Theory Teacher's Blog

How to Write about Africa

I just re-read Binyavanga Wainaina’s satirical essay, “How to Write about Africa” for the second time. It was published in the journal Granta in 2005. Since then, Wainaina has been profiled in the special issue of Vanity Fair magazine about Africa (edited by Bono!) two years ago and appeared as a guest on Krista Tippet’s show Speaking of Faith last December, where he shocked the poor, idealistic Tippet by pointing out that he’d often rather westerners do nothing to help Africa than all the stupid, misguided somethings that they do. He is almost as fearful of guilty white liberals as he is of avaricious neoliberals from London and militant neocons from Washington D.C. (and that’s saying something, because those mo-fo’s are scary-ass… you know what I’m saying?)

Anyway, Wainaina’s essay wonderfully exposes the way white westerners have represented Africa (or mis-represented… or in Lacanian terms, misrecognized, meconnaissance, because of their own psychological issues), and I’ve decided to use it in my class tomorrow (and wish I had used it in my class last week) on “representation.” So, I don’t have much to say in my blog today except “You got the link; now read it!!!”

And moreover, I now want to assert that every teacher of classes about race, history, African studies, Asian studies, Latin American studies, geography, international relations, peace studies, postcolonial literature, intercultural competency (whatever that is), etc., etc., should begin their classes with it… not only as a means of fostering a healthy skepticism among the students, but also and even more importantly to remind themselves not to be stupid teachers. (I often need this reminder myself.)


March 31, 2009 - Posted by | global, Kenya, race


  1. Madhu made us read this for Post Colonial Lit after we finished reading Heart of Darkness and had just started Things Fall Apart. I thought it was just about one of the funniest things I had ever read, because (while serious) it also points out how absurd minimizing anything — people, place, — into a series of stereotypes is ridiculous.

    Comment by Megan G | March 31, 2009 | Reply

  2. “Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.”

    Perfectly satirical.

    Comment by M--- | April 1, 2009 | Reply

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