Wednesday, January 6, 2010

How Not to Write about Africa

Sociological Images, one of my favorite blogs, posted this video. They also posted an awesome TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie called "The Danger of the Single Story". Both point at the dangers of foreigners telling the stories of of people they do not know. I harbored a dream, and still do at times, of going to a country in Africa and really making a difference by telling their story the "right" way. It's a classic fantasy, and one that Yale cultivates almost religiously. In school, I was always feeling inadequate that I hadn't traveled to a third-world country and done even a modicum of volunteer work. I would often assuage these feelings by telling myself that most of the people that do volunteer are as patronizing as the video below makes them out to be. So I really felt quite vindicated when I watched this video. Thank god I never went over there and tried to help anyone, I thought. There was no need for me over there.

I know this vindication is messed up. The point of the video isn't to tell me, foreigners keep out. The real reason I never made it over there is because I'm scared and lazy. Going to Africa would mean I have to face all my ugly fantasies and illusions about what the continent is actually about. This video isn't trying to say, please leave Africa alone, but rather, requesting something a lot more difficult---approach the continent with an open mind and a willingness to embrace and understand its complexity.

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