Nick Kristof prefers White Saviors

The New York Times columnist, whose reporting is very influential in elite public opinion about Africa, prefer white "bridge characters."

Nicholas Kristof in a still from one of " New York Times Columnist Nicholas D. Kristof Answers Viewers' Questions" Youtube clips.

New York Times columnist and savior of sex workers in the developing world, Nicholas Kristof, is at it again. Last week he announced that “over the next several days” that he will “… be responding to questions submitted via YouTube from readers. As his editors, wrote on his blog, “On The Blog,” the first question is:Today’s question asks Nick why many of his columns about Africa seem to portray ‘black Africans as victims’ and ‘white foreigners as their saviors’.”

In his response, filmed in Israel (he may be on assignment), Kristof basically concedes that in his reporting he favors the “white foreigners as saviors” approach. His rationale: that without the white saviors as “bridge characters,” his potential readers back in the U.S. wouldn’t read his columns. So Kristof is proud to admit that his portrayals of Africa aren’t any better or different than a bad Hollywood film.

Here’s the video:

That’s why I stopped reading Kristof’s columns.

Kristof’s readers have something to say in the comments to the version that’s embedded on his blog.  Most agree with Kristof, but this, the longest response, came across like someone with a passing familiarity with Africa Is a Country:

I think Nick Kristoff portrays black Africans as victims and white foreigners as their saviors because that’s consistent with Kristoff’s worldview. Kristoff’s explanation that he uses this narrative structure as a hook for readers is a red herring. He uses this narrative structure because he believes in it. I read Kristoff’s columns about sexworkers in Southeast Asia a number of years ago with interest and with increasing dismay, as the same Western paternalist theme emerged. The women were victims, and Nick was there to rescue them. He shook his head in wonder and sadness when women whom he “bought” and delivered to their families inexplicably returned to sexwork in the cities. Again, in interviews with Diane Sawyer in her TV special on prostitution a couple of years ago, Kristoff portrayed sex workers as victims with low self esteem and no other opportunities. Kristoff gets off on rescuing people and is blind to the possibility that people whose lives don’t look like his might not need or welcome his knight act. I find Kristoff’s writing almost always condescending and naive.

Further Reading

An unfinished project

Christian theology was appropriated to play an integral role in the justifying apartheid’s racist ideology. Black theologians resisted through a theology of the oppressed.

Writing while black

The film adaptation of Percival Everett’s novel ‘Erasure’ leaves little room to explore Black middle-class complicity in commodifying the traumas of Black working-class lives.

The Mogadishu analogy

In Gaza and Haiti, the specter of another Mogadishu is being raised to alert on-lookers and policymakers of unfolding tragedies. But we have to be careful when making comparisons.

Kwame Nkrumah today

New documents looking at British and American involvement in overthrowing Kwame Nkrumah give us pause to reflect on his legacy, and its resonances today.