French challenges U.S. neglect of African issues

By Linzi Sheldon, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Monday, April 4, 2005
New York Times senior writer Howard French questioned American apathy toward Africa, a continent with a history of ignored tragedy, during a weekend visit to the College. As well as informing his audience of Africa’s history, French challenged attendees — black or white — to see themselves as African-Americans with a historic obligation to the continent.
French also addressed the ingrained American apathy toward Africa, despite Africa’s contributions to the formation of the United States, at a Friday speech in Rockefeller Hall and at a discussion session Saturday afternoon.
“There is a generalized disregard for people of African descent,” French said, pointing out the absence of a national holiday to celebrate Africa and the millions who died crossing the Atlantic Ocean in slave ships.
If Americans have forgotten the continent, French said the public has been aided by the media’s lack of African coverage. He used the example of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country that has been ravaged by civil war and suffered over three million deaths. But French said American media coverage on the Congo has been inadequate at best, and the United States has failed to involve itself in the country.
“We have blocked large portions of humanity simply out of our minds,” French said.
French was not afraid to highlight Western racism against Africa as one of the reasons the U.S. has done little to aid development in the country.
“Americans flatter themselves,” he said, urging his audience to question whether they are as caring citizens as they believe. “We have played a part in Africa’s misery.”
French encouraged the audience to question the Bush administration and its often-grandiose rhetoric. U.S. policy has become centered on the virtues of spreading democracy, but French said American policy has become burdened with hypocrisy.
“Africa represents the lowest of the low in terms of our consideration,” he explained, talking about the U.S. government’s view of the forgotten continent. “[To the U.S. government], no amount of African lives is worth the loss of an American life.”
This phenomenon of disregarding Africa is unique, French said, and he contrasted it with the United States’ long-term interests in the oil-rich Middle East. Despite oil resources in Africa, including oil fields in Sudan, America has failed to assert a strong interest in the continent.
China, however, has not exhibited the same fear of involvement in war-ravaged Sudan, French said. Whereas the United States has delayed involvement in Sudan, where ethnic cleansing has brought about 300,000 deaths since 2003, China has signed oil contracts with the country and is attempting to secure more oil supplies in the region. China also recently joined with Russia to abstain on a U.N. vote seeking to impose sanctions on the leaders of Darfur killing gangs.
“Without competition, both economic and ideological, I think Africa will pay a steep price,” French said, accusing America of a blasé attitude towards the region and a tendency to remain uninvolved until other nations show interest. “I would like to see the United States integrate Africa into the world economy.”
Author of “A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa,” French began his journalism career freelance reporting in Africa. He covered the fall of Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and the conflict in the Congo, and earned Pulitzer Prize nomination for his coverage.
French pushed Americans to demand more from themselves. “Never forget Africa,” he said. “I really mean it when I say you’re an African-American too.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *