President Obama says he is going to take ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) out. I wonder how many of us have been to that part of the world. I haven’t and I wonder if our visions would help us understand what is going on there.
If I had a gazillion dollars – or maybe just Koch bothers money – I’d send every student I knew, especially African American students, out of the country. While I’d most enjoy sending them to Africa or the diaspora, anyplace would work. The point would be for them to get out of their immediate environment, out of their privilege. By doing so, they might gain better insight into why so many in other countries have antipathy toward us.
This, of course, does not account for President Obama’s plea that the world rally around the United States to stop ISIS. Global awareness, however, would go a long way toward our understanding of the way things work around the world. Just under a quarter of a million students (less than 1 percent of students) study abroad. Most of them are White and most of them head to Europe. Had they gone to the African diaspora or to parts of Latin America, more might understand the lives that so many lead, and the privilege we enjoy in the world context. We should not, of course, apologize for our gifts, we should simply be aware of them.
On one trip abroad, I learned that people eat far less frequently than we do. On another trip, I adjusted my concept of space, when three women – four including me, shared a bedroom. On still another occasion, six of us shared a single can of Coke. It was a high honor and an expense for our host to be so generous. Each of these experiences “blew my mind” and made me think of U.S. privilege. Each of them made me wish I had a young person with me to share the humbling sense of the world in which we live.
Our conversations about the global village are more theoretical than real. We cannot relate to a global village if we don’t travel the globe. While we speak of globalization economically and culturally, we rarely speak of it practically. We are so immersed in our own energy and culture that we are utterly unwilling to look beyond ourselves.
“I used to live in the world, then I moved to Harlem and my universe became six square blocks,” wrote Ntzake Shange in her powerful play, “For Colored Girls Who Committed Suicide When the Rainbow Was Enough.” She spoke of thinking and shrinking and allowing boundaries to limit us. We are not all colored girls, but we are all limiting ourselves when we choose and decide to limit ourselves to our narrow environments. Our universe may be greater than those six square blocks, but not large enough for us to view and immerse ourselves in somebody else’s world.
Every single day we are confronted with some form of international crisis, from the kidnaping of girls in Nigeria, to the beheading of journalists in by ISIS. We feel, we mourn, we take up collections, and we moan and groan. And we still don’t get it. If we’d been to other countries, we just might understand the feelings of others.
Our trips to Mexico and Jamaica don’t even begin to count toward a quest toward global awareness. While no one should put herself at risk by going to a country under siege, a few days in an area where there is struggle may turn the kaleidoscope of presence in ways we can hardly imagine.
President Obama used “tough talk” when he warned the ISIS thugs the he would not take their nonsense. Good for him! Few in the United States would disagree. At the same time, our perspective might be nuanced if we look beyond ourselves and get a different world perspective.
If we say we are global citizens, then we need to act like them. We need to embrace the globe and learn that we are not the center of the world. We are less than a tenth of the world’s population, yet we consume disproportionally. We have a long way to go before we practice what we preach.
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.