To all the Americans experiencing high and mighty liberal indignation over Delta implying there are giraffes in Ghana, we ask: What image do you think of when you think of Ghana? This isn't a defense of Delta. The fact that giraffes were the only thing they thought to associate with the African nation (where they don't live) shows a particular kind of small mindedness – but this isn't anything new. The truth is, Americans are constantly using primitive shorthands for Africa that are rarely grounded in reality.
On Tuesday, Team USA beat Ghana 2-1 during a World Cup soccer game. Delta tried to get in on the action by sending out the tweet to the right. America was represented by the Statue of Liberty. Ghana, apparently one of the many jungle and/or safari nations of the world, got a giraffe.
Delta deleted the tweet and apologized, but a lot of people were outraged — not necessarily because Delta's tweet reduced Ghana's culture to an animal instead of one of its many landmarks, but because they picked the wrong animal.
Several sites, including Mashable, BuzzFeed, and Mediate, focused solely on that error, instead of the lazy representation it represented. Each site argued that the tweet was bad simply because there are no giraffes in Ghana. "The only problem with the airline’s photo choice? Giraffes don’t live in Ghana," wrote Mediate. If only Kenya has been playing, then Delta could have used their giraffe stock image and there would have been no problem.
Meanwhile, The Huffington Post wrote that "while Ghana is known for its rich culture, scenic beaches and forests, there's one thing it's not known for: giraffes." But that assumes most people know Ghana has a coast. A 2006 Radio Free Europe article reported that a survey found that 20 percent of Americans think Sudan (another African country) is in Asia. If you asked almost any American to pick a Lady Liberty-like iconic symbol for Ghana right now, it's doubtful that they could.
Jalopnik actually got it right:
Obviously Lady Liberty represents America, but Delta just walked into that prickly zone of reducing Africa, a continent of more than a billion people, to simply animals. If you've taken a civics class in the last 15 years, you might be familiar with a similar situation where AT&T touted international calling to Africa with a monkey on the phone ... Everyone on Twitter seems to be enjoying this, especially the part about Ghana not having giraffes.
Delta made a mistake, but it's not something that doesn't happen all the time. America's understanding of Africa hasn't expanded beyond safari animals, jungle animals, people in huts, and children with flies on their faces. We can't get mad at Delta for simply catering to that same ignorance.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.