I have never agreed with the dismissal of Wikipedia as a source of information, even for students. This is because that while, yes, there are pages that are full of misinformation, others are excellent. The latter are carefully maintained by experts and highly knowledgeable people regarding the topic in question. I’d long ago read about scientists who were seeing to it that Wikipedia pages on their subjects of expertise were being properly maintained. I think that rather than teaching students NOT to use Wikipedia, we’d be better off teaching them to use it and other sources carefully and critically.
And so now with all the ever-growing hysteria about Ebola in this country (sadly reminding me like this person of the early days of AIDS), I wasn’t at all surprised to read the New York Times article “Wikipedia is Emerging as a Trusted Internet Source for Information on Ebola.” And I think those of us who have been negative about Wikipedia need to rethink our position. Here’s a good source that balances out the misinformation going on all over the place. Rather than casting it out, embrace it, help people develop skills to use it in the best way rather than not at all.
(There. Now to get off my soap box.)
As heart-wrenching as it is for me, I have been watching this obsessively as the places are so familiar to me. Just imagine your city or town so deserted for such a reason.
Ishmael Beah, in “The West ignores the stories of Africans in the middle of the Ebola outbreak” writes bluntly about much I’ve been thinking, but afraid to say. He begins:
It wasn’t surprising that Western journalists would react with doom-and-gloom when the Ebola outbreak began in West Africa. Or that the crisis would not be treated as a problem confronting all humanity — a force majeure — but as one of “those diseases” that afflict “those people” over there in Africa. Most Western media immediately fell into fear-mongering. Rarely did they tell the stories of Africans who survived Ebola, or meaningfully explore what it means to see your child or parent or other family member or friend be stricken with the disease. Where are the stories of the wrenching decisions of families forced to abandon loved ones or the bravery required to simply live as a human in conditions where everyone walks on the edge of suspicion?
And then he writes some hard truths.
Given our interconnected world, it’s no longer possible to excuse such treatment as a lack of access to the facts. So what is the explanation? To borrow the words of Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, “Quite simply it is the desire — one might indeed say the need — in Western psychology to set Africa up as a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest.”
This thinking is so deeply entrenched in the minds of people in the West that it has become a reflex. Still, the ways in which Africans are portrayed as less human have not lost the power to shock. [b0ld is mine] Each new crisis, it seems, offers a platform for some to exercise their prejudices.
The hysteria is also fueling racism beyond the continent. In Germany, an African woman who recently traveled to Kenya — far from the affected countries — fell ill with a stomach virus at work; the entire building was locked down. In Brussels, an African man had a simple nosebleed at a shopping mall, and the store where it happened was sterilized. In Seoul, a bar put up a sign saying, “We apologize but due to the Ebola Virus we are not accepting Africans at the moment.” Here in the United States, each time I have been to a doctor’s office since the outbreak, I have noticed an anxious look on the faces of the assistants that dissipates only when I say that I haven’t been to my country recently.
For Western media, this is just another one of those stories about the “killer virus” and the “poor Africans” who must once again be saved and spoken for by Westerners. And, always, there is the most important question: Will the virus come to the United States or Europe?
If you are reading this and believe you do not think about us the ways I have described, ask yourself the following questions: When was the last time you saw, and took the time to read, a positive front-page article about an African country? Have you ever met someone from Africa and decided to tell her what you know about her country and her continent, even if you have never been there? Have you ever noticed yourself speaking slowly and using exaggerated gestures while talking to someone from Africa, assuming that he doesn’t understand English well?
While Ebola seems to be off the New York Times front page, the articles are still there. “If They Survive in the Ebola Ward, They Work On” features some heroic people in and around Kenema, an area I knew when I lived in Sierra Leone. (For a different sort of context, this is center Mende country where the Amistad captives of Africa is My Home were from.)
This blog is a platform I normally reserve for the important issue of fashion in Sierra Leone, but this week, I’m struggling to find a fashion angle. Unless you’ve been living on mars, you will know that West Africa is suffering the worst ever outbreak of the world’s most deadly disease – Ebola. I traveled to Kenema district last week for an assignment to write about the outbreak. I live in Freetown and before leaving, the epidemic hadn’t really kicked off here. ‘EBOLA!’ (said with a loud voice and chuckle) was something that was happening in villages, places that didn’t affect the urban folk of Sierra Leone’s capital. I knew Kenema was a district suffering huge case numbers, but nothing prepared me for what I saw and heard in one of Sierra Leone’s most brutally affected areas.
From Human Tales of Ebola.
And here is a New York Times video from one of the villages most affected.
Yet again Africa is in the news as the other, as a place of horror and misery. So just a few reminders:
Ebola is not throughout Africa. You don’t need to worry when coming into contact with someone from the continent or someone who has been there recently. Africa is a big continent and Ebola is not everywhere. In fact…
Ebola is currently in three West African countries: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. But…
Ebola is not an air-borne illness. You will not contract it by being in the same plane or auditorium or building as someone who has it or has come from one of the countries where it is prevalent. In fact…
you would need to be directly exposed to fluids from someone with the illness to be exposed. And that means that it is in the affected areas, in direct contact with those who have the illness, that you would be most at risk. And that is just not true for those of us living in the United States. So stop worrying about getting it here. Instead worry…
that those in the affected areas do not have the basic health care we in the United States take for granted. And so while there is indeed not a cure for Ebola,…
with the sort of hospital care we in the US take for granted, treating the disease in early states, many who are dying would be saved. But…
in the affected areas that sort of care is rare.
To learn more please read:
Stop Worrying About Ebola (And Start Worrying About What it Means)
As WHO Warns Ebola Death Toll is Underestimated, How Should Global Community Handle Dire Crisis?
I’m always on the look-out for new information and new takes on the Amistad story. One recent one is Marcus Rediker’s The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom in which the focus and viewpoint is on the captives. And now there is a film based on the book coming from filmmaker Tony Buba. The following description and preview has me very intrigued.
This film, made by Tony Buba, is based on Marcus Rediker’s book about the famous slave revolt of 1839, The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom (Penguin, 2012) and is about a trip made by historians and a film crew to Sierra Leone in May 2013. All of the Amistad rebels were from southern and eastern Sierra Leone, so the filmmakers went to their villages of origin to interview elders about surviving local memory of the case. They also searched for the long lost ruins of Lomboko, the slave trading factory where the Amistad Africans were loaded onto a slave ship bound for the New World. This hour-long documentary chronicles a quest for a lost history from below.