Visions of Africa, Blog Post vs. New York Times

When I did my daily blog reading this morning I came across to things that related to Africa. As some of you might now I directly identify with Africa because my father is an immigrant from Ethiopia. My own journey to being prideful of coming from Ethiopia and the drama that came along with it is another post in itself. Sufficed to say I’m sensitive to articles about the continent and how they are written.

All too often I feel that Africa is treated as if it’s all one big sameness, like there aren’t differing opinions and peoples throughout the continent. Africa is treated like a singular country, and the stereotypes that surround it are almost never acknowledged. Most people are just completely willing to believe that Africa is all a dry desert inhabited by brown folks who live in huts, throw spears and don’t understand what a plane is. Many don’t even know that the largest growing film industry in the world is Nollywood (Nigeria) with an output of over 200 movies a month, making it the third largest film producer in the world (behind the U.S. & India).

There’s also the idea of Africa as a continent of lawlessness and murder, but really couldn’t that be said of all continents? I think there’s a way in which the conflicts are framed where in most articles about Africa, Europe culpability and influence (when very few African countries have never known a European foot on their neck) is completely ignored or written off as irrelevant. The media chooses to portray Africa as a continent and Africans as a people as naturally full of tribal strife and murder and “superstition” (a whole post could be written on the practice of labelling indigenous religions as superstitions, but that’s not this post), always ignoring that qualities of hate and anger exist all over the world in all people. There are plenty of groups in the US who would have no problem slaughtering POC as a matter of course, some are even in elected office, but you know what? That’s not a news story, instead they want to show how behind modern times those brown people are.

You can see the difference in these two articles I read this morning.

At Racialicious, Guest Contributor Jen talks about being in Rwanda and visiting the sites of the atrocious genocide perpetrated there. She gives us a little history lesson that it was Europeans who insisted on dividing the tribes and giving them identification cards. It’s a classic strategy of oppressors creating imaginary divisions among the oppressed so they are less likely to band together and throw off the foot on their neck. It’s also very little talked about in the mainstream, I love that Jen brought that fact up because it’s something that needs to be known and puts a lot of the Rwandan genocide in context.

Contrast that with this article in the New York Times at the dangers faced by albinos in Tanzania, where they are now being hunted and killed for their “magical” properties. This is a serious issue and I don’t know enough about it to really comment (except the usual, murder is wrong!) but the fact that the NYT doesn’t talk about the colonial history of Tanzania and the issues with skin tone that happened there for over 80 years might have echoes in what’s going on now. The whole article focuses on these mysterious “witch doctors” (a term that I have such fucking issues with) saying that albinos have magical properties and the whole tone of it plays right into “oh the mysterious darkest heart of the world-witch doctors with huge angry masks-spear wielding-lion fighting-primitives” bullshit that they use to sell papers.

The whole continent becomes this “forgotten land” with its “odd rituals” because we all know ethnic cleansing, or witch hunts or murders on the basis of external judgments doesn’t/never have happen in the West at all? Right? 

7 responses to “Visions of Africa, Blog Post vs. New York Times

  1. The great Malian musician Salif Keita (I believe a direct descendant of Sunjiata!) is an albino and has used his fame to educate people in Mali about the condition.

    Here’s a Jan 2006 blog article on the subject:
    http://www.howardwfrench.com/archives/2006/01/09/african_star_shines_light_on_albinos/

    I saw a film from Mali some months ago, Yeelen, a retelling of an old story, about a young man who, coming into his power, seeks to get out from under a curse put on him by his father (or uncle? I couldn’t quite figure that out). This is a story in which the supernatural is intertwined with regular life; there are sorcerers and secret societies, blacksmiths, etc. But I remember one very surreal scene having to do with an act of sorcery in which a dog and an albino are, I think, sacrificed (nothing is graphic–it’s all done through suggestion–so I may have misinterpreted what I was seeing). I recall at the time trying to figure out what the heck was up with the albino.

    Yeelen comes out of Maliwood! Sia: Dream of the Python is another Maliwood film; it’s excellent.

  2. I’m glad I’m not the only one who picked up on the savagification effect in the NY article. If we flipped that shit around, and say, took it to talk about western society –

    “In America, their godspeakers whom they call ‘father’ often incite violence against people of other religions or non-heterosexual orientation. These people are beaten, terrorized or even killed for fear that their ‘sin’ will contaminate the superstitious locals.”

  3. But bankuei – the sentence, phrased that way, is –um–true.
    (I know you know that already)

    What gets me is not that such behaviors go on all over the world, in the past and present, out of a mix of influences. There’s something about human nature that seems to both encourage it and struggle against it.

    It’s the hypocrisy involved. Like–to echo Naamen’s point–when people actually say that the Conquistadores had to “save” the people ruled by the Aztecs from that horrible heart sacrifice (which is pretty horrible) when meanwhile back in ye old country the Inquisition was going on. And that was nicer and less savage, how?

  4. Kate:
    Thanks for the link, that post was very interesting and answers the question of whether this goes on in other countries as well as Tanzania. And thanks for the movie recs, I’ll have to see if Netflix has Yellen or Sia.

  5. bankuei:
    I love how the NYTimes will report on this subject, which is important of course but when there was wholesale slaughter in Rwanda there wasn’t a peep from them. It’s like they look for specific things with which they can make Africa seem savage and forboding.

    LOL, I love that quote, you should expand it into a whole faux-article!

  6. Apropos of the above, I think you’ll find this as amusing in a cuttingly incisive way as I did.

    So I’m reading this novel, Measuring Time, by Helon Habila, about twin brothers who grow up in a town/area called Keti, in Nigeria (set in the 80s and 90s). It’s a really really good novel.

    Anyway, I’m about halfway through. The one brother has discovered an old book published by a missionary from his mission work in the early part of the century, which the brother finds both interesting and irritating: interesting because the missionary actually wrote a “history of Keti” and interviewed old men in the 1920s, but of course embedded within the worthy aspects of the monograph are all kinds of western assumptions, forex:

    “His first three pages are dedicated to comparing our geography to that of his native Iowa, and he seems to blame us for having only two seasons instead of four, and for not having snowfall, can you believe that? And here a whole chapter is wasted on trying to expose the fraudulence of our traditional healers. . .”

    His girlfriend suggests he write an essay: “You could write about our history, about misrepresentations by foreign historians, using this book as your example.”

    So he writes the essay, and she sends it to her old professor to send out to various history journals worldwide.

    Time passes.

    Then he receives a letter

    “from a London magazine called the Empire Review, and it was signed by the editor himself. The letter was typed, and it went straight to the point: We really enjoyed the piece, ‘A Review of Drinkwater’s A Brief History of the Peoples of Keti,’ but we regret that the subject does not suit our particular demand at the moment. However, if you have other pieces that address such issues as the AIDS scourge, or genital circumcision, or other typical African experiences in a challenging and progressive way, we’d like to take a look at them.

  7. Kate:
    That was really amusing. I feel that I really need to pick up this book now it sounds terrificly dry and cutting.

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