Sanguinity (sanguinity) wrote in debunkingwhite,

How to Write About Africa

(x-posted to 50books_poc and my own journal)

How To Write About Africa, by Binyavanga Wainaina, published in Granta 92, 2005.

It begins:
Always use the word 'Africa' or 'Darkness' or 'Safari' in your title. Subtitles may include the words 'Zanzibar', 'Masai', 'Zulu', 'Zambezi', 'Congo', 'Nile', 'Big', 'Sky', 'Shadow', 'Drum', 'Sun' or 'Bygone'. Also useful are words such as 'Guerrillas', 'Timeless', 'Primordial' and 'Tribal'. Note that 'People' means Africans who are not black, while 'The People' means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don't get bogged down with precise descriptions...
If you can't tell from the excerpt, it's a scything and brutal enumeration of the racist and colonialist tropes that appear in writing about Africa. 'Tis very hard not to quote the whole thing. Go read it.
Tags: africa

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