Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Whitney Brown, August 20, 2020

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries

 

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00:00:05 - Returning home after the COVID-19 evacuation

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Partial Transcript: Well, Whitney we've just started a second session now to continue the, um, story of your evacuation.

Segment Synopsis: Brown talks about trying to find jobs related to her Peace Corps work while at home after the evacuation. She talks about the resources offered by the Peace Corps for returned volunteers. Brown talks about the sacrifices she made to leave for the Peace Corps, and how to adapt to these changes when returning home earlier than planned due to the evacuation. Brown also talks about having time for her passions while being home, along with furthering her learning of Setswana. She talks about hoping to return to Botswana when possible and using this time to learn skills that will help her when that time comes. Brown talks about the possibility of some countries opening before others and having to figure out a life in the meantime before it's announced that they can return.

Keywords: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVIDÔÇÉ19); Evacuations; Global call for evacuation; Jobs; Mental health; Pandemic; Passions and hobbies; Resources; Setswana (Language); Social work

Subjects: Botswana; COVID-19 (Disease); Evacuation; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Botswana; Tswana language; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Botswana
Map Coordinates: -24.658333, 25.908333
00:09:16 - Social justice and diversity of the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Oh, and a lot of--actually, you know, I forgot. So, it's a unique time that we're all in society-wise and one of the passions I've always held...

Segment Synopsis: Brown talks about the social justice movements taking place after her returning home. She talks about joining protests and giving speeches within her community along with the formation of the Racial Justice League within her community. Brown talks about the importance of learning new languages and communication across different cultures. Brown talks about the importance of the Peace Corps. She explains that the Peace Corps can be doing more to incorporate people of color. She talks about her experiences with the "white savior complex" within the Peace Corps, and how more can be done to portray a more positive mindset for volunteers. Brown talks about the lack of diversity of the Peace Corps staff and the disconnect this caused.

Keywords: Communities; Community; Diversity in the Peace Corps; Peace Corps staff; Protesting; Protests; Racial justice; Setswana (Language); Social justice; Virginia; White savior complex

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions; Intercultural communication; Language and culture; Language and languages; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Botswana; Race; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism; Social justice; Tswana language; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Botswana
Map Coordinates: -24.658333, 25.908333
00:16:21 - Diversity issues within the Peace Corps and in Botswana

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Partial Transcript: I have a series of questions now on diversity issues.

Segment Synopsis: Brown talks about how her own racial identity influenced her mindset when entering the Peace Corps. She talks about the challenges of diversity within the volunteer community. She talks about seeing and understanding the need for how other cultures are perceived. Brown talks about an experience she had during the first week of her training on the topic of diversity and stereotypes. She talks about how white volunteers are treated in relation to volunteers of color within the community, and how Peace Corps staff portrayed a skit of this issue resulting in negative reactions from her peers. Brown explains how she felt that volunteers of color had to work harder and gives examples from her personal experiences. Brown talks about the relationship she shared with fellow black volunteers within her cohort and the conversations they shared with each other explaining their experiences. Brown explains how these situations gave her a greater desire to teach. She talks about the things that she believes are overlooked by Peace Corps staff and the need for bringing attention to them. Brown explains how the community of Kanye was welcoming and accepting of her interracial relationship with her partner, and talks about an experience of a community member questioning her about her relationship.

Keywords: African American; Community; Culture; Diversity in the Peace Corps; Gender; Interracial relationships; Kanye, Botswana; Peace Corps staff; Peace Corps volunteers; People of color; Race; Relationships; Setswana (Language); Support; Teaching; Training

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions; Botswana; Culture; Gender; Interpersonal relations; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Botswana; Peace Corps staff; Peace Corps volunteers; Race; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism; Tswana language; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Kanye, Botswana
Map Coordinates: -24.983333, 25.35
00:31:52 - Diversity in Botswana

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Partial Transcript: I think that because of how modern my village was, I think that had a huge element of why it was a much easier transition...

Segment Synopsis: Brown explains the village of Kanye in relation to other villages when it comes to racial issues in Botswana. She describes Kanye as modern, and explains how some other villages were racially biased towards Peace Corps volunteers. Brown also talks about covering up her tattoos out of respect for the Botswana culture, and noticed how her white peers with tattoos were addressed differently.

Keywords: Botswana; Diversity in the Peace Corps; Kanye, Botswana; Peace Corps volunteers of color; People of color; Race discrimination; Tattoos

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions; Botswana; Interpersonal relations; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Botswana; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Kanye, Botswana
Map Coordinates: -24.983333, 25.35
00:36:23 - Identity and growth through the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Thinking of, of your view of yourself prior to Peace Corps...

Segment Synopsis: Brown talks about joining the Peace Corps at a later age, and being confident in who she was. She explains how Peace Corps brought out many aspects of her identity as a black woman that get suppressed in America, for example feeling confident in her natural hair. She explains that she was able to flourish in the Peace Corps. Brown explains the importance in joining the Peace Corps at a point when you know who you are, and being able to adapt in a new environment that presents new challenges. She explains how aspects of her identity made her experience within the Peace Corps even more meaningful.

Keywords: Botswana; Diversity in the Peace Corps; Identity; Peace Corps experience; People of color; Self-identity

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions; Botswana; Diversity in the Peace Corps; Identity; Interpersonal relations; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Botswana; Race; Race relations; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Botswana
Map Coordinates: -24.658333, 25.908333
00:40:26 - View of self as an American through the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: What about your experience shaping your view of who you are as an American?

Segment Synopsis: Brown talks about how her experience in the Peace Corps gave her a deeper outlook on American values, how Americans are perceived and represented, and how Americans of color are represented. She talks about how Botswana perceived American culture and black American women. Brown talks about how media is both important and dangerous when it comes to stigmas and stereotypes. Brown explains that she was able to see through the eyes of others how being American is seen and understood by someone else. She explains that understanding how others view American values gives her the ability to recognize how she herself continues the cycle or dismantles it. Brown talks about a memorable conversation she had with a Botswanan man who studied America. She explains that these kinds of conversations are what makes Peace Corps so valuable.

Keywords: African Americans; America; American culture; American values; Americans; Culture; Identity; Media; People of color; Stereotypes

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions; Botswana; Culture; Identity; Interpersonal relations; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Botswana; Race; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Botswana
Map Coordinates: -24.658333, 25.908333
00:46:30 - Working in Botswana as an African American

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Partial Transcript: What about your ability to work with, uh, Botswanan in terms of, uh, being an African American?

Segment Synopsis: Brown explains how being a black woman from America, she was held to a very high standard when working in Botswana. She talks about the challenge of getting her concerns addressed. Brown talks about working beside her counterpart who also identifies as a black woman and the conversations and experiences they shared. Brown also talks about the differences of Peace Corps volunteers' experiences, and the issue that these differences bring when intrinsically related to race.

Keywords: African American; Botswana; Culture; Diversity in the Peace Corps; Peace Corps staff; Peace Corps volunteers; People of color; Work

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions; Botswana; Interpersonal relations; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Botswana; Race; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Botswana
Map Coordinates: -24.658333, 25.908333
00:51:55 - Racial discrimination

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Partial Transcript: Did you experience any form of discrimination either from Botswanans or other Peace Corps volunteers or staff?

Segment Synopsis: Brown talks about racial discrimination within the Peace Corps. She explains that the Peace Corps staff did the best they could to address racial discrimination. Brown talks about the importance of representation. She describes different instances during her time in the Peace Corps, but explains that she didn't experience any direct discrimination while volunteering in Botswana.

Keywords: African American; Botswana; Peace Corps staff; Peace Corps volunteers; People of color; Race; Racial discrimination

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions; Interpersonal relations; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Botswana; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Botswana
Map Coordinates: -24.658333, 25.908333
00:55:35 - The support among volunteers of color

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Partial Transcript: The last question I have is a little convoluted.

Segment Synopsis: Brown talks about Peace Corps volunteers of color, and how they supported her and her experience. She talks about how they looked out for new volunteers and helped to facilitate discussions of racial issues. She describes the group as a lifeline, and hopes that the Peace Corps will capitalize on these groups in order to help others. Brown talks about the importance of connectedness and empathy. She explains that this is the only group that was incredibly impactful to her and her personal experience as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Keywords: Black PCV group; Black RPCV group; Black volunteers; Communities; Cultural differences; Culture; Peace Corps volunteers; People of color; Race; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs); Support; Volunteers of color; Women of color

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions; Cultural differences; Interpersonal relations; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Botswana; Peace Corps volunteers of color; People of color; Race; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Botswana
Map Coordinates: -24.658333, 25.908333
01:02:17 - Wishes for the future of the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: This is the end of the, the formal, um, set of questions that interviewers are given.

Segment Synopsis: Brown talks about her hopes for the future of the Peace Corps. She talks about the importance of representation of people of color in positions of power. She talks about wanting to work within the Peace Corps for as long as possible in any position, and wishing for clearer resources for those that want to expand the Peace Corps in a professional role for communities of color, and volunteers of an older age.

Keywords: Age; Community; Future of the Peace Corps; Peace Corps; People of color; Professional roles within the Peace Corps; Race; Representation; Resources; Volunteers of color

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions; Interpersonal relations; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Botswana; Race; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Botswana
Map Coordinates: -24.658333, 25.908333