Community

Language as resistance

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Photo by: Kai Pilger, on Unsplash

Oppression based on language which was birthed from ancient colonial times, still remains overt. I live in Canada (for the most part) and have seen and heard, how people are maltreated and even lose jobs because of a so-called language barrier – you know, because a person speaks English with “an accent”. The Indian Residential school system (stopped in 1996) dissuaded, by use of force, Aboriginal-Canadian children from speaking their languages.

Language as resistance is a factual matter. As someone who comes from a nation that was colonized, I am just thankful that a majority of my Igbo ancestors’ language and dialects were stored. I will not lie that I can speak my language (Igbo) fluently. I can however, write, understand and speak enough, to impress those who speak it excellently. I have often replied Igbo with English. As I mature, I am learning that in a world dominated by languages like English and French – which were forced on Africans (and others), I must not let my own native language die. These days, my sister and I speak more of our language, I listen to Igbo music, I dance to Igbo songs. Also, I will start teaching West African dance classes at the University of British Columbia, come January 2018. This is resistance, this is owning my language, this is safeguarding one of the major things that gives me pride in my blackness and in my Igbo-ness.

Language as resistance is beautiful. One of the highlights of the time that I spent working in Fort McMurray, Canada, was the vibrancy of Aboriginal languages, there. It was beautiful. Dene was spoken. Cree was spoken. Past efforts to strip Aboriginal-Canadians of their languages and cultures have resulted to severe inter-generational impacts. So, to see what I saw in Fort McMurray was again, beautiful.

I once heard an African man say – I never heard that someone died of knowing too many languages.
How true! Friends, let us keep our languages alive. Shout out to the people that had no other choice and learned English or French etc as a second language. How hardworking, brave and inspiring you are, to have learned a language that wasn’t your first. When your “accent” is challenged, it might be helpful to ask your oppressor, how many languages he or she managed to know ­čÖé

To celebrate language, I will be closing this post with a greeting in my own language. I invite you to also comment on this post, in your native language.

Ifunanya na udo,
Chiamaka

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Community

Breaking away from tradition, for social justice

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One of the main effects of social justice is that it creates a revolution. When an act of revolution is a success, systems and people change in response to that revolution. Today, I want to write about how the cause of social justice can intersect with culture and give culture a reform.

Often, the idea is that culture is culture and that no one’s culture nor your own culture should be criticized. It is important to be respectful to everyone’s culture but when aspects of culture or the interpretation of culture are explicitly used to indignify people, there should be a moral responsibility to respond.

As an Igbo woman, I am well aware of the fact that for generations, patriarchy has been entrenched in the culture (this was further complicated by the introduction of Victorian-style Christianity). I desire, however, to rise above that idea that the woman has to be the man’s human subordinate or be the loyal bearer of an irresponsible husband’s misbehaviours. I am vocal about the patriarchy. Culture should not be above criticism but the criticism should be done in a manner that can enhance peaceful dialogue. By the way, I LOVE being Igbo – it is a beautiful culture with different great dialects and traditions.

It is indeed a challenge to break through certain aspects of tradition, for the sake of social justice. Please note”break through” or even break away, as┬ásocial justice does often mean breaking away from some elements of tradition, although it does not require complete abandonment of a culture in general. Change is hard. Societies are becoming well aware of the need to give women as much opportunities as they give men. Countries in North America are realizing that racial tensions are not good for any society and are finding ways to give more representation to ethnic and racial minorities. These are all adjustments. What you notice with such adjustments is that the institutions making the adjustments, fail, get criticized and try again. It is hard to break away from tradition. Even when a change happens, there is a learning process to go through.

But, social justice is about revolutions. People can catch up. Institutions can catch up. Positive change can be permanent. These can all start with just one or more bold steps addressing the parts of any culture that do more harm than good to humanity. Culture can be modified over and over again and every person should be open to this.

Love,

Chiamaka

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