No, Tay­lor Swift, Africa was not like that

CityPress - - Voices - GRETHE KOEN grethe.koen@city­press.co.za

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

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