Western Media Demonization of Africa

Manufacturing Hate: A Book Review

It is important that progressive people of all colors and cultures, including people of European ancestry, learn about the violent, pernicious history of European colonization of Africa and its peoples. Milton Allimadi’s recently-published book, Manufacturing Hate: How Africa Was Demonized in Western Media, is an excellent, well-written, concise and accessible source to learn about some of that history.

Allimadi combines a broad historical sweep with specific stories of European/African interactions, from major military battles to recorded, individual African-to-European conversations. He is extremely critical of Western mass media reporting of the realities of African societies. He explains how all of the systematic white supremacy for power and profit has impacted African people all over the world negatively in both personal and societal ways.

His account begins by going back over 2,000 years to the writings of Greek author and historian Herodotus, who lived between 484 and 425 BC: “From the earliest period predating the seventeenth-century type of racism, Europeans were intrigued by what was considered as an aberration, black skin color. Herodotus claimed in Histories that the strangest creatures inhabited the African continent; this notion became a well-established theme in Western writings about Africa. He wrote: ‘This is where the huge serpents are found, and the lions, elephants, bears, asps, and horned asses. Here too, as the Libyans tell us, are the dog-headed creatures and the headless creatures with eyes in their breasts; also the wild men, and wild women, and a great many other creatures by no means imaginary.’” (p. 5-6)

Allimadi makes clear that, over 2,000 years later, the leaders of the United States had similar racist views, not a surprise given the 150 years of chattel slavery prior to the founding of the USA. He quotes President Thomas Jefferson, writing about enslaved Africans: “Comparing them by the faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me that in memory they are equal to whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.” (p. 6)

Most of the book deals with Europe’s and the US’s destructive role throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. It is divided into four sections; I have included a quotation from each one to give an idea of what is in them:

How the “primitive” image of Africa was created and universally disseminated: “Between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, European travelers sought fame, celebrity, fortune and immortality by journeying to Africa and writing about their experiences and adventures. Their primary purpose was to popularize the notion that Africans were still trapped at a level of intellectual, socioeconomic and political development that Europeans had transcended centuries earlier. [Their writings] were intended to justify the need, indeed, the alleged obligation, for Europeans to conquer and colonize Africa.” (p. 9)

Africa’s military victories trivialized: Europeans were not always successful in major military battles for control of African resources and labor. When Africans won, political shock waves were sometimes felt in the colonizing country. For example, in 1896, in the Ethiopian area of Badwa, their army crushed an invading army of 17,000 Italians and some colonized Eritreans. “Italian citizens, indeed, most Europeans, were simply incapable of conceptualizing what had occurred in what they had been taught was ‘darkest’ Africa. All the racist literature and myths about white supremacy they had consumed had never hinted at the possibility of such a catastrophe.” (p. 48)

-Reporters travel to cover Africa:  The New York Times, according to Allimadi, played a major role in this negative and racist reporting. One example is its support of: “South Africa’s twentieth-century system of institutionalized racism. [Times reporters] adopted the nineteenth-century narrative that Africa was backward and needed European rule and civilization; Africans had still not evolved sufficiently enough to be treated as equals with Europeans; and that Africans, if left to govern themselves, would regress to their previous state of barbarism and thereby nullify the good work that Europeans had already accomplished on the continent.” (p. 57-58)

-Africa is relegated to the backwaters: After the successful political, not economic, overthrow of European colonialism by the end of the 20th century, “several Western writers took stock of the conditions on the continent and proclaimed that the best solution was to recolonize Africa. The continent had been betrayed by the many African dictators and autocrats, but the Western powers, and to some extent the Soviet Union, also played critical roles in the continent’s sociopolitical and economic decay in the post-colonial era, often in partnership with African tyrants. By only reporting on the incompetence, repression and kleptocracy of the individual African rulers without showing how they worked hand in hand with their foreign sponsors, the international media exonerated the outsiders for their role in Africa’s many calamities.”  (p. 89-90)

There’s a well-known saying: “If you don’t know where you’ve been you don’t know where you’re going.” For African, European, African American, European American and all people who are serious about the absolutely essential work of world-changing in this critical third decade of the 21st century, learning about this sordid history of brutal European and US American colonization and neo-colonization of Africa, still continuing, is one of our necessary tasks. Thanks to Milton Allimadi for this important contribution.

Ted Glick works with Beyond Extreme Energy and is president of 350NJ-Rockland. Past writings and other information, including about Burglar for Peace and 21st Century Revolution, two books published by him in 2020 and 2021, can be found at https://tedglick.com. He can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/jtglick. Read other articles by Ted.