I found this article troubling. It first popped up in my NYT feed because I love UNESCO. Whenever I travel to a new country, I look up its list of heritage sites to see if I can visit at least one. I also appreciate UNESCO’s focus on education, culture, and communication (science too–but science gets plenty of support).
I participated in a human rights program my first semester of college. I loved how much I learned and even toyed with the idea of majoring in international relations or political science.
Eventually, I came back to my first love, became more of an isolationist as I got older, and became a teacher, not a foreign service worker.
Now because UNESCO decided to include Palestinians as full-voting members, the US stopped funding. I won’t pretend to know enough about the conflict in the Middle East, but I do think Palestinians are an oppressed people. As a black woman, I find myself ultra-sensitive to different forms of oppression. It never ceases to amaze me how colonialism’s legacy continues to play a significant role in today’s foreign and local policies. My mother tongue and first love–English–is all thanks to colonialism. I do not speak my father’s language at all. He speaks mine because Nigeria was a former British colony.
Yet, I digress.
I still remember back in 2008 when the US withdrew the Fulbright award to Palestinian students because Israel refused to grant them permission to leave. I was heartbroken for them.
As someone who was rejected from the Fulbright twice (both for Spanish speaking countries), I know how time consuming the application can be and how excited you can get just thinking about the opportunity. For people to be qualified enough to get this prestigious grant only to be denied exit for an educational and cultural opportunity was mind-boggling to me. Still is five years later.
Thus, I return to this article about UNESCO and wonder. I wonder about institutionalized oppression and how the feeling of being trapped dehumanizes you.
I felt dehumanized the longer I stayed in NYC because I “was drowning in a glass of water” as they say here in Venezuela. My opportunities for professional growth were shrinking. My perceived suffocation was nothing compared to what I’ve seen while abroad and read about around the world.
To put it in a colleague’s words: “I have first-world problems.”
It saddens me that UNESCO had to lay off people, the ripple effect may be that sites in the US are not designated as World Heritage sites (one of which is in my home state and would bring jobs to the local area), and the US voice on education–a passion of mine–will be diminished on a larger stage.