A Guide To The English For The Uninitiated by Jendella*
The people of England are generally quite miserable, but it is understandable. The schizophrenic weather, which usually errs on the side of awful, leaves a permanent dampness in the air that permeates the bones, and the dourness of the politicians, the uptightness of the wealthy and the general rudeness of the population is a side-affect of this. While one of the wealthiest nations on earth, you would be forgiven for thinking that the English were ungrateful. Complaining is the second most popular national sport (after football, of course), and is often the common ground upon which connections with strangers are made. The most unfortunate aspect of the English is that after centuries of trampling over the cultural identities of others, they have lost their own; left with the feeble remains of colonial pride, the fiercely ignored sting of white guilt and a country that, due to the bitter hangover after drunken years of pillaging and plundering foreign soils, is changing faster than the average Englishman can grasp hold of. You can almost sympathise with them, understanding why their attitude is a sharp and narrow as their facial features.
*this guide is a facetious ode to the privileged white travel writer everywhere
*** *** ***
I gave it a try, I really did.
A travel book about Africa written by a white American man, what on earth could be wrong with that?
The Lost Kingdoms of Africa by Jeffrey Taylor was a spontaneous purchase. I saw it languishing on display in a branch of a discount bookshop, and my curiosity was justified by the £1 price tag. This was over two years ago. I wasn’t really rushing to read about Mr Taylor’s “journeying through Muslim Africa” due to the fact that, well, he’s a white American man travelling through “Muslim Africa”. It is an international literary disaster waiting to happen, right?
“Jen, you really shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover!” *haw-haw* “And no bought book should go un-read, think of the trees, it’s a travesty to ignore this lonely book!”
Unfortunately, my gut instinct was correct.
"[Colonial occupation], however, turned out to be the good old days. Since independence, Chad’s history has been a chronicle of chaos and slaughter relieved by famine and drought."
"Northern Chad was what it looked to be: thousands of square miles of barren, useless terrain."
"…the sultan here ruled over desert, stone houses, and poor people, but thanks to legend his office commands respect that the screeching soldiers and pseudo-European pomp of the presidency and government in N’Djamena would never enjoy."
And the sentence that broke the camel’s back:
"I fell asleep thinking that Nigeria was more than the sum of its huts and inhabitants; the grand notions it evoked created, for me, romance and a thrill."
Admittedly, reading this book was a stop-and-start affair. I tossed it aside twice thinking “are you kidding me?!”, but persevered due to the fact that I was interested to find out more about Chad (the first country that Taylor visited), as due to my Western education and the arrogance afforded me by my Yoruba heritage I really knew nothing about it as a country. The unfortunate thing is that due to my lack of knowledge about Chad, I could only take Taylor’s soliloquies about poverty, barrenness and wild-eyed soldiers at face value. I mean, I had my suspicions that Taylor’s observations were patronising and shallow, but I had no other reference points. When he came to Nigeria however…*makes clicking noise in throat and shakes head*
I was going to throw the book out, or recycle its pages for some kind of creative exploit, but instead I decided to leave it on my shelf as a testament for the need of diverse voices. How can I ever stop writing (or keep my writing to myself out of fear) when other writers and publishers have the audacity to put out such *expletive*.
"If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it."
– Zora Neale Hurston
This is why organisations like Media Diversified (or @WritersOfColour on Twitter) are so flippin’ important. The work they are doing is amazing, especially in light of the limited resources they are working with. They are currently running a Kickstarter campaign to expand their work, so check it out and donate, donate, go and bloody donate.
STOP THE WHITEWASH.