What I See In Your Photos With “Poor African Children”

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1. I see someone who was lucky enough to travel to a magnificent continent

And we welcome you. We welcome you to feel in your bones the wealth of our loam soil. Listen to the stories whispered by our winds. Immerse yourself in our skies. We welcome you to open your heart – and your eyes – to see that our narrative is more than one of suffering.

not tourist attraction

Base image by Stephen and Melanie Murdoch, click for their Flickr Photostream.

2. I see someone who had fun getting to know the children of the land.

And we hope you will remember them: remember their eyes wide and ready for learning. Remember their hands as they explored your hair. Remember the hearts that did not pity themselves. And did not ask you to pity them.

3. I see someone who pitied them nonetheless.

Of course you did. It is hard not to pity those who have less than we do. But pity is worthless if all it does is lead you to be more thankful for what you have. Pity is worthless if we think that we are absolved of our inherent privilege simply by spending a day with these children, painting their classrooms or building a pit latrine, and then leaving.

4. I see someone who feared they would forget.

Because in the busy world, what if we were to go back to school or work and forget about that one time we brought smiles to children’s faces? What if we were to lose that sense of self-worth and gratefulness?

5. I see someone who took a picture of an attraction.

We take pictures of the Taj Mahal and Mauna Loa and the Shwedagon Pagoda and Table Mountain and so, why not, of these adorable African children. And we post them online too, because the world must see what we saw.

Some photos are for keeping, for looking at on our own at night, to hold dear to our hearts. Share the Eiffel Tower. Share the mountains. Do not share the face of the child whose name you could not pronounce and cannot now remember; whose mother never consented to you splashing his face on social media around the world.

These children are not your tourist attraction.

6. I see someone who did something they would not do in their home country.

Children in our home countries are not “exotic” enough. Children in our home countries are protected by laws against being shared on social media without their guardians’ consent.

“But Africans don’t care about that,” they say.

Says who?

7. I see someone who felt loved and needed.

You arrived with stickers and toothbrushes and candies. Of course the children ran to you with open arms. Of course they were excited. Certainly, you brought moments of joy. You came with the purest intentions. But what did you leave behind? You do not see the aftermath: children who, upon seeing a white face, cup their hands in supplication. Children who have been taught that the white man brings things that they cannot get themselves.

Teach them the self-worth you crave. Teach them what greatness they can achieve. Teach them that skills are more valuable than stickers and temporary tattoos that wash off that night in the bath.

Teach them that they too are worthy of respect.

Respect them by not sharing their eager young faces with strangers.

 * * *

From elsewhere on the web:

  1. 8 Tips for Culturally Sensitive Photography – Jim Kane
  2. Tips for Interacting with Kids in the Developing World – Katya Yefimova
  3. Stuff White People Do: Travel to Exotic Locations, Meet Adorable Children, and Shoot Them – Macon D

Photographer Bert Hardy’s son, Mike Hardy, being photographed by Ming the panda at London Zoo. pub. 1939

12 thoughts on “What I See In Your Photos With “Poor African Children”

  1. barefootmegz, thank you for writing. You lead me to question my assumptions. May I forward your blog post to friends? I’ve been reading your posts for a few years. When I began, my niece was a medical student, and I chose it for your title. I am a white Christian woman, 61 years old, a married college graduate(biology), mother of a married college journalism graduate who writes well. I am an artist, working in visual communication . I have been using paint, paper, clay,photography and words. I have not yet written anything on my own blog, Anecdotal Evidence. Margaret Barnett Date: Sun, 23 Aug 2015 14:46:34 +0000 To: mfurrbarnett@hotmail.com

    • Hi Margaret, thank you so much for dropping by and sharing. You are most welcome to share the post. I love hearing from readers – and people who think engage with the world – and I’m grateful to meet you.
      Warm wishes to you!

  2. Dear Megz,

    This is so beautiful and thought provoking. Like Margaret, I will share a link to your post on my blog soon. I live half a world away from you in California.

    Do you know the South African engaged Buddhist, Thanissera? Her book just released this week:
    http://www.northatlanticbooks.com/shop/time-to-stand-up/

    Also, I appreciate your book reviews, we have similar tastes, though I’m probably older than your parents.🙂

    Very much gratitude,
    Stephanie
    http://www.mylifeline.org/stephaniesugars/updates

    • Thank you for dropping by, Stephanie. It’s always so wonderful to hear from people far and wide. I don’t know about Thanissera, but I will certainly look her up.
      Warmest wishes to you!

  3. Hi Megz,

    Thank you, this has led to several amazing conversations with friends who do travel to exotic locations, hopefully not to shoot children. I look forward to more and appreciate you helping me to articulate these concerns clearly.

    I finally included the link to this post in my blog today. Though the main topic was triggering, it just seemed to fit.

    Megz, so much gratitude for you, your work, writing and book reports!

    Warm wishes, Stephanie

    Today’s update with link to this post:
    https://www.mylifeline.org/StephanieSugars/updates/update/1497270

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