What is astrsc*?
The Africa Stereotype Scanner (ASTRSC) is a tool that scans text for linguistic elements that often contribute to stereotypes about Africa.
Let’s say that you are writing an article about Africa and you are wondering if perhaps– without realizing it – you are reproducing damaging stereotypes. Write or paste your text, click “Scan,” and voilà: ASTRSC will give you an instant breakdown of stereotypes that were potentially found in your writing! It will highlight words and expressions in your text that generally reinforce different tropes about Africa. Not convinced that these stereotypes really matter? Click on the provided links to learn about their roots, effects, and see constructive ideas and suggestions.
ASTRSC is not systematically right nor does it tell you clearly what to do and not to do. It certainly does not guarantee your article to be stereotype-free, and it will not change the overall framing of Africa in the media: if the story you have to write is about conflict or famine, ASTRSC is not going to change that. Still, it may be able to help you make those stories more considerate of the humanity of those living those terrible situations. Stereotypes add insult to injury. Plus, they are not creative. ASTRSC is giving you an opportunity to pick up on some of those ahead of publishing!
So go ahead, use it, check your articles, see your writing through a new lens, and learn more about the history of stereotypes about Africa and about media coverage of Africa!
WHO IS ASTRSC FOR?
Stereotypes most often creep in because of ignorance and unconscious bias. We primarily designed ASTRSC for international journalists, but particularly for journalists writing African news story for the first time or journalists in training. We see ASTRSC as an opportunity for them to reflect on their writing practices and accountability, while learning about key debates surroundings issues of stereotyping and postcolonial representations of Africa.
But even seasoned international journalists can find ASTRSC useful (yes, Jeffrey Gettleman, we are looking at you). Most recent studies on international journalists in Africa (here, here and here) found that these professional are aware of these issues of negative representations of Africa. In their very large majority, they wish to see coverage of Africa improve, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Still, even with a lot of experience, stereotypes can creep in news stories, particularly because journalists don’t have the luxury of time. The urgency of news often means that you can’t systematically second-guess all you linguistic choices. That’s why ASTRSC is simple and quick: For those more experienced-but-hurried journalists, ASTRSC will be a little annoying-yet-constructive voice in their head: “check this out, do you need it?”; “are you sure, you mean Africa here and not East Africa, or perhaps just Tanzania?”; “you mentioned tribes; it might be relevant to you story, but did you make sure to contextualize this properly?” We hope that it will encourage them to think reflexively about their writing and positionality. In the process, they may also learn a few interesting things from latest research on Africa’s media Image (Guess what? One of us actually argued that Western media coverage of Africa is not necessarily as bad as many critics make it sound!).
Ultimately, ASTRSC is for anyone involved in producing representations of Africa through written text, and who cares about the impact of their writing. We see it being relevant to all journalists operating in Africa, communication professionals more broadly - from PR and advertisers to NGO communication officers – and, yes, academics (hello hello Maya Jasanof and Bruce Gilley ! )