White Man’s Tears

Though I’ve belted you and flayed you / By the living God that made you / You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. – Rudyard Kipling, of course.

There’s a horrendous meme picture surfing the tubes which compares the picture of a recently dead celebrity (Steve Jobs, Whitney Houston, etc.) with the caption “one dies, millions cry” with a picture of a small African child with the caption, “millions die, no one cries.” My instant reaction first seeing it was, “What about their fucking families? Or do they not count because they’re not white Americans?” I think Teju Cole would have a similar reaction on the picture but with a far more sharp prescription that the kid is far better off if American’s didn’t care.

Twitter which is no place to make an eloquent statement but a grand place for snark has led Cole to write a beautiful, concise, and unpersuasive essay on the “White Savior Industrial Complex.”  While watching the social media new darling Kony 2012 Cole wrote several tweets going after not only Invisible Children but Kristof, Oprah, and any white dude who thinks they got Africa problems down cold after watching a 30-minute video. As way of explanation Cole writes,

“Those tweets, though unpremeditated, were intentional in their irony and seriousness. I did not write them to score cheap points, much less to hurt anyone’s feelings. I believed that a certain kind of language is too infrequently seen in our public discourse. I am a novelist. I traffic in subtleties, and my goal in writing a novel is to leave the reader not knowing what to think. A good novel shouldn’t have a point.”

I’m interested in Cole’s opinion on twitter in general, which strangled subtly in the crib with Zach Snyder filming it but that’s an issue for another time. Let’s keep our eyes on those suddenly caring about Africa.

There’s all sort of arguments if the inside man or the outsider understands and fixes problems better. If a new, neutral position can lead to better solutions than those who have lived it and the greatest drive to solve it. Naturally the argument tends to focuses on the specific circumstances of the situation. Now here Cole understands Africa to a near infinite level higher than me. And the Western World in general has dug a strip mining-size hole when it comes to Asia, Africa, Australia, indigenous people, well you know pretty much everyone else and I shall not dream to lecture Cole on the issue, I do think there’s something I could write about human nature.

Where Cole sees a nuisance, a savvy politician would see clay for the art of the possible. People enthusiastic to save the world should be recognize as dangerous but it should also be recognize as a great tool. Short of demanding complete inaction, a very difficult solution to push as any realist arguing against humanitarian solutions can tell you. Instead, Cole suggests a course correction based around “the money-driven villainy at the heart of American foreign policy” which is as simplistic as anything suggested by IC. Cole is a novelist and not someone who is theoretically wiling to lead a crusade against crusades. His weariness is probably best served with this essay and maybe future writing. But I have a hard time staring at such a potential force for good without dreaming someone has to take them seriously and make some use of them. Hell, a babysitter is at least needed to keep them out of trouble. Asking them to keep out of the cookie jar has never stopped an Empire before, I’m hard-pressed to believe asking it snarkly was the secret.

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