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The West’s Obsession With “Saving” Africa

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Growing up watching western television, I was forced to have a particular relationship with Africa. According to TV, Africa was one giant place where black people cried into cameras with protruding stomachs, hoping you would provide them with a nickel a day to save their lives.

Awkward commercials about helping kids in Africa were strategically couched in between lavish television shows and films. A sad-sounding white woman’s voice normally overpowered the commercial saying something like, “If you donate a penny a day, you could save this child’s life.” Super sentimental music would be employed because the audience was already so desensitized to seeing starving black kids on their screen.

While most of us westerners have been exposed to many African faces covered in tears on our televisions, many of us in the mainstream can’t name African authors, philosophers, politicians, or actors. See the problem here?

It’s easier if I just say this: The west is not interested in helping Africa, but colonizing Africa.

Many of the stereotypes the west employs about Africa are not too different from the stereotypes that frame black people in the west: we’re evidently all standing around waiting for help from the government, having 80 babies, consequently getting HIV, and needing the white man to come in and help fix our family structures.

Colonization can happen in subtle ways. Colonizers don’t always have to use guns and swords to get people under their control. By introducing western ideas into a region, or a particular religion, or by having financial control over a nation, colonization can occur.

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Let’s be real: the west doesn’t care about black people. So, the fact that there is so much energy to “help” out them black folk in Africa just seems mighty odd.

A new film is coming out called, “Framed” which examines the problematic ways that Africans are portrayed in Western popular media culture. The kickstarter page for “Framed” states:

“In American media and pop culture, Africans remain objects of our pity or moral outrage or fascination. The images are deeply disturbing, even enthralling, but they aren’t really about Africans; they’re about us.

FRAMED takes a provocative look at image making and activism, following an inspiring young Kenyan photojournalist turned activist who shatters the stereotype of the passive aid recipient. As he challenges American students to focus their efforts close to home, FRAMED turns a lens on popular representations of Africa and Africans, as seen through the eyes of Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina and South African born educator Zine Magubane, who ask a chorus of questions about the selling of suffering.”

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Here’s Binyavanga Wainaina, author of “We Are The World”

It’s important to remember that everything you see on the news and in entertainment culture is framed in a particular way for a particular audience.

When we frame Africans as crazy black folk who ride giraffes and constantly need the the help of the west, we strip Africans of their agency as well as their autonomy. We infantilize them by acting as though they “need” our help in order to survive.

The west takes no responsibility for enslaving people, murdering people, colonizing territories, and using up most of the world’s resources which places the rest of the world in poverty-like conditions, BUT we want to “help” Africa….yeah. Africa merely become another market for the West to tap into.

We frame Africa as though they need our help, whereas in actuality, we need their territories to colonize…we need them.

We profit off of these problematic representations because it gives us an ideological excuse to go colonize and take over, while framing it as “help.” We act as though we’re so concerned about their freedom whereas we go there to take it.

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  • lovely1

    This is so true. And also not mentioned in the article is how this all ties in with white supremacy and the global insidious systems that were created in the forms of the UN, NATO and the IMF to enable exploitation of “third world” resources to “first world countries”. Keeping the so called third world nation in a perpetual state of misery. Africa is not all about suffering. Africa is the birthplace of us all and should be respected as such. Africa is strength personified.

    • Aphrodite Kocieda

      Exactly. The UN, and other seemingly “neutral” organizations are in the business of perpetuating white supremacy! Thanks for reading the article and commenting.

  • neversink

    One problem with this discussion is the failure to mention the Rast. China has itstuLly importing the rentacles throughout the African continent. They are extracting resources, and they bribing government officials so Chinese corporations are given lucrative contracts.
    China is hiring poachers throughout the continent and killing off Africa’s heritage – the rhinos and elephants are disappearing at alarming rates. The Chinese are Actually importing their own labor force and then leaving them in African nations without documentation. And the Chinese do not even attempt to aid African countries, whereas at least the West tries to help. China, the second wealthiest nation in the world, is not sending any aide or personnel to fight the current Ebola outbreak. But western nations are helping – particularly the US. Yet the author fails to look art China as the modern day colonist but focuses only on the West.

  • WorldPeace

    I just want to clarify that regarding Ebola China did send help to Sierra
    Leone, I can confirm because my source is coming straight from there. China
    even though they are exploiting Africa as well are helping develop the country.
    On my visit back in 2010 they were helping make roads. The US only boast about
    their endeavors, nobody else’s. You have to be in the country to know really
    what’s happening, do not base all your facts from the news media, like this
    article said “Framed,” The US wants their people to think that they
    are the only good guys.