I can’t believe I’m agreeing with Dave Brooks

Dave Brooks’ articles for the NYT are really bad. I mean, head scratchingly bad. I’m convinced that the NYT hired Brooks as a token conservative, or, at least, as a pseudo-conservative who appeals to a a select group of wishy washy liberal-ish readers of the NYT.

Today, Brooks writes on the “The Real Africa.”

There’s been something similarly distorted to some of the social media reactions to the Boko Haram atrocities over the past week. It’s great that the kidnappings and the massacres are finally arousing the world’s indignation. But sometimes the implication of the conversation has been this: Africa is this dark and lawless place where monstrous things are bound to happen. Those poor people need our help.

But this is more or less the opposite of the truth. Boko Haram is not the main story in Africa or even in Nigeria. It is a small rear-guard reaction to the main story. The main story in Africa is an impressive surge of growth, urbanization and modernization, which has sparked panic in a few people who don’t like these things.

While I think that Brooks, like many writers, overestimates “Africa rising,” he’s not incorrect here. In general, Africa only makes the news when something really bad or horrific happens. The stories of regular people just trying to get by against unimaginable economic and political odds are never interesting enough for American readers to start generating sexy hashtags.

I’m convinced that people, even academics, believe that people in Africa are like the uncontacted tribes of the Amazon rainforest. I believe it’s enraging for people to hear that Africans are just like everyone else. They’d rather see dying children or sexy pastoralists in their native habitat than people buying and thoroughly enjoying Game of Thrones or Desperate Housewives on bootleg DVDs.

I’m remembering the time when a friend once chastised me when I wrote of Botswana’s fiscal and political successes which brought quickly to middle income status and insured solvency for decades to come. He criticized me for not addressing the plight of the San people, a group of pastoralists in Botswana whose numbers are fewer than the population of tiny Adrian, Michigan. While insuring the rights and welfare of indigenous peoples and minorities worldwide is of the utmost importance, it was interesting to me, that the rights and welfare of the other nearly two million Botswanans didn’t enter into the conversation at all.

It would seem that liberals are more concerned with maintaining an nostalgic past, imagined by Europeans and educated Americans, than addressing the current concerns of the vast majority of Africans.

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About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

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