Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The BOGO light and "the Dark Continent"

After I wrote the post about the XO Laptop ("Making a Difference--PartII--November 16), a friend sent me an email describing a company that is making solar-powered flashlights, The BOGO light (click here to go to the company website). BOGO (or Buy One Give One) works on a similar principle--you buy one of their flashlights and they will send a flashlight to an organization of your choosing based on the sub-categories listed, which are: Education, Health, U.S. Military, Environmental, Faith-Based, Non-Profit Developing World.

Apparently the idea behind the lights was the CEO/Founder Mark Bent's work in "Africa" (particularly Ethiopia I believe) over the last twenty years. He really felt a compulsion to try to work on the energy needs of many African nations and came up with this idea of a cheap, safe, and renewable energy source--one that would be good for the environment.

So after doing a quick google search for BOGO light (because I wanted to see what kind of reviews it was getting--did it really work) I found this link to a Fox-News Houston affiliate and their interview with Mark Bent:

If you watch the newscast, you will undoubtedly note the way that the newscasters refer to "Africa" as some monolithic, primitive, pre-modern "Dark Continent" (in fact they pun off that very phrase--something to the effect that someone is trying to "light up the dark continent!!! UGH!!!). Bent, himself, seems more measured/informed about the various needs of various African nations.

So here are my pet peeves and knee-jerk prejudices after watching the news clip and looking at the various charities listed on the BOGO website:

1) Referring to "Africa" as a monolithic, primitive, pre-modern mass of underdeveloped people rather than recognizing the individual, modern, nation-states that comprise the continent of Africa. It's really a larger pet peeve of mine (and one that I sadly perpetuate in my own speech) whenever we refer to "Africa" and "Africans" rather than speaking of distinct countries and their needs in that geographic region--because the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, as vast a place as that is, differ greatly by location, culture, language, history, whether they were a post-colonial power, whether they are on the coast or in-land. It's like continuously referring to the "U.S." and assuming that the history, culture, climate, demographics, and resources of Alaska are the same as Alabama because both are part of the U.S. and both are in North America (wait, people DO make this assumption all the time...). The way we tend to confuse the continent for a country speaks to the general ignorance that Americans (and I include myself here) have about the rest of the world, in general, and the continent of Africa, in particular. And it speaks (I fear) to a type of internalized (or not so internalized if you read the You Tube comments where I got this video link) racism that people in the U.S. have towards darker skinned people from the continent of Africa.

2) The plug that Fox News put in for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean when does Fox-News NOT put in a plug for the military??? And emphasizing that Bent is an ex-Marine which is why the military is listed as one of the charitable donations. And regardless of how any of us feels about our Middle-East Invasion and Occupation (ah, language--isn't it interesting the phrasing I've used), it's sad, sad, sad, that U.S. troops even need donations for something as basic as flashlights (let alone body armor).

3) Under "faith based" charities all appear to be of the Christian faith and many seem to be in the evangelical tradition. So why not just say "Christian based organizations?" Seems like it's more honest--but perhaps Bent didn't want to offend or was trying to employ "political correctness"? But it irks me that "faith" becomes synonymous with Christianity because there are many different types of "faith" (as in spiritual/religious) practices beyond Christian ones--and especially since Bent's impetus in creating the lights was to help various African nations, it seems as if linking up with a Muslim based organization, may go a long way to improving U.S.-African relations (there, see, I did it! Referred to "Africa" as a country when it's a continent!). Mali, Chad, Sudan, and Somalia are all African countries with a large concentration of Muslims and, with respect to Somalia, trying to improve U.S. relations there seems like a worthy endeavor.

4) Fox News. Fox News just irks me.

I'm done with my curmudgeonly old man bit, so I'll just end by saying, even after my list of prejudices and pet peeves, I think it is a great idea. It is environmentally sound. It is a cheap and safe renewable energy source. It will help people in developing nations have an affordable light source. And at $25 it's a small way that you can make a difference. And if you celebrate Christmas, it's just in time for the season of giving. So go BOGO.


dance said...

No need to post this--I just can't find your email.

How many links to this Time piece on biracial Obama have you been sent already?

Jennifer said...

Thanks for the article--and sorry about not being able to email me--I just realized that I don't have that option clicked! I am still a neophyte when it comes to blogs--or really, any other networking sites on the web (a friend recently insisted I get a facebook account so we could play scrabble since he lives on the West Coast).

Thanks very much for the article--also I just got to poke around your blog as well and would like permission to add it--you can actually now email me privately if you like since there is an email option I just added to my profile.

And I have been re-thinking the whole "privacy" thing--may decide to "blog" about it and solicit opinions...