People are calling it patently “racist”. Others say it has so many offensive stereotypes about Africa assembled in one piece it’s almost a masterpiece. That’s how the internet is reacting to a piece by Louise Linton, a self-described ‘skinny white muzungu with long angel hair’ who somehow managed to turn the horror of the war in the Congo into a vacuous “White Saviour” personal growth story with all the attendant clichés. For many, it’s almost too infuriating for words.
If you thought the White Saviour complex was on its deathbed then prepare to be shocked. A new piece published by the UK’s Telegraph proves the disturbing complex is alive and well. It might even be experiencing something of a growth spurt.
Skinny white muzungu with long angel hair
The offending article is by Louise Linton, a Scottish actress, who came to “find herself” in Africa when she was 18 after the death of her mother. She landed in Zambia near the border with the Congo, a place she says “was the most remote country on the list I was given and the one most in need.” Though barely out of school herself, our young heroine had big plans. She wanted to teach “the villagers English” and educate “them about the world”.
Evidently, life in Africa was a breeze at the start. Linton even found herself a made-to-order sidekick worthy of her pity.
“Life was idyllic at first, a gap year student’s dream. My new home was beautiful and I made close friendships with the local Bemba people. I learned some of their language, planted a vegetable garden and created a little school under a Mukusi tree, writing about my experiences in my diary. I was still struggling with the loss of my mother and found special comfort in my bond with Zimba, a six-year-old orphan girl with HIV who called me “Ru-eese”.”
She wanted to teach “the villagers English” and educate “them about the world”.
But alas, trouble wasn’t far away. Linton “soon learned that Africa is rife with hidden danger” as war spilled over from the neighbouring Congo. She repeatedly uses her whiteness to contrast with the horrors happenings around her. For example, she says had to flee because she feared what “the rebels would do” if they found the ‘skinny white muzungu with long angel hair”.
They are poor, but they are happy
Also, despite the fact that many people were dying around her, Linton somehow thinks she is “a central character in this horror story.” She is completely oblivious of the fact that she is using her experience in Africa, terrible as it may have been, to validate her white privilege.
Linton eventually got away to safety. Her piece, apparently excerpted from an upcoming memoir, traffics in many other stereotypes about Africa that we can’t go into for reasons of space. But we have room for one more. As if to demonstrate how blind she and the publishers of the article are to the offence it may cause, they even end the piece with yet another cloying cliché, this one to let us know that our heroine still feels whiffs of nostalgia for the time she spent in Africa. It’s a gem that riffs off classics like “they are poor, but they are happy” and “I want to be as happy as they are with so little”.
“Now that I’m a grown woman living in California and pursuing a very different dream – as an actress and film producer – I know that the skinny white girl once so incongruous in Africa still lives on inside me. Even in this world where I’m supposed to belong, I still sometimes feel out of place. Whenever that happens, though, I try to remember a smiling gap-toothed child with HIV whose greatest joy was to sit on my lap and drink from a bottle of Coca-Cola. Zimba taught me many beautiful words but the one I like the most is Nsansa. Happiness.”
It’s a gem that riffs off classics like “they are poor, but they are happy” and “I want to be as happy as they are with so little”.
“Whitest story of the year”
The book excerpt hasn’t been received well online. In fact, some are convinced it is somehow a work of parody making fun of the White Saviour complex instead of a naked and shameless exhibition of it.
— Ryan Kohls (@ryankohls) July 4, 2016
How is this not parody https://t.co/1zH3zuRXmt
— Jillian C. York (@jilliancyork) July 4, 2016
— James Longman (@JamesAALongman) July 4, 2016
Many people, however, are just surprised at the tone deafness displayed in the piece and are shocked that it could be even be published by the Telegraph, a paper which is supposed to know better
“I soon learned that Africa is rife with hidden danger”
How does this orientalist/colonial stuff get published?
— Lindsey Hilsum (@lindseyhilsum) July 4, 2016
A blonde in peril, proclaiming her virtue + innocence in the “bush” as she imagines rape and random violence, https://t.co/COAhI7wYfo
— Howard French (@hofrench) July 4, 2016
— Grethe Kemp (@the_rantingpony) July 4, 2016