The Hearts Of Darkness Decodes Western Media’s Racism

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[Book Review]

It is common knowledge that the Western media, particularly the American media, have generally not had a close and respectable rapport with Africa since her historical interface with the West.

Both the print and electronic media have been the notable culprits in this regard―this is actually the case, for instance, if one considers the fact that the West had fed and continues to feed her largely gullible masses with unequal dichotomous reportage on events unfolding in a putatively incorrigible Africa on the one hand and a virginal West on the other.

Therefore, it is not surprising when these uncritically imbibed misrepresentations are encapsulated, and, consequently held up by unabashed proponents of racial purity as immutable cultural paragon against which to evaluate the collective personality of Africa as well as the cognitive competence of her children.

What is the solution?  Several. Per adventure the sweat and blood spurting from the singular orifice of a conscientious journalist’s mighty pen can help asphyxiate the extreme emotionalism associated with racist drivel to its ultimate demise.

In this essay, I review Milton Allimadi’s The Hearts of Darkness: How White Writers Created The Racist Image of Africa, a book many readers are already familiar with.

First, let me recall two troubling conversations I had with a white American, a master’s degree holder from Yale University, in 1997.  The other was with a Philippine-American, also a graduate student majoring in mathematics at New York University, in 1999.  Let’s call the former Mr. Clinton and the latter Mr. Martinez.

Both dialogues transpired while I was working as a security guard at a Nursing Home in Carpenter Avenue in the Bronx, New York:               

Mr. Clinton: “What is your name, gentleman?”
Francis: “I’m Francis.”
Mr. Clinton: “But why would you be named ‘Francis’? Don’t you have an African name, sir?”
Francis: “Oh, yes, I do. It’s Yaw. In the Akan culture of West Africa a male born on Thursday is called as such. In fact, Thursday is Yawada in my language Asante-twi or Fante-twi. I believe the name ‘Yaw’ arose from a pulverization of ‘Yawada.’ My surname is also Kwarteng, anyway.”   
Mr. Clinton: “Wow. This is quite interesting. Anyway, aren’t you happy the president of your country is finally released from prison, Mr. Francis?”
Francis: “How so, Mr. Clinton? Sir, may I ask who this person is, and which country you’re referring to?”
Mr. Clinton: “Oh, it’s Africa, and the president is Mr. Nelson Mandela, the erstwhile communist and terrorist.”  
Francis: “Africa, a country? And the honorable Mr. Nelson Mandela, the president of this so-called country, a communist and a terrorist?”

Hell broke loose as I fixated my attention on him, making him appear suddenly jaded, blanched, and slightly jumpy. Just then, he started to take leave of me, but not before indicting the American media for his helpless stupidity:

Mr. Clinton: “It’s not me, Mr. Francis, it’s the America media.”

This is how the second conversation, with Mr. Martinez, went: 

Mr. Martinez: “Good morning, sir. How’re doing this morning, and where do you come from?”
Francis: “I’m great. I’m from Ghana, West Africa. How do you feel this morning too?
Mr. Martinez: “I’m fine. Oh, so you’re from Africa? Do you know I always wanted to go to Africa?”
Francis: “Happy to hear that, and do you also know that I‘ve never been a successful clairvoyant, Mr. Martinez? Why would you want to go to Africa, Mr. Martinez, if I should ask?”
Mr. Martinez: “Well, I wanted to go there and find out if I could also play with the lions and tigers and elephants like the way native Africans do when we watch them on American TV. In any case, how long does it take to get to New York from your country?  
Francis: “10 to 11 hours, direct flight, from Accra, the capital city.”
Mr. Martinez: “Wow. Isn’t this strange, Mr. Francis, 10 to 11 hours, direct flight? How far removed Africa and your country must be from America!”
Francis: “Mr. Martinez, how long does it to get to New York from the Philippines, from Manila?”
Mr. Martinez: “Oh, not that long, Mr. Francis, maybe 18 to 24 hours, direct flight. Why?”
Francis: “Not that long, you said, eh? Didn’t you just tell me a couple of minutes ago that you were a graduate student majoring in mathematics at NYU?”
Mr. Martinez: “Yes, I did, but why?”
Francis: “What is the numerical divergence of your 18 or 24 hours from my 10 or 11 hours, Mr. Martinez? Which is farther from New York, Ghana or the Philippines? You tell me. ”

The last question to him somehow catapulted him to full consciousness from his otherwise psychic somnolence. Surprisingly, he too would stare at me blandly. Then he quickly rushed to offer me the following platitudinous indictment of the American media before hastily departing:

Mr. Martinez: “Please Mr. Francis, it’s not me. It’s the American media. I plead ignorance.” 

It is therefore no wonder, given the nature of these two reenacted conversations, that constantly hearing highly educated people parrot stereotypical mischaracterizations of Africa and her people make me angry and nauseous, even.

How could two brilliant elite university graduate students fall for shoddy journalism by shenanigans calling themselves journalists? Don’t such students take any course on African history in college at all?

Even if they do, don’t they possess the necessary psychological and emotional temerity needed for the independent investigation of the verity, or otherwise, of news coverage on Africa?  I don’t think so. In any case, wanting to understand why so many people uncritically accept the infallibility of The New York Times and Time magazine, at least on matters relating to Africa, I ventured out on my own to trace the racist ideological lineage connecting the major American news media with political events in Africa.

The trajectory of my investigative odyssey would ultimately bring me into contact with Allimadi’s polemic The Hearts of Darkness: How White Writers Created The Racist Image of Africa.      

In this small volume Allimadi performs a superb sleuthing task of dredging up some of the racist reportage on Africa spanning the ’40s via the ’90s meticulously archived by the publisher of The New York Times.  This is a fascinating work in that it agglutinates a broad spectrum of seemingly disparate topics into a comprehensive synthesis, with an expertise reminiscent of an authority on African historiography, race relations, and global history.

The broad sweep of Allimadi’s politico-historical analysis includes the racist language used by The New York Times’ reporters, for instance, Homer Bigart, who covered the inaugural birth of my country Ghana, with Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah as the first president; a fresh literary critique of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness; a timely revisionist critique of Keith Richburg’s intellectually stunted and ideologically warped book Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa; the duplicity of Alex Shoumatoff and his sympathetic relationship with the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF); the tribalization of conflicts in Africa; a nonromantic revisit to some of the high points in Africa’s historical past; the evil of apartheid in South Africa; the disgraceful defeat of Mussolini‘s “formidable “ army in Ethiopia; the Mahdi’s militaristic thrashing of the British in the Sudan; a jocular and intellectual refutation of African anthropophagy; as well as the pathologizing of inferiority complexes associated with some Africans via Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Mask, are just a few of the effervescent mélange of items Allimadi so handsomely and so foolhardily catalogues in his book.

Allimadi also provides us with oodles of outstanding evidence for his modest claims. In fine, most of the book focuses on how news on Africa should have been reported―with The New York Times particularly in mind―during the period when the paper should have played a more positive role in Africa’s liberation struggles, rather than in her denigration, from the inseverably clenched teeth of colonialism.

Allimadi should be highly commended for a job well executed.   

On a final note, I have to say that Allimadi also possesses a fabulous mastery of English, even as he subtly moves away from a geocentric focus on academic grandiloquence, as often seen in academic summae on Africa, toward prosaic simplicity.

Additionally, the complete lack of analytic denseness renders the book highly readable. It is therefore my recommendation that this well-written monograph on journalism, The Hearts of Darkness: How White Writers Created The Racist Image of Africa, should be required reading in every enclave of intellectual inquiry―in which the decrepit paradigm of looking askance at Africa becomes a thing of the past and a refashioned African personality is placed in its stead.

Against this background, the cogency of Allimadi’s manifold arguments and his stiff intellectualism in defense of Africa places his book on the same steric plane as Noam Chomsky’s Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies; Neil Henry’s American Carnival: Journalism Under Siege in an Age of New Media; Bernal Martin’s triumvirate volumes of Black Athena; Edward Said’s Orientalism; and Cheikh Anta Diop’s African Origin of Civilization.

But Allimadi, when are you taking on the electronic media? 

How do I end this review? Let me finish it off with another equally tantalizing story: Once upon a time, God was luxuriating in his bedroom after six hectic days of creation, when the clank of metals in his “creation laboratory” abutting his bedroom window unexpectedly punctured his cogitative bubble, derailing his articulated train of thought on whether he had left anything out of creation. He quickly sped past his library and entered the lab, only to find hirsute Satan on his hind legs in profuse perspiration. The following conversation ensued:

God: “What’re doing here alone by yourself, Lucifer, at this hour?”
Satan: “You…you left a whole set of race of people out of creation…and I’m here to create this miscellaneous race of human beings…I would then have to graft my evil personality on theirs since you imbued white folks’ essence with cherubic vitality…I would also make them cannibals, savages, tribesmen and tribeswomen, warmongers, intellectually inferior to whites, nymphomaniacs…make then evolve from monkeys if possible…make them kleptomaniacs, stateless, indolent, and so on.”
God: “What race of people do you have in mind then?”
Satan: “Black people...Black Africans, Afro-Caribbeans, Afro-Brazilians…Sub-Saharan Africans…Negroes…Niggers…I mean Black people, your honor?”
God: “I should have seen this event coming…Oh, yes, I read this prediction somewhere…I wish I could remember exactly where and stopped you before advancing to this stage.”
Satan: “But you’re God…aren’t you? And omniscient? And you can’t even recall where you got this information?”
God: “Oh, yes, I remember now…it’s the American media!”
Satan: “Are you surprised by this? If you don’t care to know the American media’s support of my ambition to create this degenerate race have been unwavering…lest I forget to also tell you this…I picked up this very idea from them in the first place.” 
God: “The American media?”
Satan: “Oh, yes, the American media…ha…ha…ha…ha…you did just tell me this, didn’t you, Almighty God, that you got this info from the American media?”
God: “To tell you the truth, Mr. Lucifer, the chapter on such racist nonsense will surely come to pass with the publication of Allimadi’s The Hearts of Darkness: How White Writers Created The Racist Image of Africa that should usher in a new era of journalistic fairness and intellectual positivism, especially where Africa is concerned.”

Review of The Hearts of Darkness: How White Writers Created The Racist Image of Africa By Mr. Francis Kwarteng
(M.Sc., Operations Research, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, 2003)  

The Book is currently available from Black Star Books at (212) 481-7745 or by e-mailing [email protected] For excerpts see

The author, Allimadi, welcomes invitations for book readings. He’s made presentations on his book at Columbia University; The London School of Economics; Syracuse University; Pace University; Williams College; and, Bennington College.

Post your comments on the review directly online or to [email protected]

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