[Letter to the editor of a local newspaper that will remain unnamed]
As someone who teaches African history to post-secondary students in our community, one of the challenges that I grapple with is stirring my students away from the stereotypical and often inaccurate representations of the continent that dominate the media. It is a challenge made even harder by the cartoon published in page 6 of the January 12 edition of your newspaper. It followed a pattern that depicts the whole of Africa as a caricature of poverty and despair.
Africa is a continent of 54 diverse countries, a thousand ethnic nationalities and over a billion people. It is naïve if not disingenuous to depict it in the way your cartoon does. Europe, a continent with fewer countries and less diversity is hardly ever treated in such simplistic and monolithic terms. During the Yugoslav and ethnic Kosovo wars of the 1990s, there were hardly any depictions of the whole of Europe as a land of wars and conflict. Yet, similar isolated events in Africa almost always get a peculiar continental spin.
As a person of African descent, I found the cartoon particularly offensive in its suggestion that Africans would pray for a natural disaster in order to elicit aid and donations from the rest of the world. The devastation and loss of 150,000 lives in the Asian Tsunami disaster is a grave and unfortunate event that shouldn’t be trivialized. To portray it as something desirable for a people or continent, even in humour, is tasteless and unconscionable. This and similar cartoons should have no place in a newspaper that claims to represent the views and values of our community.