- Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide
Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide


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By dagan on January 29, 2013

I found today’s reading to be particularly interesting, especially considering my thesis topic. Beyond that, however, it was intriguing to understand that Hutu and Tutsi – as social identities – were often constructed pre-genocide, reflective of Hamitic/racist stereotypes. These stereotypes cut across any semblance of identity shared by common religion, language, or cultural customs that both Burnett and Umutesi note in their work. It was the ideas formulated by Belgian colonists – the Tutsi being tall, slender and light skinned; the Hutu being short, stockier and having a wider nose – that became internalized by the population at large. People started to believe in these constructions, rather than seeing their commonalities. Jennie Burnett notes how one of her informants, Antoinette, was categorized by her family as Hutu – “yet many Rwandans assumed that Antoinette was Tutsi based on her appearance. Antoinette was very beautiful, with ‘cow’s eyes,’ straight teeth, a shapely physique, and a demure grace” (53). Similarly, Umutesi notes her experience in school when a group of boys invaded a dormitory to throw the Tutsi out. “They started poking around and looking at the ends of our noses to decide who was Hutu and who was Tutsi. They were completely misinformed” (Umutesi, 10). It is this last part of Umutesi’s passage that sticks out to me – how could people have really known who was “Hutu” and who was “Tutsi”? If racial stereotypes were not in fact true, then how could one tell the difference? Did the mixing of families not mean anything? What makes someone’s identity permanent? Is identity as fluid today as it was pre-genocide? (For further reading with more examples of this Hamitic internalization by Rwandans, I suggest people to read Lee Ann Fujii’s book Killing Neighbors: Webs of Violence in Rwanda (2009)).

1 Comment

  • Professor Thomson said:

    Can you share with readers your thesis topic as most will not be familiar with it? You should feel free (if you are comfortable doing so) to share you deeper insights on the country that is the topic of your senior thesis!

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