Monday, February 23, 2015

Convocation: Kwame Anthony Appiah


I have spent a lot of time this past week reflecting on Appiah's lecture at convocation last Tuesday. I (along with Amanda and Noah) am currently taking a course on post-colonial writers and we spent a good part of last week writing about and discussing Appiah's lecture. These are my thoughts.

Kwame Anthony Appiah is a good speaker. He clearly feels passionate about the issues he discussed in his lecture, from honor killings in Pakistan to foot binding in China. However, I found the way he spoke about the people and cultures where these issues are taking place was problematic and, to a certain extent, elitist.

Initially, Appiah seems cynical of western colonizers. When talking about what gives people the right to respect, Appiah makes a jab at white British gentlemen by stating that they get respect just for being "white British gentlemen." However, when talking about the honor killings, he made a point of stating that even the educated elite participate in the practice, as if we should expect a better moral code of the higher class than of the common people. When discussing the practice of foot binding in China, he attributed the lessening of the practice to the presence of western missionaries. He claimed that China was worried that the practice would make them "subjects of ridicule to foreigners." Each of the solutions Appiah provided in his speech involved westerners changing the way easterners think so that they reflected more western ideals. Appiah spent little time giving agency to the native people of these countries or trying to involve them in the conversations about these issues in ways that are not manipulating them.

In The Medium is the Massage, McLuhan quotes the James Joyce line "The west shall shake the east awake" (143). I would argue that it is a somewhat elitist idea that the west takes it upon themselves to "shake the east awake" instead of working with and developing along side them. I feel that the west does not have the proper respect for the history and cultures of the East, many of which date back centuries before many western nations were born.

Though the issues of violence against women across the globe that Appiah discussed are very real problems that we should be concerned about, westerners solving the problem by changing the mindset of the native people seems a little bit too pro-colonialist for my taste. I am sure Appiah has done his research and studied these issues, and I believe that this lecture was just supposed to provide a basic overview of his ideas. Maybe I would agree with his books more (but from what I have heard about them, I doubt it). I just hope there are less invasive ways we can find to help save the victims of these practices.


1 comment:

  1. I see where you are coming from, but I didn't get the same message from the lecture. I don't think he was talking about "westerners" changing the mindset of a practice they perceive as wrong. I think he was saying almost the opposite: in our communications with each other on a global scale, we should approach exchanges in ideas with respect rather than trying to force others to conform to the norms of a "Western" world. However, I can see how the examples that he used support your argument. It's hard to say what he was thinking, since he kept repeatedly defining terms rather than moving forward with his argument in the first half of the speech.

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