If you want to see Africa, for the love of god, please don’t watch the Taylor Swift “Wildest Dreams” music video. Watch this one instead, Congolese artist Baloji’s latest, which is an “ode to the struggle, the resilience” of the Congolese people and shows striking footage of the artist on a road trip through Kinshasa and the people and scenes he sees along the way: http://www.okayafrica.com/news/baloji-capture-64-bits-and-malachite-music-video/.
Or better yet, watch them both, side by side, and notice the stark differences. Then consider the fact that Imperialism was/is behind these realities and portrayals of Africa, in both the past and present. The colonial safari fantasy was based on white supremacist ideology and practice that resulted in the murder and oppression of hundreds of thousands of African people for almost a century. Today, that same mindset actively exploits the continent’s people, resources, and culture.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, where Baloji’s video is set, has experienced one of the most extreme examples of that brand of evil and the country’s immense wealth continues to be violently extracted by foreign multinationals, supported by their governments. The Congolese people suffer as the direct result of the attitude in Talyor Swift’s video — that African lives and cultures don’t exist or matter.
The note at the end of T Swift’s video — that promises profits from the video to supporting an African wildlife organization — is almost worse. It perpetuates the valuing of safari animals over people and the sense that Africa is a place that needs Western charity more than basic respect and actual understanding, including acknowledgment of the West’s complicity in Africa’s modern-day struggles.
Yes, I get that it’s “just a music video”, pop culture is for entertainment, and people will think I should lighten up — but I won’t, because I know these things have great power over millions of people’s perceptions and beliefs, and those in turn shape the material conditions of the world. If you want to be entertained by the glorification of a time period and system that was brutal, racist, and unjust… I guess that’s a choice. But I don’t think it’s one than many people would making knowingly, especially if they saw an alternative, such as the vision, beauty, and dignity in the Baloji video.
The thing is, when the content like that in Taylor Swift’s video is what we’re presented, it works its way deep into our subconscious. I’ve lived in East Africa for more than seven of the last nine years and it’s STILL a process for me to disengage from the stereotypes and false perceptions about Africa that I grew up with in America, many of which I internalized without ever consciously knowing it.
Bottom line is this: if you think about even a tiny bit of the history and present reality of the exploitation of Africa by colonialist and capitalist greed, then it’s impossible to ignore the political and ethical implications of consuming this sort of pop culture without first questioning and then condemning it.
We have options, about the representations we create and appreciate. We can speak up against racist and economic atrocities– even when they’re hidden underneath the golden tones of America’s sweetheart’s latest hit — and listen to voices who for too long have been ignored.
Lyrics to Baloji’s song (as subtitled in the video) below:
Here even the clouds are threatening
Optimism is vigilant
Here since laws replace amulets
Blood, sweat, and tears
The Holy Grail is mineral
They named a provisional president
Out of the old regime
Each candidate declares victory
Like in Gao after the flood
Faith isn’t a reliable commodity
The goats become carnivores
In the Ministry of Imponderables
To bring lasting peace
They have to choose between peace and justice
Or fear the vengeance of grandsons
Looks for a providential sign
In the pandemonium
No bare minimum service
Ode to the struggle, to resilience
The goal: Black Excellence
Congo, my country
Turned into a playground
Land of conflicts, land of high stakes
While brothers sacrifice their lives
For phones that contain their blood
The Congolese reproduce the thieves’ gestures
Thoughts that divide, thoughts that oppose