As many of you know, I recently moved to Zimbabwe. It’s quite a departure from Tajikistan, and there’s lots and lots to write about here. But being new to the country and the continent, and knowing a bit of the difficult history of both the country and the continent, I’ve been hesitant to blog about Africa. Luckily, I ran across some advice for people like me.
The title of this post is from an article that appeared in Granta magazine in 2005 by Binyavanga Wainaina and was relatively recently referenced by Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of my favorite bloggers at The Atlantic magazine’s website.
It turns out that I’m not the only one finding that it is tough to write about Africa, and Africans, without sounding like a ignorant racist asswipe. Wainaina gives some tongue-in-cheek advice for the would-be Africa writer, and since I’d rather avoid giving people that impression about me, I will do my best not to fall prey to the many, many tired cliches that he mentions and which writers lapse into when discussing Africa.* If I fail, call me out on it.
* I know, “tired cliche” is itself a tired cliche, but that’s par for the course for me in blog posts and doesn’t unmask me as a racialist dick, just as a sometimes lazy writer.
In the meantime, here’s the sort of stuff I’m trying to avoid:
Your African characters may include naked warriors, loyal servants, diviners and seers, ancient wise men living in hermetic splendour. Or corrupt politicians, inept polygamous travel-guides, and prostitutes you have slept with. The Loyal Servant always behaves like a seven-year-old and needs a firm hand; he is scared of snakes, good with children, and always involving you in his complex domestic dramas. The Ancient Wise Man always comes from a noble tribe (not the money-grubbing tribes like the Gikuyu, the Igbo or the Shona). He has rheumy eyes and is close to the Earth. The Modern African is a fat man who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits to qualified Westerners who really care about Africa. He is an enemy of development, always using his government job to make it difficult for pragmatic and good-hearted expats to set up NGOs or Legal Conservation Areas. Or he is an Oxford-educated intellectual turned serial-killing politician in a Savile Row suit. He is a cannibal who likes Cristal champagne, and his mother is a rich witch-doctor who really runs the country.
Any of you see my falling into stereotypes or florid prose, as I said, call me out. Please.
And with that disclaimer and plea for help, expect posts on Zim and Africa soon.