Tag Archives: africa

Fashion and Patronizing, Colonial Rhetoric, Take #758080

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

So even though fashion designers have a tendency to appropriate and re-design fashion they witness during their world travels (or, cough, imperialist imaginations), the magazine writers and journalists just can’t seem to find the right words to characterize the collections. Instead of talking about geometric prints, the use of found objects as jewelry items, and color choices in a way that could be deemed appropriate and less offensive, they shade their words with sweeping generalizations and talk about “Africa” like a one trick pony.

In a recent New York Times fashion week photo spread entitled “African Influence on the Runway,” the first mistake made is the usual assumption that Africa is one big country. Morocco has a completely different fashion history from South Africa which has a different fashion history from the Congo, just, you know, as a tiny example. So in the title alone, they end up equating the diverse fashion traditions to one big imagined Africa. To make matters worse, the corresponding article is entitled “Out of Africa.” In reading the captions, I kept waiting for a punchline. The Times was just being ironic and funny, right?

Nope. They were for real.

Photo 1: a woman with crimped hair

“In the 2009 spring season, African style is a drumbeat through the clothes and accessories. Surprisingly it isn’t about the ethnic. Instead, it is the sculpted geometric shapes of Africa and its rich spicy colors that are the strongest forms of identity. Couture coiffeur Orlando Pita created these sculptural silhouettes for Christian Dior.”

African style is a “drumbeat?” Come on, y’all, really? Oh and just in case we forgot, “rich spicy” is not a way to describe food. It describes a continental identity in its “strongest forms.” Barf.

But wait, there’s more. . . so much more! Continue reading

Activist Resolutions

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

What do you hope to accomplish in 2008?

What do you want to do? What do you want to study? What actions do you want to take?

We are not yet half way through the month of December, but resolutions are already on my mind. Heavily into self-evaluation, I tend to make resolutions at New Years and promises to myself on my birthday. I also make career goals and life goals on a regular basis.

However, this year is the first year I will be making activist resolutions. Over the course of 2007, I started blogging for Racialicious, started to immerse myself in the blogosphere, spent time honing thoughts and ideas, started researching trends in gentrification, discovered hundreds of great sources for information, started attending the various films and discussion groups over at Busboys and Poets and kept up with the changes going on abroad.

Still, even with all I accomplished, I feel like some things are a bit lacking. So far, all my research goes into blog posts – I would like the research to have a farther reaching effect. And while the blogosphere is great fun, and we have built a great community here, I wonder about taking more steps out in the real world. I also realized I have huge gaps in my knowledge base, which I seriously want to rectify. So, I decided to roll these things into action items.

In 2008, I will…

…work on myself

*I will dust off that old paper I did for a business law class and figure out how to best educate people about the roles of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. There is a lot of misinformation floating around about these institutions and they each have had powerful effects on the rise and fall of nations.

*I am going to stop saying “Africa.” Africa is not a country. It is a continent. Talking about the problems in Africa is not as effective as talking about the problems that currently plague individual countries like Malawi, Zimbabwe, Chad, and Sudan.

*I am going to continue to study the trends of gentrification as it manifests in each individual region, paying particular attention to New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. I will also be searching for mixed-income communities around the nation and how urban planners treat social and environmental issues.

…work on the world

* I am going to get more involved in the gaming industry. I am not sure exactly how I will do this – through writing or through some other means – but I feel like the gaming industy is in the unique position to set the tone of entertainment in the next few years. As such, it would be amazing to see gaming break away from the exclusionary model that Hollywood pioneered and make greater strides toward including people of different backgrounds – both behind the scenes and in the actual gameplay.

*I am going to reconnect with my city council members to find out what is happening in my community, particularly in reference to urban planning. Montgomery County has been going through an ongoing remodel and I want to get an in-depth understanding of what urban planners do and how they make decisions.

*To get more involved with youth outreach through the arts. I know people who work in three very different areas and I want to help them all in some way. I have one friend who does youth outreach through hip-hop (music and culture), another who works with Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and the head of my yoga studio has just started a foundation to outreach to young women and women in prisons. All worthy causes that I feel compelled to help with in some way.

So, that’s what I plan on doing in 2008.

What about you?

Ebony magazine takes on Africa

by guest contributor Harry Allen, Hip-Hop Activist & Media Assassin

This is almost too easy, but if you’ve not yet picked up or flipped through December 2007′s self-proclaimed “special collector’s edition” of EBONY, get a gander at:

- Michael Jackson on the cover…and way too much inside (“25 Years After Thriller“), glowing, translucently; with an almost inner light.

- “The Africa You Don’t Know”: An ehh-not-the-worst-given-it’s-EBONY section on the continent. (Even if you don’t buy the issue, check p. 115 for Nigerian journalist Gbemisola Olujobi’s pull-quote about “disaster pornography”; probably the sharpest 42 words you’ll read about the continent this winter.)

- An interview with Bill Clinton about Africa, continuing mainstream Black media’s despicable tradition of speaking to important government leaders through mouths full of puffery. ESSENCE interviews Condoleezza Rice, but doesn’t ask her why she was buying BDSM boots while New Orleansers were floating face down in rancid water, or EBONY talking to Clinton about the continent, but not a single question about Darfur, not to mention Rwanda. (They did get in two questions about “the American Dream,” however. What????)

In fact, Clinton raises the genocide in Rwanda. He doesn’t discuss it, though, or his role in it. He just says, “Take Rwanda, devastated by the 1994 genocide,” the lets fly a paragraph’s worth of “but now”-type banter, plus violas: “Now look at what they’re doing. They’re growing rapidly; they have all kinds of partners, including [Microsoft's] Bill Gates and me. They’ve opened themselves to the world. They’ve even developed a film industry, for goodness sakes.” Yes; that’s what they needed 13 years ago to stop crudely stamped, Chinese-made machetes: software partnerships and film.

- A story of interracial love as only EBONY can tell it: Janet Langhart and Bill Cohen (Clinton’s defense secretary), with an opening, “our love is alive” photo portrait (p. 158) so fake it’ll make you swear off interracial romance.

Wow. I guess EBONY is still good for something.

Angelina Jolie to adopt from Chad

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Another one??? According to the New York Post, Angelina is about to adopt yet another child, this time from Chad. And this is just weeks after her latest adoption from Vietnam. I guess this is part of her “balancing out the races” philosophy:

“Angelina and Brad want to make sure Zahara doesn’t feel alienated as the only black face in their family,” a source told London’s News of the World. Jolie herself recently said, “Should you balance the races, so there’s another African person in the house for Zahara, after another Asian person in the house for Mad? We think so.”

Jolie reportedly has already picked out a 1-year-old girl from Oure Cassoni in Chad and has her lawyers working on the adoption paperwork. “She is hoping to have her daughter home by the summer,” a source told the British paper.

I guess she really will need that hands-free multiple child carrier (from Gallery of the Absurd, hat tip to Nina!):

Has Russell Simmons become a paid mouthpiece for the diamond industry?

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

The movie Blood Diamond has the diamond industry so freaked out that they’ve been waging a massive PR campaign to refute the movie’s revelations about conflict diamonds. From LA Weekly:

The timing of the film’s release, moved up from December 15 to December 8, is a nightmare for the diamond industry since the Christmas season accounts for up to 50 percent of a fine jeweler’s sales and 75 percent of the profit. And then Valentine’s Day will coincide with Blood Diamond’s Oscar campaign. I’ve heard estimates that the World Diamond Council has earmarked a $15-plus-million spin campaign to deep-six Blood Diamond’s impact…

Apparently, part of this spin campaign has been to recruit Russell Simmons, of all people, to send out the message that the diamond industry isn’t really that exploitative. The Diamond Information Center, which is basically De Beers’ marketing and PR arm, sent Simmons and his entourage on an all-expenses paid trip to Africa. From The New York Times:

Representatives from the Diamond Information Center declined to say how much the trip cost, although Mr. Chavis said about 14 people were in the group each day, including local security and support staff as well as the 9 people who had traveled from the United States.

Davey D wrote an excellent piece about Simmons’ new role as the diamond industry puppet and pointed out the fact that countries selected for this “fact-finding mission” were very specific:

Please note that the horrific bloodshed and genocide of the early 1990s that the movie focuses on took place in countries like Sierra Leone and Angola. In my opinion those conflict zones should’ve been included in any sort of fact-finding mission. By only going to Botswana and South Africa, and by defending the diamond trade in those countries, Simmons by default wound up defending the De Beers Company, which held a worldwide monopoly for decades and brutally ruled the diamond business in those two countries for more than a century.

I first heard about Simmons’ new gig as diamond champion from this post from Bol at XXL. He does a great job of breaking down the hypocrisy behind Simmons’ so-called “Diamond Empowerment Fund,” which is supposed to educate Africans on how to better benefit from the diamond trade:

In the New York Times the other day, it was revealed that Africans are getting raped big time on the sale of these diamonds. They only get paid $15 for a diamond that would cost us (you) $5,000.

Will the Africans in Rush’s Diamond Empowerment Fund make any more money from diamonds than they would otherwise? Pshaw! Rush’s response to a reporter who put forth this question:

“No, I’ll answer him because I’m a business man and this gentleman obviously is not.” Simmons then countered that it takes about 25 cents to make a t-shirt you can sell for a $100. “Kimora can sell it for $500 or $600,” he added.

Wow. So in other words, the people in Africa don’t deserve to benefit from their own natural resources on the same level as Rush because they aren’t as good business people.

I swear, I’ve seen some sad shit in my life, but this about trumps everything.

I think Dumi at BlackatMichigan.com pretty much sums it up:

For years, I saw Russell Simmons as I saw Bob Johnson, a damn good Black capitalist (not endorsing this just calling em like I see em). Now with his explicit support and retort to Blood Diamond, I see he’s graduated to a damn good (Black) capitalist pawn… I wonder is there a difference between the two?

Madonna, Africa, adoption, and the white man’s burden

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Before I get started with this post, a few clarifications. First, I don’t think that Madonna is the evil, attention-hungry, Angelina-copycat that others are making her out to be. I’m sure she was guided by the best of intentions when it came to this adoption. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t buy into essentialist notions about blacks, whether she realizes it or not.

Second, we have no way of knowing exactly what transpired during this process. Was she really led to believe that David’s father’s whereabouts were unknown? Is it true that his father never visited David at the orphanage? Was David’s father misled into believing this was not a permanent adoption? We’ll just never know, and it’s best not to make assumptions about any of the facts.

Third, I do not oppose international adoption and no, I wouldn’t prefer to leave the orphans to die. But are those ever really the only two options?

Okay, with that out of the way…

I was struck by how many times Madonna used the phrases “I will give him a life” or “he didn’t have a life” when referring to her adopted Malawian child, David, during her interview with Oprah on Wednesday.

And I think this gets at one of the main problems I have with the way international adoption is discussed in this country. There’s always this unspoken, underlying assumption that:

  • keeping the child in the home country = no life or a bad life
  • bringing the child to “the West” = a good life

The situation in Malawi is dire, yes. But discussions about international adoption always make it seem as if every single child who doesn’t get adopted by an American family — no matter what country the child is in — is going to die. Like, right now. But that’s just not always the case.

Also, we really need to question the assumption that the benefits of international adoption will always outweigh the negative repercussions. I encourage you to read this post of Ji In’s at Twice the Rice, in which she writes that “there is irreparable pain and there are primal wounds inherent in adoption that no privileged upbringing can erase.”

Can a better standard of living, healthcare, education and loving adoptive parents ever make up for what is lost when a child is removed from his or her country and culture? Shouldn’t every effort be made to try and keep families together? Shouldn’t adoption be a final resort? I don’t pretend to have the answers to those questions, but I’m disappointed that the questions are rarely, if ever, even asked.

If a country is experiencing such extreme poverty that it cannot adequately care for its children or orphans, is international adoption the best solution? Or the only solution? If, like Madonna was, you are so moved by a country’s troubles that you feel compelled to do something to help, are there other things you can do? Things that could actually help solve some of the underlying, fundamental problems that have led to this dire situation in the first place? Those questions are never asked either.

I was surprised that Madonna so willingly and unquestioningly accepted the orphanage’s claim that no family member — not even the father — had ever visited David since his arrival at 2 weeks old. Not only did she fully believe it, but she immediately assumed that it meant that “no one was looking after David’s welfare.”And during the entire interview, she didn’t once acknowledge the fact that David’s father might have kept custody of his son, had he had the resources. Her focus was on his apparent gratitude to her: “Thank you for giving my son a life.”

This lack of acknowledgement of a father’s loss reminded me of the old slavery-era essentialist notions about blacks that were created to justify oppression. Black people were characterized as subhuman and bestial. That meant that the notions of democracy and freedom this country was founded on didn’t really apply to them. Black men were said to not love their wives and children the way white men did, therefore it was perfectly okay to split up families and sell them off to different plantations.

Could a similar essentialist/white supremacist notion be at play here? Does Madonna believe that David’s father couldn’t possibly love David the way she can? That the affection and parental relationship she can offer is inherently superior to his? Continue reading