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IOP Panel Discusses Keith Richburg's 'Out of America' Book

Speakers Criticize Author's Negative Outlook

By Jim Cocola

More than 100 undergraduates, graduate students and Cambridge residents gathered last night at the Kennedy School of Government to hear a panel discussion on the recent book, Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa, by Keith Richburg, Hong Kong bureau chief of The Washington Post.

At the discussion, moderated by DuBois Professor of the Humanities Henry Louis Gates, Jr., panelists charged Richburg with presenting an overly negative view of African society.

Panelist Mathatha Tsedu, a native South African and a Neiman Foundation fellow, dismissed what he termed Richburg's "horrifying generalizations that paint a picture of a good-for-nothing continent."

Another panelist, Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Les Payne, criticized Richburg's "adeptness at applying the bandages after inflicting the wounds."

Richburg defended the book, calling it a "personal memoir."

"I would insist on the diversity of authentic experiences with Africa," he said.

Some members of the audience echoed Richburg's emphasis on individual viewpoints.

Audience member Jason Phillips '99 praised Richburg for "publiciz[ing] his opinion without regard to who it might offend."

Gates said the discussion explored the tensions between "the desire to romanticize and the desire to be repulsed by or deny" contemporary African society.

Panelist Florence Ladd, director of the Bunting Institute, was the only member of the discussion to thank Richburg for renewing public discourse on African and American relations.

She said Richburg's pessimism amplified "the importance of an active partnership between Africa and America."

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