All the Africans are Children, All the Whites are Adult, but all of them are dancing…

by zunguzungu

From Matt’s FAQ:

Q. How did you get those kids in Rwanda to dance with you?

A. I just started dancing. There was no prior discussion or explanation. They thought it looked like a fun thing to be doing and joined in. They also really dug seeing themselves on the camera’s playback screen.

Kieran calls it “absurdly sweet in a nerd-brings-the-world-together sort of a way” and I can get behind that sentiment. It is intended to be that, and it is. The comment thread on Matt’s site and here are exuberant and joyful. But. Am I allowed be bothered by the fact that in every “white” country Matt visits he is surrounded by adults, whereas in the “non-white” countries he visits, he is surrounded by children? This isn’t a hard and fast rule, exactly, but watch the video and see if you don’t see what I mean.

For example, Matt is seen dancing ONLY with non-white children in the following places:
Madagascar, Zambia, Fiji, The Solomon Islands, Yemen, the Phillipines, Mali, Bhutan, Jordan, Morocco, South Africa, East Jerusalem

Whereas he is seen dancing with a majority of white adults in the following:
Brisbane, Dublin, Buenos Aires, Turkey, London, Sweden, Brazil, Tel Aviv, France, Quebec, California, Poland, Texas, Belgium, Florida, Germany, Illinois, NY, New Zealand, Amsterdam, Japan, Australia, Portugal

There is, in other words, a high level of correlation between “Matt pictured with children” and “that country having been on the receiving end of racist colonialism in its near history.” If you wanted, you could find ways to trouble this division into two categories; what does one make of Kyrgystan, for example, where he dances with teenagers? Can one responsibly make anything of that at all? One can also note that in Japan and India, he is surrounded by cliches of male sexual fantasy. That Brazil or Turkey are not clearly “white” countries (though almost everyone in those shots are very light skinned) is certainly true. But that’s exactly the point, that such categories structure our perception in strange, disturbing, and fictional ways. “Development” therefore correlates with being represented by adults in this video, while underdevelopment trends in exactly the other way.

This is hardly an attack; I’m not trying to cry “racist” here, exactly. And, after all, if I wanted to find people to dance on camera with me in Tanzania, say, I would look for children too; adults tend to be much more reserved about dancing with a stranger, and much more wary of weirdos with cameras. But my point is just that–in the same way that “All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men” illustrates how gender and race are inextricable–the ways we conceptualize geographic location have a lot to do with the ways we conceptualize maturity (and vice versa), such that it is easier for the “touristic gaze” to imagine black children and white adults than it is to reverse those categories. There are reasons why this video isn’t filled with Matt dancing with dark skinned adults and white children, and I’m not silly enough to claim that those reasons are simply the man’s virulent violent racism, but it is significant, and worth pausing over, that a video not defined by such categories is so much more unlikely. Correlation is not causation, of course, but it does exist.

So I’ll make you this bargain: the next time there’s a story on Africa in the NY Times, I’ll bet you a dollar that the story will include more pictures of a starving child, a wailing mother, or a scary looking man with a rifle than anything else. Often one of each. And while I won’t win that bet every time, I will make more money from you than if I were counting cards in a casino.

(My title, btw, references this book)