“Whole Foods is a point of entry into a new version of American whiteness, one which leans on a pseudo recognition of diversity through sanitized food presentation. It offers a new order of “otherness” in which the other is a pleasant-looking piece of food, totally safe, and with a pedigree. Within the Whole Foods’ bubble we are turned instantly sophisticated, and the store becomes the place where we can self-indulge in notions of cosmopolitan openness to world products and political struggles. To buy an avocado “with a background” ends up, dangerously, filling the space of our urge for political awareness. The store did the math for us, as well as all the thinking, so we can “shop with confidence” and just relax.
The whole process does something rather particular: It creates the illusion of an “independent” understanding within the larger implications of corporate intervention in defining a food’s background. In establishing a perimeter of commercial values based on social responsibility, Whole Foods depoliticizes us. Worse, for those already sinking into the hybrid life of a world without politics, it offers a parachute, a sort of immunity: “I shop here so, by extension, I know a thing or two about social awareness.”
Whole Foods unavoidably widens the gap between people who have everything and people who have nothing: How can super expensive foods that look like an invention of Edward Weston’s camera - that the majority of the world cannot afford, or would laugh about - be synonymous with social responsibility? This is truly a modern enigma.
The recent situation with quinoa, the “hot” and “trendy” new grain that we are suddenly unable to live without - and without which we are suddenly missing essential nutrients to keep us alive - is case in point. Paola Flores, filing for the AP from La Paz, Bolivia, reports that “[t]he scramble to grow more (quinoa) is prompting Bolivian farmers to abandon traditional land management practices, endangering the fragile ecosystem of the arid highlands, agronomists say.” A quinoa emergency, then, at the bulk bins. A separate exposé published in the Guardian goes even further: “[T]here is an unpalatable truth to face for those of us with a bag of quinoa in the larder. The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken.” Whether we blame vegans or hipsters or the organic food movement or a lack of appropriate trade regulations, the troubling truth about quinoa represents that repetitive drama between the West and rest in which our voracious consumption depletes yet another land and another people.
Whole Foods widens the gaps, and it does so in the most subtle and displacing manner, giving us an environment (the actually sanitized, spotless physical space) that is the embodiment of an elite (yet perceived as “open,” especially through the chain’s less pricey “360” product line) that finds itself at home within a soulless, sterilized experiences. The notion of gentrification has been surpassed, attaining the space of a perennial state of mind. This is where even an apple turns into an object/jewelry of desire, not of need, or at least of normality. In that sense, Whole Foods is simply the last piece in the long, familiar chain of shifting perceptions in neo-capitalistic societies that exploded after the Second World War, in which the creation and multiplication of desires is central to the self-preservation of the system.”
Taking a page out of the Gospel of Pat Robertson, Chibly Langlois, Haiti’s first Roman Catholic cardinal revealed the “big social problem” in Haiti: Vodou. He argued that Vodou offers “magic” but no real solutions to a population deprived of justice and a political voice.
“If a person is well educated and has the financial means, they will go to a doctor [instead of the Vodou priest] when they get sick. If that same person went to the court to get justice they would not go to the Vodou priest to get revenge. It’s a big problem for the church. And for Haiti," Langlois said.
This uncritical scapegoating of the Vodou religion (called Santeria in Cuba and Candomblé in Brazil) as the source of Haiti’s problems is typical amongst Catholics and their evangelical Christian counterparts. It implies that Christianity provides you not only with enlightenment from your backwards ways, but financial gains…I guess Italy and Greece just haven’t been praying hard enough!
In my travels around Haiti, I have come across many villages where there is no police presence and nor is there a clinic nearby for basic care, often leaving the Vodou priest or priestess( hougans and manbos) to serve every role from midwife to judge and jury. Yet Langlois and the Catholic Church he represents remain silent on the deeply imbedded inequality in Haiti and a Haitian government more interested in attracting foreign tourists by any means than providing basic social services to its people. He also fails to critique the international community who have little to show for $9 billion funneled through international contractors and NGOs in Haiti with little accountability since the 2010 earthquake.
Contrary to the Cardinal’s statement, Vodou is not Haiti’s problem; Christianity is. No push to spread Vodou ever wiped out entire “savage” indigenous peoples. Vodou has caused no wars due to a desire to convert as many people as possible. Vodou doesn’t tell “saved souls” that they must be complacent, accepting their lot on Earth for the potential of future salvation in heaven. Vodou never told Black people they were a curse or 3/5ths of a person.
Vodou is of the belief system that sustained our ancestors across the Middle Passage, during the brutality of the plantation, and through the victories of slave rebellions. Haiti should never apologize for it.
Christianity and the West’s real problem with Vodou is that, like the Maroons who practiced it, it remains elusive to those who would aim to profit off of it, package it, and control it. Unlike Hinduism or Buddhism, Westerners can’t take a “spiritual journey” to Haiti to “find themselves” in a Vodou temple. Vodou remains a religion steeped in African traditions, for people of African descent, and based on an understanding of the linkages between the natural and spiritual world—Hollywood can’t make a Julia Roberts movie out of that.
Haiti and all the worlds’ poor need a Cardinal that can speak up for “real solutions to a population deprived of justice and a political voice” such as a judicial system free from corruption and accessible to all its people, access to quality healthcare for all regardless of income, free and compulsory primary education, and jobs that pay a living wage. Or even a Cardinal who can simply stand up to a UN who refuses to acknowledge its responsibility for a cholera epidemic that’s killed 9,000+ Haitians. A Church that remains silent on all these issues is a problem.
Unfortunately, it’s far easier for Langlois to shame the poor and Vodouists rather than risk his position in the gilded halls of the Vatican by taking a stand for social justice. As Gandhi once lamented, “You Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
France François is the blogger behind the Black in Cairo blog and has a background in development and conflict resolution. Tweet her: @frenchieglobal
#intagrammingafrica: The narcissism of global voluntourism.
By Lauren Kascak with Sayantani DasGupta PhD
An article in The Onion mocks voluntourism, joking that a 6-day visit to a rural African village can “completely change a woman’s facebook profile picture.” The article quotes “22-year old Angela Fisher” who says:
I don’t think my profile photo will ever be the same, not after the experience of taking such incredible pictures with my arms around those small African children’s shoulders.
It goes on to say that Fisher “has been encouraging every one of her friends to visit Africa, promising that it would change their Facebook profile photos as well.”
I was once Angela Fisher. But I’m not any more.
I have participated in not one but three separate, and increasingly disillusioning, international health brigades, short-term visits to developing countries that involve bringing health care to struggling populations.
Such trips – critically called voluntourism — are a booming business, even though they do very little advertising and charge people thousands of dollars to participate.
How do they attract so many paying volunteers?
Photography is a big part of the answer. Voluntourism organizations don’t have to advertise, because they can crowdsource. Photography – particularly the habit of taking and posting selfies with local children – is a central component of the voluntourism experience. Hashtags like #InstagrammingAfrica are popular with students on international health brigades, as are #medicalbrigades, #globalhealth, and of course the nostalgic-for-the-good-days hashtag #takemeback.
It was the photographs posted by other students that inspired me to go on my first overseas medical mission. When classmates uploaded the experience of themselves wearing scrubs beside adorable children in developing countries, I believed I was missing out on a pivotal pre-med experience. I took over 200 photos on my first international volunteer mission. I modeled those I had seen on Facebook and even premeditated photo opportunities to acquire the “perfect” image that would receive the most “likes.”
Over time, I felt increasingly uncomfortable with the ethics of those photographs, and ultimately left my camera at home. Now, as an insider, I see three common types of photographs voluntourists share through social media: The Suffering Other, The Self-Directed Samaritan, and The Overseas Selfie.
The Suffering Other
In a photograph taken by a fellow voluntourist in Ghana (not shown), a child stands isolated with her bare feet digging in the dirt. Her hands pull up her shirt to expose an umbilical hernia, distended belly, and a pair of too-big underwear. Her face is uncertain and her scalp shows evidence of dermatological pathology or a nutritional deficiency—maybe both. Behind her, only weeds grow.
Anthropologists Arthur and Joan Kleinman note that images of distant, suffering women and children suggest there are communities incapable of or uninterested in caring for its own people. These photographs justify colonialist, paternalistic attitudes and policies, suggesting that the individual in the photograph…
…must be protected, as well as represented, by others. The image of the subaltern conjures up an almost neocolonial ideology of failure, inadequacy, passivity, fatalism, and inevitability. Something must be done, and it must be done soon, but from outside the local setting. The authorization of action through an appeal for foreign aid, even foreign intervention, begins with an evocation of indigenous absence, an erasure of local voices and acts.
The Self-directed Samaritan
Above we have a smiling young white girl with a French braid, medical scrubs, and a well-intentioned smile. This young lady is the centerpiece of the photo; she is its protagonist. Her scrubs suggest that she is doing important work among those who are so poor, sovulnerable, and so Other.
The girl is me. And the photograph was taken on my first trip to Ghana during a 10 day medical brigade. I’m beaming in the photograph, half towering and half hovering over these children. I do not know their names, they do not know my name, but I directed a friend to capture this moment with my own camera. Why?
This photograph is less about doing actual work and more about retrospectively appearing to have had a positive impact overseas. Photographs like these represent the overseas experience in accordance with what writer Teju Cole calls the “White Savior Industrial Complex.”
Moreover, in directing, capturing, and performing in photos such as these, voluntourists prevent themselves from actually engaging with the others in the photo. In On Photography, Susan Sontag reminds us:
Photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing – which means that…it is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.
On these trips, we hide behind the lens, consuming the world around us with our powerful gazes and the clicking of camera shutters. When I directed this photo opportunity and starred in it, I used my privilege to capture a photograph that made me feel as though I was engaging with the community. Only now do I realize that what I was actually doing was making myself the hero/star in a story about “suffering Africa.”
The Overseas Selfie
[Photo removed in response to a request from Global Brigades.]
In his New York Times Op-Ed, that modern champion of the selfie James Franco wrote:
Selfies are avatars: Mini-Me’s that we send out to give others a sense of who we are … In our age of social networking, the selfie is the new way to look someone right in the eye and say, “Hello, this is me.”
Although related to the Self-Directed Samaritan shot, there’s something extra-insidious about this type of super-close range photo. “Hello, this is me” takes on new meaning – there is only one subject in this photo, the white subject. Capturing this image and posting it on the internet is to understand the Other not as a separate person who exists in the context of their own family or community but rather, as a prop, an extra, someone only intelligible in relation to the Western volunteer.
Voluntourism is ultimately about the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the communities they visit. In fact, medical volunteerism often breaks down existing local health systems. In Ghana, I realized that that local people weren’t purchasing health insurance, since they knew there would be free foreign health care and medications available every few months. This left them vulnerable in the intervening times, not to mention when the organization would leave the community.
In the end, the Africa we voluntourists photograph isn’t a real place at all. It is an imaginary geography whose landscapes are forged by colonialism, as well as a good deal of narcissism. I hope my fellow students think critically about what they are doing and why before they sign up for a short-term global volunteer experience. And if they do go, it is my hope that they might think with some degree of narrative humility about how to de-center themselves from the Western savior narrative. Most importantly, I hope they leave their iphones at home.
UPDATE: Racist Chinese restaurant in Nairobi has been closed!
Yesterday 3/23/2015, I posted the photo below from the Daily Nation (Kenya)
I checked back online today and saw the restaurant has been closed. Here is the article by Samuel Karanja:
A Chinese restaurant with a controversial policy of barring black Kenyans after 5pm has been closed by the Nairobi County government.
The restaurant in Kilimani did not have a liquor licence, a health licence and a change-of-use licence — having been converted from a residential house to a restaurant.
Governor Evans Kidero said though the restaurant management had acquired a licence to run the business, they did not have the other three documents to operate.
“After investigations, we have established that the restaurant did not have the licences and I have ordered it closed until the management complies,” said Dr Kidero while addressing the media in his office.
“I have ordered the inspectorate and the liquor licensing board to close it with immediate effect,” he added.
The governor admitted that city inspectorate officers had failed to ensure compliance, adding that steps would be taken against those who failed at their job.
He added that investigations would be launched on how the restaurant operated without the three crucial documents for three years.
The governor said a thorough inspection would be conducted to ensure that all hotels and restaurants operate with the city laws.
The restaurant’s management had earlier apologised for not admitting black Kenyans after 5pm, saying the move was necessary following a robbery in 2013.
The owners also said they had been “operating legally for many years” treating all customers equally.
“Because of the concern of the business environment at night and the bad memory of … 2013, we adopted certain measures. Unfortunately, some of the measures were inappropriate, we sincerely apologise for this,” the management said in a statement.
Did you know many African countries continue to pay colonial tax to France since their independence till today and They are obliged by France to put all they money into French central bank under French minister of Finance control It’s such an evil system even denounced by the European Union but France is not ready to move from that colonial system which puts about 500 billions dollars from Africa to its treasury every year Take the Example of Togo After the independence of the country, France asked the small and poor country to pay for the benefit they’ve got from french colonisation The reimbursement of that so called “colonial debt” was close to 40% of the country budget in 1963 and Till today, 2013, Togo and about 20 other African countries still have to pay colonial debt to France African leaders who refuse are killed and During the last 50 years 45 coup were committed in Africa by French mercenaries and proxies
Meet Kenyan artist Michael Soi, who is considered to be a part of the next generation of prominent Kenyan artists. Soi started his career as a sculptor and later evolved into a unique and ecclectic visual artist. A majority of his work touches on socio-political concerns. Soi’s art addresses issues of political freedom, self-indulgence and Kenya’s growing sex industry through his own comical interpretation.
There has been much discussion as well as different opinions in regards to China’s involvement in Africa. China is now Africa’s major trade partner and in some cases has been viewed as an exploiter of Africa’s raw materials. “China Loves Africa” was Michael Soi’s 18-piece series that not only captured China’s associations with Africa but also highlighted the manipulative ways that he saw China acting as Africa’s neo-colonist.
“African leaders are seeking trade partners who will not ask questions; so in essence, China is Africa’s sugar daddy. ” - Michael Soi