This is Africa: We Need New Names

     If you haven’t guessed it yet, I am pro-black. I am all for the empowerment of the African race. I know that the words “black”, “African-American” and “American-African” all have different meanings, I know that the word “nigger” is derived from the word “negro; so in a way I am racially conscious. But being pro-black does not mean I am a crazy intellectual with the sort of radicalism that makes one go off the deep end. No, I also tend to do teenage things like spending a lot of my time on movies. Hollywood movies. And I have noticed the stereotype way in which Africa and Africans are portrayed in Western television.
       In Hollywood, Africa is not a continent, it is a country. Africa is a place of small children running about with swollen bellies, surrounded by flies, of people living in huts. A place of war, AIDS, genocide and corrupt soldiers. Africa could also be the suffering and war-mangled country waiting for their foreign heroes to free them from the throes of oppression and poverty. Africa is also the place to go for family trips and safaris, the place scientists go to discover hidden crypts, tombs and treasures. Africa is usually shown as a place with rich culture and traditions, but in the end, this attribute is lost on the audience as it is the image of a primitive people, of women walking about with bare breasts, and men watching a fight between a mongoose and a snake that is left in the mind of the audience.
        In Hollywood, African men are violent soldiers shooting their machine guns from trucks and boats, men obsessed with violence, soldiers who readily place guns in the hands of small boys,  commanders who never smile. Then there is no shortage of black thugs in these movies too,  pimps, drug dealers or gang members. There is usually a thug who gets arrested, thrown in jail, finds God in prison and comes out a new man. Then there is the magical Negro who isn’t from Kenya but has a Kenyan accent and a Kenyan name like Kamau Kemei or Mwangangi or Njenga. He provides spiritual or magical help to the white protagonist when things get tough.
        Black women are also constantly portrayed on television as sassy, bitter, brash women with attitudes, “Angela” in Tyler Perry’s ‘Why Did I Get Married’ is a representative of these angry black women. Then there’s the Mammy, the black mother figure in white homes. She is maternal, obese, religious and unattractive, hence posing no threat to the wife in the house. (Gone With the Wind and The Help provide more sordid details). Another infamous stereotype of black women is the promiscuous female with a demanding sexual appetite, usually a drug addict and prostituting in the streets.
        These stereotypes aren’t restricted to movies only. Most books by Africans or about Africa are usually given covers with orange skies and acacia trees on them. Ironically, I have stayed in Africa all my life and I have never seen an acacia tree. Maybe a baobab tree, once, and it was at the botanical garden. A reader put together the picture below to point out that no matter where you’re from, if you write a book about Africa, you’re likely to get the acacia tree treatment. If you’re lucky you might get a few animals on the cover. read more...

This is Africa: Adults, Lipsticks and Afros

       I am African and I love Africa. A place rich with diverse cultures, languages and traditions. A continent of resilient people who have experienced some of the greatest travails like The Slave Trade and have still emerged victorious. Wounded, but still victorious. There seems to be this spirit of brotherhood which bonds all Africans together, that tough spirit the western world calls the “African Spirit”. Africa is seen as a close-knit society. There is respect in Africa: young and old people know their places.
       As important as respect is, there are some things which these “adults” do and say to young people, which are outrightly unacceptable. And by “adults”, I mean that stern sister in the choir who scrutinizes the dressing of every young lady in the church, determining who is sleeping around and who isn’t. Or that man who used to work with your mom and now believes that that provides sufficient basis of familiarity for him to address you on how the ‘Afro’ you’re keeping will someday destroy your life. Yes, those are the ‘adults’ I refer to, not family members or friends.
         And so it happened that last week I went to my sister’s school, which is also my alma mater, with a friend who is also an ex-student himself. As expected, we saw our former teachers, most of whom we greeted with automatic bows and plastered smiles. We moved on as quickly as possible, as we knew if we loitered a second longer, they would ask in that high-pitched tone, as if the question had just popped into their head, saying, “Ehnehn! So what are doing now?” (This, of course means ‘Have you gained admission or is your life currently being destroyed?’. There is no in-between).
         As we moved on, I spotted a ‘familiar’ teacher. This woman used to be a member of my church until she had to leave because her husband was ordained as the pastor of a new church which elevated her to the role of a ‘pastor’s wife’. Now, I do not know if it was her new position or the fact that we used to be former church members, but throughout my stay in school, she always had something to say about how I looked, how my new hairstyle showed the kind of friends I was keeping or how I should clean off that lip gloss I was wearing. She always made me feel like I had something to apologize for, like I had to seek her consent to be who I was. Being a free-spirited child, I always wondered why she never asked about my schoolwork.  I was a child, vulnerable and impressionable, capable of being psychologically bruised.
         Now as we drew nearer to this woman to greet her, I smiled in my mind as I could see her already assessing me, taking note of my jeans, lipstick and hair. On cue, she said, “Dupe you know I will complain about your dress ehn. I don’t like this. Don’t let your nakedness be exposed o!. You know I’m always telling you.”  I could already feel steam coming out of my ears.  My friend being the good friend that he is tried to hold back his laughter and I being the cultured child I am, bowed and smiled, and we went on our way.
        This is just one of many occurrences to show how rude these people can be, and not in creative ways. If I could address this woman, this is how I would describe her comment.  RUDE. “Rude” in Africa is a one-way thing.  Only the young can be rude to the elderly. But we forget that we are human first before being old or young or African. So this woman was rude to me as a human being to a fellow human being. It is rude to try and impose your beliefs or ways of thinking on someone else.  INSULTING. It is insulting to my mother’s sense of judgment as a parent.  It is implying that she does not know what is best for me. It is undermining a parent’s role to try and decide what is best for another man’s child. PRETENTIOUS AND INTRUSIVE. A lot of people need to learn how to mind their businesses in this part of the world. People use “godly advice” as an excuse to poke their noses into other people’s businesses. I do not support indecent dressing; I support people edifying other people, but I also believe that a line should be drawn between brotherly advice and making a child apologize for who they are. For, in the end, these people end up ignoring what’s on the inside, the actual build-up of the person.
          I cannot address this woman this way because like I said when I started, this is Africa.  We have cultures and traditions; ancient things you do not mess with. But who knows what the future holds ;things might change. We may be given the permission to address adults that way. But if I do not want my future to ‘hold’ slaps from a concerned mother and calls from worried family members, I will keep my mouth shut and smile dutifully when people complain about my dressing. This is Africa. read more...