A Cultural Role Model

Lucias Potter - Senegal


October 12, 2011

Greetings readers and welcome to my first Global Citizen Year blog post. I would like to thank all of my supporters and readers for your interest in my experience. Enjoy!

My experience in Senegal so far has been extraordinary in so many ways. There are a number of different things that I have learned, experienced, and reflected upon. This specific post will be about my observance of The People and Culture of Senegal, Africa.

In Senegal, The people and culture are very different than where I live in Oakland, California. Oakland has a large population of African Americans, so as ironic as it sounds, it was strange to see so many Black people when I first arrived. I often think to myself without asking if Senegalese people refer to themselves as Black. Maybe it is foreign for me because they are not Black, but African. Although I don’t think there is a difference between African and Black, I cannot put my finger on why people that look like me seem so foreign to my eyes.

In addition to it being strange to see so many African people in public, it was strange to see so many people that look like me on television. I have been in Senegal for approximately one month and I have seen maybe 5 to 10 people of European decent on television (with an exception to foreign films). It has been maybe the most fascinating thing I have seen so far. In Oakland, CA the news channels show a majority of Caucasians. Most of the time when they do show African Americans, it is connected to negativity or activism. In Senegal, every voice is African. Both the dominant narrative and counter narrative come from African People. It doesn’t matter if the person is rich, poor, left wing, right wing, high social status or low social status. No matter who they are or what their background is, the narrative comes from people that look like me. One may say, “Of course, Lucias, you’re in Africa.” The reason this a big deal for me is because I don’t see people who look like me in many positive positions or positions of power. Everyone from the news anchorman to the politicians to the people look like me. It is ultimately empowering.

In Senegal, people have a sense of community almost perpendicular to the sense of community in the U.S. For example, in America when someone is sick, we leave them alone so they can get better and rest. In Senegal when someone is sick, their  family and friends never leave them alone. Oumou, one of my team leaders and mentor, explained to me that people in Senegal don’t understand the concept of depression because people are never alone. Time together is a lot more interpersonal then I am used to. For example, when I am walking with my brother Aziz (19), he either holds my hand or puts his arm around me. This behavior is uniform throughout the culture in Senegal. Whenever I am out I see men holding hands or putting their arms around other men. Looking through the lens of American culture, we would identify this behavior as homosexual. In Senegalese culture, this is a result of true community. The bond that people have between each other compels them to hold hands or put their arm around their friend. This is a sense of community that the American culture can learn from.

I believe the culture and people of Senegal are not just interesting, but revolutionary. The way that people think and act here could very well serve as a role model in communities like Oakland. I am not saying Senegal is perfect; there are many flaws in the culture as there are in all cultures. I am simply saying that if Oakland alone adopted Senegalese culture for a year, I know black on black/brown on brown crime would decrease significantly especially homicide’s.  Homicides by police officers would also decrease. People would be less likely to feel alone or uncared for. This I think would put an end to suicides altogether. It would be a dream come true if Oakland and cities like Oakland adopted these parts of Senegalese culture. This brotherhood of humanity would allow for the long-awaited social change that America needs. I honestly believe that this role model will create the unity necessary to bring about the hopes and dreams of the activists from previous generations.

My experience so far in Senegal has been extremely insightful. It has truly shown me a culture that could be potentially revolutionary in America. It gives me hope that the oppressed in America can one day become unified for a cause. Being here only gives me hope that I will live to see the day.

Lucias Potter