The Dark Continent: A new meaning

Often when one hears the phrase “dark continent,” without doubt a person’s first instinct is to think Africa. Decades have passed where the continent of Africa has been associated with terms such as “dark,” “uncivilized” and “savage”.

A few questions  that were brought up in class were ” What happens when there are two different meanings to a trope?” and “Who assigns meaning to these words?”

It all comes down to the “gaze” and the object of the “gazing.” Depending on who is looking, meaning can change and the course of analysis of a trope can switch perceptions. For example, Mary Ann Doane examines in her essay “Dark Continents:…” how the phrase ” dark continent” indicates the existence of an intricate historical articulation of the categories of racial difference and sexual difference through Freud’s use of “dark continent” to signify female sexuality and Fanon’s use of “dark continent” to signify a racial power difference.

Searching for the origin of this phrase and new, somewhat established, meanings for it, I ran across a couple of interesting blogs and opinionated sites. The first, Europe: The Dark Continent, caught my attention because it was so far removed from what has previously been established as the dark continent. One would never view Europe as the “dark continent” based upon the connotations that come along with the phrase. But as it turns out, this site has a different spin on what it actually means to be a “dark continent”. The gaze is from the perception of Christians and they are viewing Europe as one of the most secularized part of the world.The second site, The Dark Continent: It’s still Dark, focuses on Africa as the dark continent still, but the gaze is from the eyes of a “White African” and the perception is far from the historical examinations of racial difference and sexual difference; it focuses on technological innovations and availability.So it seems as if the shift of the phrase has gone from race and gender to science and religion, through the gaze of four different groups.

So what happens when the trope strays too far away from its so called roots of being a term for something unexplored and uncivilized? What is lost in this transition? What is gained?  Does this change rectify or corrects the term’s previous use? Or will there be a period where the term diverges back to its primitive state?

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One Response

  1. Ahem, I really don’t know how to answer your question(s). The thing about tropes and stereotypes is that they can be stretched almost indefinitely. While the meaning changes during stretching, the derogatory connotation still exists. In some cases, it may even be deemed acceptable but confined within certain social groups. For example, we are all aware of the use of the word ‘nigger’ but I have also heard ‘white nigger’, ‘chinese niggers’ and so on…
    I believe that while the initial efficacy of the trope is weakened, the stereotype is still there. Changing its use therefore does not rectify the stereotype, but may in some cases reinforce it to the point where it is acceptable or where it connotes something worse. Above all, I believe that a trope always has its primitive meaning, even if this meaning is obscured. I think of the use of “tribes” and “villages” as a example.

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