Binyavanga Wainaina is a Kenyan writer and founding editor of the literary journal Kwani? in Kenya. A couple of years ago one of his articles appeared in Granta and since then it continues to inspire and provoke the literary world.
The article was titled How Not to Write About Africa where he confronts outdated and dangerous Western stereotypes of African-ess.
After celebrity activists and aid workers, conservationists are Africa’s most important people. Do not offend them. You need them to invite you to their 30,000-acre game ranch or ‘conservation area’, and this is the only way you will get to interview the celebrity activist. Often a book cover with a heroic-looking conservationist on it works magic for sales. Anybody white, tanned and wearing khaki who once had a pet antelope or a farm is a conservationist, one who is preserving Africa’s rich heritage. When interviewing him or her, do not ask how much funding they have; do not ask how much money they make off their game. Never ask how much they pay their employees.
Thought provoking, inspirational and humbling.
The fact of the matter is that many writers tend to use clichés when writing on cultures they are least used to. Not bothering to make the distinction between one headgear and another, between one type of dance and the next.
Not willing to take the time and put the effort for such distinctions results in just bad writing, and this holds not only when writing for different cultures but genders too.