Taylor Swift Is Dreaming of a Very White Africa

James Kassaga Arinaitwe and Viviane Rutabingwa, NPR, September 1, 2015

The video for American singer Taylor Swift’s new song “Wildest Dreams” has been viewed more than 10 million times in the two days since it debuted.

The video was shot in Africa and California.

In it, we see two beautiful white people falling in love while surrounded by vast expanses of beautiful African landscapes and beautiful animals–a lion, a giraffe, a zebra.

Taylor Swift is dressed as a colonial-era woman on African soil. With just a few exceptions, the cast in the video–the actors playing her boyfriend and a movie director and his staff–all appear to be white.

We are shocked to think that in 2015, Taylor Swift, her record label and her video production group would think it was OK to film a video that presents a glamorous version of the white colonial fantasy of Africa. Of course, this is not the first time that white people have romanticized colonialism: See Louis Vuitton’s 2014 campaign, Ernest Hemingway’s Snows of Kilimanjaro, the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia and of course Karen Blixen’s memoir Out of Africa.

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Here are some facts for Swift and her team: Colonialism was neither romantic nor beautiful. It was exploitative and brutal. The legacy of colonialism still lives quite loudly to this day. Scholars have argued that poor economic performance, weak property rights and tribal tensions across the continent can be traced to colonial strategies. So can other woes. In a place full of devastation and lawlessness, diseases spread like wildfire, conflict breaks out and dictators grab power.

Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” are a visual representation of what the Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina writes about in his Granta Magazine essay, “How to Write About Africa.”

“In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.”

Why be encumbered with the African people or show them in your “Wildest Dreams” video when they are busy mutilating each other and their genitals?

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