Images of Africa

There is a marvelous scene in Isabel Allende’s The Island Beneath the Sea (La Isla Bajo el Mar) where the slave woman who is the protagonist in the novel is forced to play a complex game with the slave-holder. This is a routine activity between them in the household, other activities incl. sex, and as time goes on he urges her to not hold back, to play her best. She does so and starts beating him. The passage I refer to describes the shadow of a doubt passing through his mind: no one with a bestial mind could play like that, yet here she is, a Negress, beating me. And then he quickly dismisses it in a moment of agonizing cognitive dissonance. No way.
This passage illuminates the way so many people dismiss those of African descent, no matter how good they are. Tortured articles are published to account for their prowess in athletics, pushing aside issues of motivation, courage, and determination. Nah, not them. As my first insurance agent told me, when it comes to a choice between paying a premium and a bottle of wine, Blacks always choose the latter. No grit, no moral fiber. So it must be fast twitch muscles. The same with Asians doing so well academically: it must be this, it must be that. No, they just work their asses off. When I’d go to the university library on a Sunday afternoon, all you saw there were Asians…. and their bicycles.
So it just fit the conservative mentality when George Will, the conservative intellectual, could not conceive of Boko Haram adherents in “the wilds of Nigeria” having Twitter accounts. As Eugene Robinson pointed out, they also have cell phones and are on Facebook. Wills’ image of Black Africans is what motivated Roger Kimball to agree with Burnham’s assessment of emerging African nations as deriving from cannibalistic tribes and slave-holding nomads. It’s interesting, BTW, that these same observers of culture go out of their way to praise the slave-holding culture of the Old South.

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