Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Taxonomy Of African Cliches

I found another creative piece that satirizes the streotyping of Africa in the Western world. This is a "Taxonomy of African Cliches" from a blog I'm delighted to have discovered called Economic Geographies by Rachel Strohm. Which one are you?

Africanus stereotypicus: The most common type of cliche, the Africanus stereotypicus typicus feeds off of broad generalizations of African history. It is characterized by its Manichean coloring, varying between the black of moral depravity and ancient ethnic hatreds, and the snowy white of peaceful farmers who live “as nature intended.” Other subspecies include the Africanus stereotypicus puerilis, known for its grating proclamations that Africans are too childlike to make decisions about their own lives, and the Africanus stereotypicus type-419, which exhibits severe distrust of Africans in the belief that they are all corrupt, dishonest, and/or Nigerian scam artists.

Africanus journalisticus: Cliches of the the journalisticus group are most often found lurking in the mediocre Africa coverage of otherwise well-respected news publications. The Africanus journalisticus natura is frequently sighted in Madagascar, where international coverage of recent coup attempts uniformly begins with glowing descriptions of the country’s vibrant plant and animal life, in the belief that they must suck readers in with images of lush vegetation before seguing into actual African politics. The Africanus journalisticus spillover, on the other hand, is more often found in Congo and Somalia, where articles on the real suffering of millions of human beings justify the space they take up in Western newspapers either by A) referring to the current conflict as the spillover of a more interesting conflict (e.g. the Rwandese genocide), or B) explaining that the conflict is important because it could create terrorist threats that might spill over into the readers’ comfortable lives. A final subspecies, the Africanus journalisticus darfurensis, has seen a dramatic fall in its numbers after the population explosion of 2003-2004. However, the darfurensis still retains its unique ability to reduce the interwoven political, economic, environmental, and social roots of the genocide in Darfur into a simple morality tale of evil Arabs and innocent Africans.

Africanus occidentalis: This cliche is at home in a broad variety of habitats, be it among development practitioners or wide-eyed teenagers visiting Africa for the first time. It can be distinguished by its prominent belief that concerted Western action can solve all of Africa’s problems. The Africanus occidentalis studentia lives a peaceful life in the dorm rooms of university students, who often react to its presence by talking at length about the spiritual connection and cultural vitality that they experienced while visiting one country in a very large continent for two weeks last summer. (The tragedy of receiving a university education whilst children in Africa are dying is an alternate topic, although this should not be confused with actual discussions of Rawlsian justice.) The Africanus occidentalis interventionis, on the other hand, prefers to settle among career development workers who really should know better. These include advocates of poorly thought-out boycotts that don’t address the roots of the labor issue in question, World Bank officials who support oil pipelines in Chad, and bloggers who duly repeat that the West must pay more attention to Africa’s suffering, as though the Western gaze has always been the missing ingredient for African development.

Africanus impecunius: The Africanus impecunius is a specialized breed, whose natural habitats include NGO websites, blogs written by economics professors, and the Twitter streams of thousands of people with a passing interest in African poverty. Many subspecies in the impecunius group appear outwardly similar, but the practiced African Cliche-ist can easily spot their differences. For instance, the Africanus impecunius donatio is usually spotted at fundraisers in major Western cities, wooing potential donors with pictures of malnourished African children and practicing its “you have the power to save a life” call. The donatio’s primary competitor is the Africanus impecunius entrepreneurius. The entrepreneurius prefers a stealth attack, often sneaking up behind the donatio at conferences and beating it over the head with large sets of panel data on import substitution policies. (Meanwhile, the Africanus impecunius polisci avoids these territorial clashes in favor of migrating from think tank to think tank, seeking a credible way to actually implement all of its theoretical insights about the importance of good governance.)

This is one of those clever pieces that I wish I wrote.

5 comments:

Rachel Strohm said...

Thank you for the kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed the post, and glad as well to have found your blog - your post on the complexities of Western education, among others, was fascinating.

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Anonymous said...

You have really great taste on catch article titles, even when you are not interested in this topic you push to read it

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