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Urge the Oakland Zoo to Stop the dehumanization of African culture.

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Open letter to the Oakland Zoo regarding the African Village Exhibit.

October 10, 2014

To: Dr. Joel Parrott,
President and CEO, Oakland Zoo

Cc: Steven E. Kane,
Chairman, Board of Trustees

We represent communities that are part of the African Diaspora and friends living in the Bay Area. We share pride in the history and diversity of the city of Oakland. As a collective, we reflect this in the make-up of our members who span such variations of race, class, age and countries of origin.
We came together to voice out our indignation at the exhibition presented at the Oakland Zoo, namely the “African Village” exhibit. We enjoy visiting the Oakland Zoo and appreciate the considerable effort put into the conservation of wildlife. However, we feel an exhibit celebrating the culture of a people has no place at a zoo.
It is our understanding that this exhibit was put in place with the objective to provide visitors with a fuller animal experience while visiting the zoo: guests would get to see the animals and the environment the animals live in. On the official website of the Oakland Zoo, you describe the exhibit as follows:
The Village features eleven animal exhibits and highlights eighteen animal species of the savanna. The buildings in the area replicate a Kikuyu village, and the landscaping contains over seventy-five plant species from South and East-Africa. Authentic African artwork, cultural exhibits in thenimbia hut, and, periodically, South African dance and music bring the village to life.
Zoos are for display of wild animals and museums are for the celebration of people’s cultures. Yet, you have placed an African culture exhibit in a zoo setting. This perpetuates the long-standing stereotypes that African-descended people are primitive and animalistic, especially because the Oakland zoo does not present the material culture of other ethnic groups when wild animals from their nations are displayed (i.e. there is noAmerican human habitat with the eagles exhibit). We feel this is an attempt from the Oakland Zoo to play into centuries-old racist stereotypes for marketing purposes.
Thatched roof homes exist around the world, not just in Africa. Portraying these homesteads in a zoo and calling them “huts” diminishes their value and is offensive to the people who call them home.
Since colonialism, African people and cultures have been portrayed as exotic things that convey a message of primitive and backward people. The case of the Black woman, Sarah Baartman, whose naked body was placed in European “freak show” in the late 19th century, still brings much pain to people of African descent. At around the same period, here in the U.S., a Congolese man, Ota Benga, was similarly placed in a cage at the Bronx Zoo next to animals. These two cases from history, and many others unmentioned, represented the highpoint of European colonization and inhumanity that was perpetuated on African people at the time.
Consequently, placing an African culture in a zoo setting is reminiscent of Ota Benga and Sarah Baartman. It is an offense to us, their descendants and to all others who promote human dignity.
We are aware that the Oakland Zoo is not the first institution to use African humans and/or their dwellings in zoo displays. In 2005 in Augsburg Germany, the outrage and protest from the German community against a similar exhibition at the Augsburg Zoo not only led to the closing of the exhibit but also brought negative global attention to the zoo.Clearly, these types of exhibitions offend many.
Animals, slavery and colonialism do not singularly reflect the story of Africa and its people. These are archaic and limited perspectives that ignore the vast and rich history that existed for millennia before European colonial rule. Our members, many of whom trace their origins to Africa, take pride in the original teachings that honor and respect the essence of any living soul, including the flora and fauna, that surrounds us.
As a city known for its progressive agenda and racial diversity, the display of African culture in an Oakland zoo is doubly shocking. Many of us who call Oakland home are new and existing people of the African Diaspora. Subjecting us and our families to view our heritage as primitive and belonging in zoos with animals is painful to the highest order.
The display of the “African Village” at the Oakland Zoo goes against the basic respect and dignity towards people of African descent. We therefore request that the Oakland Zoo immediately remove the display from public space.
A few members of the signatories below request a formal meeting with the management at the Oakland Zoo at the earliest convenience. We look forward to a prompt response on this matter.

Our contact information:
Tel: (510) 517-4641 Email: stopzoologizingafrica@gmail.com
Snail Mail: P.O. box 2528, Berkeley, CA 94702

Sincerely,

Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Distinguished Professor, University of California, Irvine

Jacqueline Copeland-Carson, Ph.D., President, Carson & Associates, author

Fania Davis, E., J.D., Ph.D., Executive Director, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth

Jeffrey Kimathi, Founder and Creative Director, Jamhuri Wear LLC.

King’ori Kanyi, Bay Area Kenyan Community Leader

Wilson Riles, Ph. D., Former Oakland City Council Member

Walter Riley, J.D., Attorney, Board Chair Meikle john Civil Liberties Institute, Board
Member National Lawyers Guild Bay Area

Kelvin Sauls, Reverend, United Methodist Church, Board Member Priority Africa Network

Walter Turner, Ph.D., Professor of History and Chairperson of the Social Science Department, College of Marin; President, Global Exchange; Host of Africa Today on Radio KPFA; Board of Priority Africa Network

Emory Douglas, Artist, Activist, Former Minister of Culture,Revolutionary artist Black Panther Party

Luwam & Meron Arefaine, Undergraduate, Mills & Merritt Colleges

Svetlana Habonimana,, Undergraduate, Department of Anthropology,Mills College

Jackson, Devonte, Organizer, Bay Area Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Mireille Kamariza, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California Berkeley

Edward Miguel, Ph.D. Oxfam Professor in Environmental and Resource Economics, Department of Economics, University of California Berkeley

Nunu Kidane, Founder and Director, Priority Africa Network, 2012 Winner, White House Champions of Change

Initial Petition Starts below____________________________________________

Hi my name is Kimathi and I went to the Zoo... i went to the Oakland Zoo and what i saw shocked me.

Fellow Africans, people of the African diaspora, friends of Africa and human beings at large,  Today I invite you to stand with us to ask the Oakland Zoo to do away with this appalling exhibition of cultural insensitivity happening in Oakland, California Bay Area.    

The Oakland Zoo still sees it fit in this day and age to have an "African Village" with a replica of a "Traditional East African women's dwelling" smack in the middle of their African Savanna exhibit, tucked in with wild animals; right next to the hyena pen, zebra grazing enclosure and monkey cages.  

I visited the Zoo in early December with our then 6 month old daughter, we casually spent the afternoon walking around taking in the exhibits until we got to the African Savanna setting and here a sign pointing to an African Village greeted us, i was taken aback because i had read and heard of such exhibits in the past in countries like Germany where they even went as far as exhibiting Africans in Zoo's.  We continued, hoping that this was going to turn out as a big joke. Sadly this was confirmed when i saw a full replica of a traditional African hut with a detailed furnished interior of how this supposed local African woman lived!! in it's full anthropological glory, all this exhibited right next to the monkey cages and Hyena pen.

The second thing that confirmed my worst fears was a young caucasian girl who run into the hut and asked my wife "where are the animals?" we were held speechless for the innocent girl, cause she had come to the Zoo to see animals and here she was in a human dwelling wondering why it was there.  

I pride myself for my beautiful culture and rich history as an African but i don't see how human history fits in any perspective in a Zoo setting. 

zoo noun  1. an establishment that maintains a collection of wild animals, typically in a park or gardens, for study, conservation, or display to the public.

Zoo's are created for the sole conservation and education of ANIMALS. There is no place for anthropology here. We reached out to The Oakland Zoo regarding this matter in mid December of last year and the marketing and pr manager was quick to reply and promised an official response from the director.. but sadly this was the last we heard from the organization.   We ask you for your voice, email: Write, share this petition or call and demand for this hideous "African Village" exhibition to be taken down immediately. Children visit this Zoo everyday and for some, this is their first encounter of African culture presented in a degrading, inhuman setting of "other".  

Thank you. Kimathi

Email drparrott@oaklandzoo.org

call him at 510-632-9525 X250 



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