Was anyone else bothered by this passage in Tom (no relation) Friedman's op-ed column in yesterday's New York Times? The dateline was Beijing; the headline was "Melting Pot Meets Great Wall." Here's what I'm talking about:
Walking through the Olympic Village the other day, here’s what struck me most: the Russian team all looks Russian; the African team all looks African; the Chinese team all looks Chinese; and the American team looks like all of them.
Let's leave aside the probability that a Moscow native would probably find plenty of diversity in the facial features, stature, and skin colors of his compatriots. Likewise a native of Beijing. What really bugs me is the reference to "the African team"—as though there were only one.
Last time I checked, Africa was a continent (the world's second largest), with 53 countries and seven dependencies. Most of those countries sent teams to the Olympic Games. And in no way were the members of those teams homogeneous in appearance, language, politics, or culture. To cite just some of the most obvious examples: Ous Meloulli of Tunisia, who snatched a breathtaking win in the 1600-meter freestyle from the favorite, Australia's Grant Hackett, could pass for Syrian or Palestinian; he looks nothing at all like blonde swimmer Kirsty Coventry, who won all of Zimbabwe's medals. And neither of them resembles Togo's first-ever Olympic medalist, the kayaker Benjamin Boukpeti, or men's marathon winner Samuel Wanjiru of Kenya.
Even if Tom Friedman had intended to write "African teams," his statement is ridiculous—and embarrassing for a writer who has built his reputation on globalism (see The World Is Flat).
Unfortunately, Friedman is far from the only American with a huge blind spot about everything south of Gibraltar. During the opening ceremonies of this year's Olympic Games, NBC's Matt Lauer (or was it Bob Costas?) seemed bemused when the small contingent from Central African Republic entered the stadium. "Well, as I said four years ago," Lauer/Costas said with a chuckle, "I can tell you that Central African Republic is a republic. In central Africa."
Time to get a clue, media people. Right now a guy named Obama is about to accept his party's nomination for president of the United States. His father was from Kenya. That's a country. In Africa.