Re: Westernization and its effects on culture

Shannon Goins (
Tue, 28 Nov 1995 22:43:33 -0800

***I tried to send this as a letter directly to you, but my
computer said that your address was located at an unknown host,
so I decided to post it. I guess you'll find it***


I really appreciate you taking the time to write all of that
down for me. I have read it through several times - as it is a
lot to digest.

I have had many of the same experiences in Kenya and South
Africa, (where I am currently a volunteer at an SOS Children's
Village), as far as the youth and western articles - baseball
caps, jeans, etc. Here in South Africa, I have really noticed
that there is an overwhelming majority of black people who try
to sound American. I find it frightening. I always ask them
why they try to copy the way I talk. They are usually very
embarrassed. I live in Mamelodi, a black township, on the
outskirts of Pretoria, so I have a good idea of how severe the
issue is.

I've decided to include some of your comments, and then
intersperse my thoughts in *'s, so they are easier to find. wrote:

> Before I begin to answer your questions about the effects of
> westernization, let me give you my qualifacations concerning
> topic. First, I have a B.A. and M.A. in anthropology. After
> compleating my M.A., I joined the Peace Corps and served for
one and a
> Half years in Senegal, West Africa. Most of my work there was
> conducted in Wolof, thus I did use the local language. I work
for the
> Ministry of Public Health and Social Action as a Public Health
> My primary task was to decrease infant mortality through
education and
> other projects designed decrease the effects of contagious
> Now that you know where I am coming from, I can start to
answer your questions based on my knowledge and expereinces.
***As far as my qualifications go, I have a BA in German, and I
have done a year of graduate work in anthropology in Germany. I
have volunteered in Kenya and now South Africa. I'm still new
at this, so I haven't gotten all over the continent yet. (I'll
be leaving for an overland trip of 5 months at the beginning of
the year.)

***I considered going into the Peace Corps after college, but I
chose Germany instead. I didn't feel ready to commit myself at
that point. I want to go to the University of Illinois to do a
Masters in African Studies, with an emphasis in Kiswahili (Ihave
done a semester of Kiswahili so far in Germany). That's what
the essay I'm writing is all about. I need a scholarship -
maybe you've heard of the FLAS (Foreign Language Area Studies)

*** So, now, if I don't get the scholarship, I've more or less
decided to join the Peace Corps to do some work in East Africa
somewhere. Volunteering can be a really strenuous job
sometimes. I'm sure I don't have to point that out to you. I
guess that I have an idea of what it is that I would be getting
into, but I'd like to hear your opinions on what it was like as
far as the issue of having a task, and was it something that was
feasable, was the bureacracy too much to bear, etc.

>Recently, American Rap music has
> began to be played in Senegal, with the music videos being
played on
> their only T.V. station, and this has led to a redefination on
> they think they should act and dress to be more like

***You know what I find extremely ironical? The fact that there
is this 'go back to our roots in 'Mother Africa'' movement among
black people in the US, when little do they know, that their
'roots' are trying to become just like them. I think there is
going to be a serious identity crisis - well, a worse one - if
everyone would ever figure that out. It just seems strange.

> I must say, it is an odd sight to see young Senegalese dressed
> Chicago Bull Jackets when the tempature out-side is between
100-120 F.
***I can imagine!!! It doesn't shock me.

> In General, Senegalese Society bases affluance on how Western
some one
> is. The more Western they look, the more prestigious they

***That parallels what I have noticed here in SA. The more
American that a black person can make himself sound, then the
more respected he is by other blacks and whites as well. I just
can't get over it.

> >Are there ways to prevent it?
> The only way to prevent this is for the people effected to
> wanting to be like Westerners. However, this will not happen,
as far
> as I can see.
*** Yeah, that's unfortunately what the reality is. It's so
overwhelming, there's just no way to stop the influx of

> > What about foreign aid workers - does the ability to speak
the language of
> >the region where one is working help to reduce the risk of
> >western cultural values?
> No, if any thing, this can increase the risk of influance
because then
> the foreign aid workers can communicate their values better by
> speaking the language.
> You need to be careful and not make the mistake of thinking
> language and culture are synonymous. When I was speaking
Wolof to the
> people of Senegal, I wasn't speaking to them like a Wolof, but
> I was speaking like an American who knew how to talk to them
in their
> langauage. This is the improtant point to remember.

***Um, yeah, and no. When I first went to Germany, I was
speaking as an American in German, but after two years or so of
going back and forth there, and then finally living there, I
found that I had really adapted my way of thinking according to
the language. With fluency came a sort of alteration in
thought. It's difficult to explain, but basically, I was using
metaphors, slang, and idioms that all developed to fit their
lifestyle, and being in the same lifestyle, the idioms grew to
have meaning to me, and I would use them in the sense that the
Germans would. I'm not sure if you follow that. Anyway, I had
gotten myself so indoctrinated by the German language and
culture that I could see a drastic change in how I would view
things and then talk about them. So, after a while, I wasn't an
American speaking German anymore (of course we can't go to
extremes with that - of course I was, and I would always have
some viewpoints that would stay the same), but I was LESS
American. That is definitely true.

> In the "Foreign Aide Game" an important commodity is at work
that must
> be understood. I should say at least in Senegal, but I am
sure this
> happens in other countries also. Like I have already said,
to have
> Western things is to show that one is prestigious. What does
> Aide bring? Western things. Thus, at least in Senegal, the
> will do almost any thing to get stuff from us. The primary
> is not to inprove their material lives, but instead to have
symbols of
> prestige.
> Personally, I think this is one of the major reasons why aide
> do not work.
*** Do you mean this 100%? I have my doubts, too. I have seen
lots of things fall short of what they want to achieve, so I'm
not just some rookie who wants to do all she can to 'help poor
starving Africa' and that we can fix all of their problems.
That's obviously not true. What I wonder about, is what things
do work and what things do not. I helped build a dormitory for
a proposed University in Kenya, and that is something that is
now being used to house people who want to learn. I helped to
renovate the library that is now in use, etc. I felt good about
what happened. The difference between working projects and
non-working ones 'may' lie in the organization of the project.
Not only was it well organized, but WHO organized it. I think
that if local people are able to pull things together on their
own, and just need laborers, then things go well. On the other
hand if they bicker and fight about how it should be done, or
the organization is coming from outside of the area, ie, an aid
organization, then things are very likely to collapse, or when
the project is done, nothing has really been accomplished. For
example, I just got through organizing an e-mail correspondence
between some youth here in Mamelodi and some youth in Delft in
the Netherlands (the sister city). Delft raised some money to
be spent on the youth, but wanted the youth here to decide what
to do with it. Now they have decided to train people in
first-aid and to give general health education to the school
children. That has seemed to work fine. Local organization
with financial help from the outside. What do you think??

> Any way, since the villagers want these symbols of
> they will go anything they can to get them. Since the Foreign
> worker can speak their language, the villagers have an easyer
> trying to figure out the worker. As a result, they will find
out how
> the worker thinks and feels about things (basicly their
> matrix) and will act infront of them based on this
information. Thus,
> they will use our cultural perceptions to get want they want.
> we see them acting the way "we do" we come to expect them to
> to act "Western." From my experince, I can tell you that it
is a
> shock when I stopped a project in a village, and they didn't
have any
> reason to continue to act they way they thought I wanted them
to act.
> It confused me, untill a Senegalese friend of mine explained
that they
> are acting like Wolofs now, not like Americians.

***Yep, I've run across that myself.

> So in a nut shell, Wetsern Values will always be a factor in
> Aide. Unless we are able to de-socialize our selfs before
going over
> to other country, our values will continue to be they and
either we or
> the people we are working with will bring them to the surface
> enter them in to the work.
> I hope that this has help you with you paper,
> Keven

Yes, it has. Would you like to read it? I would be very
grateful. You very well may disagree with it, but that is what
I need someone to do, so that I can revise it if necessary.
It's short, just 2 pages double spaced. Just let me know if you
have a minute.

Thanks a lot!!!

I'll give a lot of thought to what you have said.