ALANA Cultural Center Hosts Discussion on Truckers and Tik Tok

The Africana, Latin, Asian and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center held a brown bag event entitled “Tik Tok, Truckers, and Travel Bans” on Thursday, Dec. 2. Led by Rebecca Upton, a Lindsay O’Connor chair of American institutions in sociology and anthropology & Africana and Latin American studies. The event detailed the current conditions truck drivers experience in South Africa amidst the pandemic.

According to Upton, these truckers are essential for carrying produce and other crucial items for the South African economy, and are now being targeted as “Covid Criminals” because a small number of drivers carried diseases across South African borders.

I’d hope that students would leave with a better, richer understanding of the complexity of stigma surrounding these ‘essential’ workers,” Upton said. “On the one hand, they are essential and integral to lives across these nation-states, and on the other, they are being stopped and accused of being the carriers of disease themselves.”

In her talk, Upton touched on the importance of social media and how it has served as a way for these truckers to find a community and spread awareness about their situation. Hashtags like #southafricantiktok and #truckertiktok allow truckers to post about their experiences in a less regulated space.

“I really hope that a focus on the role of social media [from Twitter to Tik Tok] as strategies that foster communities of care and collective action offers important insights as well as the recognition that using these social media are not necessarily ‘seen’ or understood as ‘counter’ culture in any way, but rather are being couched in very historical ways as essentially ‘African,’” Upton said.

Junior Peyton Lee attended the event, admitting she was previously unaware of the issues truck drivers and how essential they are in the supply chain of goods.

“For me, I didn’t really expect it to be about bringing in how truckers face human rights violations. How they are seen as contaminated doesn’t sit well with me,” Lee said. “I personally don’t know anyone who is a truck driver, but I cannot imagine myself doing that job even though it is so important to keeping the economy alive.”

Emma MacCallum, programming assistant for the Africana and Latin American Studies (ALST) Program, organized the discussion alongside other ALST faculty. MacCallum said that she wanted students to engage with new perspectives through the lecture.

This is the first of a series on current events in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and the African diaspora that will range in disciplinary focus from sociology to politics to environmental science,” MacCallum said. “We want to emphasize that ALST is a broad program that covers many different fields of study and is overwhelmingly important [for] understanding global and regional current events.”

MacCallum said she hopes that students become more involved with ALST initiatives and discussions.

We are planning to continue these lunch-time, casual-style lectures and conversations in the future. Next semester, we hope to frequently host these types of events and invite students to think about how the current news relates to Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the African diaspora,” MacCallum said. “By focusing on current events that matter to students, we hope to bring more students into the realm of ALST and produce more engagement with the program.”

Jonathan Hyslop — professor of sociology, anthropology and Africana & Latin American studies, and interim director of Africana and Latin American studies — helped plan the event.

“The talk was the first in a series planned by [MacCallum] and myself to engage students, in an informal lunchtime setting, [and] in discussion with faculty about current political and social issues in relation to the ALST sphere of academic interests. Our plans have been held back by the pandemic conditions, but we hope to move forward with these in the future,” Hyslop said.

MacCallum further emphasized the importance of these talks and what they hope to accomplish by hosting more.

“We want students to engage more deeply with the ALST program and understand how the program is related to the current events that they are already thinking, sharing and talking about outside of academic spaces. From political events to social and cultural practices, these lectures are designed to create a community for conversation and spark students’ interest.”