Sunday, July 20, 2008

Africa's "last and least"?

Why this article really burns my grits:

1. It oversimplifies the issue. According to Herve Kone, who directs an unnamed non-profit in Burkina Faso (and is really hard to track down online), "it's a cultural thing." Women may have less relative status compared to men in Burkina Faso, but we don't know the details. What's the impact of colonization and independence? How did those change local concepts of men's and women's roles? In certain regions, the introduction of European ideals radically changed gender statuses, which prior to colonization had been much more egalitarian.

2. Who is this Herve Kone, anyway? And why didn't they give the name of his organization? Seriously, it's hard to find this guy.

3. Blaming the situation on "culture" rules out the mix of social, economic, and historic factors that helped to create the current situation. Would you say that crime and poverty in American cities is a "cultural thing?"

4. It's anecdotal. We're given the story of one woman and supposed to extrapolate this across all "poor nations in Africa" (read: Africa). What about the other families in the neighborhood? In the country? In surrounding countries?

5. There are numerous mentions of "African culture," as if all of Africa has exactly the same set of beliefs, values, and customs. Wrong. Statements like "polygamy is common in much of Africa" and "African culture clearly defines roles for men" are misleading. Africa is a CONTINENT. There's a lot of diversity going on there.

5. The pictures that ran with the article play to stereotypes about Africa. Barefoot little girl chasing food? Check. Crying elderly woman? Check. So does the final vignette, about (barefoot) children playing house amid street garbage.

This story didn't achieve anything beyond reinforcing stereotypes about Africa. Enough with these superficial human-interest stories.

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