Saturday, June 6, 2009

"Africa" in the American Mind

This is prevalent in almost every single reference to the African continent voiced from the mouth of an American regardless of their race. They seem to experience trouble in speaking of Africa in terms of its constituent countries. This seems petty, no I take that back. There is nothing petty about it. They have no trouble remembering or pronouncing countries in Europe such as France, Germany and England. Doubtless, they find it easy to mention exact countries in South America - the most popular, for them, being Brazil. The land of small bikinis, low-cost plastic surgery, sexy women freely available to foereign men for sex, warm weather and pretty beach fronts all year round.

Ah, but Africa. Poor, impoverished, hungry, war-torn Africa. One unified clump of a continent. So uniform, it's as though the countries themselves are states such as the fifty-two that America recognises as part of the United STATES of America. Is this where the confusion lies? They somehow draw parralels between America and Africa. No, it can't be. Surely they know it is a continent.

On Macon D's stuff that white people like blog, he gave me a hint as to what could perhaps be the reasoning behind this perpetual mistaking:

Craig had just returned from working with the Peace Corps in . . . I was about to write "Africa," but in light of yesterday's post, I'm going to resist that lazy American tendency, and work my brain a few seconds longer to come up with the specific country. . . okay, I remember. He'd been working in Benin.

Ah, so I get it now. Apathy. That's all it is. Their lazy to either remember or pronounce or find out what country is being spoken of in every case. I know Oprah does it all the time. Whether it is to come across as intelligible enough for her audiences or she simply has a hard time letting go of the apathy that hinders Americans (and others in the world for that matter) from being particular about Africa and it's constituent nations. When referring to ongoings at her Leadership Academy which she knows very well is in South Africa, she simply spoke of her "school in Africa". Oh, Oprah. This is where you let me down, lady! It all sounds perfect just perfect until you start going on about taking trips to Africa and the animals in Africa. (sigh)

Anyhow. Let them see their own mistakes and rightfully administer corrections. Because I don't really care about American ignorance anyway (despite the fact that I'm ranting about it). Life is full of contradictions that way.

"Why?" one may ask.

Probably it is a manifestation of the highly romanticized idea propagated in Western mainstream media about the jungles of Africa, the animals and safari one can enjoy on arrival in the Motherland. Alot of them often arrive in Africa hoping to see the animals right away not realising that in the presence of civilization, animals must be kept in captivity or enclosed behind strategically-placed fencing as is the case with the Kruger National Park and many others around the continent.

I clearly recall being handed a colouring book on a commercial airline as a kis (think it was British Airways, can't really rememeber) and it contained colour-in pictures of kids from all around the world expressing their respectic heritages, cultures and traditions through their dress. Each setting clearly conveyed which country was represented by each image. Netherlands was a young Dutch girl wearing clogs and standing in front of a windmill, Australia was a boy playing with a boomerang in the outback with a kangaroo somewhere in the vicinity. Then it came to Africa (sigh) and lo and behold we had the typical jungle setting. An Africa boy wearing a Madiba-style shirt and safari hat. Foliage hanging over with a giraffe and lion in his background. I was, naturally, a little confused. This isn't Africa I thought. Not the Africa I knew personally. Too young to know of course the stereotypes applied when it comes to Westerner's view of those from foreign countries.

Perhaps its also the fact that for an American tongue many of Africa's countries are difficult to prounounce. Again that comes down to apathy. How can a things such a mental laziness be acceptable at all?

Try harder!


thelady said...

It is not laziness, or apathy, or the inability to pronounce the names of the countries. It is the stereotypes. The genuine belief that all of Africa is the same, same people, same language, same land, same culture. This is deliberate willful ignorance. It is not by accident. It is the same willful ignorance they use to stereotype black Americans as being all alike. If they can ignore the individuality of their black American neighbors, coworkers, peers then think how much easier it is in their narrow minds to ignore the individuality of people they do not see. And no they will never watch a movie from Nollywood or listen to music from Senegal because that would require them to acknowledge blacks as human beings that they might relate to.

Miss Sheeba said...

Well said. Thank you for that input. And of course the deliberate willful ignorance stems from a notion of false superiority in the white mind. Black individuality is just unimportant and thus not to be regarded.