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Ancient Egyptian Wisdom ... Daily Practice

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Will "Expedition Africa" be Full of Racist Stereotypes?

This evening the History Channel premiered its new historical reality series, Expedition Africa: Stanley and Livingston. The brain-child of Mark Burnett, the British television producer behind Survivor; Expedition places four white adventure seekers in a modern-day recreation of Welsh journalist Henry Morton Stanley's 970-mile search for Scottish explorer David Livingstone. Livingstone was a missionary in South Africa before deciding to search for the source of the Nile (Hapi) in central Africa. His disappearance led Stanley on an arduous 9-month trek to find him.

While Livingstone was a prominent advocate of the anti-slavery movement, his "exploration" of South and Central Africa directly reinforced the "Scramble for Africa". European countries carved the continent into pieces as they fueled their enormous wealth and power by raping it of its human and natural wealth. Livingstone's life became a symbol for the European imperialism on the "Dark Continent". Emblematic of his unyielding arrogance was his decision to re-name the Lake Nalubaale in honor of the British Queen, Victoria.

Expedition certainly reintroduces these disturbing concepts into the current dialogue. Let's start with the title, Expedition Africa. Just where in Africa are they trekking? The message is that circumstances of individual countries are irrelevant here. Africa is just one brooding mass. Imagine if a program on a major cable network produced a show which pretended that the various countries of Europe were interchangeable. Perhaps we would see an Italian family speaking with a French accent. This would be ridiculous to most people. Africa is the only continent that routinely receives this sort of treatment. No wonder Sarah Palin thinks Africa is a country.

We can be sure that Expedition will also depict the continent as a wild, savage land. We won't get to see people living in villages, cities, or simply attending to human needs in the 21st century for that matter. This more accurate depiction would render their trek as ridiculous as it truly is. In fact, it has been reported that the team will intentionally traverse mountains that Stanley circumnavigated in order to create a more rugged trip. They will also steer clear of inhabited areas. I think the producers could have saved quite a bit of money by having the group circle the most naturalistic sections of New York City's Central Park.

Finally, I am told that the most reprehensible feature of the show will be the "native" guides who will simply blend into the background much like the animals, fauna, or landscape. According to Dan Zak of the Washington Post, the four explorers will have two Masai warriors along for protection and a cohort of Tanzanian porters to carry their luggage. Clearly this will be worse than the ubiquitous Tarzan movie of the 1950's. At least we knew that Tarzan was [racist] fiction hewn for Saturday matinees. The History Channel will be asking us to believe that this is reality television!

I, for one, will be carefully watching the reception of Expedition Africa. The pedantic historical reality show will be a perfect litmus test for our so-called post-racial, age of Obama. Expedition will give us an opportunity to discuss issues which cause discomfort for individuals of all backgrounds. I recall one of my white college professors genuinely asked me when we would no longer have to harp on the enslavement and marginalization of Africans. He seemed surprised when I immediately responded that I’d gladly focus on other issues when Africans are made whole economically, socially, and politically. Programs like Expedition Africa highlight areas where we've made very little progress. Funny ... today I think I understand how Heru felt floating injured among the reeds of the River Hapi after losing his first battle with Set. Clearly we have long way to go to re-member and vindicate our ancestors. Shem em Hetep (Go forth in Peace)!
Articles on Expedition Africa: Stanley and Livingston:

3 comments:

Sharai said...

hey, you made me want to see what these folks do with this show. when i was in zimbabwe, i visited the spot where the "dr. livingstone, i presume" stuff supposedly happened. it was an aggravating feeling to think of these people going through so much trouble for each other and regarding folks who lived in the area like part of the landscape. a beautiful landscape, though!

Djeden Ma'at Aten-Ra said...

I didn't realize that Stanley found Livingstone that far south. Do you remember where it was exactly? Did you watch the video under the post? Can you believe that the first words that are spoken by one of the "explorers" are "There's something about exploring Africa ... death is a possibly." The problem is that this depiction is so persistent, that most people probably don't see anything wrong with this comment!

Sharai said...

you're right. in fact, they met in tanzania in a town called ujiji, just west of zanzibar. i was confusing it with "victoria falls" named so by livingstone as you know.

that tv spot was good for words like "wild" and "hell," but my favorite part of the teaser was "we're gonna be punished by this continent."

if only they weren't talking of their self-manufactured adventure, but rather a true comeuppance.