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Out of America

Nothing in Keith Richburgs long and respected journalistic career at the Washington Post prepared him for what he would encounter as the papers correspondent in Africa. He found a continent where brutal murder had become routine, where dictators and warlords silenced dissent with machine guns and machetes, and where starvation had become depressingly common. With a great deal of personal anguish, Richburg faced a difficult question: If this is Africa, what does it mean to be an African American? In this provocative and unvarnished account of his three years on the continent of his ancestors, Richburg takes us on a extraordinary journey that sweeps from Somalia to South Africa, showing how he confronted the divide between his African racial heritage and his American cultural identity.
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About the Author

Keith B. Richburg is the New York bureau chief for the Washington Post. In 1993 he won the National Association of Black Journalists' International Reporting Award, and the following year he won the George Polk Memorial Award for foreign reporting and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Washington, D.C.


Richburg spent three years (1991-1994) covering Africa for the Washington Post, and his tour of crisis zones like Somalia, Rwanda and Liberia left him disgusted and disheartened by the carnage, corruption and ungovernability that he observed. Moreover, faced with his self-identity as a black man- "there but for the grace of God go I"-and what he sees as black Americans' unthinking invocation of Africa, the jaded author concludes with an embrace of his essentially American identity. Indeed, his pungent narrative shoves African violence in our faces, while his encounters with African locals are inevitably distanced by culture and class. He takes a crusading journalist's pleasure in cross-examining visiting American black luminaries who excuse Africa's lack of democracy. Among evasionists, he finds one straight talker, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, who, after citing the usual litany of explanations (colonialism, etc.), which Richburg deems excuses, for African failures, criticizes his own people's lack of discipline. Richburg in turn applies that analysis to the problems plaguing black Africa. The author's harsh words, backed by experience, should stir controversy. But his report is too thin. His conclusions might have been tempered by reports that some black groups (like TransAfrica) have recently pressured Nigeria on human rights, and the no-longer-hopeful author doesn't acknowledge how the West might use aid to leverage political change. Richburg's crisis-based experience also ignores some other stories about the ambiguous black American African encounter, such as those told in Eddy Harris's Native Stranger. First serial to U.S. News & World Report. (Mar.)

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