Barack Obama’s visit to Ghana inspired an outpouring of media coverage – and a backlash from those who believe Africa is undeserving of such attention. Here’s a comment posted on ABC News’ web site by an person called “SJ”: “I am so tired of hearing about Africa. Obama needs to stop wasting our tax dollars with these vacations masked as work . . . I wonder if he even cares about America.”
An anonymous blogger dismissed Obama’s African audience as “darkie illiterates.” Who knows what racial prejudices are behind these comments, but at the very least, they reflect an ignorance of a continent that – before Obama’s sojourn – has been little visited by U.S. presidents. George W. Bush, who rarely traveled outside the United States before his presidency, went to Africa all of two times during his White House tenure, and once famously referred to the continent as “a nation.”
This Africa-is-a-country gaffe was repeated by Sarah Palin – not in public, but in private, during the 2008 presidential campaign. Palin, who didn’t own a passport until 2006 – and then only used it to visit Alaska National Guardsmen – asked aides to John McCain “if South Africa wasn’t just part of the country” of Africa, Fox news reported. As for McCain, who once confused Sudan and Somalia, it’s unclear whether in his decades of public service he has ever visited Africa. (A search of his web site shows no mention of his traveling to the continent.) McCain did pledge to visit Africa if he was elected president, making this vow in February of 2008, to an organization that pressured all the major U.S. candidates to take a similar vow.
Critics have suggested that Obama’s Ghana trip was about oil, as True/Slant’s Allison Kilkenny noted, but the president has said the continent’s economic betterment is his priority, and he visited Africa as a U.S. Senator in 2006, to personally meet with Darfur refugees. Compare this to the first U.S. president to travel to Africa: Theodore Roosevelt, who went there to shoot animals. A new book, says that Roosevelt and his machismo – typified by his posing over a dead African rhinoceros in 1909 – laid the groundwork for George W. Bush’s political ideology. Obama’s 24-hour stopover in Ghana was the antithesis of Roosevelt’s safari slaughter. Instead of bullets, Obama brought words and his children. It takes a visit like Obama’s to show how far the United States has come since 1909 and a half-century earlier, when American slavery finally came to an end.