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To what extent did the Peace Corps create a new image of Africa in America?

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Presentation on theme: "To what extent did the Peace Corps create a new image of Africa in America?"— Presentation transcript:

1 To what extent did the Peace Corps create a new image of Africa in America?

2 The Peace Corps and African Americans Set up in 1961 Three goals: 1. providing technical assistance 2. helping other countries to understand American culture 3. educating Americans about the cultures of other countries Context of Cold War: America trying to improve its image and widen its sphere of influence. Peace Corps anti-racist ideology – e.g University of Texas training contact revoked because of segregated dorms. Attempts to recruit African Americans to the Peace Corps - largely unsuccessful – first 120 volunteers in Africa included only two black Americans. Number never rose above 4 percent of the total volunteers. Very embarrassing for Peace Corps.

3 Images of Africa Little variations Romanticised – images of motherland Vanguard of worldwide black revolution Would find ‘ancestral roots’ and automatically associate with Africans Was this image undermined or reinforced by experiences of Black Americans in the Peace Corps?

4 African American experiences in the Peace Corps 1.Images of Africa as a place of homecoming and shared humanity reinforced by experiences of black volunteers. Experiences of black Americans in Africa fed into civil rights struggle in America. 2.Disillusionment – romanticised images of Africa shattered by experiences of volunteers. Did little to influence civil rights movement.

5 Africa as a place of homecoming and shared humanity LACK OF PREJUDICE: first time they felt respected as a human being CRITICAL OF U.S.: ‘The Peace Corps experience in Ghana was one of the high points of my life. I believe it radicalized me and many other PCVs because we were in a country critical of the U.S. in the early 60s before the U.S protest movements became important.’ CULTURAL SIMILARITIES: music, church services, sports, food etc. SHARED HUMANITY: ‘I got an appreciation of where I came from, and of the beauty of that. Basically we’re all the same.’ ‘What the African experience did for us was to show us that people are people – no matter where they are, no matter what their tribe, no matter what their country, no matter what their beliefs; that there are some values that we all have, intrinsic to the human race. ‘Irrevocable bond between peoples of colour’

6 Scholar’s views: Julius Amin Peace Corps experiences and civil rights movement linked: 1.‘Peace Corps service taught them humility and the richness of African culture... By using what they had learned in Africa to address the racial problems in America, the volunteers made a difference.... Peace Corps experience contributed immensely to the struggle for black equality.’ 2.Became more critical of U.S.: ‘They realised that the civil rights movement was justified... They returned home more determined to assist the course of freedom in their country.’

7 The Minority Peace Corps Association Accounts from 1980s and 1990s: Katrina Mathis, Guinea : ‘Just like all Peace Corps volunteers, I was warmly welcomed by my community from the minute I arrived at the site... Various members of my community sought me out just to discuss our common ancestry...’ Harris Bostic, Guinea, : ‘the moment I stepped onto the shore I heard three simple words: ‘Welcome home, brother’... This was my home, my people, my land, my culture... I had been accepted into these villagers’ everyday lives as one of them. It was unceremonious and unconditionally welcoming.’

8 Minority Peace Corps Association aims: ‘raising awareness in minority communities about Peace Corps and its many programs’ ‘providing support and assistance to returned and serving Peace Corps volunteers and applicants of color’ ‘enhancing the participation of Americans of color in international experience’ Likely to present Peace Corps experience positively.

9 Different images of Africa Prejudice between ethnicities. Carl Meacham in Liberia (1965) found some Liberians ‘were as ‘racist’ as many whites I had encountered’ and ‘discriminatory system in Liberia reminded me of racism and segregation in Alabama’. Given nicknames that undermined sense of unity: ‘white black man’, ‘suntanned white woman’, ‘black European’, and ‘native foreigner’.

10 Not interested in civil rights movement. Newspaper in Lesotho: ‘How and why has this Negro come to help us, when his own people are being killed?’ Did not see it as their cause. Ed Smith: image of ‘black world rising’ shattered – ‘I am not one of them, and never can be’, ‘the real struggle is elsewhere, closer to home’. Afro haircut: ‘there was nothing particularly African about the Afro.’

11 Civil rights movement and the Peace Corps Peace Corps service seen as a diversion from rather than an expression of civil rights activism. ‘In 1964, the action was here, but I, like many of my peers, ran away from it.’ Civil rights movement in America not associated with Peace Corps efforts in Africa. Malcolm X very critical of Peace Corps, volunteers seen as traitors to the cause.

12 Conclusion Did new images of Africa formed by Peace Corps experiences affect the way Africa was seen in America as a whole? Numbers of African American volunteers very low. New descriptions of Africa by returned volunteers not believed in America.


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