No, Taylor Swift, Africa was not like that
Taylor Swift’s new video, shot “in Africa” (because apparently Africa is a country), according to its director, Joseph Kahn, is all colonial glamour and oldtime safari couture with not a black person in sight.
In the video for the song, Wildest Dreams, Swift – dressed in khaki pants, boots and a light, cotton shirt – is involved in an affair with a dashing actor on a movie set in [I’m assuming] the savannah. There are giraffes, lions and shots that pan across the orange sky.
While websites like Buzzfeed have sung the video’s praises, calling it “perfection” and “a Swift-blessed masterpiece”, I couldn’t help but recall all the other times white people have romanticised the colonial era, erasing the violence on black people that enabled this wealthy, “golden” time for whites.
Take, for instance, the white South African couple in 2010 who themed their wedding Colonial Africa. Guests posed with vintage guns, safari hats and suitcases while being served by black waiters wearing red fezzes.
Interestingly, while looking up this story again on the internet, I came across another wedding décor site called Ninirichi, which proudly advertised its work on a recent In Love with Africa wedding that “was inspired by Ralph Lauren ad campaigns, colonial Africa, bush lodge chic ... game drives and sunsets”. I wonder if the décor comes with slaves?
Hollywood actress Blake Lively yearns for the “Georgia peaches, sweet tea, and ... Southern charm” of the era of slavery and plantations in the US. That is, if we are to believe the write-up for a “Southern belle” fashion spread on her website. But are we surprised, considering that her 2012 wedding took place at Boone Hall, a famous US plantation?
For people like Swift and Lively, colonialism was a time of sunsets, linen shirts and G & Ts. Africa was the white man’s playground, where brawny men shot big game from the backs of open vehicles, women wore wide-brimmed hats and black servants brought drinks on silver trays.
But perhaps, more worrying, is the fact that, in many ways, that’s how Africa still is.
Visit any game lodge and you’ll see the décor built on these colonial remnants. Never mind that the guests are still almost always white and the waiters black. The only thing that seems to have changed is that there are fewer animals now and the drinks are more expensive. By continuing these misguided imaginings of the colonial era, we are erasing and repainting what really happened.
Depending on where you stand on the issue, Swift is another young American who’s been brought up on a diet of Out of Africa and Tintin and should be forgiven for her misguided visions. Or she’s wilfully ignorant and forsaking her responsibility as one of the most famous artists in the world to think about the imagery she’s putting out. As for me, I prefer my music and décor decolonialised, thank you.
IDEALISED AFRICA For Taylor Swift, colonialism is about romance, sunsets and linen shirts