Thursday, January 5, 2012

Micro-Rant on Geographical Semantics.

I am absolutely not the first person to point this out—nor, hopefully, will I be the last—but upon paging through my local newspaper this morning, I came across the following headline & was immediately struck by a wave of profound & interrobang-laced indignation:

Now, no one loves a good movie pun more than I do, & while the Out of Africa linkage is more than a little forced in this case, I would be willing to accept it, I suppose—chalk it up to inept headlining & all (Lord knows I once tried to call an article about Knitting Culture "Needle Exchange")—were it not for sentences like this:
Auerbach said she initially had no idea what African people needed. But through her interactions, she found two needs: school tuition and income.
First of all, "needed" followed immediately by "needs"? Let's vary our word choice, please. More disturbing than stylistics, though, is the geographical adjective: though the reporter has already specified that Ms. Auerbach did her subhead-touted chance-giving in Uganda, the sentence still reads "what African people needed."

In fact, in my estimation, what "African people" need is for people to stop blithely referring to them as "African"—to recognize that Africa is a continent, not a country, nor a "nation" (thanks again, Mr. Bush)—that it is, in fact, made up of many of these, each of which is host to its own separate concerns.

While Americans are also apt to use other continent-consuming adjectives in similarly problematic ways (re: "European techno sounds like a very unhappy cat being shoved through a synthesizer"), I still think we can all agree that each individual country therein gets far more autonomous consideration far more often. For example, if Friendly Suburban Lady decided to bring her Dell laptops to a village in Thailand, we wouldn't say she figured out "what Asian people needed."

It's a frustrating semantic trend to be sure—one I think is symptomatic of a far larger conceptual Othering, but that's a problem for other days & greater minds. For now, let's just concentrate on our words—which we can change, now, ASAP.

(Also, because this post is simply begging for it, here's a link to "I Studied Abroad in Africa!," an "I'm laughing in disbelief"-type Tumblr on which this article would be right at home. Also, here's one pseudo-relevant recent post—though, to her credit, this woman did at least say "Ugandan.")

Today's Headphone Fodder:

I've long appreciated VV Brown & her wispy-voiced, rounded-voweled retro-techno-pop style—especially as regards her truly brilliant cover of "This Charming Man." Recently, though, I've found myself particularly drawn to this song—its chorus's nonsensical string of warnings beckoning through the surge of computerized brass.

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