Europe and America’s ‘master narratives’ of Africa

By | April 17, 2011

G. Pascal Zachary in Fanzine:

The master narratives about Africa are inevitably political; art about Africa and Africans, especially art created by non-Africans, inevitably becomes intertwined with the historical use and abuse of the African imaginary. The political entanglements of literary artists engaged with African affairs are complicated by the emergence of a new humanitarianism, which presents African problems as a litmus for the moral capacity of wealthy societies to respond to the plight of less fortunate souls around the world. Just as the response to the genocide against the Jews defined the contours of conscience following World War II, so today does the engagement with Africa define the moral condition of the developed world. Because the engagement with Africa is a test, often narratives about the region and its people are consciously fabricated and fantastic; bad means are justified by good ends. Master narratives from a century ago have been revived and renovated, aimed at generating vast global audiences, with lies and distortions rationalized as part of what the storytellers themselves view as a legitimate “campaign” to help liberate Africans from various maladies—from disease, bad leaders, environmental hazards, wars and other menaces we’ve come to associate with the region. These “progressive,” or developmental, storytellers have even gone so far as to willfully ignore or distort African realities in order to tell the worst stories possible—and thus attract the greatest possible support, financial or moral or otherwise, for “saving” Africans. Such stories that diminish or degrade Africans have been justified (though rarely publicly) as necessary; for without such stories—true or not, exaggerated or strictly accurate—it is believed that people around the world would not express sympathy for the plight of needy Africans.


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