I couldn’t resist starting this week’s newsletter with Youssouf Katari. In case you missed it, @Tasty – a hitherto mostly uncomplicated foodie network of videos and recipes, put up a video of Twitter this week highlighting the process of making croissants, in the quick, upbeat style that has come to dominate social media right now – five minutes and twenty-three seconds of pure delight, a Pan-Africanrsion to any dreary day.
The only problem is that the croissant master Youssouf never says a word in the entire video – all the narration is done by Keith Cohen, owner of Orwasher’s Bakery in New York, where the video was shot. Granted, as owner, Keith knows a thing or two about croissants, but he credits Youssouf’s skill and ingenuity – Youssouf’s recipe is what the bakery uses, and he invented a whole new technique in croissant making of stretching out the dough a little bit more for that extra springiness. Alas – we hear all that through his boss’ voice.
I know this sounds very frivolous – a pandemic is raging, climate change is threatening our collective futures and we’re talking about croissants! – but there’s more at stake here, and you might already know where I’m going with this. I generally have a very low tolerance for a fully ‘omniscient narrator’ when the subject can speak for him/herself. It’s even worse when the narrator is white, and the croissant master, well, Black – no matter how you cut it, it is almost never justifiable. Youssouf, as croissant master, deserves to speak for himself, but this tendency to speak for and over people is very common in reporting and writing, particularly when subjects are different from the writer/ journalist/ filmmaker/ creator.
If you’re not conscious of it, it’s very easy to let this kind of thing slide, and perhaps even begin to believe that you are nobly acting as ‘the voice of the voiceless’. But the cumulative effect is what Arundhati Roy critiqued in her 2004 Sydney Peace Prize Lecture: “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”
So I’m starting a (half-serious) campaign to oblige Tasty to reshoot and re-edit the video with Youssouf the Croissant Master telling us everything about croissants and the amazing new technique he invented. Also I want to know everything about Youssouf Katari the man. Where did he learn to make croissants? Are his dreams punctuated by the delightful crackling of the perfect croissant? Does he have another, even more secret recipe that he only uses when he’s making croissants for his family and friends? Okay, I’m actually serious – this is the stuff of great short documentaries (or podcasts!)
As I petition, here’s:
- What We’re Reading: The Original Karen by Carey Baraka. You know Karen, the Nairobi neighbourhood, and you probably know Karen, 2020 shorthand for a specific type of middle-class white privilege. But Carey’s article brings those two together in incredibly deft and insightful prose.
- What We’re Watching: Kenyan ‘bedsitter’ house tours on YouTube. I promise, I will explain soon! In the meantime, there are many channels you can watch and be unexpectedly mesmerized by. Start here and the algorithms will do the rest.
- What We’re Listening To: Africa Daily, from the BBC World Service and hosted by Alan Kasujja. It’s just fifteen minutes of one story from Africa that you should know more about; I love Alan’s light-hearted, refreshing style – who says the news has to be so serious?
As always, I remain yours,
Curator | Baraza Media Lab