Africa: 54 Countries, One Image

This summer, after the United States beat Ghana in the World Cup, eliminating the team from the tournament, Delta tweeted the following:

delta-airlines

There are no wild giraffes in Ghana, and Twitter users quickly jumped on the tweet, treating Delta to a well-deserved dragging (as Soraya Nadia McDonald calls dragging someone through the mud in her Washington Post piece).

The tweet went viral. Delta deleted it and apologized. Delta’s “giraffe gaffe” serves as one example of the bias of Africa as a country whose main identifying feature is animals, and maybe also acacias. Another example is the compilation of book covers of African novels assembled on the satirically-named blog “Africa is a Country.” Here we see the reduction of a variety of writers and their works to trees and orange sunsets (and a few elephants and antelope).

“In short, the covers of most novels “about Africa” seem to have been designed by someone whose principal idea of the continent comes from The Lion King,” says Ross in the blog post.

The Lion King may also have influenced the author of the Delta tweet’s image of Africa, but the Delta rep is not alone. As Arit John says in the headline of his piece on The Wire, “…Americans Don’t Know Anything about Ghana.” I only know anything about Ghana because I have been there. And it’s not just an American thing, either. In September, “Africa is a Country” wrote about the Dutch magazine Linda‘s Africa-themed edition, featuring the magazine’s namesake on a jeep, surrounded by giraffes in a park near Amsterdam called Safaripark. “…it’s “just like Africa” according to the “always smiling” Linda” (van Strien). Giraffes seem to be the international go-to symbol to represent Africa.

To begin understanding this perpetuation of Africa as a safari, we can look at business ownership. According to Ernest J. Wilson and Sasha Constanza-Chock in “New Voices on the Net? The Digital Journalism Divide and the Costs of Network Exclusion,” in the United States:
“..non- Hispanic Whites owned 90 percent of businesses in nearly every category, including the “information industries”: radio stations, TV stations, and news- paper publishing. Whites continue to own 90 percent of all businesses, despite the fact that America will be majority “minority” within a single generation.” (246)

Perhaps if the staff of some of these organizations mentioned better reflected the diverse population, representations of Africa might be something other than animals and acacias. Schools could also incorporate more authors from different backgrounds into their curriculums. At the very least, perhaps the people producing a final product — be it a tweet  referencing Ghana, the cover art for a novel, or an Africa-themed magazine edition — could  put in enough research to design something less stereotypical. Looking specifically at Delta’s tweet, the Statue of Liberty could have been matched with a Ghanaian monument, as the Twitter user @WilliamLads suggested. A quick search of “Ghanaian monuments” returns an Independence Arch and an Independence Monument.

Resources

Foley, Aaron. 2014. “Delta Just Tweeted A Giraffe To Represent Ghana, Because Africa.” Jalopnikhttp://jalopnik.com/delta-just-tweeted-a-giraffe-to-represent-ghana-becaus-1591745038 (October 30, 2014).
John, Arit. 2014. “Delta Tweeted a Giraffe Picture Because Americans Don’t Know Anything About Ghana.” The Wirehttp://www.thewire.com/culture/2014/06/delta-tweeted-a-giraffe-picture-because-americans-dont-know-anything-about-ghana/372917/ (October 29, 2014).
Kohrman, Miles. “Delta Air Lines Loses the World Cup: What Do Giraffes Have To Do With Ghana?” Fast Companyhttp://www.fastcompany.com/3032004/fast-feed/delta-airlines-loses-the-world-cup-what-do-giraffes-have-to-do-with-ghana (October 30, 2014).
McDonald, Soraya Nadia. 2014. “Black Twitter: A Virtual Community Ready to Hashtag out a Response to Cultural Issues.” The Washington Posthttp://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/black-twitter-a-virtual-community-ready-to-hashtag-out-a-response-to-cultural-issues/2014/01/20/41ddacf6-7ec5-11e3-9556-4a4bf7bcbd84_story.html (October 30, 2014).
Ross, Elliot. 2014. “The Dangers of a Single Book Cover: The Acacia Tree Meme and ‘African Literature.’” AFRICA IS A COUNTRYhttp://africasacountry.com/the-dangers-of-a-single-book-cover-the-acacia-tree-meme-and-african-literature/ (October 31, 2014).
Van Strien, Jeroen. 2014. “It’s Just like Africa!” AFRICA IS A COUNTRYhttp://africasacountry.com/its-just-like-africa/ (October 31, 2014).
Wilson, Ernest J. and Sasha Costanza-Chock. 2012. “New Voices on the Net? The Digital Journalism Divide and the Costs of Network Exclusion.” In Race After the Internet. Lisa Nakamura and Peter A. Chow-White, eds. New York, NY: Routledge, pp. 246-268.
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