Band-Aids, doll babies, and racial shades of beauty

Since almost all my daughters’ friends are various shades of brown and black, I’m frequently struck by the prominent shades of Band-Aids (or plasters as they are called here) and dolls. I remember walking into a drug store in N.E. Washington, DC and being unable to find a dark shade of Band-Aid for the kids I was working with. I thought about it for a minute and realized that, in this predominantly African-American part of the city, I was probably the only white guy who was going to be in that drugstore that day. Still, all the Band-Aids blended much better with my pink skin than they did with just about every other customer. Since then, I have seen some darker shades, and clear ones help, but check out the Band-Aid selection next time you are in a store. All the Band-Aids for kids in our house are now flashy kid colors – blue, yellow, red, green, purple, etc.

Finding multiple shades of dolls is another problem. Sadly, even when Christi does find black dolls for all the girls to play with, Kiara and Leila’s African friends (from all over the continent) still prefer the white-looking  dolls; white dolls are “more beautiful” they argue (even when they are identical except for color). Do we need any more evidence of the powerful impact of popular imagery (TV)? Christi’s had to do a lot of work building the self image of these young girls as black, brown, and beautiful.

Reconciliation blog brings attention to the culture clash over dolls and quotes a comment under a post by  Noble Mother that talks about her conflicted feelings over Bratz dolls – they like the color, but does not like the materialistic diva image.

Until the Bratz dolls came on the market, my daughter [black dad; white mom] just wasn’t really interested in dolls of any kind. She and I have lots of conversations about ‘what she is’…and she’s decided she’s not white, she’s not black, she’s brown. She’s often asked why there are never any brown babies in the stores? There are white and there are black, but not brown. And I’m sure she’s not been the only little girl asking this question.

The Bratz dolls, while I have major issues with many other factors about them, have given my daughter a sense of validation of her color. Now, there are dolls on the store shelves that look just like her. She no longer has to decide whether she wants a white doll or a black doll…she can get one that looks just like her.

Gilbreath asks:

Does Barbie represent an increasingly outdated notion of what “normal” mainstream culture looks like, while the Bratz signify a more multiethnic (or urban) aesthetic that is underrepresented among children’s dolls today? Even millionaire celeb Angelina Jolie, who adopted an African daughter, spoke up on this recently saying,

“and I look for a Barbie that’s African, and the African Barbie has straight hair! And you know, why has Disney never made a film with an African-American princess?”

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Misconceptions about Africa; Audacity, Ethnicity, Resurrection, etc (Links and Quotes)

Africa: How Wild? There are lots of misconceptions about life in Africa. What are these misconceptions? How did they come about? (A discussion).

Obama’s pastor Jeremiah Wright’s 1990 Sermon – Audacity to Hope (full text) is reposted by Preaching Today.

Reconciliation blog links to Our Jeremiah Why Obama’s Pastor matters.

I understand why the Obama campaign felt they had to distance themselves from Wright’s post 9-11 comments. But I am worried that Obama has missed a chance to talk about the rich and complex tapestry of black religious life
. . . Prophetic Christianity allowed African Americans to retain a sense of humanity in the face of our country’s racism.

Last night, Christi said, “Win or lose, Obama’s candidacy is going to confront a lot of America with its racism and racist roots. There’s a lot of ‘educating’ that is going to have to happen.”

The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism – Jerry Muller Foreign Affairs. A Kenyan comments on it here.

European stability during the Cold War era was in fact due partly to the widespread fulfilment of the ethno-nationalist project. And since the end of the Cold War, ethno-nationalism has continued to reshape European borders.

. . . It is wishful thinking to suppose that (colonial) boundaries will be permanent. As societies in the former colonial world modernise, becoming more urban, literate, and politically mobilised, the forces that gave rise to ethno-nationalism and ethnic disaggregation in Europe are apt to drive events there, too.”He continues: “The fact that in Europe ethnic and state boundaries now largely coincide has meant that there are fewer disputes in Europe.

A Witness to Death (Dr. Jennifer Myhre, Uganda):

When someone dies, the onlookers shake their heads and say “it is God’s will”. But it isn’t, not really. God let his own son die because the death of 7 year old Ugandan children is NOT OK. It is not the way the world is supposed to be. And changing this world requires suffering and sacrifice, the ultimate suffering and sacrifice paid by God Himself. It is a mysterious truth that His people continue to pay.

Pastor M debriefs the conclusion of Msfara – the Tour of Hope (March 17 – several posts).
The continuation of Pastor Ken’s Story. Part one was here – (2nd paragraph.)

‘Counseling 101 never prepared me for this!’ As the rest prayed though, Pst. Kuchio engaged the man in serious conversation about how God not only forgives us but He enables us to forgive others. Then, an amazing thing happened; not only did the man agree to dismantle his revenge mission, but he also decided to turn his life over to Christ.

Michael Kruse is doing a very in-depth review of McLaren’s – Everything Must Change.

Resurrection in the New York Times:

As Christians in most of the world approach the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection, it is startling to find three distinguished scholars, all known for scrupulous attention to theological tradition and biblical sources, agreeing that the very idea of resurrection is widely and badly misunderstood. [Madigen, Levenson & Wright.]

Misunderstood not just by those whose contemporary sensibilities restrain them from saying much more about resurrection than that it symbolizes some vague (and probably temporary) victory of life over death. But also misunderstood by many devout believers who consider themselves thoroughly faithful to traditional religious teachings.

. . . Resurrection is not a belief that divides an other-worldly Christianity from a this-worldly Judaism. Nor is resurrection something that refers only — or even primarily — to the individual’s survival after death. Instead, both books emphasize that in classic Jewish and Christian teachings, resurrection refers to a collective resurrection of people and renewal of all creation at the end of time.

Resurrection was linked to the expectation of judgment and a final triumph of justice. This was the idea of resurrection that had evolved as Jews returned from exile and struggled under foreign domination in the period before Jesus. It was this idea of resurrection that Christians had in mind when they declared that what occurred on Easter was the “first fruits” of what was to come.

Read the rest of the article here.

Violence, cleansing; healing and hope in an African worldview

Last week I read a brief article in the print edition of the Nation (can’t find it on-line) that showed how Nandi elders in Western Kenya were calling for all youths who were involved in violent acts to come for purification. The consequences of not making this right could mean calamitous events for the community.

wink-the-powers-that-be.jpgOne of the many things I like about most African worldviews is their understanding of the holistic interconnectedness of the world. Whenever violence occurs, something deeply troubling disturbs the cosmic economy and needs to be made right. Violence seeks to replace the world as God intended it to be with chaos. I think Walter Wink (despite his liberal views of Jesus’ death) gets this right in his book, The Powers that Be. 

The church here is taking concrete action to address this spiritual reality.

Msafara Wheels of Hope is a church initiative that will act as a catalyst to lead the country into spiritual cleansing and bringing hope to Kenyans. A secretariat of eight pastors are coordinating logistics, mobilizing resources and team building to travel to Mombasa, Nairobi, Nakuru, Eldoret, and Kisumu.

These five (5) major urban areas were where election violence initially erupted after being targeted by spiritual forces of darkness. [Background: A “witch doctor” from Tanzania carried a python around to each of these cities and spiritually claimed them for his political clients.] With a focus on restoration, reconciliation and prayer, Msafara hopes to enable five hundred (500) pastors in each area to lead their people in healing. In each area Msafara will conduct pastors’ workshops in reconciliation while others will distribute humanitarian aid and provide counsel to traumatized internally displaced people.

Finally, there will be a cleansing, healing, prayer and jubilee service for each area. Msafara will be actively involved in spreading redemptive stories of hope through the media. It will also help resettle displaced people. In the same spirit of Ezra and Nehemiah, Msafara calls Kenyans to unite in the spirit of hope for the future.

The Plan [From their brochure]: From 7th to 17th March, the “Msafara Caravan” of 100 national pastors, and 200 local pastors in each city will gather in 5 main cities in Kenya to wage war against the demonic. Beginning in Mombasa, the “Msafara” will make it’s way to Nairobi, and then move onto Nakuru and Eldoret, and finally end up in Kisumu. A special team of 200 “Wasafiri” will also to accompany the pastors. The wasafiri’s task is to bring comfort to the internally displaced people, to give out humanitarian aid, and to pray, cry, laugh and counsel with the hurting. A special team of prayer intercessors is also being mobilized nationwide to accompany the “Msafara” with prayer.

Children and innocence (Kenya & ethnicity)

[This short story was posted on the Msfara blog]

All Wairimu remembers about fleeing her home is being woken up in the middle of the night as he father screamed “They are coming to kill us. She has no idea who they were or why they were coming to kill them but she still ran as fast as her legs could carry her.

When Wairimu’s family fled the violence that ravaged their village, the eight-year-old lost her home, her precious plastic necklace, her school uniform and her classroom. “We don’t have much,” she said, “but we always had our school.”

The violence that swept through Kenya after December’s disputed presidential election started as children like Wairimu sought to start a new school year.

Two weeks ago, Wairimu was finally back in school though in a temporary tent set up in one of the camps in the conflict-torn Rift Valley. She was elated. “I have two dresses that my mother saved from our burning house,” she said. “This one is my favourite. It’s my Sunday church dress, but going back to school was special so my mother allowed me to wear it.”

Wairimu enjoys being in class and is quick to point out her 3 best friends – Chebet, Achieng and Mueni [Note: these are names from four different “opposed” ethnic groups.] These four are oblivious to the conflict that has divided the country along tribal lines. The girls swing hand-in-hand, singing as they walk to their new homes in the IDP camp. Once at the camp the four best friends part ways. Each one heads towards the corners of the camp where the majority of the people are from the same tribes as them.

“I can not wait to see my friends tomorrow.” Wairimu says in an excited tone. “My parents said I shouldn’t play with people from the other side of the camp because they are not nice people. But I don’t believe them because they are my best friends.” she adds positively.

By Julie Mwabe

Bizarre (and more sobering) headlines (Kenya)

After tie vote, Nairobi mayor to be determined by lot – rolling the dice, drawing straws, flipping a coin – actually drawing a “Yes” or “No” vote. (For full details – Daily Nation story.

In Nairobi, the 86 city councilors select a mayor from among themselves. The previous Nairobi mayoral election ended in a fully televised brawl, with chairs flying across the room. This time Nairobi was a microcosm of the national situation – split down the middle 50-50. Even power sharing was proposed. (Actually ODM should have the votes, but it appears some councilors may have been bribed.)

Kenyan Vice President suggests criminalizing ethnicity.

I’m sure in reality he was probably talking about criminalizing activities leading to ethnic violence, but this is what the Rwandan paper wrote after his visit.

Kenya vice president Kalonzo Musyoka contemplated criminalising ethnicity as a solution to the crisis in his country.

After meeting with President Paul Kagame on Friday, Musyoka said: “Wherever symptoms of ethnic differences arise, there requires a quick reaction to suppress them.” The post election violence in Kenya that has led to the deaths of as many as 1,000 people, is widely believed to be the result of the ethnic and political differences in the country.

Musyoka said that his country’s planned a constitutional review will look into these differences. His contemplation comes in the wake of mediation efforts by former UN boss, Kofi Anan to end Kenya’s political standoff.

Musyoka is optimistic that the two sides will come to an agreement soon.

“I want to confirm to the world that Kenyans have decided to bring their grievances to levelled grounds,” he said at a press conference at Kigali’s Serena Hotel.

“We are not out of the woods, but instead we are almost there. This is not time to demean Kenyans but only to rally behind them in solving their problems.”

Witchcraft against Thieves:

Fear of witchcraft pervades an Embu village where at least seven people have committed suicide in the last one month under circumstances associated with sorcery. Thieves have started returning stolen goods to their rightful owners as the police record zero cases of theft in the area for the last few weeks.

A more sobering headline Kenya’s gangs are arming:
Summary descriptions of Mungiki, Kalinjin warriors, Taliban, Bagdad boys, Kosovo, etc. 205 youths arrested while training.

Lessons from Cote D’Ivoire:

that these politicians could only muster the courage to reach out to one another after their country had nearly been destroyed by war. They could have spared their country a lot of pain.

. . .

So how did Cote d’Ivoire pull its chestnuts out of the fire, and what lessons can Kenya learn from this process? It was a long and slow one in which even a small step towards national reconciliation and healing helped.

. . .

Events in Cote d’Ivoire show that political crises in Africa can be managed, particularly if they are not left to fester for too long, and that a Somalia-like situation and the full-scale wars that Mozambique and Angola went through can be avoided.

However, hostility to international involvement in the crisis, the arrogance of power and unyielding positions could well plunge Kenya into a hell from which it might never recover.

But positively: Obama’s Kenyan Roots (NYTimes)

A barefoot old woman in a ripped dress is sitting on a log in front of her tin-roof bungalow in this remote village in western Kenya, jovially greeting visitors.

Mama Sarah, as she is known around here, lives without electricity or running water. She is illiterate and doesn’t know when she was born. Yet she may have a seat of honor at the next presidential inauguration in Washington — depending on what happens to her stepgrandson, Barack Obama.

Mama Sarah cannot communicate with Mr. Obama, who calls her his grandmother, because she speaks only her Luo tribal language and a little Swahili. Senator Obama’s Luo is pretty much limited to “musawa,” meaning “how are you?”

. . .

If we call ourselves a land of opportunity, then Mr. Obama’s heritage doesn’t threaten American values but showcases them. The stepgrandson of an illiterate, barefoot woman in this village of mud huts in Africa may be the next president of the United States. Such mobility — powered by education, immigration and hard work — is cause not for disparagement but for celebration.