Throughout decades, the continent of Africa has been portrayed as an environment where deep suffering and poverty occurs; it is depicted as a ‘wasteland’ in the media and raises the stereotype that Africa is an underdeveloped society and in the words of the general public; The Third World Nation. These stereotypes raise concerns and trouble for Africans living in America as they spend each day battling comments and opinions from Americans who believe that Africa is a jungle. Although African countries wrestle with economic agony and political jolt, it does not seem rational for majority of Americans to imply that we as Africans should not know how to speak proper English and even more bothersome is the conception that the continent is, in fact, a country. I personally have had conversations with several Americans during my short stay who have continuously spoken about Zambia and Liberia as though they were states and even disregarding the fact that I am Nigerian and I know as little as they do about these countries.
The American film industry is the largest film industry possibly in the world and has continuously depicted Africa in several award-winning movies as poverty-stricken plantation gardens, speaking Zulu and Swahili and residing in huts. Examples of these categories of movies are The Good Lie (2014) and The Last King of Scotland (2006). These movies have fused storylines that portray Africans as uneducated and uncivilised; we’re not warriors.
Nigerian Human activist, feminist and author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her Ted Talks session ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ discloses her concern with the stereotypes across the minds of Americans concerning Africa and more importantly her concerns about how Africans think of themselves because of the stories told by Americans. She speaks of an example of her roommate who had asked to listen to her ‘tribal music’ and was disappointed when she played a track from Mariah Carey. In many instances, Africans are depicted as tribal and native by Americans; and I wouldn’t necessarily blame the ignorant ones because if I hadn’t grown up in Nigeria, I too would have thought that all there is to Africa are its beautiful trees, Wildlife, diverse languages, fighting wars and dying of incurable diseases based on the images and stories you find on the internet and on the televisions.
John Locke, a London merchant in 1561 sailed to West Africa and decided to keep an interesting yet highly false account of what he had seen, he referred to my people as ‘beasts who have no houses’, saying ‘they are people who have no heads, having their mouths and eyes in their breasts,’ although this seems hilarious and comedy-like, it stems as the beginning of a negative view that has wide-spread over the years. In this century, where the internet is the largest means of communication and information, it is important that certain stereotypes are destroyed and worked on for the benefits of those who they affect; in this case, Africans.
On the twitter app, you see many examples of Americans who find it comical to make ignorant jokes about Africa’s developments; in November of 2012, Lady Gaga tweeted that she was about to land in Africa and believes she just saw a giraffe and was super excited about this, typical. A contestant in the Miss Teen competition in 2007 answered a question pointing out that South Africa has no education. These two individuals who both have large public influence, have both aided the untrue knowledge of Africa. As do many other European public figures who simply judge the state of things based on what they watch and feel Africa is.
Very recently, the president of the United States of America, the most powerful country in the world, Donald Trump made a statement in one of his short-sighted speeches in which he referred to Africa as a shit-hole, again agreeing to the stereotype that we are fighting daily to abolish and this is in the 21st century. When will this end? The idea that Africans are hungry and in constant war needs to be abolished, because as Chimamanda said, “the problem with stereotypes is not that they’re untrue, but that they’re incomplete” the problem with these African stereotypes is not that Africans are not hungry, but that we are not all hungry and quite frankly there’s hunger everywhere. It is not that our political system is great; it is that it is not as bad and was not always as bad.
African women are expected by Europeans to be married and with kids at young ages because that is what they have been taught, they are believed to be domestic and hard-skinned. It is true that we have a lot to learn, and it is indeed true that Africans are behind in modernisation but it is hoped by many of us back home that we can be accepted in the society without being looked at as ‘different’ and in a negative light.
What is the most offensive of this cultural oppression are the Africans who live abroad who disregard where they are from and look down upon their origins; even if they don’t exactly know it. It is better to judge by a foreigner than to be judged by your very own. For the most part, black Americans know a lot of their history and have the same skin as Africans. Africans who live or work in America are usually in top positions but we still see comments by black Americans accepting the stereotype as though they don’t in one way fall into it; Actress and public personality Raven Symone says “I’m from every continent in Africa.” And that says enough.
The way out of stereotypes for us is to complete these visions, is to sell our stories and spread our wisdom and with each article and story, we will. There’s more to Africa with each passing moment, we’re growing from the ruins of our past and have begun to develop our continent and each country in it into an institution that’s economically, socially and culturally buoyant.