Dina Buck

Dina Buck (United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda - UOBDU): Dina’s undergraduate degrees include a BA in Philosophy from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and a BS in Environmental Policy and Assessment from Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University. In 2010, Dina served as an AP Peace Fellow with the Kampala-based World Peasants/Indigenous Organization (WPIO), now called the East and Central Africa Association for Indigenous Rights (ECAAIR), which advocates for Batwa rights in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. At the time of her 2011 fellowship, Dina was studying for her Master’s degree in International Human Rights at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at University of Denver, with concentrations in both sustainable development and international administration and law. After her fellowship Dina wrote: “This fellowship has helped me learn more about my capabilities and my handicaps. I also feel I understand better how to sustainably empower people, and work with them in a way that honors their dignity, intelligence, and capabilities.”


26 Aug

“When we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free.” -Nelson Mandela.

I used this quote last year as the title of one of my blogs last summer, after facing mockery in Kampala for being Asian. It was given to me by Freddy Wangabo of ECAAIR, who is half Mutwa, and knows discrimination well. I’m quoting it again because I have faced incidents of mockery again this summer, again aimed at the fact that I am Asian. And indeed, in an intangible way, I have always felt people’s assumptions about my “Asian-ness” (both positive and negative), make me feel anything but “free.”

Some people have told me I’ve faced prejudice here because the Chinese have come in and used unethical business practices in Africa, which is upsetting in itself. So, certainly that could be behind some of it. In fact, I came across an article last spring stating that, especially in the southern states in Africa, where the Chinese have been especially involved in building a lot of infrastructure, racism toward the Chinese (and all others who look Chinese, like myself), is now well established because of exactly that reason. I searched, but can’t find that article now, though I did find this article, discussing how it goes the other way too, toward black Americans and Africans working in China. Not a surprise.

Some of it could be simply because I look “weird.” That’s been my historical experience. Growing up, I faced a lot of mockery for looking different. I was raised by white parents, in an almost 100% white town, so certainly I wasn’t being made fun of for speaking or acting differently. And, blasting me to my past, a lot of the rude treatment has come from children in Rwanda (we’ve taken a few weekend excursions there) who, being young, are perhaps less shy about openly demonstrating their impressions of me.

One thing that has surprised me is how old feelings are so easily aroused. After one incident, where a kid spoke “Chinese” to me in a not-so-friendly way, I could feel the memory of what that was like in times past. The memory wasn’t mental. It was visceral, wrapping my entire being like a cloak. And while I berated myself for letting a kid’s behavior affect me, a grown woman, affect me it did.

The most unkind incidents, however, have come from adults. And, sadly, two of those adults were in uniform, if I count an incident from last summer as well, with one being a police officer. A breathtaking example of maturity from an officer of the law, don’t you think? I also can’t help but notice, regardless of the age of the person, every single incident has been perpetrated by a male. Not sure what’s up with that exactly, but here, men definitely are seen as superior to women anyway.

But I’m not the only one facing discrimination here. When we visited one of the communities last month, a gentleman from one of what some call the “dominant tribes,” felt compelled to tell us that the Batwa from that community weren’t using the latrine that NGOs had spent money building for them. Instead, he said, they were using his banana plantation to take care of business, thereby increasing risk of disease. He seemed particularly concerned about the wasting of money to give benefits to the Batwa that weren’t then being taken advantage of. He went from person to person, making sure we all heard his complaint.

As he pressed the issue, as an old woman had come down to the UOBDU truck to take some posho (maize) we had brought for her community. She overheard him, and began yelling angrily at him at the top of her lungs. Everyone completely ignored her. I wonder if even an eyebrow was raised. She took the posho, and began back up the hill, turning around to yell at him some more. Still zero reaction.

Woman I am referring to
Woman I am referring to

I asked what she was saying, and was told she was saying the man was lying, and that they do use the latrine that was built for them, not his field.

From the top of the hill, others from the community then yelled angry words down at the man, still getting absolutely zero reaction. It was as if she, and they, were all invisible. And while this ignoring of their yelling may be a “cultural thing,” this seems unlikely. From my observations, being “reactionary”, i.e., getting and giving reactions to others, seems to be part and parcel of society here, not the other way around.

Community being accused
Community being accused

Later, when I asked one of the UOBDU staff about it, he told me that very same gentleman had actually advocated for the Batwa to be able to squat on the land they were on. It wasn’t said outright, but impression I got, as I was being told this, is that man made a big deal of his “advocacy” for the Batwa, at the same time that he openly disparaged them. Sort of Machiavellian, somehow.

Despite getting no reaction, Chris said it was positive that this woman felt enough strength and esteem to yell back at that man, and deny his accusations. I guess that’s looking at the glass as half full.

I also think of Mauda’s comments during my interview – how the Batwa women would be raped by others at night, then rejected during the day, and how no man would take a Mutwa as a wife.

I’m not sure what I’m really trying to say about all this. I guess I’m just putting it out there to tell the story of how we sometimes try deny each other the right to be different, and hurt each other deeply for no good reason. I know discrimination is part of the “human condition,” and I personally think it always will be.

But maybe there is hope, and I am being too pessimistic. I recently finished reading Jeremy Rifkin’s excellent book, The Empathic Civilization. He argues there is a growing global empathy, the result of increased globalization and high levels of resource use (the high resource use requiring livelihood specialization that increases our sense of individuality, in turn enabling us to better appreciate others as individuals; and providing exposure to other people and cultures via, for example, access to the Internet, being able to vacation in foreign countries, etc.). This, he argues, creates a paradoxical situation where the more consumptive your lifestyle, the greater your empathy for others, at the same time that your high consumption destroys the environment and leaves fewer resources for others. But, he argues, we have the opportunity to reverse this excessive consumption, while keeping global empathy on the rise via a “third industrial revolution” that focuses on renewable energy, and a re-prioritization of social benefits over material benefits. Thus, it’s possible to continue increasing the numbers of humans who see themselves as “global citizens,” while decreasing habits that will keep others from realizing this mind-set as well.

I hope Rifkin is right.

In the meantime, my husband and I talk a lot about how nothing is black and white. Good and bad often seem to come together. The glass is half empty/the glass is half full. What do you think?

Posted By Dina Buck

Posted Aug 26th, 2011

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