“You Drink One, Africa Drinks One” is a headline that I saw on today’s Evening Standard news stands. I believe it’s to promote awareness of a charitable cause to “help” Africa. I don’t know the exact details of the cause, but it got me thinking about the subtle ways in which the West still retains and perpetuates its paternalistic and outdated attitudes towards Africa.
If it’s not Bob Geldof on his trail of self-promotion in the name of the African people, or the G8 and its “debt relief”, the perception that Africa’s future and survival lies in the hands of the West is still so clearly prevalent. Even the language used (“aid”, for example) speaks of a continent which is helpless and dependent.
Furthermore I’m so tired of seeing visual depictions of African people as either diseased and starving, or wearing only loin cloths and/or traditional clothing. Not to say neither exist, but they are not a balanced or realistic view of modern day African people.
The advertising campaign run by American Express for Bono’s RED Amex card (above) is a fantastic example of stereotyping. It features Brazilian supermodel Giselle Bundchen next to a very dark skinned African person who is dressed in what seems to be some kind of Masai clothing. To be honest, you would not see your average city dwelling African person wearing such dress. Maybe in a (very traditional) village (in a particular part of Africa), yes, but not all Africans live in villages. Sadly, the advert is very revealing of Western ideas of what it is to be African.
I’m not bemoaning that people in the West want to help Africa, but I do bemoan the way in which it is done and the subtle (negative) undertones that come with it. I also bemoan the West’s perpetuation of the idea that Africa can do – and does – nothing to help itself. We rarely, if ever, hear the success stories coming out of Africa of which there are too many to mention, or the real-life, everyday stories of Africans in 2007 that exist outside of famine, HIV, corruption and civil war. And yes there really is African life beyond those things!
In this blog I’m going to promote and highlight as many African success stories as I can… I believe I am already one of them 🙂