7 Unique Things That Africa and Africans Have Taught Me

African person

As a lot of you know, I was born and raised in Kenya. I have been to South Africa and all over Kenya. I have hung out with Zims, Tswanas, Ghanians, Naijas, Tanzanians, African Americans and other children of the soil from all over the place. What have I learned from all of this?

1) Keeping It Real:

By keeping it real, I don’t neccesarily mean honesty, because any African will tell you that Africa has it’s fair share of liars. Instead, I am talking about wearing your heart on your sleeve.

Yesterday I was in a social gathering here in Oz (Australia for the uninitiated): When I got home, I realized how subtle our interactions were. Sure on the surface level, it may have seemed quite simple and easy, but there was so much sub-text: when to talk, who to talk to, when to move on, when you lost someone in the conversation, when you gained someone else, who had the power, who didn’t, who is attracted to you, who did you just turn off and so on and so forth.

And none of this was really ever discussed in the open or brought to the surface and its something that a lot of folks can really miss unless they have interacted with people from Oz for a while.

I cannot tell you how much grief I have seen because of completely misunderstanding the sub-text or underlying rules of an interaction or not setting the rules early on.

Sure in Africa there is still sub-text but people are much more open about how they feel and much more expressive in the way they speak. Most of all they speak sub-text that I understand. Considering I learned a lesson something as important as this in the school of hard knocks and not in a classroom you quickly realize:

2) Education Isn’t What it Promised to Be:

African school

There are many articles out there that constantly remind members of the African diaspora that we are some of the best educated folks around.

As far as I am concerned, the fact that you have a degree means diddly squat. Don’t get me wrong, I bow to your intellect for being intelligent and hard working enough to go through more than a decade of school and end up in an outstanding course in an outstanding University. I salute and have a deep respect for you after enduring the rigours of the unstructured University life and coming out strong, Lord knows I dropped off on the side. BUT all this love and respect, is aimed AT YOU, not your degrees.

Anyone who was around Kenyans around the post-election violence of last year quickly realized that a University degree (and even chronological age) isn’t a guarantee of maturity, or wisdom, or restraint, or love, or compassion or even intelligence really. So all this stuff we were sold as kids that education is the be all and end all to making us well rounded people of substance: Not so! And by the way the same thing applies for:

3) Hard Work:

African labourer

Africans are hands down some of the hardest working people around. I come from a family where one half of the two person team that made me was the best woman in the country when her high school results came out. I have watched both my folks slug it out for 8+ hour days 6 days a week, starting business after business after business. And here’s the thing: that work ethic is pretty much standard procedure in Africa.

I was genuinely shocked when I arrived in Oz and realized there were things like minimum wage and maximum daily working hours.

When most folks here complain about being worked to the ground from 8 hours of work, 5 days a week, I can’t help but think: isn’t the idea of stress relative?

The Australian workload would be kinda like a vacation for a standard African worker. That’s part of the reason that I don’t write much about the need for hard work: a lot of Africans intrinsically know this and live it. Sadly that’s partly because:

4) Africans are Unashamedly Materialistic:

Diamond ring

A lot of people in the West are materialistic. A lot of Jones out here want the fancy house, big car, a lot of money, pretty girls/boys etc etc. However many people out West are taught, and even believe that,

“Money isn’t everything. There are things more important than money.”

Not the African. Many Africans would sell their soul at discount prices to get money. There is nothing more important than money to a lot of Africans and material possesions not only define you, they are the cornerstone of who you are. One of the reasons I created the Stuff African people like series was to poke fun at a seriously high level of materialism that we as African folks have at the expense of other things.

Don’t believe we are materialistic: pay a visit to the homes of African politicians and welathy businessmen and tell me they don’t easily trump 90% of homes in Europe: I mean I was certainly disappointed by the houses here when I first showed up. It’s pretty interesting though how there is so much similarity right now between the homes of Melbourne and where I grew up in Nairobi. In truth:

5) Westernization is Powerful:

James Bond

If anyone ever wants to start a think tank that talks about the power of Westernization and how to keep that sucker on a leesh and under control, I am behind them 100%.

We are on the road to being one huge homogenous global society, controlled from Washington, speaking English and liking and doing the same things from Auckland to California.

For me to say that I never spoke anything other than English regularly before I came to Australia is a travesty when one considers that just over 40 years ago I would be living an entirely different life with an entirely different set of beliefs and values.

We are not in control of Westernization and it is hitting Africa like a tidal wave, the good sides (human rights, respect for women and people from other cultures, shared commonalities with people from all over the world) and bad ( relationships breakdown, drug habits, lethal eating habits, confusion and lack of purpose, manufacturing of a majority of humanity living in poverty, linear models of insatiable consumption etc etc etc).

I am not saying that Westernization is good or bad, I am a result of it. I am saying, we need to control it and not be a slave to it. As Westernized as we Africans arel, I was quite surprised to discover that most Africans are:

6) Africans are Socially Conservative:

African church

It’s been said many times and it will be said many times in future: white people are crazy. I love it! A lot of white people are unashamedly out there and willing to try out things that would make the average African absolutely squirm.

Whether its experimenting with things like religion or relationships or business or even endangering their lives in pursuit of something that to many looks like a pipe dream fantasy that will never come true, people from the West do it.

Africans tread with care and wait for a path to be beaten before jumping into it. We hold on to whatever societal rules have been passed down to us and are rarely willing to question for fear of failure and alienation.

White people go beat the path naked with a carrot in one hand and an idea in the other.

But I Digress

Just as a side note, don’t you find it interesting that out of the whole African blogosphere, there are only like maybe 10 or less of us who actually use our real names and/or have pictures AND almost all of us who do aren’t in Africa. I know there is a point to be made there somewhere, I just don’t know what it is.

7) Some People are Just Mean:

Mobutu

The old adage that good will always prevail over evil is a lie. Many brutal, callous people have existed and gone about their narcissistic work all life long going from success to success. Just look at African dictators. Some of these fellows will do evil all life long and will die not having experienced any more stress than the normal man who does good. Good doesn’t always prevail over evil. It only prevails when people who believe in it fight for it day after day after day.

So there, off the top of my head are 7 things that growing up in Nairobi and being around a lot of Africans from all over the world has taught me in my life.

If you want to hear more about my experiences and insights, make sure you subscribe to this site via RSS or email to receive regular updates.

Be blessed and bless others,

Mwangi

No Comments

  • By Leeban, June 27, 2008 @ 1:09 pm

    1) So true. All my REAL African friends from Nigeria, and Kenya always keep it real. Thats what I like about them. Thats what white people like about them too. None of that fakeness. If they like you, you’ll hear it. If they don’t, you’ll know about it. Sure they mis-read the subtext like you once in awhile, but on the whole I think most people appreciate their genuineness. Even though I was born in Somalia, and speak Somalian, I pretty much spent my entire life in the west, so I can see it from both sides.

    2)Agreed. A degree doesn’t tell you a lot about a person.

    3) Immigrants in general, taught me what hard work was. As did watching my parents struggle.

    4) Thats really sad, but again too true.

    5) I think westernization comes out as a net negative. Just like you Mwangi, I am a product of westernization. If it wasn’t for chance, and my fathers skill at forging refugee documents, I would probably be in the militia fighting in the civil war back home. So while, im glad we made it to the west. can’t say im pleased with its affect on the east. To many nations confusing modernization and progress, with western culture.

    6) Africans do tread carefully, and with good reason. When even the smallest mistakes, can mean huge negative consequences, many Africans soon learn that its better to be safe than sorry. Privileged western folk tend to live sheltered lives, and thus take life for granted. Taking risks, doesn’t seem all that risky when you have a net to catch you. I

    7) Good rarely prevails over evil.

  • By rags, June 27, 2008 @ 2:59 pm

    I am just flat out proud to be afri-can.

  • By Mwangi, June 27, 2008 @ 5:37 pm

    @Leeban: So you’ve seen the subtext all life long……sneaky, slippery little sucker that sub-text can be isn’t it. Sometimes I wish I was born in Naija or somewhere out West because if you were to plot it on a scale no one keeps it real quite like the folks from West Africa, for good and for bad.
    You know I could write a whole article on how folks seem to have confused Westernization with modernization and this false sense of progress…hopefully I won’t forget and will get a chance to write about that and get discussion started.
    As for the whole safety net thing, what really bothers me to no end is when folks get out here, see the safety nets but still chose to live within the self-imposed limits of home regardless of whether they are student, resident or citizen: take advantage of it for Pete Sake. As David Kobia put it ( I paraphrase): “When you get out here stop competing against just your circle of peers, your competing against everyone in the world.” That final point is very sad, I really wish there were divine police who could keep us in check every time we went wrong, but alas……..

  • By Mwangi, June 27, 2008 @ 5:39 pm

    @rags: You know that idea is worthy of discussion on its own: What does that mean? You are proud to be African. Are you proud of the land mass that is called Africa? Are you proud of its inhabitants? Are you proud of their complexion? You know its quite amazing how we can share this same love and pride in the continent for such different reasons…that’s just so cool.

  • By Carol, June 27, 2008 @ 8:08 pm

    Everything here seems true,except one. Am sorry but I do not understand what Rucy Kibaki’s video is doing there, let alone in the keeing it real part. Am not sure I want to understand but…………!
    Anyway the rest is true……se=ure,education,materialism,westernisation etc.
    Am proud to be African too.(I think I say this daily)

  • By mama shady, June 27, 2008 @ 8:34 pm

    Hey mwangi!This was an interesting post. I laughed at number 6…beat the path naked with a carrot….it was just interesting imagery!Anyway, I have noticed it too, the way in which some jungus are passionate about various causes , willing to stake their lives on saving indigenous grasshoppers…among other things. As for ‘Keeping it real’, im not sure if thats the term I would have used, but I do understand, we take things with a pinch of salt and perhaps as not political in our speech as westerners can be sometimes…sometimes. The number of times I’ve wondered during conversations what someone really meant or gotten annoyed at fake camaraderie….anyway, post for another day!
    Ha!I would never use my real name or photo on my blog. It depends on what you use your blog for.
    As for westernization…abeg! There so much richness and culture that we’ve forgotten…frankly its sad.

  • By Mwangi, June 28, 2008 @ 12:41 am

    @Carol: The Lucky Kibaki video just felt like it went hand in hand with exuberance and no inhibitions and completely being open and free to express yourself, good side and bad at all times. Somehow it felt like a right way to prove the point in a tongue in cheek way.

  • By Mwangi, June 28, 2008 @ 12:45 am

    @mamashady: Long time no see or hear. In terms of “keeping it real” its definitely more about a willingness to express, and not supress emotions, as opposed to willingness to be deceptive and selfish and stuff like that. As you’d know there are a lot of folks out West who never deeply confide in their countrymen and actually feel more comfortable being open and sharing with Caucasians, Asians and folks from other cultures.
    As for the losing of the culture, if anyone is supporting or working on any initiatives to preserve and record the cultures of Africa I am all behind them and I would love to hear about them and interview them.

  • By Ben, June 28, 2008 @ 4:19 am

    Great, great post!!!

    I was actually surprised at number one. I think it depends on the context and people. I think it also depends on whether you are an “insider” or an “outsider.” As an African insider, you already understand the subtext, so it is being real to you. When you get together with other members of the Diaspora, or folks from home, then you can really rap. To the outside mazungu like myself, understanding a lot of what is said here (Kenya) depends on reading between the lines and understanding the inferences, body language, etc. My wife is always saying, “Why didn’t they just say what they meant?” My response, “They told you exactly what they thought; it was just phrased a little differently and part of it was said with their eyes.” Even within Kenya, I have observed differences on this one – depending on where people are from. My Internet connection is really to slow to actually watch the clip, but isn’t she the exception that proves the rule? She gets the press and attention precisely because she speaks her mind so freely; it’s not the accepted norm.

    I find people everywhere are pretty straight forward once they feel comfortable with you and trust you, but how many people anywhere have ever told you to your face exactly what they think. . . . that’s a whole lot different than telling you what they think about others. (I can think of a couple of West African regions that don’t mind telling you to your face, . . . and France.) So maybe the feel more real because they are more like you?

    Again, on hard-working – depends on where you are from. I would say from my own observations in West, East and South Africa, your generalization holds true; I’m always starting big fights with whites who call Africans “lazy.” Africans in America are some of the hardest working people I know – 3 jobs, etc. (By your name, I’m making an ethnic guess that hard working is especially true of your people.) On the other hand, some of my Congolese brothers will argue that their people – or at least their neighbors – are terribly lazy; things grow easily and minerals practically pop out of the ground . So again it depends . . . just like it does everywhere.

    On 6). One of the things that attracted me to your blog was that you said who you were right away?

    The naked with a carrot comment was very funny.

    Again, great post.

  • By Ben, June 28, 2008 @ 4:31 am

    PS – on 5 culture – I’m afraid a window of opportunity may be closing. By the time this generation figures out how valuable and rich their cultures were, the old folks that could teach it to them will be gone. I say, seize the day while you can – before it’s really too late!

  • By Mwangi, June 28, 2008 @ 7:25 am

    @Ben: I don’t know if you ever saw this TED talk but it scared the bejeezas out of me: http://youtube.com/watch?v=bL7vK0pOvKI
    No doubt the reason I prefer African sub-text is because I understand it. I guess we really do take for granted whenever we go to interact with a new group of people that they have customs, beliefs, nuances prior to our entering their lives that WE actually have to take time to learn. I am sure some day in the near future this talk of nuances and my not understanding them will be long gone. Right now, the learning curve must be endured.

  • By acolyte, June 28, 2008 @ 1:04 pm

    Nice post, other then that fact that you just wonderfully type cast Africans the same way Westerners do.
    - You do realise the bulk of the Africans you have met while in OZ are from the middle and upper class of their countries and most likely urban to boot. Its like you saying someone you meet in USIU in Nairobi is representitive of the bulk of Kenyans when we know people in Nai are faaaaaaar different from people in the different rural areas of Kenya. The Africans you have met hardly represent the continent, they are just a very small strata of it. You have also not mentioned various African zones such as North African and Central Africa and their various country men. Plus you do realise that Africa has over 50 countries, so merely travelling to 2 countries and professing to be knowledgeable makes you no different from the Western “Experts” who come to Kenya.
    2) Education Isn’t What it Promised to Be:
    Your choice not to pursue a higher education doesn’t mean higher education means nothing. The skilled professionals who are responsible for the everyday amenities you enjoy ranging from electricity, water, good health and other social services WENT TO SCHOOL! Sadly you can’t learn everything from a book or the internet, you have to sit under the tutelage of others who know what you want to know.
    You also do realise that statistics have shown the more educated a populace is the more likely they are to make informed political decisions since they are aware of the working of government? The uneducated people were the ones who were more likely burning and raping their neighbours in Kenya as opposed to the educated.
    Education is not an ends in itself but a means to an end. Yes we need to learn as Africans that education in itself doesn’t equal work and prestige but the skills learnt in higher education in themselves can be transformed into work, business, wealth and eventually prestige. Where would those skills come from? EDUCATION!
    EDUCATION IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT OUT TO BE.

  • By Mwangi, June 28, 2008 @ 8:31 pm

    @Acolyte: It’s been a while since I had a debate so here goes………….
    Just to slightly go off on a tangent. I for one do not mind the idea of stereotyping or putting people into boxes. And as we all know, nine times out of ten, our stereotypes are confirmed either as a result of self-fulfilling prophecies, the lens through which we see life or the stereotype being true. I think the only time that we mind stereotypes is when they demean us or lessen us as people. If stereotypes work in our favour – e.g. fear of the black man who “might be packing heat” has probably saved me from so much robbery and disrespect. So I for one don’t mind stereotypes. And I think I have already spoken about how apathetic I am to how we are portrayed and cast by the white man when its compared to us focussing on and working on ourselves. Digression over………..

    The stereotype keeping it real, definitely lessons the more cosmopolitan and city-raised someone is, so in that particular observation I actually was taking into account folks from rural areas actually slightly more than people born and bred in cities. So, it’s definitely the sum of all my observations from the country to the cities to the diaspora.

    As for the differences between us in terms of region, sure they exist. But I am willing to bet you probably don’t have any fear of travelling to any English speaking African country on the basis of feeling out of place, I mean I certainly don’t. To a large extent, as a result of the sum of my experiences and observations, I kind of know what to expect and indeed when you take a look and observe there are many similarities between us all, otherwise we wouldn’t keep calling ourselves Africans and instead would always speak in terms of national or city affiliations.

    As for education. My point is simply this: character counts way more than the degree. Now that I have said that, to a lot of folk that will seem like common sense, but in Africa we definitely do not act like this is the case. Combine with material things, we definitely tend to view people as failures, incomplete and somehow sub-normal if they don’t have degrees or material things, irrespective of their character. In short, all I was saying is that this view of life now that I’m older doesn’t make much sense. Do I love education and universities? Yeah, more than most. I am the only guy I know who would actually go on a date in a University lecture hall BUT is education more important than your character and resourcefulness in determining your success….you tell me man, you tell me?

  • By acolyte, June 29, 2008 @ 4:38 am

    To justify stereotypes and accept them is the root of many of Africans problems. Africans stereotype white people are better than themselves and as a result bow down to anything coming from a white man, white people stereotype Africans as backward and as you said this becomes self fulfilling so they end up having no respect for us and treat us as inferiors.
    Your packing heat stereotype that you happily embrace is the same one that will have you singled out by white law enforcement and receive a disproportionately high sentence for a minor crime since you are seen to be a threat. Still want to be hard? You do realise that many times Africans internalize the negative stereotypes we hear about from the West so that is why we are so reliant on them for things we can do for ourselves plus it’s even worse for younger folk like your siblings. So to be blissfully dismissive of them is very sad.
    character counts way more than the degree.
    This only may apply if you are working in customer service or retail. Any other area where you need a specific skill set like it or not you shall need that degree, diploma or certificate. You talked about having a problem on your site that fought with for a day but someone solved it for you in a few minutes. You do realise that most probably that person knew the web/computer language that solved the problem and they are most likely certified or have a degree/diploma in that area. Even if you are going into business for yourself, having an education can spell the difference between having to go to the school of hard knocks or having an easier ride and possibly success.
    So for you to think that you can run gung ho into the world and think you can conquer it, tossing any need to acquire knowledge aka education to the side is only setting yourself up for disappointment and failure.

  • By Mwangi, June 29, 2008 @ 5:05 am

    @acolyte: I am neither accepting or rejecting stereotypes, I am merely coming at it from a different angle and suggesting that a stereotype in and off itself is not an emotive thing but is a tool that can have either positive or negative consequences depending on where and when its used.
    The stereotype that we are rhythmically gifted for example, is a wonderful stereotype that can only work out for the best if embraced and converted into a self-fulfilling prophecy in a positive direction.
    The “packing heat” stereotype for example is a perfect example: in the USA I would not want to approach that stereotype with a ten foot pole for a plethora of reasons and agree with you that its terrible. But here where police violence and brutality does not affect most of sub-saharan and other Africans, except Somalis, Sudanese and Ethiopians, its a useful tool to avoid being bullied and disturbed by over-exuberant teens. I can’t be hard to save my life, but the fact that this fear exists in the minds of those teens has saved me from many things I wouldn’t have been able to handle on my own.
    Though I don’t see what white stereotypes have to do with my article now that I think about it. Are you proposing that I shouldn’t view African folks as a group with commonalities?
    I am sorry, I should have made the distinction between school and education. Education, you and I both agree is a no-brainer (lol, interesting choice of words there), you can’t thrive in this world without education and without being vigilant in its pursuit. That and school, with its degrees, is an entirely different issue. Don’t you think it would be more valuable to teach folks how to be self-teaching (there’s a great word for that) and creative in their pursuit of life as opposed to embracing and encouraging the mindless consumption of facts without prior consideration of the end result of this knowledge consumption or even an attempt to place this knowledge within the context of day to day life?
    My problem with people looking at education as the be all and end all is that its usually at the expense of people and institutions that attempt to come up with creative solutions or take on creative routes to deal with common problems among other things. Anyway I’m rambling……….

  • By acolyte, June 29, 2008 @ 5:32 am

    There is nothing like a wonderful or positive stereotype ie Asians are smart intelligent people. A great stereotype right? Wrong because what has happened here as a result is that when it comes to university intakes Asians are held to higher standards, if you are Asian and have an overall B and a black/white person has a B; they shall be admitted before the Asian because Asians are meant to have higher grades. This actually led to a law suit.
    As for you typecasting stereotypes all I shall say is that Africans are so diverse that you cant confine them to a few paragraphs and characteristics.
    We both agree that education is not an end in itself but a means to an end. It is a tool and a weapon. To eschew it would be to run into battle armed with a wooden sword as opposed to one made of steel, you may still suceed but you will have a harder battle. I also don’t agree with the wholesale acceptance of education, one must be wise about what they choose to study and where since education is a business too.
    By the way what do you mean by self teaching? You can’t teach yourself something that you don’t know.
    Anyway here is something you should look at http://www.businessfacilities.com/SecondRankingPR2007.pdf
    A report that shows the positive correlation between education and quality of life. There are similar studies that also show the correlation between education and income. You need knowledge gathered by an education to make it easier to make the right choices in your life, financial and otherwise.

  • By Mwangi, June 29, 2008 @ 5:55 am

    @acolyte: Not to be pendantic but if you look up the word “stereotype” in the dictionary, within the definiton there is no link to either positive or negative emotions:

    A conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image.

    And whether you want to admit it or not man, stereotypes can have both positive and negative consequences. As a mental exercise, simply ask the question is it possible to exploit any stereotypes for my personal benefit and the answer is of course yes, Asians have higher standards, so they live up to them and achieve. So, I stand by my statement that stereotypes are tools, just like words, and you can use them to your benefit if you know how.
    The education system tends to have an agenda and as far as I can tell, the agenda tends to be to educate middle management for the captains of industry. I think what set me off on this whole protest against this widespread unequivocal belief in University was when I looked at the Forbe 500 list and realized most of those cats were either dropouts or studied nothing that resembled business. I have never been interested in studying people who were good, I always wanted to learn about the best and it surprised me how few of those best got the keys to the kingdom in Universities. I was disappointed I guess………

  • By acolyte, June 29, 2008 @ 6:39 am

    You see you too have a stereotype of Asians that you think they are all hardworking and smart. Go look up education statistics for the Hmong and Vietnamese in the US. This stereotype can only be applied slightly to one group the Japanese/Chinese/Koreans but Asia is larger than that so to stereotype anyone is to do them a disservice.
    I would appreciate seeing a list of those Fortune 500 chaps without degrees. Like I said a degree isnt needed to suceed but it gives one a good set of tools to do so. You also do know for every one Bill Gates or Richard Branson who made it without a degree there are 100 who did not and since they had no education they had nothing to fall back on when their plans for greatness failed because in the quest for greatness there shall be a whole lot of failure before you succeed.
    The agenda of education ie university maybe to make people employees but you do know you can take what you have learnt ie in your business degree and use it to start your own business as you were educated to work in one and what you can do is simply use that knowledge and grow it into the ability to run one.While someone with no education on the other hand may have no idea on how even to balance a ledger book and get a business license.
    Education at the end of the day is like being given a tool box, what you build with it is up to you. To eschew education is to refuse tools and choose to make your own.

  • By Mwangi, June 29, 2008 @ 6:51 am

    @acolyte: On stereotypes, I think you and I have reached a point of agree-to-disagee because simply put I think stereotypes can be exploited for good if one is willing to investigate how. So what would you propose you do Aco? And before you answe that question, I would ask do you do it? For example, if your proposition is that we should take every single person as an 100% unique individual whose culture, background, looks and race have no bearing upon his personality or character (not potential, there as always its infinite) do you do that? Do you look at everyone as you walk down the street and not assume that they have a proclivity to act a certain way on the basis of where they are from and how they look?
    Whereas I do agree that education is a toolbox, every university and University course teaches a “school of thought” i.e. they may give you the tools but they also teach you how to use the tools to achieve a pre-set agenda which as far as I can tell is to work for captains of industry. And by the way thank you for reinforcing my point, education is indeed just a toolbox….just a toolbox, they didn’t teach us that growing up….it’s just a toolbox. And again, I make the distinction between education and University: education is a given, University and attending school is not.
    Or do you actually have expectations, even subconsciously, that you may or may not accept that more often than not come true.
    How many Asian millionaires can we say have been created by this self-fulfilling prophecy of Asian dilligence and intelligence. I can tell you, I live in basically a suburb that is a sub-section of the Orient and Indian sub-continent: guess which public school has some of the highest performers in the State and sent a spider to space……….not my comspolitan high school.
    Look through this list and tell me it isn’t suspect how many of them dropped out or did Bachelor of Arts and Science while ending up captains of industry:
    http://www.forbes.com/2008/03/05/richest-people-billionaires-billionaires08-cx_lk_0305billie_land.html

  • By acolyte, June 29, 2008 @ 7:31 am

    Okay since you are willing to stereotype away, you do realise that India and China have vast amounts of poor people, more than the rich so it seems that those are not real Asians but imposters. You are a kikuyu but you are poor? You must be a luo in disguise or something. Africans are not one big monolith to whom you can attribute the same features but anyway
    stereotype away my good lad.
    Sadly the link that you gave me doesnt have biographies but one thing I will tell you is that what I do know about many of those billionares is that they apprenticed, worked hard and by doing that received an education. You also do realise that most of them are over 40 and lived in a time where one could make it with enough hard work and desire. But we live in a time where people work smart instead of working hard.
    Let me ask you something, suppose you work at making the uber blog for 5 years and you don’t make it (knock on wood). What next? What do you have to fall on? At least if you have some sort of schooling you could join the workforce as you rebuild and you know how employers seem to love degrees and certification in this day and age.
    Education is not only a good tool box it is also a good parachute. Even big time athletes who prosper after their brief careers say that an education be it a certificate/diploma/degree has often helped them prosper and not go bankrupt. A University education in your eyes may not be of much use but in the world there is still plenty of use for one and it does offer many positive benefits as evinced by the link to the report I gave you.

  • By Mwangi, June 29, 2008 @ 7:34 am

    @acolyte: Alright Acolyte, what do you propose we do then? You have refused to see that there is any benefit to this thing called stereotyping. What do you propose we do instead? And do you practice what you preach?
    As for education, there you and I shall not see eye to eye either. I guess we shall let life and experience be our teacher. God willing we’ll still be around many years down the road, we will see whether this formal education thing is truly as important as people say it is, I say education is important but formalized education isn’t as important as people make it and you are of the position that formalized education is one of the most important determiners not only of the quality of one’s life but that the African obsession with it is healthy…so let’s work through this life together and see………..

  • By Mwangi, June 29, 2008 @ 7:44 am

    @acolyte: And as a btw just so that we are clear on just what we are arguing on, a stereotype does not define the person being stereotyped, let’s be clear on that. Let’s make a clear distinction between;
    a) Who someone is?
    b) Who that person perceives they are?
    c) Who other people perceive they are (which is usually where stereotypes are)?
    Sure a), b) and c) affect each other but they are not all one big thing, they are quite separate.

    We are talking about perceptual frameworks which simplify people and put them into categories and place expectations upon them on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, background etc etc

    I think on education we are clearly arguing about the same thing.

  • By Mwangi, June 29, 2008 @ 7:49 am

    @acolyte: Apologies, I’m thinking on my feet: Actually you know what, tell me what your ideal scenario would be in regards to both stereotypes and education. I am all ears now, no more arguing, I think you’ve heard enough of my POV.

  • By PS, June 30, 2008 @ 5:07 am

    I have read the exchange this weekend between Messrs Acolyte and Mwangi with no small amount of discomfort. Many people strive to teach the next generation that school based education is the way to upward mobility, and reading M’s views that education in school is not for everyone is a difficult perspective to understand. I say difficult because the people who make the job and employment and salary rules still read the gospel of degree and certificate.Whether the actual economy where you live supports entry into any job is another case, but the people running the world of work are operating under the same mentality, and unless there has suddenly been a boom in the number of people starting businesses, there is still a good number of people joining the workforce.
    Stereotypes: I do not think it is useful at all to stereotype people. Positive stereotypes always exclude, and we know the effects of negative stereotypes. I see your point M, as an attempt to justify stereotypes, an example being the Asian stereotype. Just because many Asians are enterprising, bright, high achieving etc does not permit us to classify Asians as the ‘model minority’. Even in families where the family is Asian, there is absolutely no guarantee that the children will be high achievers. In fact, because of the Asian stereotype there are many studies on the high suicide rate in some Asian countries where they have been held to an uncompromisingly high standard to the detriment of some students, and citizens.
    If you look at the same dictionary on the now-less-used terms to describe black people, the word ‘coloured’ probably sounds quite benign, but if you look at the roots of the word, and the connotations of many of these terms, they have been cleaned up from the muddy beginnings and made their way into modern language. Stereotypes may lead us to put you, M, in a ‘perceptual frameworks which simplify people and put them into categories and place expectations upon them on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, background etc etc’ and decide that your choice about education means you are X type of person, and to accept that generalization no matter how well you present a case to the contrary. See what I mean?

  • By Mwangi, June 30, 2008 @ 5:20 am

    @PS: However, people should have told us that not everyone gets to success by the formalized education road and that many who are in the minority that sits atop society either dropped out or skipped around formalized education all together. I am not saying formalized education is all bad, but I am saying, I wasn’t told the whole truth about it growing up: it isn’t the only way, it might be the majority way, but not the only way.
    As for stereotypes: they exist at this present moment in time irrespective of our opinions of them and they don’t seem to be on their way out soon. My question is: can the current stereotypes that exist be exploited for good by the people being stereotyped? I believe the answer is yes.
    Stereotyping and simplifying things on the basis of history and experience appears to be one of the fundamental ways that our brain works that keeps us from having to re-experience and re-understand everyone and everything: my question I repeat again: can this system that we people use to organize information be used for our benefit if we are willing to investigate how? I believe the answer is yes.
    This article could not have been written had I not at least taken the time to stereotype and make generalizations and simplify: a lot of articles could not get written if we did not do this ( relationship books that say men are x, women are y, books on politics that propose that people of this country all have this shared culture, history, language, way of life, interests etc etc).
    And I ask you what I asked Acolyte (though as I said, i now want to hear what aco has to say, I don’t want to argue anymore, I want to completely understand his side of the fence before I next respond): What alternative do you propose? More importantly do you live it? Do you take each and every human being as a unique individual without making any assumptions or pre-judgements ( good or bad) based on how they walk, talk, dress, act, where they are from etc etc? Do you do that in relationships, with bank tellers, when you watch movies? Take a moment to answer that question and chances are you’ll realize how much we stereotype already and how perhaps my line of questioning:

    How to exploit what’s already there while its there?

    may perhaps serve as better NOW while many of us work towards creating a world where everyone re-learns and re-experiences every single person they meet.

  • By Mo, August 4, 2008 @ 12:58 am

    I find it INCREDIBLY ironic that Acolyte accuses you of stereotyping yet he gleefully refers to Somalis as ‘beasts’ in the comments of the following post.

    http://mwanamishale.wordpress.com/2008/03/25/irritations/

    Pot. kettle. Black.

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