for genealogy was stronger and I made a career change. I was an English major with a minor in African Diaspora and the World. I studied the African American literary experience, as well as the cultures and histories of African people within the Atlantic African Diaspora. My studies focused on utilizing ethnography – the scientific description of the customs of individual people and cultures – and ethnology – the study of the characteristics of various people and the differences and relationships between them – to garner a better understanding. The anthropological research I did, led to a better understanding and methodology in conducting genealogy research for myself and others. After finishing my undergraduate career a semester early, I began taking courses in genealogy research with the aspirations of becoming certified. While I am now a professional genealogist, I still want to get my certification.

Genealogy deals a lot with archives and archival records, as well as history and historical context. This knowledge is how I found my way to Simmons College. My studies here have been primarily centered around race and the African American experience, as well as digital record creation and management. In order to understand the next phases of my life, I defined the fields that I am studying:


Genealogy:         the study of family and is a continuous tracing of ancestors

Anthropology:   the study of humanity

Cultural:               the study of human societies and cultures and their development

Archaeology:     the study of human past and present, through the materials, which humans left behind

Historical:            pertaining to the ancient historical sites

Ethno:                   focuses on creating a connection between the past and the present

History:                the study of past events, particular in human affairs

Social:                   pertains to the history of ordinary people and their strategies and institutions to deal with life

Cultural:               examines the narrative records and descriptions of knowledge, customs, and past arts of a group of people. Combines the approaches of anthropology and history to examine language, popular cultural traditions, and cultural interpretations of historical experience

Public:                   deep roots in the areas of historical conversation, archival science, oral history, curatorship of museums and other related fields.

Archive:                a collection of historical documents or records providing information about a place, institution, or group of people.


Looking at the definitions, I began to see a pattern. Genealogy, anthropology, and archaeology are all subfields of history. I looked deeper and forced myself to think about what it is career-wise I truly want to do.

I am interested in learning more about African Americans in terms of identity. I want to investigate how this particular community relates to other African communities within the diaspora, as well as understand the generation implications of slavery and what forms of resistance were executed. I want to take part in documentaries and become an expert in the field. Additionally, I would like to continue to practice genealogy on the side and take on clients to bring in side revenue. Utilizing methods from each historical field would enhance the family understanding and experience for clients, especially when analyzing various sites and artifacts.

Each discipline highlights a better understanding from a different view point. My interest in African American history within the African Diaspora can be looked upon from multiple lens through one individual. From a genealogy standpoint, I can really look at the family dynamics. See how a family lived and evolved over time. Look at the economic and political implications on one family. Looking at the same family and applying the understanding of archaeology, I can analyze the materials left behind by the family. I can explore slave plantations that the family may have worked on or compare how the descendants today compare with the ancestors back then looking at which artifacts were kept sacred or looking at which tools are used now versus then. Anthropology and archaeology are alike. Archaeology is a subfield within anthropology. While trying to understand a family in their place of time, I can look at the broader scope of the society and culture, or cultures, that they were living around and identifying with. History is a harder one to discuss in narrower terms. However, understanding social, cultural, and public history helps to better understand the historical context in which the family lived and one hardships hindered them and which opportunities they may have missed or taken advantage of. Utilizing archives enables me to learn more about first hand accounts, identities of the family, and just more knowledge in general that may help to depict the family as human.

Coming at one family from these various viewpoints enables the creation of a much larger narrative. There are many stories within history. As an African American, I believe it is my duty to help give these stories life. Whether through nonfiction accounts of my studies or through historical fiction to enable an interest through a much larger audience, the multiple sides of looking at one subject can be breath taking. Looking at one family, I can understand an origin. I can put names to the bodies and bring forth the artifacts they used and locations they resided. I can bring to life the emotions and historical context in which they lived. I can create a human connection with the past and present. This is what I want to do. I want to take individual families and bring them to life draw connections with the present generations.

The Cosmopolitanism of Jamaican Jerk Chicken

This is a paper I wrote during my time at Spelman College.

Image result for jamaican jerk chickenTransatlantic Slave Trade: 

Prior to the colonization of Africa, the people of West Africa lived lives that were rich in culture. These African persons had language, even though the European men could not understand; they had kingdoms built upon hierarchy of class and rulers. These people were intelligent without a “Western” education. The African people were knowledgeable in politics, as well as the arts. They had technology and were skilled with medical practices. Math and astronomy were other skills that the African people were experienced in (International Slavery Museum). However, much of the culture that the African people built and grew to know, destructed when the European settlers entered. Although the slave trade helped excel the advancement of wealth and development for European nations, it depopulated and devastated the African continent (Adi).     

Slavery began well before the fifteenth century, but the most well-known and most significant remembered form of slavery is the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The Transatlantic Slave Trade was developed during the fifteenth century when many European nations were colonizing various lands overseas in the newly founded Americas. The Americas were founded in 1492 by Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer who sailed under the Spanish empire, yet died thinking he had circumvented the globe. Later, the Americas were discovered by Amerigo Vespucci, another Italian explorer who sailed under the king of Portugal, between the years of 1499-1502; disputing Columbus’s claims that the America’s were the West Indies (Almagià).  

Originally, the Portuguese began enslaving Africans, by kidnapping them and transporting them back to Europe for trade. Due to the discovery of new lands in the East, demand for labor grew, and the African people were the ones who were forced to cross waters to deliver. The Spanish took the first set of Africans over to the Americas around 1503 and by about 1518 Africans were traded directly from Africa to the Americas: without first going to Europe (Adi).  

History of Slavery in Jamaica: 

Christopher Columbus was the first to sight the island of Jamaica in 1494, allowing the Spanish to occupy the small island in 1509 under a license from the son of Columbus. Yet with the invasion of these Europeans, benign diseases, wars, and cruel labor, the Arawak Indigenous People, slowly began depleting. The drastic decline in population of the Arawak people was the beginning for Jamaica’s involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The Portuguese and Spanish looked at the New World as a place for mining and agricultural production. Enslaved people from Africa were imported to work on sugarcane plantations. However, similar to most Caribbean nations, Jamaica was captured by the British in 1655, and in 1670, The Treaty of Madrid was signed, formally giving the British control over Jamaica (Gomez 62). 

In 1513, the first group of Africans arrived from the West to the Jamaica, having been captured by the Spanish and Portuguese. These Africans were skilled, having been “servants, cowboys, herders of cattle, pigs and horses, as well as hunters” (Tortello). However, not long after the Spanish colonized Jamaica, the British fought and took over. 

The British were quick in their colonizing. They produced vast number of plantations that mainly focused on the cultivation and production of sugar. As a result of the great numbers of sugar plantations, sugar began to play a huge role in lives and culture of those in Jamaica (Tortello). For the most part, sugar, along with rum and molasses was transported back to Europe, but sugar was new. It gave a new flavoring – sweetening – to the bland foods the Europeans were accustomed to. It was also an ingredient some of the African people used in making their own foods, and there was plenty of sugar to go around.  

Jamaican Maroons’ Culture: 

The British takeover of Jamaica in 1655 is where historians can trace escaped enslaved African peoples, otherwise known as the Jamaican Maroons. As a result of the British invasion of Jamaica, the end of Spanish rein signaled a new rise of “an independent force, the Maroons” (Benitez). These escaped slaves lived a life of adventure and fear. Maroons constantly had to watch their every angle for fear of being recaptured and returned to slavery. They lived more in the interior region of Jamaica. They were nomads, constantly on the move. Scholar Bryan Edwards describes the Maroons as: 

Constantly on the move through the rough terrain of the interior of Jamaica. They frequently hunted for wild boar, often selling the meat to buyers in the settlements on the coastal regions. When they were not doing this, they were searching the woods for runaway slaves, whom they would return dead or alive for a reward. (Dubdoub). 

The Maroons were their own communities. They had escaped from the confinement of slavery to create a new way of life for themselves in a land they were unaccustomed to. . 

The word maroon stems from the Spanish word cimarrones which means mountaineers. The mountain regions of Jamaica were a good hideaway because it was difficult for white settlers to follow and chase them up such steep hills and rough terrain (The Maroons of Jamaica). As more Africans were brought to Jamaica to help work on the slave plantations, the populations of the Maroon community grew. 

Africans wanted freedom. They would attempt to run away, and those who were successful would join their fellow Africans in the Maroon communities in the mountains. Many slave rebellions occurred in the Jamaica and as a result, the British government felt a need to put an end to the Maroon communities. The first Maroon War occurred in 1728, which only further pushed the Maroons to be more determined and ambitious to win than ever. By 1739, the war ended, and the British and the Maroons made a truce. The Maroons could have their land and communities, but in return they would respect and honor the British government and also help in invasions against foreigners (The Maroons of Jamaica).  

It was a major win for the Maroons. They had won their freedom. Nevertheless, the Maroons are not only to thank for their bravery and determination, which gave so many Africans of Jamaica their freedom, but they also helped foster a new development in taste.  

Jamaican Maroons and Jerk Chicken: 

When these runaways setup their communities they met with the indigenous people on the island, known as the Arawak people. From this circumstantial event, the Maroons and the Arawak people united and the concept of cosmopolitanism erupted in many cuisines found throughout Jamaica. The Maroons being escaped enslaved people of Africa used their original African customs and traditions, while also incorporating new customs into their lives. One particular food that began with the Maroons is Jamaican jerk chicken.  

Keeping in mind, today’s version of Jamaican jerk chicken is different than how the Maroons made this authentic dish. Remembering that the Maroons were escaped slaves who were constantly on the run, their foods needed to have the ability to be made within a short amount of time and cooked in way that refrained from drawing attention. Smoke from fires drew attention and might cause the white settlers to come looking for them.  

Meat is a type of food that spoils quickly if it is not properly preserved. The Maroons preserved their meats by marinating them in “spice-heavy marinade” (Rothman). When it was time to cook these meats, the Maroons would dig holes and fill them with charcoals. The Maroons would then bury the meats in the holes with the charcoal, which they covered to prevent smoke from rising into the sky bringing attention (Rothman).   

Jamaican Jerk Chicken Today: 

Today Jamaican jerk chicken is a national dish that is shared with cultures worldwide. Many tourists relish in the idea of getting their mouths to taste the kick of spice in the jerk chicken from Jamaica and even go to nearby Jamaican restaurants in their home areas to try it. I am familiar with the Jamaican jerk chicken having grown up in Massachusetts, near Boston, which has a large population of Jamaicans. There were a few mini-restaurants that sold jerk chicken and I would go to them and eat their cuisines. In addition, my family travels. The two times I visited the country of Jamaica, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some of the famous jerk chicken and eat it in its natural habitat.  

Jamaican jerk chicken is not a food that is typically served by itself. From my own experiences and as I read on the same site from which I got the recipe, Jamaican jerk chicken is typically served with coconut rice and beans, as well as festival, which is a type of bread. Festival is known as Jamaican cornbread fritters, and they are termed “festival” because according to legend, eating them is fun like a festival (Kiesel). These mix of tastes make this cuisine a delicious meal that will leave one’s body feeling full and well fed.  

I’m sure the recipe for Jamaican jerk chicken varies depending on who’s making it and in what region, however, the taste is all so similar. The recipe I chose to use comes from a Jamaican travel and culture website. Their recipe calls for: 

Ingredient:  Portion: 


Chicken Breast 

3 ½ lbs. 



Scotch Bonnet Peppers 



Thyme  2 tbsp. 
Ground Allspice  2 tbsp. 
Cloves of Garlic (finely chopped)  8 
Medium Onions (finely chopped)  3 
Sugar  2 tbsp. 
Salt  2 tbsp. 
Ground Black Pepper  2 tsp. 
Ground Cinnamon  1-2 tsp. 
Nutmeg  1-2 tsp. 
Ginger  1-2 tsp. 
Olive Oil  ½ cup 
Soy Sauce  ½ cup 
Juice of Lime  1 
Orange Juice  1 cup 
White Vinegar   1 cup 

In order to accurately make Jamaican jerk chicken, one must make the jerk sauce. All of the ingredients listed, except for the chicken, is blended together to make the jerk sauce. As one can see, the sauce is filled with a mixture of tastes: from spicy to sweet to other mixtures of blending spices. Once blended, the juice is spread over the chicken to marinate. The chicken is then cooked, preferably over coals. Once done, it is good to eat.  

This form of making this dish, incorporates all different arrays of ingredients that could be a form of a cosmopolitan ideal of cuisines. As seen with the Maroons, some of the cooking is a shared tradition with the people of the Arawak nation, while other aspects are pure convenience. The idea of smoking meat is a form of cooking brought on by the indigenous people. Cooking was a form of survival and cooking “right” was a necessity in order to avoid illnesses. Smoking meat allowed for both, while also adding a distinct smoky-like flavor to the foods. Jerk chicken is cooked in such a way, and was a form of cooking the Maroons most likely learned from the Arawak people.  

Aside from the form of actually cooking the meat, some of the spices, such as allspice, is probably an ingredient borrowed from the Arawak people. Allspice is a native spice of Jamaica and is also one of the many spices used in the making of the jerk sauce of the jerk chicken. Allspice is similar to pepper in the way it appears, but is “pungent and fragrant” (ACH Food Companies, Inc.). For the most part, a few of the ingredients, including: scotch bonnet peppers, onions, and sugar are native to the island of Jamaica. Some of their use in the making of Jamaican jerk chicken may be as a result of the uniting forces of the Maroons and the Arawak people. The use of sugar may be a “get back” type of ingredient towards the English settlers. These African people were forced to slave over the cultivation of sugar, but couldn’t actually use it. Perhaps the use of sugar is for its sweetening taste, as well as a take back after their hard labor.  

Many of the other spices originate from various parts of Asia. Through the slave trade, and just trade in general, these spices were able to circumvent the globe and land in several regions of the Earth; giving the people of Jamaica access to such spices. In this sense, the incorporation of these Asian spices, could constitute their involvement at cosmopolitan. As slaves, Africans would cook for their masters and whatever was left over they would keep and cook and eat for themselves. Cooking for their masters, gave the Africans the opportunity to try cooking with all different types of spices and foods, which they could then try for themselves. Liking the tastes of these unfamiliar ingredients, they would then take it upon themselves to integrate them within their own cooking, including jerk chicken.  

Jamaican jerk chicken is a nice example of a cuisine that started with slavery and ended in a celebratory dish that recognizes the bravery of escaped slaves. The cosmopolitan taste of the cuisine adheres to the unity of cultures that slavery forced upon nations. The indigenous people, the Europeans, and trade with Asia, allowed the jerk of the chicken to have such a strong and distinct kicking taste. The power that the jerk chicken has as a well-known dish of Jamaica, gives praise and recognition to those who struggled in slavery and allow African decedents of and in Jamaica to give thanks to their courageous ancestors and to recognize the blessings of slavery.  

There is no justification for the evils of slavery nor can we stay angry at those who withheld our ancestors from their rights to freedom. What we can do is reminisce on our ancestors bravery and courage and recognize the good that came from it all, such as the worldly foods that we now have. Jamaican jerk chicken is just one of many foods that allows us to remember slavery, the bravery of our people, and the combinations of cultures that goes into cooking food.  

From the intricate culture of the African people prior to the invasion of the Europeans, the African people came a long way. They battled the vicious seas and endured years of slavery due to the Transatlantic Slave Trade; crossing rough waters to newly founded Americas. In Jamaica, they were forced to adapt to two reigns. The Spanish first colonized Jamaica and then the British took over, which led to the adventurous and fearful culture of the Maroons. The Maroons gave way to the exotic tastes of new dishes like Jamaican jerk chicken blending ingredients due to convenience and cosmopolitan unison. From them, the cuisine spread and is now a nationally known dish shared, eaten, and welcomed by all.  

Gender, Class, Race: The Triple Oppression

This is a paper I wrote during my time at Spelman College.

Image result for painting of oppressionTsitsi Dangarembga is an Afrrican writer, whose novel, Nervous Conditions, serves as an educator and a reminder for the ways in which colonialism acted as an oppressor to the native African people. During colonialism, the native people were introduced to the concepts of gender, class, and race; all of which were used to classify and discriminate. Nervous Conditions is a novel based in Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, Africa and revolves around the life of Tambu and her family, while they are experiencing life living under colonialism and British reign during the 1960s. Throughout the novel, the reader is able to identify with the oppressions expressed by Tambu, the overall narrator, and various members of her family. Being born a female, Tambu struggles to overcome her disadvantage of being a female and having a brother who seems to get his way on most things. In addition, Tambu realizes the class difference between her family and that of her uncle’s as they come to visit and she listens to the way in which they speak and dress. Tambu must accept the fact that the reasons as to why the whites are looking down upon her and her people, and treating them with disrespect, is a result of the differences in skin color: black versus white. Gender, class, and race act as the triple oppression presented in the novel. As Tambu embarks on journey during the course of the novel, she must struggle through the obstacles in which the triple oppression of gender inequality, class discrimination, and racial differences have interfered with her life and make decisions that will set the course for the rest of her life.  

Gender has forever been one of the divides in society, and in Nervous Conditions Tambu realizes her disadvantage of being a female when she is removed from school, so her brother could attend due to their lack of wealth. Tambu’s father, Jeremiah, tries to emphasis the unimportance for her to receive an education because she is a woman when he says, “Can you cook books and feed them to your husband? Stay at home with your mother. Learn to cook and clean. Grow vegetables” (Dangarembga 15). To further accentuate the way society in Rhodesia view educated women, Tambu’s aunt, Maiguru, responds to a remark made by Tambu by saying:  

“When I was in England I glimpsed for a little while the things I could have been, the things I could have done if – if – if things were – different – But there was Babawa Chido and the children and the family. And does anyone realise, does anyone appreciate, what sacrifices were made? As for me, no one even thinks about the things I gave up” (Dangarembga 103). 

Maiguru is a woman of great knowlegde. She is educated and has a master’s degree, in which she earned on her own. Due to the fact that Maiguru is a woman, she was forced to sacrifice the opportunities that she rightfully earned. The village does not know nor care about the fact that Maiguru holds claim to an educational degree, but show the utmost respect for her Husband, Babamukuru. Maiguru’s quote demonstrates gender inequality and roles in which males and females play in Rhodesia. “This business of womanhood is a heavy burden” (Dangarembga 16), Ma’Shingayi, Tambu’s mother, states this when explaining to her daughter that when it comes to having to make sacrifices, women are the ones to make them. This demonstrates a generational gap because Ma’Shingayi has accepted her role in serving the men in her life, whereas Tambu is only trying to escape from that lifestyle. The role education has on Tambu and her family intertwines with the discrimination between classes.  

Class is often used to define importance, class is only noticed in the novel after one is educated; when Nhamo returned home from school he began to feel embarrassed for being poor and when Tambu returned from the missionary school, she noticed the poverty in which she lived. Throughout the novel, not much is truly spoken about class, rather insinuated. It is clear, however; that Tambu embraces where she comes from, whereas Nhamo looked down upon it. Tambu describes her perception of how Nhamo felt:“All this poverty began to offend him, or at the very least to embarrass him after he went to the mission, in a way that it had not done before” (Dangarembga 7). Nhamo himself, showed his disgust for the poverty in which he lived, when it came to returning from the mission. Whenever their uncle was not too busy with administrative work, he would drive Nhamo home, something Nhamo preferred. Nhamo’s complaint was not only because the bus was too slow, but also: 

“Moreover, the women smelt of unhealthy reproductive odours, the children were inclined to relieve their upset bowels on the floor, and the men gave off strong aromas of productive labour. He did not like sharing the vehicle with various kinds of produce in suspicious stages of freshness, with frightened hens, with the occasional rich-smelling goat. ‘We should have a special bus,’ he complained” (Dangarembga 101). 

The children within the novel are not the only ones that understand and have opinions with poverty. Ma’Shingayi recognizes her own insecurities with her financial standings and lack of education, when she spins off onto a tirade at Maiguru and says: 

“I am only saying what I think, just like she did. She did tell us, didn’t she, what she thinks, and did anyone say anything! No. Why not? Because Maiguru is educated. That’s why you all kept quiet. Because she’s rich and comes here and flashes her money around, so you listen to her as though you want to eat the words that come out of her mouth. But me, I’m not educated, am I? I’m just poor and ignorant, so you want me to keep quiet, you say I mustn’t talk. Ehe! I am poor and ignorant, that’s me, but I have a mouth and it will keep on talking, it won’t keep quiet” (Dangarembga 142). 

She resents Maiguru and realizes that these insecurities are the reasons why she has no voice for herself. Through poverty, racial differences arise, and both poverty and race are connected by the color of one’s skin. Race is one of the arguments brought up in discussing burdens of life.  

Race has been a social issue for centuries, the fact that the British invaded Zimbabwe and are impending their views upon the natives, demonstrates the racial issue Tambu must face and the cultural changes that some of the people, like Nyasha, undergo. Ma’Shingayi argues that being black and female act as a double burden when she says: 

“And these days it is worse, with the poverty of blackness on one side and the weight of womanhood on the other. Aiwa! What will help you, my child, is to learn to carry your burdens with strength” (Dangarembga 16). 

Yet instead of supporting Tambu to be strong and rally against such prevailing conditions, Ma’Shingayi encourages Tambu to passively accept the situations she feels are too far out of her reach to control. Ma’Shingayi’s words exemplify the difference in age between the two women and the way many Africans feel during this time period. The blame is placed upon the British. When Nyasha’s ways begin to be influenced by the British, people take notice. Nyasha is unable to speak the native African tongue of her people and can hardly understand the conversations that are held. At a dinner with her cousins, aunt, uncle, and her family, Tambu takes notice at Nyasha’s sensitivity when the topic of weight is introduced. Later, it is revealed that Nyasha suffers from an eating disorder, bulimia. Ma’Shingayi states, “The problem is the Englishness, so you be careful!” (Dangarembga 207) as an explanation for Nyasha’s eating disorder and. She believes that “Englishness” is the root of all of Babamukuru’s children’s problems and falls into some sort of depression when she comes to imagine these same troubles causing her own daughter to suffer. The belief that the British are to blame for the problems of the African people represents the point of view that white culture cannot and should not be imposed upon the native Africans. 

Tsitsi Dangarembga is an Afrrican writer, who was able to make strong, relevant, and eye-catching issues of oppression during colonization in Rhodesia by the British, come to the surface in her novel, Nervous Conditions. The triple oppression that was endured included: gender inequality, class discrimination, and racial differences. The females within the novel were forced to overcome the obstacles that society viewed them. Women were not to be educated and were to act as servants to the men in their lives. Class discrimination was evident in terms of those whom were educated and those whom were not. Nhamo resented his family for living in such impoverish conditions, whereas Tambu accepted her life for what it was, but was willing to overcome such obstacles. Race was more of an issue in terms of their influence on African society. Nyasha’s lack for speaking and understanding her native tongue and her obsession with her eating disorder, were signs of negative British influence upon the native Africans. Despite the fictitiousness of the novel, Nervous Conditions portrays the affects colonization had on some of the African people. Like Tambu, the African people had to struggle through the obstacles in which the triple oppression of gender inequality, class discrimination, and racial differences had interfered with their lives.