Out Of Africa: A ‘beautiful’ Retelling Of The Continent From The Colonizer’s Eyes

Dear White People, 

Stop telling me about this colour-blind society, you allegedly live in. Telling me you don’t see race; is the racist drivel I hope you choke on. Telling me you respect me; you don’t see my colour is like saying you have to pretend I’m not black in order to respect me.

An excerpt from FreeQuency’s Dear White People.1  

Let’s Talk About Out of Africa by Karen Blixen…

Karen Blixen, also known by her writing pseudonym of Isak Dinesen, was a European woman who moved to Kenya with her second cousin and husband, Baron Bror Von Blixen-Finecke, when British colonization was at its all time high. 

In Out of Africa’s book and movie adaptations (yes, the Meryl Streep one), the supposed autobiography she wrote highlighting her time in Kenya, she had a very close relationship with the colonial government. She claims that she grew close to the local Kikuyu tribe, had an affair with her husband’s brother and a British soldier, was diagnosed with syphilis, was cheated on by her husband, divorced him, moved back to Denmark after the failed coffee farm venture that her deceased ex-husband left her with allegedly to help Jews escape German-occupied Denmark at the height of World War Two. 

Now, let us talk about Out of Africa from the Kenyan perspective…

It seems incredibly far-fetched that a white European woman in East Africa in the early 20th Century genuinely cared for the local Natives whose lands were stolen and communities were brutalised. However, Out of Africa is considered a truthful narrative of Blixen’s life in Kenya. She is portrayed as a beckon of inspiration and hope, a 20th century girlboss empowering Kenyans. It seems far fetched because it is, she describes Kenyans as; “natives (with) no sense or taste for contrast…(as) squatters.” That they should be grateful that she allowed them to live on “her land”. 

Her land.

As if this Africa, which they forced their way into, is theirs to claim, the backdrop for their stories to tell, and we eat it up. What is with Kenyan history and romanticizing these settlers whose memories, names, and legacy somehow lives on nearly a century later?

From the Leakeys to Joy Adamson, to the likes of Karen Blixen, the revisionist history of settlers that took land that was not theirs to take go a step further to position themselves as empathetic figures in the colonial struggle. It’s ironic that Richard Leakey, the man who worked with Kenya’s infamous dictator and second President Daniel Arap Moi, blamed the failure of the Kenyan economy and conservation effort on corruption and greed. Leakey who, like Blixen, profited from multiple biographies and documentary deals. A man who happily boasted about working with colonizers to break the Mau Mau rebellion by taking the information they gave him in confidence and passing it along to the colonial government.2  

Don’t be fooled. A wolf in sheep’s clothing is still a wolf.

In reality, Karen Blixen was an entitled white woman permitted to prance around her estate, attend lavish events, and cozy up to army generals while she kept her so called ‘friends’ enslaved. She embodied the white saviour complex before we even had a word for it, yet she has an entire neighbourhood and museum dedicated to her name.  In the words of Abdi Latif Dahir, “We should also read Blixen’s book as a work of colonial prejudice it was then and still is now.”3 Karen Blixen was not a philanthropist, she did not care about the Kenyan economy’s coffee industry growth. If she did, she would have done a better job with the estate’s coffee farm. She did not care about painting the beauty of Kenya through literature, if she did, Out of Africa would feature less of her and more of the people she interacted with, the alleged local friends that she had, not just the European ones.

Footnotes

 

  1. “2018 Women of the World Poetry Slam – FreeQuency ‘Dear White People.’” Www.youtube.com, 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=rk-jjnPSa3M. Accessed 25 Mar. 2022.”
  2. “Explore the Database.” International Inventories Programme, www.inventoriesprogramme.org/explore. Accessed 28 Mar. 2022.
  3. Dahir, Abdi Latif. “Celebrating Karen Blixen’s ‘out of Africa’ Shows Why White Savior Tropes Still Persist.” Quartz, 20 Sept. 2017, qz.com/africa/1080410/out-of-africa-karen-blixens-kenya-memoir-is-80-years-old-and-80-years-out-of-date/. Accessed 19 Mar. 2021.