Taylor Swiftboating

I truly do not care about Taylor Swift’s music, but the real target of public ire should be the ignorance and stereotyping built into the criticism of her latest video. Here are a few reasons why:

A) Countries in Africa are not literally border-to-border packed with black people, cities, women grinning at the camera as they pump water, farms, schools full of smiling children, and village markets.

B) Anyone with an ounce of familiarity with cinema would see the deliberate shots of antique filming equipment indicating that this is a “movie about a movie”.

So, based on (A) and (B) this video is a more honest use of “African” imagery than most of what Hollywood and the International Aid/Development industry puts out.

For example, it doesn’t make any pretense of using “African” imagery (I keep forgetting Africa is a single, homogeneous landscape of identical-looking people) as anything other than a background for a campy movie about a campy love story.

Compare that authenticity to the books and movies that use the odiously ubiquitous images interchangeably for every aspect of Africa. Like the acacia tree that appears on every book “about Africa” (Source: Africa Is a Country). Or the “white person handing something to/doing something for the grateful black person” motif from almost every charity and NGO.

You want to see hurtful imagery? Look inside your head. How quick are you to think of a person in an African country as “an African”? Do you picture them as black or white, and to what degree? Do you picture them dressed like you, or dressed in donated t-shirts? When you picture them in school, do you picture them in a classroom like the one near you, or in some kind of makeshift construction? When you picture that person getting medical treatment, are they getting it from a White NGO doctor or from one of their fellow citizens?

That same stereotype is what people are reading in the Taylor Swift video, when they say that it doesn’t show the “real Africa”.

You want to see White Privilege? Ask yourself if American sitcom The Big Bang Theory is “inauthentic” because it doesn’t show poor young Americans who can’t afford to go to college, let alone finish High School? Or if someone filmed a music video walking through the Arizona Badlands, would it be inauthentic if it only showed rock and sand, instead of those Republican boogeymen, the illegal immigrants?

White Privilege here the open anger at the video just reinforcing the fallacious perception of “the West” and “White people” as central to the identity and destiny of people in African countries.

Which is ludicrous. We’re talking about 1.1 billion people distributed among 54 countries covering 11 million+ square miles.

Taylor Swift’s music video only matters to teenagers who listen to Taylor Swift music. If her audience grows up with patronizing, undignified stereotype of a person in an African country, then they learned that from the news and the “save the helpless” donation requests from NGOs and the way that audience’s own government engages with those African countries.

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