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White Anti-Racism: No Hairshirt Necessary

Portraying Africa

A great paragraph somewhat related to my earlier comments about the dangers of condensing all African countries, from Real Media Ethics.

The problematic element for me was the generic country, which I thought fit too neatly into uncomplicated Western ideas of an unstable African nation. The script’s use of details picked from various African conflicts (ethnic violence, an uprising “in the south,” genocide perpetrated against a once-powerful ethnic minority that sounded an awful lot like “Tutsi,” child soldiers abducted, drugged and forced to commit atrocities, a charismatic and ruthless leader, etc.) and lumping of them into one generic African genocide seemed to play on the audience’s expectations about the Bad Things that happen in Africa. The conflation of conflicts separated by decades and thousands of miles undermined the unique horror of the real conflicts. And it erroneously suggested that those conflicts were interchangeable, apparently bound together by some vague tie of “Africanness.”

I hesitate to draw to neat a comparison between House’s treatment of the continent and the aforementioned project for pre-schoolers; I’m quite sure that neither had malicious intentions. But, while I do think that this episode of House is damaging to our cultural understanding/recognition of Africa, I imagine there is an argument to be made about the possible benefits of small children  approaching the idea of heritage even in a very generalized and unspecific way–I think it’s just not an argument I am interested in making.

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