Friday, August 08, 2008

Kids Say The Darnedest Things....



Breezing through the Red Chilli inbox in a quieter moment, I am busy reading what the Ugandan Tourist Board has to say for itself in one of their email newsletters and stumble across their version of an 'And Finally...' style anecdotal news item.

And I quote:

In a rare case of mistaken identity, recently a family of American tourists visited Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. Mum, Dad, and five children, in search of the prized "Silverback" gorilla.

As luck would have it, or so they thought, the children were stunned by what they thought were Mountain Gorillas and rushed to break the news of their find to their equally excited parents.

To their disappointment, the 'gentle giants' turned out to be bare-chested locals who were clearing the bush around the Gorilla resort...


The parents must have been mortified at their children's mistake.

Mistake some Africans for gorillas? How politically incorrect can you get? But to a Ugandan, this is just a humourous tale about some stupid tourist gaffe.

But we Muzungus are so sensitive to this stuff.

Most of us have grown up knowing what constitutes acceptable terminology when referring to the colour of someone's skin. We've all winced at a grandparent's use of phrases like "Nig-Nog" or "The Blacks".

In and out of fashion swam politically correct terms like "Coloured", "Ethnic Minority", "Black" and so on, but whatever the currently accepted term of reference was, there is no way anyone would ever want to be found guilty of mistaking a local Ugandan for a Mountain Gorilla.

But Ugandans have a different perspective. They say what they see, with little self-consciousness about the implied meaning we would overlay on similar statements.

I have inwardly winced at things members of staff have said about eachother:

You two look like a pair of monkeys, you look just the same!
He is so tall, just like a gorilla!

It may be similar to the phenomenon of it being fashionable among certain members of the American black community to call eachother Nigger. It's okay for a black person to say it about another black person, but not for a white person to say it - that sort of thing.

Or, perhaps we need to regain some perspective.

It's obviously not okay to call people derogatory names, whatever the reason or current fashion.

But maybe it's okay to tell an anecdote freely, wihtout fear of being perceived as racist, about some silly mistake your child made on holiday. Imagine if the rustle in the bushes had turned out to be a white tourist - the story would have been repeated and regaled far into the future as "The time we mistook so-and-so for a gorilla".

But I bet you all the Gorillas in Uganda they're not telling this story back home on the ranch. The implied racism innate in the tale would be too much for the audience of the 'folks back home' to cope with.

Unless, of course, the family were from Alabama.

1 comment:

Marie said...

I'm pretty skeptical that this really happened... I'd put money on it being a fabrication by someone who thought it would make a catchy story (and was oblivious to the implications). Could there really be an American child who is unaware of different skin colors on different people? I doubt it-even a kid from an all-white region has TV and movies.

Even as fiction, the fact that someone thought this cute is still a powerful indicator of the cultural differences between the US/Europe and Uganda.