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Me, Myself, & Teju Cole

MadamPresident's picture


Me, Myself, & Teju Cole


This is the term I used to describe Teju Cole, in response to his article, The White- Savior Industrial Complex. I made this accusation because I believed that he as a black American was speaking out of turn in regards to social activism in the heart of Africa. In summary of what he wrote, he suggests that America needs to do more than just send money to Africa in the hopes of protecting their economic interest. He begins his article with a seven- part twitter post, in which he attacks philanthropist, Oprah Winfrey. This just did not sit well with me, because if any ONE individual has done anything in the hopes of bettering the lives of people who are in very bad circumstances, it would be Oprah Winfrey. I asked myself what had Mr. Cole done to “make a difference” in his home country.

Later in the article Cole says “To me though, it seems even more uncomfortable to think that we as white Americans should not intervene in a humanitarian disaster…” (Cole p.6). Instead of me reading this in its entirety with clarity I chose to see that Cole uses the term we, when he says white Americans, which led me to believe that he had fallen victim to the “privileges” that America offered, so now instead of taking what he has learned and helping Africa, he gets to live in the life of luxury and simply speak on what needs to be done in Africa. This, to me, made him a hypocrite. There is a saying that says if you can’t fix the problem, do not speak on it.

I also considered Mr. Cole to be a hypocrite, because he spoke from the point of view of someone who has experienced firsthand the injustices and sorrows of Africa, and I thought this would push him to have dedicated his career to bettering the lives of the people that were suffering. In the text Cole says that “I also write as an American, enjoying the many privileges that the American passport affords and that residence in this country make possible.”  (Cole p. 7)

I decided to google the term, Hypocrite, and it was defined by Meriam Webster Dictionary, as a person who claims or pretends to have certain beliefs about what is right, but behaves in a way that disagrees with those beliefs. I now can say that I used this term out of context, and I have misjudged Teju Cole. Not only have I not thought about what he was saying constellationally1, I also have fallen victim of slipping within, as I define in my earlier papers of stating something based off of how you feel internally on a given topic.

Now that I have expressed why I believed Mr. Cole to be a hypocrite, and later retracted this, I will now express why he is not a hypocrite. First I would like to point out that Mr. Cole never stated any belief for me to have said that he did not follow through with those beliefs. Second, the extent of privilege varies among all cultural backgrounds, and it not right to believe that because you were born into a privy lifestyle that you are entitled to make up for what someone else has lacked in their life. This was my first mistake in judging Mr. Cole. Primarily because he was a black male I found that it was his responsibility upon success to make a difference in the lives of those that he left behind. I realize now that this is my issue as a black American, not his.

Based upon the previous sentence, I too would be a hypocrite by that criteria. Sometimes in society people do not wish to see you well if they too cannot benefit from your success. I did not have the most luxurious lifestyle, yet I still have been blessed with enough in my life that someone could say that I too, am benefiting from the privileges that America has to offer. Next I would like to revisit Cole’s twitter post. I figured this at first to be a moment of bad slipping, but later I realize that Cole had no malicious intent in his writing because he says, “Those tweets, though unpremeditated, were intentional in their irony and seriousness. I did not write them to score any cheap points, much less to hurt anyone’s feelings.” (Cole p.4) I then realized that Cole had experienced a moment of slipping within.

While I still believe that Cole’s reference to Oprah was inappropriate, I now understand that he meant. Cole speaks on America’s sentiment and how we Americans give money to ease our sense of guilt and uncertainty in a helpless situation. He goes on to discuss that though he wants more to be done in Africa that not all American foreign interaction has been beneficial. For example, lives are being lost in Egypt in their hopes becoming a democracy, and he even spoke on the war in Iraq at the hands of America. He thus backs, up this argument by speaking on how Uganda needs more work to be done, but it must first start with them. All too quickly does America go in to “help,” only to make the situation worse than the way they had found it.

I have come to see that Cole is only one man, and what I was asking him to do theoretically is the work of many men; to go back and assist his country to get better in their time of despair. In my opinion America’s problems are much less featherbrained than those of Uganda, or a developing nation. After watching the Kony2012 video I realize that I was wrong. It takes a nation to defeat the struggles one sees in another country, not one man, not just Cole.

Although there are still some things that I do not agree on in Teju Cole’s article, I no longer believe that he is a hypocrite. I believe that he is one man, one black man allowing himself to live a better life in America and making the best of his situation.


            Work Cited

1 Cole, Teju. The White Industrial Complex. Accessed 9/28/2016

Jody Cohen and Anne Dalke. Chapter 8, “Slipping.” Steal This Classroom: Teaching and Learning Unbound. New York Punctum Books. Forthcoming 2017. Accessed 9/30/2016

Russell, Jason. “KONY2012. 5 March 2012. Accessed 9/29/2016