The realization of my ignorance came with time, social media and distance. It came with the acknowledgement that I, for a long time, subconsciously, thought Senegalese folks to be more coherent than the rest of the human race. Even though I disagreed with many folks’ beliefs, I had made the assumption that my fellow countrymen had escaped the plague of the human race: Bad faith. It makes me smile when I think about this now. It is one of those ideas people deny in everyday “intellectual” discussions because they objectively do not make any sense. Yet again, every comment on Senegalese social issues seems to say “we are better than that”. In theory, humans can be “better than that”. However rare are the cases in history when one of us embodied the best humanity can offer. That is precisely why people like mother Theresa or Gandhi are revered: they are the exception.
My own ignorance was probably, for the most part, the reason I was angry. My sentiments also stemmed from the fact that I was in constant disagreement with the stated cultural values coupled with the fact that those values and social norms were never discussed in a meaningful way. A way that would have made them at least understandable since their enforcement could never be justifiable. I am talking mostly about openly sexist beliefs, statements and behaviours which were enforced by shaming and threats of social exclusion. I do not think a girl has to be especially bright to recognize that she is not given the same chances than her male counterparts and that the expectations from her involve living vicariously through any male in her life: fathers, husbands and sons. I would here bring to the attention of many males, who comment on females’ attitudes, that stating the behavioural consequences of Senegalese women’s social context as if they are due to our “female nature” instead of the patriarchal society we are all responsible for, is a dangerous lack of insight. There is enough in the education we are given by our parents or by society at large, to make more than one “niaise et mesquine” woman.
I was therefore, four years ago, eager to leave the country. Taking with me mixed feelings and a then fundamental question: why did nobody else, especially women, seem to be as angry as I was? The answer is something I have already stated before, dear bad faith. I was perhaps one of the few, in a bubble, feeling the need to discuss ideas/ values nobody was busy living by. Hypocrisy is a human problem I will therefore not paint Senegalese people as inherently worse than the rest of the world. I will take full responsibility for my naivety and lack of understanding of humanity. The level of comfort we, however, do have with living within that big secret de polichinelle is to be saluted as a national skill. It is a lot more visible when you see the indignation on Senegalese articles about extramarital sexual relationships, homosexuality, or the usage of alcohol and other drugs. For your information, and in case you didn’t know: the bars you probably pass by on your way to work serve plenty of alcohol, did not open themselves and have to have a good amount of people, and not only tourists, drinking to stay in business. The talibes don’t rape themselves, grown man [ maybe women?] do. But the oddest case remains the one of sexual interactions among youth. I mean, how long can we pretend that it hasn’t been happening for quite some time, if not forever, when we have been in high school in this country and know more than enough about our own or friends’ prowess. Therefore, following the Senegalese logic: most males claim not to be virgins, most females are nearly about to be sanctified and nobody is homosexual. There must be a big fat lie somewhere and it is in believing we are not mere human beings. It is one thing to have moral ideals about how human life ought to be, it is another to participate in a national denial of reality.
This desire to live with feet grounded in thin air is the reason why we find it unnecessary to discuss openly and find realistic solutions for things like the abortions in atrocious conditions, the talibes, teen pregnancy, AIDS or rape. We continue to talk about them like isolated cases of violence perpetuated by monstrous individuals forgetting that those persons are, to some extent, the product of our own society. Instead we talk about a “degradation des moeurs” taking a romanticized past as a reference while also forgetting that it contained things like forced marriages and other violence’s against the individual and therefore was not perfect. Besides, societies change, and the only value of the past is to avoid repeating mistake or to seek advice for the future. Like Somerset said “Tradition is a guide, not a jailer” It is about time to take a look at our society with eyes open and feet on the ground to come up with adequate solutions to our social issues.
It is unfortunately not rare to see in our country a sexually active person, especially females, shaming a “slut”, classist cash poor individuals, or an Imam caught for pedophilia.
Fortunately I grew up, learned and lost my candid belief in a Senegalese moral superiority. Reactionary anger and indignation left with, I hope, what is a better understanding of humanity in general. I also realized that just like love and hate, exclusivity gives anger the only relevance it can have. After anger came surprise and as of right now I can no longer talk about values and ideals that are visible nowhere in everyday life. It is no longer for me, solely about proving ideologies to be wrong or more damaging that healing since their proponents do not have the decency to live by them. It is more so about attempting to offer a more realistic picture of the Senegalese society in order to get out of denial and move into problem solving. Assuming that once we all realise what is going on we will stop clinging to the glossy view we have of ourselves, celebrate individuality and work for a factual division of state and religion.
I would urge Senegalese folks to abandon their self righteous tendencies and see that “un peuple, un but , une foi” is just as absent in realities then “ liberte, egalite, fraternite” and “ land of the free, home of the brave”. We can use as a consolation that we are not the only ones failing, we however seem to be far away from constructive debates. And it is about time we get on that.