We spent the day in Saint Louis. Very interesting lecture in the morning about Mouride transmigration, and interactions and intersections in Senegal and abroad, particularly the US (although Canada came in for a mention too!). In the course of the conversation, finally confronted race head-on. One of the faculty members on the trip is African American, and, while we all bring our own contexts to the trip, certainly her blackness is a significant factor. Not surprisingly, her blackness was also a factor that nobody mentioned. Until today. During post-lecture discussion, she asked the speaker, AbdouRahman Seck, about whether the general American racism towards black people more generally facilitated the migrant Mourides’ attempts to maintain their group identity. Also not surprising, the speaker, who is Senegalese, did not at first completely get what she was asking, and when he did indicated that, while very a very interesting question, was not something he had considered in his research.
[Continuing the nuancing and complicating that has been the trademark of the trip thus far, the Mourides migrants, according to Seck’s work, are both very interested in maintaining their identity, but at the same time are interested in weaving themselves thoroughly into American society — with identities as intact as possible? Complicated.]
But, race question out of the bag, the door was opened for thinking about the implications of what we are doing here, and how. Don’t remember if I’ve written yet about our visit to the Touba yesterday, but there were all kinds of interesting power dynamics we brought onto the site which we really did not actively attend to. Hell. A bunch of white, mostly Catholic (interesting, yes?) American academics coming in, eating food, and asking questions of African Mouride Sufis. We had asked about gender, and the one man who was taking the lead in answering our question first indicated that women are different because of biology and then, almost in the same breathe — and much to the surprise of many of us — quoted Simone de Beauvoir on the constructedness of gender. oy.
But then on to pictures, and the impetus for the header to this post: I’ve been taking lots of pictures, and will try to get some posted sometime soon. But the taking has also raised so many questions. In particular, but not only, pictures of people. I have only been photographing people who have given me their permission or who are situated in the picture primarily as extras (i.e., not central to the frame). But still. When is it alright to capture a stranger on film? Particularly when most likely I will at some point be posting many of my pictures. This question became particularly pertinent this afternoon as we drove through Guet Ndar, a portside fishing neighborhood with one of the highest population densities in the world — apparently about 1600/sq.km. It was fascinating to drive through. Clearly very poor, and full of people doing things like washing their laundry on the sidewalks as we drove by (in our air-conditioned bus bubble). Lots of interesting details which I will try to outline sometime soon. (Not tonight. Tired and going to bed shortly.) But the crux of the matter is that the people of Guet Ndar are well aware of their African-poverty-porn status, and actively resist being photographed. In fact, one of our group had, somewhat accidentally, gone for a walk through the neighborhood with his camera this morning (our hotel is very near by), and someone had actually hit him! All this to say that too much thought makes picture-taking problematic. But i have a whole bunch anyway ….