Don't shoot anybody well-dressed -

Don’t shoot anybody well-dressed


On Thursday, Miss Universe Canada contestant Tiffany Munro wedged a big Miu Miu mule into her mouth while trying to encourage self-awareness about body image amongst some Oshawa high-school students. The pageant, she blurted out, didn’t want its competitors to look “like some little African child with the ribs going on.” Ouch. The crowd reacted with derision and anger while pageant rival Solange Tuyishime, who fled the Rwandan genocide as a child, crumbled in anguish. What might be easy to overlook is that Miss Tuyishime appears to know exactly who is to blame for Miss Munro’s gaffe, and it’s not (primarily) Miss Munro. It’s the media environment in which she was raised.

“I was hurt” by the reference to “stereotypical images they show on TV,” [Tuyishime] said in an interview. “It’s very sad that in 2010 when we make references to the poor, we think of African children, because poverty is everywhere.”

That’s obviously a bit of a stretch—if you’re looking for legitimately intense absolute poverty, Africa really would be the right place to start—but it’s true that we have all been deliberately stupefied by decades of development-industry marketing that hardly ever presents Africans as anything but fly-gnawed, pellagrous wraiths. Munro’s comment, certainly not meant to harm or demean anybody, reminds any young African who hears it that they are further decades away, perhaps generations, from persuading Westerners to cast off the accumulated horrors of do-gooder propaganda—all of it constructed by people who, collectively, could hardly have done more net harm to Africa if they were the inventors of HIV—and to see them as something other than victims. You’d get upset too.

But maybe we’re building a different, more rationalist and critical kind of do-gooder these days. Check out this little experiment by Canadian engineer Duncan McNicholl, who asks the radical question “What happens when we ask Africans how they want to be depicted in Western media?” (þ: Kottke)


Don’t shoot anybody well-dressed

  1. We all tend to think in the stereotypes we're presented with on TV…or even in early textbooks.

    It's how Stockwell Day returned from China astonished that the buildings weren't made of bamboo.

    • Or how Montrealers can go to Calgary and come back astonished that they didn't see a single book-burning, gay-bashing or Klan meeting, say.

      • Well, that IS unusual. Must have been an off day for the tour bus.

      • Or how Calgarians can go to Montreal and come back astonished that they didn't see a Canadian flag being burnt, were not called "des maudits anglais" and could be served in English, say.

        • No, that's when we visit Quebec City. ;-)

        • I don't recall seeing a canadian flag in montreal, except at the airport.

        • Actually, I couldn't get served in English until I murdered French.

    • Did Stockwell manage to notice that they were more economically capitalistic than our federal conservatives, and that that might be a clue as to why the Chinese are doing so much better? The Chinese, after all, actually listened to Milton Friedman about economics, but then got ear infection, when he argued that capitalism would eventually bring social freedom or the freed economy would not perservere.

  2. Thanks, Colby. A very interesting site, and an experiment in perception that's right up my decades-long fascination with the subject of media and its manipulation of our "realities."

  3. The Duncan McNicholl link was excellent. Thanks.

  4. we have all been deliberately stupefied by decades of development-industry marketing that hardly ever presents Africans as anything but fly-gnawed, pellagrous wraiths

    so are so full of it dude. taking five minutes to look at a bunch of different NGO websites would make clear that plenty of NGOs present a full range of images in portraying who the people of africa are. and to imply that all such imagery has come from the 'development do-gooders' is a crock too. do you really want me to beleive that the rest of the media provide a much more diverse range of regular images of Africans, Colby? please.

    and also, if you are going to make sensationalist claims — like all of it constructed by people who, collectively, could hardly have done more net harm to Africa if they were the inventors of HIV — you should prob provide some evidence to support your claims if you are serious about the point you are making. although it is hard to provide evidence for such blatant propaganda. this is offensive.

    • Yeah, I agree the whole HIV comment is a little over-the-top – at least expand on that opinion.

  5. Stereotypes? For many people, the only images they've seen of Africa are those television commercials showing kids with skeleton ribs. There are few African movies or television, and most people never travel there. Typically, a stereotype is an exaggeration where people know better. But in reality, many people know very little about Africa, so those commercials are all they have to go on. To top it off, many people talk about Africa as if it were one monolithic place, but of course there are many Africas and they are all unique, although poverty tends to a common thread throughout.

    • rarely have i said this scf, but that was an excellent post! i would give you dozens of thumbs up if i could.

      • Indeed. I wish Mr. Cosh could have taken such a bent while writing it.

    • I see a future Governor for Alaska there some day!

  6. 'crumbled in anguish'?? You'd think she'd be a little bit tougher if she had survived a Rwandan genocide…I guess she can claim PTSD now and go on a crying and whining tour with Dallaire.

  7. I think the reaction to the comment makes the wrong point.

    Sub-Saharan Africa IS the poorest region of the world. It has experienced virtually no growth since before decolonization. Only Botswana, Equatorial Guinea, Cape Verde, Lesotho and Swaziland have averaged real per capita growth in excess of 2% (the average for the region is below 1%/year). None of these are large countries, and most have explanations that are unlikely to represent general development models (ie. oil, diamonds or a particularly low starting point). Eight countries are actually poorer than they were in 1950. While per capita food consumption rose 19% worldwide since 1964, in Sub-Saharan Africa it rose far less (6.6%) despite a low starting point. Average food consumption in the region is below the daily recommended amount, and many people consume less than that.

    The problem is that Africa is not the only place suffering from starvation and endemic poverty, although it is probably the continent where the issue is most heavily concentrated. Misrepresenting the issue possibly diverts aid from other needy countries, and needlessly racializes the issue of poverty. Whenever we do this, it has negative implications for our treatment of racial minorities within our own borders. The portrayal of Africa as lawless, poor and backward influences white distrust of blacks (though many other groups of people and individuals of many races have high rates of poverty). The Muslim-terrorist association inspires fear of people from the Middle East (and often non-Muslim Indians too, because of a remarkable inability to differentiate), even though the country with the largest amount of terrorist activity is Colombia, and the group employing the largest number of suicide bombers was (until recently) the Tamil Tigers. The portrayal of Mexico as a crime-ridden slum works similarly in driving the immigration debate, although Mexico is a decidedly middle income country.

  8. One other thing, I think it is rather unhelpful that in Munro's talk about body image she uses herself in the present (5'10, 120 lbs, BMI of 17.2) as an example of being healthy, while she refers to her past (5'10, 180 lbs, BMI 25.8) as an example of having weight issues. Both are, by the technical definition (BMI being a deeply flawed concept), unhealthy weights, and of late it appears there are far more problems associated with being underweight rather than slightly overweight.

  9. I wonder if anyone in the world still has a copy of "Dying With Flies On My Face", by Nobby Clegg and the Civilians, a song on this very topic which CFNY in Toronto used to play 25 years ago or so? It hasn't dated a moment.

  10. What struck me most when I visited West Africa a few years ago is that Africans are impeccable dressers. Even the destitute. We saw people sleeping under bridges in what looked starched shirts and pressed pants. I have now idea how they pulled this off. We felt like total slobs in our dirty shorts and T-Shirts.

  11. As an Edmontonian, I can't help by reading these comments understanding fully why the world is as it is, and yet our species has yet to hang their head in shame. And if you want to talk truths, poverty is the least of the worries of children residing in Africa. Shall we talk of the Sudan, where girls have been handcuffed, raped and set on fire, while we busy ourselves with risk assessments, or shall we talk of the horrors children in the Congo face, or lets just talk about how many orphans and child run households exist within the continent or about the oppression of women and consistent rapes that occur……… Or lets talk globally shall we, over 800,000 people will trafficked like cattle this year, many of which are children sold into the sex trade ( over 30 million people are slaves currently); 2 million people died from HIV in 2008 and 3 million were infected and thats a decline; over 3 million girls shall be forced to undergo female genital mutilation this year; and over 45% of the occupied land mass of this planet is at a stage 5 genocide or higher…….I wonder what the world would look like if our forsaken children could get as much press, as one comment does.