Last night, someone manning the Delta Twitter account, excited about the United States’s World Cup victory over Ghana, tweeted this:
— Mashable (@mashable) June 17, 2014
Well, that was awkward. Who was going to inform Delta that while giraffes do call Africa home, they don’t live in Ghana? Oh right: Twitter users who are apparently better-educated about Ghana and Africa than whoever sent that tweet.
I was off Twitter for a few minutes. Has the emergency shipment of giraffes arrived in Ghana yet? — Josh Barro (@jbarro) June 17, 2014
When I was in Ghana I rode my giraffe around Accra everyday on the way to my Africa teepee. — Mat Johnson (@mat_johnson) June 17, 2014
Making a blunder about Ghana — and Africa in general — was bad enough. Westerners often reduce all of Africa’s vastly different cultures and countries into one giant Dark Continent. With one tweet, Delta drew upon ugly stereotypes of Africa as undeveloped and uncultivated while casting the United States as a shining beacon of freedom. Pro tip: someone at Delta should see “The Book of Mormon,” which is basically one giant send-up of attitudes just like this.
If you’re wondering why we’re using Mashable’s tweet, it’s because Delta deleted the original after getting hammered by Twitter. This only made the initial problem worse as it served to magnify evidence of Delta’s digital clumsiness. Sure, that tweet is no longer on Delta’s official account, but it lives in screengrab after screengrab.
Doesn’t anyone at the airline know the Internet is forever? Forever-ever? FOREVER.
Of all the amazing things to represent the beautiful country and people of Ghana, you chose a giraffe? @Delta
— Liz Anya (@mariroars) June 17, 2014
Ok, so this is a not-great situation for Delta. They’ve tweeted something that many see as culturally insensitive and tone-deaf at best and, at worst, as racist. But it’s not a toy plane entering a woman’s nether regions, so they’ve still got one up on US Airways.
But then it got worse. Delta bombed the subsequent apology tweet:
— Christopher Ingraham (@_cingraham) June 17, 2014
And now we have a full-fledged comedy of errors. Mistakes like this are why videos such as “How Not to Write About Africa” exist. The video is a dramatic reading by Beninese American actor Djimon Hounsou of Binyavanga Wainaina’s essay “How to Write About Africa,” originally published in Granta magazine in 2005. It’s a satiric takedown of common Western assumptions about all things African. By conflating Ghana with giraffes, it looks like Delta proved the point of the very first sentence: “Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title.”
Later, Wainaina advises:
In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.
Luvvie Ajayi, a Nigerian American who writes the blog Awesomely Luvvie, had this to say:
Aren’t people tired of representing the Cradle of Civilization with animals and trees?? It’s like the trend of all books written by African authors have covers with trees on them. No, for real. Read a post called ‘The Dangers of a Single Book Cover: The Acacia Tree Meme and ‘African literature”.
It can’t be ‘African’ unless it reminds you of the jungle. *rolls my eyes so hard my eyes get stuck in a side-eye*
Delta should take its ball and go home because Operation Do Better 2014 is in effect. DO. BETTER.