03 October 2008

The Problem of "African" Symbolism

I have sometimes criticized stories for how they use a thing the author calls "Africa" or "African", and I have as often held my tongue about other stories or movies or such, because sometimes I think I'm just a bit too sensitive about this particular topic. For me, anyone who hasn't spent a significant amount of time on the continent is immediately suspect when they use "African" settings and topics, and though some writers are able to overcome my immediate suspicion, most aren't, and I'm probably sometimes less than fair in my judgment. I've struggled at times to be able to articulate why such representations and appropriations fill me with blind rage, but I don't think I've ever done so in a way that's very helpful to anybody who wonders, "Huh? What's the big deal?"

I was pleased, then, to discover this post at Feministing about American Apparel's "Afrika" line of clothes, because the comment that was published there is a pretty helpful one for people who don't understand what the fuss might be about.

I'd need to quote the entire (short) post, and I don't want to do that -- just go read it.

After that, if the subject interests you, check out Binyavanga Wainaina's "How to Write about Africa", Exploring Africa's page on Africa's diversity, Caryl Philips on Achebe & Conrad, "Madonna's Not Our Savior" (an interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), "Stop Trying to 'Save' Africa" by Uzodinma Iweala, "Saving Africa in Blackface" by Jennifer Brea ... and probably tons of other things I didn't notice on a hasty Google search...