Open Letter to Mindy Budgor
I’ve debated penning this letter for a few weeks but as it comes clear that American media is continuing to promote your book, I’ve made the decision to speak out.
Since you have not responded to the multitudes of Maasai women, perhaps you will listen to your own tribe member.
I am an American Jewish woman. I come from a solid middle-class family, albeit not as wealthy as yours, but I didn’t lack for clothing, shelter or education. I had the privilege of majoring in something as unpractical and lofty as sculpture and fine arts.
I too have traveled to Africa, most recently Kenya for nearly three months this past summer. My work as a conservation reporter and photographer takes me to remote regions in the name of telling the story about human-wildlife conflict, the cheetah and the cultures in the area. I understand that my presence changes the very nature of what I am observing. I approach travel and the challenges it brings with curiosity, patience and respect. I ask questions and believe me, I research and sweat over every single word and image I put forth into the world knowing that I may make a mistake and if so, I will correct that mistake in a heartbeat.
This summer I met people of many tribes in Kenya. I asked questions and I listened and read and researched. Why didn’t you do the same? That you didn’t shows your hand… it shows you were not ever interested in the Maasai or women in general, but only of your own ‘branding’ and business school aspirations. An elaborate pitch letter.
We are only a few years apart in biological age, yet from reading your book and odd defenses of your work, it is as if we are decades apart in maturity.
You see, I am greatly saddened to learn about the existence of your book. The title ‘Princess’ I understand as you trying to be cheeky with the JAP stereotype. Do you realize this is not funny? You promote the materialistic stereotype of Jewish people as cutesy. You are bringing shame and embarrassment to American Jews who work not to be seen as materialistic spoiled little brats like yourself. In your defense of your work you cite the history of your family in the Holocaust.
“ I come from a family of Holocaust survivors and was taught at a very young age that it is only when you dig deep, find your passion, and challenge yourself that you truly grow as a human.” – http://mindybudgor.com/blog/
Using our collective tragedy as an excuse for your behavior is abhorrent. Learning this week of the JCC’s of America welcoming you on a book tour fills me with disgust. And I imagine your parents are shaking their heads at this whole mess you’ve gotten yourself into… if not in complete hiding from it all.
I’m not denying you had an experience; one that was a great somatic and emotional breakthrough for your personal story. But intellectually and empathically you exited this experience the same dingbat as when you entered.
Now here’s the deal… and what I can’t comprehend… you have the world at your feet. Yet your education left you with no knowledge. You had the opportunity in Kenya to learn, to be curious, to ask questions. Instead you returned with a Westernized agenda to ‘fix’ a people who didn’t need your special brand of help. The style of feminism you returned with is just another White Savior disaster.
In university I had the opportunity to be called out on my bullsh*t every single week in front of a group of my peers and teachers. (Hello art school critiques!) I learned to defend myself and also to step down when I was wrong. I get it, this is hard stuff and you’re being called out in the public eye.
This is your chance to make it right. Your book is causing actual harm to people. The Maasai are very upset. While I do not (and cannot) speak for them, I feel compelled to apologize and say that this is not what we’re all like. When I and other colleagues return to Kenya with camera and curiosity and respect, we will have larger bridges to cross because of you.
While I’ve never met you, my gut tells me you were just naive and not intentionally hurtful at the time. But you cannot be ignorant anymore. Evidence of you banning the Maasai from commenting on your Facebook page and refusing to address their concerns shows that you are listening. We know you’ve heard us all. There is no excuse of ignorance to hide behind any longer.
Make it right. Welcome the requests from Maasai women to converse. Listen for once. You don’t have to do it in the public eye. Skype, phone and meet in person with the people who are very upset and want to talk with you. I will be curious how the next few years of your life unfold. It could be amazing. It could be positive. Or you could just stay in NYC and work in advertising.
In all sincerity,
Posted 20 Oct ’13 at 2:43 am
As an American woman working full time in Kenya and experiencing many Kenya cultures I also agree with Marcy that this book lacks research into the roles of men and women in the Masai culture. When a child is born the parent guides and nurtures them in their respective role. Becoming a “warrior” is not about a short walk in the bush to kill. Becoming a warrior is about self-discipline and honor to take on the leadership role in the future of the clan from where he comes. It is about a lifetime of pride in the culture and the role of the individual. The woman has a role of equal importance. It is not impossible for any member of the Masai community to enhance their role in leadership through education and community leadership, but becoming a warrior is about tradition, not about empowerment. Women leaders should be encouraged in the modern society, but traditional roles in the culture should not be tampered with.
Posted 21 Oct ’13 at 1:52 pm
Thank you so much Marcy for taking the time to write this letter to Ms. Budgor. I hope she will hear your words and open herself to listening to the comments of men and women from Kenya and other countries who are saddened, perplexed, and ashamed that this type of Colonialist mentality is alive and well in yet another generations of Westerners. It is extremely troubling that she is editing her book’s Facebook page and blocking comments and questions. It shows her lack of understanding of a complex culture and situation and worse shows a lack of desire to listen or engage or understand. There is a Facebook page called Fake Warrior Princess that has been started by some folks in Kenya to allow the dialogue that she is blocking.
Posted 29 Oct ’13 at 3:27 am
thank you for your letter. we cannot say enough.
Posted 29 Oct ’13 at 11:30 pm
Thank you for writing that. I listened to the story on NPR yesterday and was sickened by the “princess” part, the grossness of the clear, simple “ennuie” of this obviously spoiled rich and privileged American girl and the lack of respect and arrogance shown to the Maasai. I lived in Africa for a good 15 years, 7 of which in Kenya, and found this type of arrogance and meddling to be far too frequent and far too easily “glamourised” by the world. Good for you for letting her know it is not acceptable and if she has a mature conscience, let it guide her to make amends instead of lining her already privileged pockets. Cristiana
Posted 14 Jan ’15 at 3:58 am
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
I am Jewish I was born and live in Africa so I know the local African cultures well but I would never try to tell people of other cultures how to live their lives
Posted 14 Jan ’15 at 10:21 am
More than a year later and Ms. Budgor has virtually disappeared. No book signings or talks, no presence on social media. Doubtful she learned but her book will live on as another example of white savior syndrome & comic relief.