For years, Africa has been the symbol of war, poverty, corruption, disease, and a host of other negative labels. I shan’t delve too deeply into the whole history of Africa, but as many may not be aware, Africa did not just become ‘like that’ – it was once, and still is, a beautiful continent with an abundance of minerals and natural resources which would have assisted in it’s development, but unfortunately due to colonialism and capitalism it has been and still continues to be milked of these resources leading it to become reliant on handouts. No matter where you look, be it a poster on the train, an advert on the television or a news article, there is a pattern in the way Africa is portrayed – a malnourished child seeking food aid, machine-gun-totting child soldiers, child witches being mutilated, poverty, illiteracy, AIDS-sufferers, mud huts etc. Anything to do with Africa is primarily associated with all-things-negative. Many know little about Africa save for what it looks like and what they’ve heard about it, but not what it actually is. We live in a society where we are always ready to accept anything fed to us by the media without stopping to consider that maybe we should do our own bit of research and make a judgment for ourselves. I am not saying Africa is perfect, no it isn’t, but there is certainly a lot more to Africa than what the western media portrays.
I am convinced that this is the reason so many Africans have an inferiority complex. The way in which Africa and Africans are perceived has caused a great many Africans to be ashamed of who they are. I believe the constant scoffing has lead most Africans to inadvertently, and most times advertently, renounce their ‘African-ness’ in order to fit in to a society where it is almost taboo to stand up and say “I am African!” without any shame. It’s as if we now believe what people say about us, about who we are and about where we are from. Most Africans are afraid, afraid of being identified as Africans and afraid of being asked THOSE awkward and often ignorant and uncomfortable questions about Africa – you know, the “What’s your real tribal name?”, “Did you live in a mud hut?”, “Was there war where you come from?”, “Do you speak ‘African’?” type of questions. Afraid of being associated with those images that everyone sees on the news. Most Africans will show that African pride only in the presence of other fellow Africans because, well, I suppose it’s easier to relate. It is a sad reality that we as Africans are so easily influenced by other cultures and traditions and are always ready to embrace them, but little can be said about our own. We want to talk and act American, we want to talk and act like ‘road man’. Yet we do not want to educate people because we embarrassed of the languages we speak because we think people will find them ‘weird’. We shorten our names and alter the way they are meant to be pronounced in order to suit the ease at which others will pronounce our names because they are ‘unusual’. We are afraid of being vocal in gatherings because we sound different and if you don’t have a ‘proper’ accent, or if you pronounce words slightly differently because English isn’t your mother tongue, then you instantly stand out and what you say becomes automatically invalid regardless of how much sense it would have made had it been said in a ‘proper’ accent. We are afraid of all things that make us who we are – African.
It so disheartening to see young Africans who have lost touch with their identity. It is even more disheartening when it is the older Africans who have lost touch because one would expect them to know better. Some of the younger generation of Africans were most probably born or grew up in the west so it may be easier to sympathise with them as they did not fully experience Africa. The older generation however, do not have my sympathy for any loss of cultural identity if I’m frank. It is rather cringe-worthy when you see young men and women, boys and girls who do not know their roots/culture but are well acquainted with other cultures. Here’s a typical example – most Africans get some sort of inspiration from the Caribbean and have this inexplicable admiration for the Caribbean culture. This is plain to see anywhere you go – you have Africans who often feign ‘Caribbean-ness’ by talking like them and mimicking their accents (well, trying to), their dressing and most especially, the music. A number of Africans are influenced by Raggae and Dancehall and have, for a number of years, infused the Caribbean sound into their music and some are actually hypnotised into believing they’re actually Caribbean.
What is ironic is the fact that it is very rare to find people of Caribbean descent embracing or being influenced by Africa, even though that is the Motherland. A little while ago I used to go to a Caribbean barbershop and often encountered a good number of self-proclaimed anti-African Caribbeans. Each time I went to get a trim, I would be greeted with countless questions (similar to the ones I mentioned above) accompanied by outbursts of laughter. One barber though was a pro-African Caribbean who was a follower of the Rastafarian religion, and believed that people from the Caribbean ARE African. He then began to politely ask me probing questions in order to learn more about Africans and Africa as a whole in his effort to learn not deride. We then spoke for a lengthy period of time and ended the discussion on a hearty note.
I could go on to list many other instances where people of Caribbean descent have ridiculed Africans, for being, well, Africans from Africa. I believe most are in denial of who they really are and do not want to embrace their roots. Most Caribbeans boast and pride themselves in the western surnames they bare and laugh at Africans who have ‘funny’ African names, however I am not entirely sure they are aware that those European names were given to their great, great, great, great (etc) grandparents by their slave masters as a way to, shall we say, ‘label their property’. I doubt many have taken time to do some research and delve deeper into the origins of their Western names. I am not suggesting that every Caribbean or ethnic person with a European surname should trace their roots and alter their name. No! I am simply making a point to highlight the origins of the European names – the slave masters found the African names of their ‘property’ rather repulsive so instead gave them ‘proper’ names. I would suggest watching ‘Roots’ the series to further understand.
I don’t know if the finger should be completely pointed at those Caribbeans who mock Africa or blame their ignorance on the western media as stated above. Could it be that they despise Africa/Africans out of sheer embarrassment and want to make that clear distinction in order to disassociate themselves from Africa? I believe this to be the case, and it now sadly applies to Africans as well. I do however give credit to those people from the Caribbean and other parts of the world who have not only visited Africa, but also taken time to study and learn more about the beautiful continent.
On the flip-side, are we as Africans to blame for allowing the media to view us in that light for so long? Must we empathise with those who scorn Africa? Could more have been done to prevent Africa’s image from being tarnished to this magnitude? I mean, in this modern world, what was the latest innovation to come out of Africa? Why are schools in Africa being taught European languages like Spanish, French, English, Italian etc as part of their curriculum but schools in the west do not include African languages as part of their curriculum? Are we as Africans partly to blame for allowing the Motherland to be in this state by not rising up against the looting that takes place, not only by corrupt governments within the continent, but also corrupt governments from without the continent? Have we allowed ourselves to be dependent on other nations instead of working towards being a big player in the world of economics, agriculture, technology, sport, education etc? Why aren’t there more students who travel from the west to Africa just to study? Why aren’t there more African businesses branching out to the west, instead of vice versa? Is it that we as Africans have lost all hope for Africa to the point that we now actually believe the lies that are portrayed by the media and we have accepted that to be our identity – a dependent, useless and undeveloped people?
I am of the opinion that the colonialism of Africa had a significant psychological effect on many Africans and this was passed down through generations. Colonialism and oppression made many Africans to believe that where they belonged was beneath, and nowhere else. Africa was colonised to introduce the people of the continent to ‘civilisation’ as their traditions, culture, customs, heritage and way of life were laughable and viewed as barbaric and primitive by the colonialists even though they were most probably comfortable with their way of life. We have a long way to go in our bid to break the barriers of ignorance and I for one am convinced that the Motherland shall rise up some day. I long for the day when I shall see men and women, boys and girls of many different colours and creeds stand up and raise the African banner and say “I am an Africa, and I am proud!” with all confidence.