Recently, @nowhitesaviors gave me the platform to share my true thoughts on Peace Corps as a development institution! What a powerful platform! Folks really got into it in the comments section and I learned even more from their feedback.
Please share below what your thoughts are and if you learned anything new from this post! If you are a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) or have ever engaged with one, how have you grown more critical of @peacecorps over time? Can PC be decolonised? If so, what must be done to make this possible? #decoloniseyourmind
This year, I @afropreneurchi DECLARED and DECREED that I was going to intentionally initiate the process of deconstructing and unlearning my SUPER WHITEWASHED COLONIZED understanding of the world and the many spaces that I operate in.
As a Black 1st Gen Nigerian-American woman who happens to be a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer that is now working in the development sector, I am abashed to admit that I ported that do-gooder halo and benefited way more from my participation in Peace Corps than my fellow Burkinabé comrades in my tiny village in Burkina Faso.
Let’s be real! The saviorism was and still is real, pervasive and toxic! It was clearrrrr as day when the Director of Peace Corps failed to openly condemn the public execution(s) of George Floyd and the many black and brown bodies that have been killed. Whatever happened to charity beginning at home? She also failed acknowledge the systemic racism that is forever perpetuated by white people in the Global Black Diaspora. Rather, she ensured the group of predominantly WHITE RPCVs that the greater Peace Corps community would continue working with their many partners, in the US and around the world, to « build safe spaces and a culture of understanding».
Peace Corps was anything but a safe space for me. The same senior staff that supported and fought for a white PCV to avoid being kicked out after disappearing OUT OF THE COUNTRY for more than 3 weeks set me up to be kicked out for conducting merely the same activities that my fellow white PCVs did on a daily basis. From not being wanted in my village of service because I didn’t have white skin to the constant racial microagressions from fellow Peace Corps Volunteers and staff, it was evident that something was fundamentally wrong.
My greatest effort to decolonize my mind began with processing the fact that when President Kennedy signed the Executive Order to establish the Peace Corps in 1961, what he really meant by his quest to « encourage mutual understanding between Americans and people of other nations and cultures » was to create a seamless channel for white domination and the spread of modern day colonialist propaganda. To date, more than 235,000 Americans of all ages have served in 141 countries worldwide. These numbers honestly scare me!
Here are 3 Peace Corps quotes that I deconstructed in my efforts to UNLEARN all that is « white » and « toxic » and to let go of my double black consciousness and any form of internalized oppression.
Quote # 1
“But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps-who works in a foreign land-will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.”
-President John F. Kennedy
This is how despicable implicit biases come about. The nerve of this white man and an entire governmental agency to perpetuate the racist dichotomies of the haves and have nots/us and them/superiority and inferiority/ human and barbarian/ first world and third world/civil and uncivilized. My way of life in my village in the Peace Corps was not inferior to my way of life now. It was merely a completely different lifestyle. I was healthy and had access to basic necessities and locally grown sustenance that kept me going. What more could one ask for?!
"Make the most of your world." Peace Corps Motto
No, I will not have mercy on the PC consultants and staff that thought it was clever to encourage a bunch of inexperienced Americans to do as they please and « fix » their communities of service by virtue of volunteerism. How dare they! I can attest to the fact that I was incompetent as ever as a fresh college graduate embarking on this journey to « assist in implementing health interventions which improve the overall health status of the population, particularly among mothers and children under five. » I definitely learned a lot through this experience, but I certainly didn’t do any « fixing »...
Quote # 3
“We need diplomats and businessmen and women, and Peace Corps volunteers to help developing nations skip past the dirty phase of development and transition to sustainable sources of energy. In other words, we need you.”
To be honest, even if I had my now dual MSW/MPH degrees then, I still wouldn’t have been well equipped to design, implement, and evaluate health promotion programs. I lacked local expertise and my degrees are just not enough to classify me as an « expert » in a space that I cannot claim as my own. The longstanding power imbalance between the Global North and South, particularly in Africa, present all kinds of white privilege. Why is it that EVERY SINGLE ONE of the 3 Country Directors that I had during my time in PC were WHITE? Why are WE Americans offering Africans seats at tables that really belong to them? THEY are the experts, and should be showing us how to run things.
My journey to true liberation from the bondage of white supremacists starts with seeking knowledge and truth from the REAL experts 🙏🏾
If you’re a Black Woman in Development, please consider sharing your story through @voicesofbwid
If you’re an RPCV, and this message resonates with you, please consider following @decolonizingpc to support and engage in the process of unlearning