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Uzodinma (Uzo) Iweala is the author of Beasts of No Nation. The novel, his debut, came out of his undergraduate thesis work at Harvard and was conducted under the supervision[…]

Iweala believes that celebrities can help but that a deeper understanding is needed.

Question: Do celebrities bring anything to social causes?

Uzodinma Iweala: Yeah. I mean I wrote an article about that, and . . . which got me into a fair amount of trouble I guess. But I’ll just have to say it how it is. Again this is not . . . I’m not saying that people shouldn’t help. Like for me to say that would be absurd. I think people definitely should. And people should look outside of the places that they come and look for and strive to have these interactions with different sets and different types of people. It’s the framing that’s the issue. It’s the framing that’s the problem. You can’t get up and say that you are going to save Africa. You can’t get up and say that . . . that we are going to . . . “we” . . . these outsiders, we know what’s going on. We know how to do this. Because, you know, for all the reasons that I listed when I wrote that . . . the piece – it was called “Stop Trying to Save Africa” – like, one, doesn’t acknowledge the role that other societies had to play in the destruction of the fabric of this place. Two, it doesn’t acknowledge the humanity of the people. I should actually reverse that. One is that that role doesn’t acknowledge the humanity of the people that . . . that you’re supposedly trying to save or help. Two, it doesn’t acknowledge the role that X society had in causing the problems that exist currently. You know and I think that that . . . that language of, “Oh, we’re going to save”; that image of, you know, like the western person there to help the starving people – I think that’s really insulting; not just to . . . like to . . . it should be insulting to everyone because it doesn’t acknowledge humanity. And I . . . You know I have to be very careful because I’m not saying that people shouldn’t go and help, right? That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m just saying that when . . . when you do get up, and when one does say, “I want to go and improve the situation,” one has to think about what that means. And it’s not so simple as just, “I have good intentions. Therefore I can only do good.” It’s not that simple. There’s a lot that goes into it. There’s a lot of unspoken stuff. There’s a lot of . . . of cross-cultural interaction that needs to be explored and talked about, right, that I don’t think we spend enough time talking about. And I don’t think those images of X celebrity . . . you know like the . . . or the MTV documentary about such and such going to such and such place . . . I don’t think that those really discuss those other issues that are very, very important that is the framing and messaging behind how one helps.

Recorded on: 10/7/07