I Studied Abroad in Africa

So.

You go to one of those fabulously elitist schools where everyone talks about privilege, classism, racism, sexism, etc. as if they don’t practice it in real life. But in order to really see the world, they decide to go somewhere where they can understand what their privilege looks like. So they choose AFRICA! Yay! A whole continent dedicated to helping white people understand what it means to be poor and undeveloped.

This is for all you fabulous biddies who decided that Africa was the right place for you. There’s nothing like good ‘ole exotification to fill up your time while basking in the hot Saharan sun, wearing your “traditional” African clothes, eating “weird” foods and taking as many photos of black children as possible. You go, Gurl with lots of privilege! This is dedicated to you.

– From I Studied Abroad in Africa! Blog

This is basically what goes through my head when I hear someone is going to an African country (and don’t live there) or when I see Facebook albums filled with photos from “Africa” — wherever that is. Not Uganda, not Sengal, not Kenya — AFRICA. I usually call people out on things like this. Africa is a continent. It would be like referring to the United States as North America. Oh. Okay.

Source: I Studied Abroad in Africa

But I don’t really know what I find so uncomfortable about these “white girl with many black school children” photos. When I cringe at their photos — I have no legitimate reason to back it up. It just feels wrong. It feels like their motivations for going to that country and interacting with their people may have been well-intentioned but misplaced. Plus most of their pictures seem like they’re more focused on posing for the camera then the actual children. The girl in the photo above reminds me of a “savior” Jesus pose — which has many implications. The girl below with her sunglasses looks like she’s holding an accessory item, not a child. Something just feels off to me.

There are a lot of assumptions being made on my part, but it also may be that these pictures remind me of 6.25 War stories that my grandfather used to tell (better known as the Korean War in America). He told me about how when he was little, he would sometimes feel the earth shake — and that’s when he would run outside because he knew the American soldiers were coming in their tanks. The soldiers would occasionally stop to pet them on the head and throw out candy. He still bitterly remembers how a kid in his town knew how to say “Number 1!” in English. The soldiers would give a deep-throated laugh at the kid’s broken English and throw out extra candy for him.

My grandfather told me that story without any particular animosity towards American soldiers, but for some reason, he still very strongly associates power with America and one’s ability to speak English. He’s the main reason my father came to the States for his doctorate and also why my mother was coerced to leave again in 2005. “Do it for the children,” my grandfather told her. The idea has been engrained in him since the war. The American soldiers were there in their regal uniforms, untouched by the poverty and hunger that he himself was drowning in. They had come to “save” Korea. But they also had the option of leaving Korea — and return to their clean and plentiful Garden of Eden called America. All this power and greatness were attributed to them being Americans. At least, that’s what it seemed like to my grandfather when he was crawling on all fours to grab at the tootsie rolls off the gravel road as the tanks drove off, kicking up dust in their wake.

I don’t know. Maybe that story has nothing to do with the white girls in Africa. But then I again, I think it kind of does.

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