I Thought Africa Was a Country! Aren’t You All Naked Savages Living in a Jungle Desert?: Why These Stereotypes Ultimately Don’t Matter
Ladies and gentlemen, here I am yet again with my two cents on an issue that we as Africans run into when we are in foreign countries A LOT. I have realized that my writing style is a very disjointed incomplete one and so forgive me but I will say this often, I know that this article doesn’t capture the whole complexity of the situation, but hopefully it will stir your thought in the right direction.
Have you ever heard or known someone who has heard the following:
Wow! I thought Africa was a country?
Do you guys have buildings/pizza/razors/any modern Western luxury items?
Don’t you guys all live in deserts?
Now I know that if you haven’t heard these things said directly to you, you know someone who has and usually that results in a conversation that goes a little something like this:
(With frown on the face or hands on the hip) “These (insert name of countrymen here) are so ignorant. How can they think that Africa (insert ignorant comment here)? They are so ignorant….(subtext of statements that follow: they are so ignorant, they should understand us, our home and our culture the way we understand them)”
Now that I have written it out, I hope you are begining to see just how ridiculous this conversation is. Now I am not judging anyone, I have been guilty of indulging in the above conversation, one too many times, HOWEVER, in the grand scheme of things conversations such as the above fall into the category of useless conversations that will never really take us anywhere. I say this for a couple of reasons:
1) We Don’t Know Much About Them Either
For all our posturing about how the white man is ignorant and how they should know better, we aren’t exactly Einstein’s when it comes to foreign culture. I live in Australia. Now if you live in Australia, be honest, what did you know about this place except Neighbours, Home and Away and kangaroos before you came here…..hmmm………..
……no, it’s ok, I’ll wait………………….
Now I know that a lot of you (here comes the sarcasm) are probably saying:
Mwangi, my good man, I knew about Crowded House, the Aboriginal land rights issues, relations that Australia has with East Timor, the Australian Federal system, Ned Kelly, the marsupial inhabitants of Australia and all this when I was only five years old. That’s because I am a wordly, educated men and they are not.
In other words for all our judgment we are defying rule number one of morality: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We don’t know much about them or bother to learn much about them, let’s extend them at least the same courtesy.
2) How on Earth Would You Expect them to Know or Even Care About Your Country?
There are, at best guess, 195 countries in the world. We are 6 billion people in the world. You are getting annoyed because someone who lives half way around the world doesn’t know much about your little country. If you didn’t live in your country would you know about your country? Would you have any reason whatsoever to care about your country?Do the relations and what’s going on in your country have any bearing upon the lives of this country half way across the world?
I am sorry to be speaking with such a harsh tone, but I am simply doing so because whenever we condemn people for their ignorance we do so with such an unnecessarily bitter tone.
The Reason I Think We Get Angry
In my humble opinion, the reason we get angry is because we are hurt. We are hurt that our lives, our country, our people and our culture don’t matter enough that other people would want to know about them or understand them. It hurts us because it reminds us that we are away from a place where we matter and we are now in a place where we are just one of thousands of cultures.
I think this is so, because logically, I think we all know, on some level, that it is unreasonable for us to expect them to know much about us when they don’t really care that much – though the whole Africa being a country thing, Wow! Who woulda thought?
No denying that a lot of Westerners perceive themselves to be better than us and there’s no denying the complexity and imbalance that exists when it comes to immigrants relating to members of their host nation. Ultimately though, I don’t think that huddling up to criticize people for not knowing the facts about our country will take us anywhere. Instead, let’s take it upon ourself to either educate the ignorant and bring a little light to their lives or work on building our country up so that it’s unavoidable on the map.
For the Ignorant: 4 Really Quick Facts About Africa
This section is for all the ignorant people who don’t know the facts about Africa. Four really quick ones:
1) Africa is NOT a country. It is a continent with 53 countries, 6 of which are islands just of the mainland of Africa. South Africa is a country, not a province of the country, Africa.
2) Africa has more than 900,000,000 people in it. We have well over 1000 languages within the continent and we had many cultures and empires long before colonialism.
3) Not every country in Africa is a starving poor country. Botswana, Namibia and a few other countries are doing a pretty good job of taking care of their populations.
4) We have Western conveniences. In Africa the disparities in wealth are disgustingly huge and the cultures among the classes are extraordinarily different. Poor people struggle just to survive. For the most part the wealthy live Westernized, pampered lives with stuff like ipods,computers,satellite televisions, Mercedes Benzes and all that other stuff. The level of materialism in a lot of African countries scares me at times.
There is a lot more that can be said about this topic but I think I will leave it at that. I dunno if this article will annoy you, turn you off, get you thinking, so leave me a little message or response and let me know what you think. Till then
Don’t be scared of your inadequacy but instead of your infinite potential,