restricted access 7. Healing the Body: Reactivating the African Habitus
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7 Healing the Body: Reactivating the African Habitus The CWC'sAfrican wayof knowing implied not only a particular cognitive understanding of the world but also a particular sensorial wayof seeing, experiencing , and interpreting it. As explained by one CWC African elder, "It's a very different worldview—the African and the European. For the African, all phenomena are alive; they are invested with spirit. For the European , phenomena are objects; they're dead, inanimate. These different approaches produce very different ways of negotiating; very different ways of consciousness." The CWCleadership devised a multisensorial spatial aesthetic to stimulate Africans' innate historical and cultural memory. The very deliberate way the office was organized, adorned, and used was thought to create an African space—a sensoryand symbolicexperience—that subtlyand gradually awakened dormant Africanness. In many conversations, both formal and informal, CWC African leaders spoke of the uniqueness of "the African worldview." A common question during discussions, especiallywhen someone paused to ponder or determine how to verbalize a statement, was "What do you see?" Seeing, or the 'View" in "worldview," a synonymfor "way of knowing"in CWCparlance, wasnot a literal visually based aesthetic but a more expansive kind of whole-body sensory understanding, integrating the aural, oral, visual, and kinesic into whatwasconsidered an African way of sensing the world. The best translation for the common CWCquestion, "What do you see?" was "What do you sense or understand?" or "What does your embodied, ancestrallyinformed intuition tell you is true?" Integrating the senses wasseen as a tool and a complement to the CWC's effort to harmonize the dualisms proposed to have been embodied by people of African heritage as a product of European assimilation. Africannesswas embodied when participants could activelyuse all their senses—notjustvisual and aural ones—to interpret and act upon the world. The CWCdeliberately designed its own material world to facilitate this particular African way of seeing and experiencing the world. Through the manipulation of the physicalenvironment, the offices were a surrogate for an actual African Healing the Body 115 territory. According to Sara, a CWCAfrican born in America leader, "this space belongs to African ancestors—it's guided by us. Our [the CWC's] philosophy is fundamentally African. The African can hold the other philosophies underneath it, but they can't hold us. The philosophy—the spirit—is African at its core. It's African medicine. Indigenous cultures feel comfortable here—the space will hold them. This brings a special kind of dignity because usually it's the African who's trying to fit in. Here people sense that they can be capable—it's visible everywhere." Participants' experience of the CWC as a sort of African oasis was, in part, a result of the contrasting environment of the surrounding neighborhood .1 One common theme raised in their migration stories and the informal or formal interviewswith them was the comforting and nurturing feel of the CWCspace. Many referred to the space as creating a sense of home in Minneapolis,or of havinga place where time slowed down.I often sat in the reception area with people who would stop by to "hang out"—to sit on the sofas and chat with staff and whoever happened to drop by the office. For example, one day a young single mother had just finished her first counseling session with a CWCAfrican leader. Instead of leaving, she walked around the space for about an hour with her toddler daughter, who squealed in delight as she romped through the office. She commented"My daughter really likes the open space here. She canjust move around and I don't have to worry. There's a real peaceful feeling here 'cause of the art, pictures, the color and the dim lights. It's not like a lot of agencies where you just feel like a number so they can get that next grant. It has a real homey feel." Africans and Europeans generally had this reaction to the space; however,it wasnot unanimous. Joanne, who described herself as "ethnicallyAfrican American but as a culturally middle class, professional American," noted that the space was "nice but it's a little too much. Look at all this [pointing to what wasactually an altar in commemoration of European women killed during the medieval witch burnings]. I don't know. But it's like they're saying that somehow if you put up a bunch of African art, that makes you African. But it's still nice and I like the feeling of...