Before moving onto the next chapter, I need to tell an important story from this first chapter: the story of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. She was part of a family that lived in southern Africa with the Ju/wasi and /Gwi peoples. They weren’t officially anthropologists but they lived with the people, respected them, learned from them, and wrote about them.
Her writings about the Ju/wasi are important for Jennings as they capture the deep intertwining of land and identity. As a mobile group, they–particularly the women of a family–possessed a deep, intimate knowledge of the land, the pattern of animals, the changes of seasons, the locations of water, the kinds of edible plants and their precise location. As Jennings says, “in careful detail Marshall Thomas depicts how a sense of identity can flow directly from the land” (49).
In 1998, at the showing of a film, a person in the audience intimated that the Marshall family had “initiated the spoiling of the Ju/wasi way of life by bringing the Western world to their doorstep” (50). She snapped back but later reflected on the merit of the criticism. Jennings says,
The accusation had merit because the Marshall family’s presence marked the land in a new way. It marked the land as a separate reality from the reality of the people. Their presence effected a conceptual separation that became a material one. They separated the people from the land….
…How the Marshalls aided in the separation of Ju/wasi from their land was by enacting through their presence a new relationship to the land at the very moment they “touched” the Ju/wasi. They had reached beyond geography into identity, and in so doing they showed that continuities of identity did not require specific land or specific relationships to land. In the modernity the Marshall family embodied, identities are encapsulated by language and race, along with the important tropes culture and (ethno-)rituals…
…[The Ju/wasi] cannot return because white presence first interrupted the connection of land to identity and then very quickly reconfigured both. (50, 51, 53).
The implications of this story are staggering. White flesh, simply in its presence, performs a profound and terrifying dismantling and incorporation, that is, a conversion, enfolding of an entire people and land into the logics of race and capitalist exploitation (52-53). One family, who lived with, learned from, and deeply respected this group of people–one white family!–by their presence, performed this work.
Did I mention I’m white, have a family, and am moving to Dallas at the end of the summer?
I hope this post better clarifies the deep problem and what is at stake for Jennings and for all of us who want, as I continually quote from Fanon “to touch the other, feel the other, discover each other.” Especially for those of us who think Christianity should press us into these kinds of intimate, physical encounters with each other.