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Teju Cole on American sentimentality towards Africa

Teju Cole, who just won a prestigious award for his novel “Open City“, offers a brief essay, in Twitter form, as a reaction to Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign:


Seven thoughts on the banality of sentimentality.
@tejucole
Teju Cole


1- From Sachs to Kristof to Invisible Children to TED, the fastest growth industry in the US is the White Savior Industrial Complex.
@tejucole
Teju Cole


2- The white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening.
@tejucole
Teju Cole


3- The banality of evil transmutes into the banality of sentimentality. The world is nothing but a problem to be solved by enthusiasm.
@tejucole
Teju Cole


4- This world exists simply to satisfy the needs—including, importantly, the sentimental needs—of white people and Oprah.
@tejucole
Teju Cole


5- The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.
@tejucole
Teju Cole


6- Feverish worry over that awful African warlord. But close to 1.5 million Iraqis died from an American war of choice. Worry about that.
@tejucole
Teju Cole


7- I deeply respect American sentimentality, the way one respects a wounded hippo. You must keep an eye on it, for you know it is deadly.
@tejucole
Teju Cole

11 Responses to “Teju Cole on American sentimentality towards Africa”

  1. dpinkenya says:

    On the above which criticises western sentimentality – yes, yes, but we are so quick to criticise the west, and no African country has bothered to do anything for the past 20 years but when a bunch of white people try and do it in the only way they know, we are so quick to jump against them. What have we Africans being doing all this time to stop this and all the rest??

  2. Eniola H says:

    This is so well said given the limitations of twitter, lol.
    The white man’s burden over Africa is their way to satisfy their guilt and create a false sense of conscience. Even the ones that do their charity on much smaller scales still come back with this condescending pity for the African man and not a true sense of hope. As if the African is nothing but a sorry case.
    Then they return still extremely ignorant however having fulfilled some trivial curiosity such as whether we live with lions and say crap like ‘Africa changed my life’… My friend, where in Africa?! Nonsense.

  3. One challenge for civic media is: how do we turn this into a Yes And? How can we meet halfway with people’s genuine if uninformed feelings of empathy and use that to create a real connection?

    That’s one reason I love the post on Boing Boing by Xeni Jardin which you referred me to, “African voices respond to hyper-popular Kony 2012 viral campaign.” It gives readers a alternative way to genuinely connect rather than simply chiding audiences for their gullibility.

    I know Global Voices is trying to do this work, but can we streamline the process? Hod do we do online Couchsurfing for cultural/political ambassadors?

  4. Kia Mistilis says:

    You’re brilliant. Your words resound with searing clarity,a pure dose of truth in a sea of white noise.

    Thank you

    Kia Mistilis

    freelance journalist & photographer
    Athens, Greece

  5. No, Teju Cole. No, No, No.

    The Iraqis were mainly killed by militants and terrorists willing to kill their own people to make a point. What are you going to do about THAT?

    The ICC indictments are in Africa for a reason — that’s where the worst atrocities are.

    So I guess we are supposed to cease caring about our fellow man because we are white?

    No, I won’t be stampeded or guilt-tripped into political correctness.

    One of the greatest things about Kony2012 is that for once, American and European schoolchildren were learning something that the inane Internet never teaches them — that it isn’t America that is the only or the greatest evil in the world. That there are other evils. That these evils include African warlords who are so evil, they kidnap kids and make them kill their own parents.

    And it is fine to learn this truth, and you cannot distract from it.

  6. joe says:

    what an insulting and disgraceful compilation of rhetoric. what, may i ask, has this guy done in terms of fighting for human rights? this infantile tirade could be leveled at human rights activists anywhere in the world. what would you say of iranians protesting the treatment of Muslims in Europe? “stop trying to save the Muslims”? this is a blanket insult to anyone anywhere fighting injustice and demanding human rights. where are your words against the government’s activities in Brooklyn? you live among more homeless people in NYC than in any other city in America. are you in the streets? and are the rest of us now unqualified by the color of our skin or the city of our residence to decry how you are treatying your most vulnerable citizens? get a life. this is insulting rhetoric. what would you say of northern abolitionists in early America? to shut the fuck up? do we have to bow down to your ridiculously superficial criteria to determine who can protest what? this is the most pathetic rant i’ve ever read. funny how the kony campaigners – who, by the way, have a flawed approach to be sure – are not being taken to task so much on the substance of what they have said than on who they are. PATHETIC. Give them IDEAS you moron, BUILD on their positive energy and vision of a just world. there is more RIGHT with what they have done than wrong. and it is truly disgusting that they are being subject to ridicule and insults for doing anything – when people like this sit in their hipster digs in Williamsburg – having left their countries behind and making mints off of the misery there – can lob easy condemnations. I’m appalled.

  7. John Moore says:

    Hmm, what an exquisitely appropriate medium to “mau mau” the bourgeoisie. Tweeting is so – easy, while doing something is so – banal. Still, it took seven tweets to express the depth of your soul. Mix me a molotov while you’re up.

  8. A. Babalola says:

    Can’t wait to meet this briiliant guy at BAM this Thurday, March 15th at 6:30 pm. Africans should NOT be afraid to speak “truth to power”

  9. Cassandra says:

    Change “white” to “black” in his tweets above and he comes across as a racist with a chip on his shoulder!

  10. Lucillalin says:

    Both Kony2012 video and this piece are patronizing and generalizing, but towards different parts of the world. Quite interesting really.

  11. Some friends of mine have suggested that Cole’s tweets above amount to a “lame, white man’s guilt” argument. But the on-stage discussion at the 7 November 2011 Liberty University convocation (feat. Jason Russell and Alex Harris) suggests that Cole’s remarks are appropriate in this context. Here’s Alex Harris being a bit like Kony, which is to say, explicitly encouraging young people to follow his example in the name of God, to advance what Doom and Vlassenroot could have described as* “a ‘biblical’ vision of political redemption”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkB8o5VWAjE#t=21m38s

    *But didn’t. Though they did describe Kony’s mission this way. Note their careful scare quotes around “bibilical”: http://afraf.oxfordjournals.org/content/98/390/5.abstract

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  4. #6 Links Expat Aid Workers Like « Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like - [...] or not) involved in the debate…? The Interwebs never disappoints. There’s Teju Cole on American Sentimentality towards Africa and OkayAfrica (which …
  5. XYRM News - [...] experience that validates privilege," Nigerian-born writer Teju Cole, author of "Open City," said about the Invisible Children project on …
  6. ‘Kony 2012′ filmmaker speaks out | The News World™ || Your One Stop Social Network News Station™ - [...] that validates privilege,” Nigerian-born writer Teju Cole, author of “Open City,” said about the Invisible Children project on Twitter …
  7. Weekend Reading: #KONY2012 Edition « Backslash Scott Thoughts - [...] and Kate from Wronging Rights wrote a piece at The Atlantic - also they made a drinking game.  Teju Cole tweeted a …
  8. Africans respond to Kony 2012 « Hummus For Thought - [...] an inspired set of tweets today on sentimentality toward Africa by Americans. Ethan Zuckerman gathered them here, and Alexis …
  9. Criticism and Support for Kony 2012 » James A. Pearson - [...] In depth New Yorker article from the mid-nineties on Kony’s brutal tactics. Teju Cole on American sentimentality. Ugandan and …
  10. Social | Pearltrees - [...] …My heart’s in Accra » Teju Cole on American sentimentality towards Africa 1- From Sachs to Kristof to Invisible …
  11. The Profitable White Savior Industrial Complex: KONY2012 « Cellar Door - [...] nails it in seven tweets. This world exists simply to satisfy the needs—including, importantly, the sentimental needs—of [...]
  12. Kony 2012: Inaudible Children « Bully Bloggers - [...] almost uniformly ticked-off reaction of Africans like Rosebell Kagumire (above), Maureen Agena, Teju Cole — at least those Africans …
  13. #StopInvisibleChildren | The Platform - [...] the evening.” His compelling indictment of Americans’ sentimentality towards Africa can be read here and here.You should be following …
  14. More On Kony 2012 - The Daily What - [...] in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening,” says Cole. “The White Savior …
  15. African voices respond to hyper-popular Kony 2012 viral campaign :: MedellinStyle.com - [...] an inspired set of tweets today on sentimentality toward Africa by Americans. Ethan Zuckerman gathered them here, and Alexis Madrigal did …
  16. On the Kony-Hate Campaign | Turangawaewae - [...] this campaign.  There is a fascinating round up of opinion available here.  My favourite is a series of tweets …
  17. “Its like deja vu all over again” « Move the mission! Panama City, Fl. - [...] policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening,” says Cole. “The White Savior …
  18. The unsettling “simplifications” of Kony 2012 | the fifth wave - [...] motives.  He doesn’t think Jason Russell is a racist or a warmonger, although he’s willing to cite tweets mocking …
  19. Definitions of Community « Seeking Understanding - [...] addition This is a recent essay in twitter form from an author I respect immensely, Teju Cole, responding to …
  20. Kony 2012: Inaudible ChildrenSocial Text - […] almost uniformly ticked-off reaction of Africans like Rosebell Kagumire (above), Maureen Agena, Teju Cole – at least those Africans not on the payroll of Invisible …
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