Recently, a friend of mine who just returned from a semester abroad in Capetown sent me a link to Gurl Goes to Africa. The site is basically a Failbook for peoples’ pictures from their study abroad experiences in various African countries. I’ve been trying to decide how I feel about the site.
On the one hand, some of the material showcased—the photos of white Americans quite literally riding on the backs of Africans—are cringeworthy. Folks should know better than to a) do that and b) photograph and post it without massive context provided.
A lot of the photos aren’t that offensive, but are of the “starving African child with white person” genre—they’re aid brochure photos. And I do think that the comments on the photos (many of which are along the lines of “I couldn’t tell which one was you! lol”) deserve to be critiqued.
However, I think the site conflates the two and assigns them equal degrees of offensiveness when they’re not there. Should we question why photos of children are the dominant narrative for peoples’ study abroad experiences in various parts of Africa? Of course.
But—and I say this as someone who will no doubt take photos of her host siblings—not all photos of children are racist holdovers. Some are just the acknowledgement of the existence of children in the location that one traveled to. Photos of random street children (or other peoples’ kids) are offensive, but photos of people you know who happen to be children aren’t, at least to me.
What becomes an issue is when that’s all you photograph. However, because of the Failbook setup of the blog, the photos are all from individual contributers. I have no idea if this is one photo of a person’s host brother, or one of eighty photos of the Poor African Children.
The other issue that bothers me a little bit is that the blog is aggressively mocking women. White American women make up the majority (like 90%) of the people made fun of in the posts. The blog’s name makes fun of women travelers specifically. There are some men featured, but if the blog’s intent is to make fun of the Africa as Country view (as well as the Africa as Location for Anti-Consumerist Fantasies of the Wealthy view) then men and women can be more equally lampooned. I find it uncomfortable that there is page after page after page just of women being somewhat cattily made fun of. It implies a view that men aren’t as silly as these Gurls are.
My suspicion is that the blog author just particularly dislikes photos of Americans and African children (legitimately problematic) but that as a result of women being more likely to interact with children when traveling, the photos are skewed.
The behavior and viewpoint that the blog is satirizing deserve to be made fun of. But the way in which it’s done makes me uncomfortable. Am I just being oversensitive?