Saturday, October 13, 2012

Leftist Racism and the Image of Africa

I have noticed a disturbing trend on the Internet since I moved to Africa. It was probably always there, but I have become much more attuned to depictions of Africa in the last couple of years. There is the constant depiction of all of Africa as very poor and dysfunctional. This stereotype of an entire continent based upon its most unfortunate parts is bad enough. But, the stereotype is magnified into an essentialist and primordial argument that Africa can never be anything but, poor and dysfunctional. This is basically a racist argument. The argument, however, is almost always made by people who identify themselves as leftists or liberals and their stated reasoning is that colonialism permanently crippled Africa in such a way that its people can never develop on their own.

This argument ignores both the history of early independence when states like Ghana did develop significantly before the liberal LBJ helped throw Nkrumah out of power and more recent developments in Africa. The fact is that despite the wishes of white liberals and leftists in the US and UK that Africa always be poor so they can use it as an example to attack the current system of global capitalism there are parts of Africa that are developing quite rapidly now. A lot of white liberals and leftists who call themselves "anti-racists" only see the people of Africa as pawns in an ideological game rather than real people with fully human lives. These people have no experience with dealing with actual Africans and they are content to have lengthy Internet discussions about the issues of colonialism and development in Africa without any contributions from Africans or anybody actually familiar with Africa. Instead the stereotype of eternal poverty as a result of colonialism is branded upon Africa like the mark of Ham. Meanwhile the Europeans of today are completely forgiven for the original sin of colonialism by these same liberals and leftists leaving only Africans to suffer under the presumption that they can not be anything, but poor and undeveloped.

This presumption informs a lot of liberal policy from the sustained attacks of JFK and LBJ against Pan-African leaders like Nkrumah to the poverty pimps that staff a large number of NGOs today. The American and British left have a vested ideological interest in keeping Africa poor. But, obviously this is not in the interest of Africans. Colonialism did not permanently make Africans incapable of economic success. That they are perfectly capable of developing is something that was empirically evident even in the late 1950s and early 1960s. One obstacle to their development, however, has been the image of Africa projected by American and British liberals and leftists of being absolutely and forever hopeless and helpless as a result of colonialism. The policies that have followed from this image have not surprisingly done very little to facilitate real development in Africa.

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