by Patrick Appel
A couple months back, Texas In Africa asked Nick Kristof why his columns "about Africa almost always feature black Africans as victims, and white foreigners as their saviors." Kristof's candid answer:
I do take your point. That very often I do go to developing countries where local people are doing extraordinary work, and instead I tend to focus on some foreigner, often some American, who’s doing something there.
And let me tell you why I do that. The problem that I face -- my challenge as a writer -- in trying to get readers to care about something like Eastern Congo, is that frankly, the moment a reader sees that I'm writing about Central Africa, for an awful lot of them, that's the moment to turn the page. It's very hard to get people to care about distant crises like that. One way of getting people to read at least a few grafs in is to have some kind of a foreign protagonist, some American who they can identify with as a bridge character. And so if this is a way I can get people to care about foreign countries, to read about them, ideally, to get a little bit more involved, then I plead guilty.
Texas In Africa is unsatisfied:
In the end, this answer is just another variant of the "good intentions are enough" mindset. It excuses stereotyping in the name of awareness, while assuming that Americans are too parochial to be able to recognize, relate to, and applaud the work of people whose names sound different from ours. It reveals much about Kristof's approach to the people he profiles; as we've discussed here many times before, they're more often characters than people.
Mr. Kristof, I think you can do better.