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Fear of difference

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I would like to make a few comments that connect to two excellent recent Kubatana blogs­the first by Amanda Atwood concerning Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill and the second by Catherine Makoni concerning the troublesome PSI research/adverts.

Both blogs effectively highlight worrying ideological agendas and human rights violating desires for control over peaceful citizens.  Moreover, both blogs increase our awareness of the negative consequences when political leaders, research projects, and TV ad executives allow fear of difference to direct the way they think and how they develop policies, design research, and disseminate information.  It is with pain in my heart that in the last few days I have been inundated with people spewing ideas predicated on fear of difference.  Just the other day I read a fear of difference article by William Lungisani Chigidi entitled Shona Taboos: The Language of Manufacturing Fears for Sustainable Development.

It is of course important to discuss taboos or what are also called avoidance rules so as to better understand some of what shapes the complex cultural, economic, health, political, judicial, and social issues and circumstances in Zimbabwe, and world over.  What shocked me and made my stomach turn is that Chigidi overtly advocates that Zimbabwean society ought to instill more fear and formally adopt more avoidance rules to ensure that citizens “appropriately” conform to a morally upright socializing process.  Chigidi writes:

For example, the avoidance rules can be employed to tackle the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  For instance, why can’t it be said that ‘If you have sex while you are still young you will suffer from chicken pox’;  ‘If you become intimate with an animal your private parts will disappear one day’; ‘If you kiss a boy/girl you will lose all your hair’; ‘If you hug a boy/girl you will be raped by a vagabond’; ‘If you become intimate with a relative you will die in your sleep’; ‘If you become intimate with another man/woman (homosexuality/lesbianism) you will be struck by lightning.’  Avoidance rules such as these, and expressed in descent Shona language of course, will invoke in the minds of the young frightening images that will scare them from improper behavior.  That could save lives.

I’m not sure I want to write a blog per se.  More I think I want to rant.  This article is one of the most unsettling things I have ever read.  How in the world can someone so overtly advocate instilling fear, in children no less?  Why in the world does someone think it makes sense to tell children flat out lies?  What would be wrong with thoughtfully engaging children, adolescents, and adults in dialogue to better understand and appreciate human diversity, while also unpacking what drives inequities and injustices in the world?  At least Chigidi’s aim is to save lives.  But, it is not fear nor fear of difference that are going to save lives.  Discussion and productively celebrating difference is what saves lives.

And finally, one last quibble about the article.  Simply to say that writing homosexuality/lesbianism is unnecessarily repetitive.  Albeit a pejorative term, homosexuality describes a sexual relationship between individuals of the same sex.  A homosexual relationship could be between men or between women.  Why use both homosexuality and lesbianism to reference the same thing?  The answer, in part, lies in the analysis that Catherine’s blog presents concerning troublesome representations of women.  In the case of unnecessarily using lesbianism when already having used homosexuality, we are looking at the opposite end of troublesome representations of women and their sexuality’s.  If women are not problematically cast, as Catherine writes, as highly sexed, morally depraved individuals, the other common casting follows the patriarchal worldview depicting women as sexually passive and meant only to serve men’s needs.  With this ill-conceived line of thinking then, the term homosexuality is perceived as unable to incorporate a female same-sex sexual relationship given that, in a patriarchal worldview, women (straight, lesbian, or bisexual) don’t choose to have sex.

One comment to “Fear of difference”

  1. Comment by Farai Mudavanhu:

    Once again, I think this speech is ill informed and is presenting an individual’s feelings which are erroneously taken as facts. I urge all activists to be objective and try not to be too judgemental especially in the absence of hard core evidence in their own hands. Some rhetoric questions like “Why in the world does someone think it makes sense to tell children flat out lies?” sounds obvious to the writer but I think its worth understanding through research. The cultural dynamics of Zimbabweans are surely different from those found in any another nation. The problem that I am siting here is that of an individual from a different culture starting by challenging what people from other cultures do without getting proper understanding as advised by the involved people. I can not over emphasize the importance of research in the lives of those who channel out information. We would want well informed criticism as it is more constructive and is not centered on an individual’s ideology.