Category Archives: Africa

Terminology – Savagification!

In my post last week about representation of Africa in the media I talked about the savagification that bleeds through in these articles. If you haven’t heard of “savagification” used in this way let me explain:

Savagification is the way in which countries/continents, not in the affluent West (This does of course have exceptions. It also happens in articles about Indigenous People located in the West, brown folks who live in the ghetto in the West, etc.) are dealt with in the press. Often the articles are written to be as inflammatory and “fear the brown invaders” as possible and very often include very little input from folks from that region except for small soundbites that bolster the reporter’s view that the people are just a bunch of savages. There are a couple of methods used to achieve this end.

Savagification means that the acts the people/country (because often the articles do not distinguish between individual acts and the country as a whole, so if Gambia has one serial killer all the people must be serial killers in the making) are accused of are described in loving gory detail. There will often be pictures that accompany the article that do their best to show the person in their “native dress” or poised with a machete or in some way that depicts them as savage and untameable. Those are often the only pictures that accompany the article unless there are to be some pictures that show the victims of these acts, often bloody mutilated and sitting on a filthy dirt floor with big tearful eyes staring up at the camera. This is a deliberate scare tactic used to bolster the West as some bastion of truth and civilization while painting the “others” as “savage uncivilized places” (and of course any people of the Diasporas of this country also carry that violent brown blood!). They won’t show the skyscraper cities with computers, cars, etc. because that would refute the “this whole country is just a backward savage place” notion they’re trying to promote. And of course they wouldn’t think to examine the colonialism that profits off of this view, the destabilization of the country and the continued subjagation of the people there.  

Another way savagification is achieved is by ignoring any history in the situation.  This is seen when the Rwandan genocide is discussed and there is no mention of the fact that colonialist policies are what instituted the original separation between the Hutu and Tutsi. When there are articles about witch-hunts in Africa that fail to point out the West’s own history with women accused of witches and the pagan-bashings that happen everyday in America. Because if they showed that horrible things happen in America too that would undermine the sensationalism of the article itself. Articles written about horrible things in the West are always carefully formed to present the atrocity as an isolated incident, actions by sick individuals but not part of the fabric of the country. (In a way you can zero this in to how POC are treated in the media versus White people, where anything that POC do is seen as representative of all POC whereas whiteness doesn’t hold that monolithic idea.)

There are other ways the people/countries in these articles are savagified having to do with word choice and the angle at which facts are presented but these were two of the big ways I wanted to touch on. So now you know what to look for in these articles and knowing is half the battle (I’m sorry, I’m a child of the 80’s I couldn’t help it).


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?