In my last article, I took some time to address the article written by Clifford Krauss, in which I specifically pointed out what was being said that was misleading. However, I did not address why misleading articles such as these are particularly dangerous.
Responses to this article have been impressive. There have been people who fall on both sides of the “issue”. There are those like me who see this as a deliberate gross misrepresentation of our country, and there are those who see it as “pointing out inconvenient truths”.
If you will, for a moment, picture Africa, what is the first image that comes to mind? Is it of starving, scantily clad, dirty children? How many of us can even see Africa as being a whole continent, one where there are numerous countries which experience a variety of economic prosperity? Do we see a variety of standards of living, or do we picture one specific image which has been fed to us over and over?
How many of us have even seen a picture of Johannesburg or Lagos?
Meanwhile, when we think of the United States, what do we think of? More than likely, the first places that come to our mind are Manhattan and Washington. We imagine a place of wealth and prosperity, and I highly doubt that any of us automatically focus on the poorer neighbourhoods of the US.
The thing is, as prosperous as some parts of Africa are, the “inconvenient truths” that they live with are what we are inundated with in the media. Media is an incredibly powerful tool. An article published by the Washington Post entitled “Media portrayals of Africa promote paternalism”, by Andy Barker, explained that critics believe biased presentation (reporting only on the negatives) of Africa has led to “misinformation, stereotyping, validation of white privilege, excessive fear of foreigners and immigrants, and even mishandled foreign policy interventions.”
Most interestingly, the article focused on the idea that, because of the way Africa had been presented to the world, Americans felt “paternalistic” towards the people, a term which here was meant to describe “the authoritative but benevolent relationship of parents to their children, with the latter needing guidance, since children are unable to act “properly” on their own.”
The author of the article designed two experiments to test his theories. In the first, random participants were shown either of two families, one from Cameroon, and one from Moldova, and they were told that the average person from that country lived on about US$5 dollars a day. What was found was that respondents from the Cameroonian treatment group were more likely to agree with a statement such as, “There is little that people in poor countries can do by themselves to improve their livelihoods.” The second experiment was similar, with one white and one black family, except that the countries of origin were Armenia and Guyana. And, yet again, it was found that people from the Guyanese respondent group were more likely to agree with a statement such as, “When it comes to improving their economic standard of living, people in poor countries are like extremely sick or paralyzed patients; they are completely unable to help themselves.” Respondents were more likely to support financial aid for the black family; and further, in regard to aid, respondents were only generous if they could exercise control over how the aid was being handed out; for example, if the aid was in the form of “free school supplies”, or “trips to the doctor”. However, if it was proposed to give the families so that they could determine how to spend it, the response was largely negative.
This led the author to then conclude, “My findings here reveal a rare case of greater generosity to one’s racial outgroup than to one’s racial ingroup, yet this does not mean prejudice is absent. It is grounded in a widespread underestimation of Africans’ and Caribbeans’ agency, a narrative that surely stems from the pornography of violence, immiseration, and helplessness propagated by Western media.”
I understand that many might not see the impact of this one article, and may feel like Guyanese are overreacting and in denial of their own issues. No one is saying that we do not have issues, or that they should not be spoken about; but our issues are not our entire country. If the article wanted to focus on the preparedness of Guyana to handle the oil find, I fail to see the relevance to mention “children who go to school in dug out canoes”, whilst not mentioning that our high schools typically produce the top students in the Caribbean every year, and that some of those very scholars are at top universities studying petroleum and chemical engineering.
His description of Guyana served nothing but to further fuel the idea that Guyanese are hapless and in desperate need of foreign intervention.