I love this pic, which first surfaced on the Web seven years ago and immediately went globally viral.
I also hate it.
The reasons for loving it are clear to anyone who hasn’t had their sense of humor surgically removed. You can almost imagine the lions idly joking among one another as they recline in their shady splendor:
Lion A: “I hear these bush pilots are pretty tough.”
Lion B: “Really? I heard they taste just like chicken.”
Lion C: They do. And they’re not exactly gazelles, either, if you catch my drift!”
So what’s not to like?
AN IMAGE OF AFRICA
The problem I have is not so much with the pic itself as with what it represents. An image.
For far too many people in the Western world, and especially here in the United States, images like this are more or less what people think — and sometimes all that people think — of when you mention the word “Africa.”
I remembered this pic when Kiratiana Freelon, the up-and-coming young editor of American Airlines’ Black Atlas Web site, sent out a link to an AOL Travel story by Sean McLachlan on the Gadling site.
The headline is self-explanatory:
“IT’S TIME TRAVEL WRITERS STOPPED STEREOTYPING AFRICA”
The author makes the case that far too much of what we see from travel writers, and from Western media in general, about Africa ranges from the benignly glib and superficial — dusty streets with goats and chickens — to a now-standard laundry list of grim and gruesome sound-bite material.
HIV/AIDS, foreign aid and extreme poverty, crime and violence, corruption, and land being stolen from whites by blacks.
The question is not whether any of this is true. it’s all true and everyone knows it. The problem is that by focusing on these themes nearly to the exclusion of all else, Western mainstream media have embedded the idea in millions of minds that when it comes to Africa, that’s all there is.
And on that last point, whites in Africa being stripped of their lands by blacks, McLachlan has this to say:
“If black people get their land stolen, you won’t hear a peep from the New York Times or the Guardian. If rich white ranchers get their land stolen, well, that’s international news.”
All those who think that white farmers are the only ones on the Mother Continent who get ripped off and dispossessed, raise your hands — and remove your rose-colored blindfolds in the same motion.
MORE THAN SLAVERY
We won’t even get into the number of Americans, including some fairly prominent public figures, who still labor under the incredible notion that Africa is a country.
You can read the entire AOL Travel story here.
Something you won’t find in the article also bears a mention: As important as it is to “Us,” there’s also a lot more to Africa than the legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
I haven’t even set foot in Africa yet, and even I know the Mother Continent’s got a lot going on.
Countries living in peace, with governments working toward the betterment of their peoples’ lives.
Places where Muslims and Christians, Africans and Arabs, live in harmony.
Africa has thriving urban centers the length of the continent. Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, has just about eclipsed both Cairo and Johannesburg as Africa’s largest city.
A week from now, I’ll be flying into Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Kiratiana and several other friends of mine have already been there. They all say the same thing:
“You’ve got to go, Greg. You’ll love Dakar. Love it!”
And what do you find in cities like Lagos and Dakar and Nairobi and Dar es Salaam?
A CONTINENT ON THE MOVE
You find growing communities of international business, with Africans as their driving force.
Magnets for foodies and some of the finest wines being produced on the planet.
A whirlwind of high-fashion to rival Paris, Milan or New York.
The second largest film industry in the world.
Writers, photographers, artists, filmmakers, sculptors, fashion designers, all in full effect.
And not only the largest, most diverse and energetic music scenes in the world, but one that goes back more than a hundred years. High-life, hip-life, Afropop, Afrojazz, and more that I haven’t even heard, or heard of, yet. Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masakela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Ali Farka Touré — and I’m not even scratching the surface.
The entire genre of world music, like homo sapiens himself, began in Africa.
They’re also adding their own flavors to American hip-hop and black gospel music. The results are incredible.
Reading your typical American news publication or watching a typical U.S. television network, you might never hear about any of that.
Speaking of which, what do the following people have in common?:
- NBA basketballer Boris Diaw
- R&B singer Akon
- World music star Youssou N’Dor
- French politician and first woman ever nominated for president in France, Ségolène Royal
ANSWER: They’re all from Senegal. Dakar, to be exact.
Why do Western media do such a lousy job of presenting the whole picture of Africa? In part because they have no “boots on the ground” there. Most major U.S. news organizations pulled out decades ago; many more never bothered going there. That leaves media outlets presenting Africa to their audience through a very narrow view of a very few sources.
Ask them why, and they’ll tell you:
- Reporting from Africa is very expensive, and
- Their audience isn’t really interested.
Is the audience not interested because the media haven’t told it the full story of Africa, or are the media not telling the story because the “mainstream” audience doesn’t want to hear it? It becomes one of those chicken v. egg questions that can never be settled.
Meanwhile, a week from now, I’ll be there myself, and I have no idea what all is going to happen. But let me leave you with what’s not going to happen.
I’m not going on safari.
I’m not going to encounter ragged, glowering young men slinging AK-47 assault rifles every five steps.
Above all, I’m not going to have my takeoff or landing delayed by lions.
Powered by Facebook Comments