09 July 2010

The Answer We Have Been Waiting For?

Update 2: Texas in Africa points to the Alex Perry blow up and it makes me appreciate the fact that Mr. Kristof did not blow up when criticized in the video below and also when he met much stronger reactions to his piece on the girl raped in the DRC earlier this year.
Update: Added video of response

So Nick Kristof, New York Times columnist, asked for questions a few months ago for him to answer. Yesterday, he answered his first about Rwanda’s government and the relationship to Democracy. Today, he was asked why his articles portray “black Africans as victims” and “white foreigners as their saviors.” I wish I could embed the video here of his response, but it has not made it to his YouTube page, so you will have to settle for this link.

Mr. Kristof is gracious enough not to turn criticism into an attack. He does defend himself, but chooses not to turn the question around or avoid what is being asked of him. In short, he responds by saying that he uses ‘white protagonists, usually from America’ as a way to ‘bridge’ the story to what he really wants to discuss. His point being that people would not want to read about Central Africa (his example) if there was no connection.

There is a valid point that he makes. By using an American to make the connection, people will feel drawn to read and learn more about the issue he is presenting. What I wonder is if this is a natural or learned connection. I do not want to even attempt to try some hack psychology, but could it be possible that people will continue reading without an American protagonist? Maybe we just want a protagonist in the story. Remember, there is a strong support for and recognition of Nelson Mandela. I would guess to say this is because of his story. Funny thing is that this is the exact opposite of a Kristof piece. The black African is the protagonist and the white foreigners the villains (might be a bit of a harsh word, but works for my point).

Kristof has nearly 1 million twitter followers and is published in the New York Times. He has been building an audience for awhile now and needs to use his platform to report responsibly. He can have protagonists that are not foreigners, but nationals of the country he is covering. He lists a few people whom has has profiled, but why not make that the norm? There are a lot of Americans in Africa who are doing terrible work. Why not highlight them as well? The story of the DRC (his country of choice it seems) is far more complex than rebels raping women and forcing children into soldiers who are helped by foreigners. Expand the narrative a bit. Show what is going on in the DRC and focus on the people who are there and live in the country, not those who come to ‘save’ them.