The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.
― Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
Today I saw a board for volunteering in Africa. Together, with the photos of kids playing games, laughing, and having a grand time, were photos of zebras. Now, realize that zebras are animals, and kids in Africa, just like kids elsewhere, are human. This board had me confused. Was this trip to help kids in Africa, or save Zebras from poachers?
It annoys me that the combination of photos of people and animals are so commonly placed next to one another, as if in the same category, when referring to non-western societies. To western societies, the exotic means everything that is not western, including exotic plants, exotic food, exotic animals, and….exotic people? That doesn’t even sound okay to me.
So then I thought, what if this was a board about volunteering in a suburban area outside of, let’s say, Chicago. Along with the photos of the kids, would there be photos of suburban wildlife as well? Sure, lets lump the kids together with the squirrels, raccoons, and occasional roadkill deer. They all live in the same area don’t they?
Quit making a spectacle out of the non-western world.