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The foreign gaze: authorship in academic global health
  1. Seye Abimbola1,2
  1. 1School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  2. 2The George Institute for Global Health, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Seye Abimbola; seyeabimbola{at}

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I was really interested in black readership. For me the parallel is black music, which is as splendid and complicated and wonderful as it is because its audience was within; its primary audience. The fact that it has become universal, worldwide, anyone, everyone can play it, and it has evolved, was because it wasn’t tampered with, and editorialised, within the community. So, I wanted the literature that I wrote to be that way. I could just go straight to where the soil was, where the fertility was in this landscape. And also, I wanted to feel free not to have the white gaze in this place that was so precious to me…

—Toni Morrison (1931–2019)1

​And I have spent my entire writing life trying to make sure that the white gaze was not the dominant one in any of my books. The people who helped me most arrive at that kind of language were African writers… Those writers who could assume the centrality of their race because they were African. And they didn’t explain anything to white people… “Things Fall Apart” [by Chinua Achebe] was more important to me than anything only because there was a language, there was a posture, there were the parameters. I could step in now, and I didn’t have to be consumed by or concerned by the white gaze.

—Toni Morrison (1931–2019)2


There is a problem of gaze at the heart of academic global health. It is difficult to name. Replace the word ‘white’ in the Toni Morrison quotes above with the word ‘foreign’, and you may see what I mean. Better still, read on. Because without naming this problem, we cannot have holistic discussions on imbalances in the authorship of academic global health publications. Recent bibliometric analyses3–6 (some of which have been published in BMJ Global Health7–9 …

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