Racism on Mark and Delia Owens's Website

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Mark and Delia Owens, in reaction to my article on their conservation work in Zambia, have posted on their website several statements from their supporters that testify to their Albert Schweitzer-like qualities and avoid entirely the substance of the article (including the eyewitness testimony of an ABC cameraman who told me that Mark Owens' son, Christopher, shot an alleged poacher). One of the more remarkable letters, from a supporter named Bonnie Barney, states that my African sources lied to me because, well, that's the nature of Africans:

Mr. Goldberg seems unfamiliar with African culture (Many quotes being retracted...the subject aiming to please, making a story)...

Yes, those silly, child-like Africans, making up stories to please reporters. But what about those Africans (the scouts Mark Owens trained and armed, for instance) who spoke of their affection for him? Were they lying as well?  The Owenses and their supporters have a well-documented, colonialist-like tendency to infantilize Africans. Take this episode, from the article:

In "The Eye of the Elephant," the Owenses make repeated mention of the cook, a man named Sunday Justice. Delia wrote of one of her first conversations with Justice, who was in his early twenties at the time. "Tell me, Sunday, can we fly to that village?" she asked, naming a village reputedly populated by poachers. Justice responded, according to Delia, "Oh no, Madam, that village is very much on the ground." She continued, "I smile behind his back for a long moment. All morning I have noticed Sunday stealing glances at the plane." She asked, "You like the airplane, don't you, Sunday?"

"Yes, Madam. I myself always wanted to talk to someone who has flown up in the sky with a plane."
"Well, you can talk to me," I say, as I pour salt into a jar.
"I myself always wanted to know, Madam, if you fly at night, do you go close to the stars?"
I explain that on earth we are so far from the stars that being up a few thousand feet does not make any difference in how close they look. But I don't know if he understands, so I end by saying, "When you fly at night, you feel closer to the stars."

On one of my visits to North Luangwa, I came across Sunday Justice, who was then working as a safari guide. When I asked him about the conversation, he laughed and said, "I always knew what an airplane was. I used to fly to Lusaka all the time with John Harvey." As a child? "Yes, as a child and as an adult." After leaving the Owenses' camp, Justice said, he worked for the Zambian Air Force.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/05/racism-on-mark-and-delia-owenss-website/39415/