All Articles Tagged "Africa"
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a common practice in 29 countries located in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Although it’s cited as a rite of passage for women, FGM is a sexually violent practice that can lead to disease and even death. According to Broadly, FGM varies from “country to country and cutter to cutter,” but the World Health Organization has classified the practice into three different types: clitoridectomy (partial or total removal of clitoris), excision (removing the inner labia along with the clitoris) and infibulation (sealing the vaginal opening shut). These rituals are usually performed in unsanitary conditions with unhygienic tools.
“Aftercare usually consists of solitary confinement in a lightless room, with the occasional pail of salted water to bathe the resulting wounds,” reports Broadly. Despite the excruciating pain many pubescent pre-teens face because of FGM, there are women who chose to become cutters, even at a young age.
For instance, Jane is a 58-year-old Kenyan woman who decided to become a cutter and was trained by both her mother and grandmother on how to make young girls become “clean and pure.” Over the course of her cutting career, Jane never realized the damage her own cutting experience had on her body. “When my husband made love to me, the wound and the scar cracked again. My husband didn’t want to stop what he was doing. It was so painful. I really struggled with that as it soon became a very big swelling,” Jane disclosed.
Aside from sexual intercourse, Jane suffered severe complications when she was ready to give birth to her first child. Since her vaginal opening was closed because of the FGM stitching, her birth canal was blocked. To make a way for her infant to be born, the villagers who assisted in her labor sunk a knife into Jane’s FGM wounds and the blade grazed across the baby’s skull. Because of the injury, Jane’s child only lived a brief life and was disabled for the entirety of it. When her child passed, Jane stopped performing FGM rituals.
While Jane had the agency to choose to become a cutter, another woman, Maimouna Jawo of Gambia, told Broadly she was forced to cut by her family. “If I was to say no, I would not be here now, talking to you,” she stated. Maimouna’s mother stopped her education at the age of 12 and forced her to become an assistant to cutters. She was told if she didn’t become a cutter, no one would marry her and she would be considered an unclean woman. Maimouna even explained that if a girl collapses or dies during the FGM process, the elders in her community would declare it was because of witchcraft, not FGM.
Mary, pictured above, told Broadly it watching as girl almost bleed to death that changed her mind about cutting. “The whole community was watching and the crowd had been gathering since morning,” said the 50-year-old Kenyan woman who’d earned a reputation as West Pokot’s “best cutter” after performing the ritual for 20 years. “I’d give the girl courage and tell her, be calm, I am here for you. It can be slippery, so we use some ash to get a good grip. There are veins there. It’s very difficult, very technical. You have to be really careful.”
But one day, care wasn’t enough and Mary found herself drenched in a young woman’s blood. “She almost died. That’s when I started to have second thoughts.”
Because of Action Aid, Jane and other women in her community have been challenged to rethink how the cultural practice encourages sexual violence against women. After the organization visited their West Pokot community in Kenya, Jane and other female allies decided to become “watchers” and reports those who still engage in the now-illegal practice of FGM.
Maimouna has since found asylum in the United Kingdom, however she had to leave her own daughter behind in Gambia. She said if she returns she’ll be forced to cut or be killed.
You would think that if any place were going to be free from anti-African sentiment it would be one of the 54 countries on the continent. But you would be mistaken. Because a private school in South Africa, up until yesterday, were preventing their Black students, particularly their female, Black students from wearing their hair in natural styles.
Outraged, the students at the Pretoria High School for Girls staged a protest, fighting against the racist rules. The female students said that they had been told to straighten their hair and not adopt the afro style.
The protested escalated to the point that officials threatened to arrest the protesters.
According to Newsweek, in a statement issued earlier today, Panyaza Lesufi, the education minister, found during a recent visit that there were allegations of racist abuse against the Black students for their hair and speaking in African languages.
The department said, “The learners feel that educators use abusive and demeaning language when they address them regarding their hairstyles. For instance, some educators tell them they look like monkeys, or have nests on their heads.”
The statement also said that African languages were “not tolerated” on school premises. But the use of Afrikaans— a language and culture largely associated with apartheid and racial segregation— is permitted.
The education department ordered a formal, independent investigation into the allegations of racism and that the school’s code of conduct be reviewed. As a result, the clause concerning the hairstyles was suspended.
The school’s website stated that they had a successful meeting with the education department and that the issues that were raised have been resolved.
Perhaps the news of discrimination shouldn’t come as such a surprise given the school’s history. Pretoria High School for Girls was founded in 1902 and was whites-only during the apartheid era. Today, according to its website, the school is multiracial. The protest gained attention on social media when the hashtag #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh started trending in South Africa yesterday. The country’s arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa also got in on the discussion saying that the government supported the students’ desire “to protect their right to have natural hair” and that it was “unacceptable” for the school to prevent students from speaking African languages. He tweeted:
Schools should not be used as a platform to discourage students from embracing their African Identity. #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh
— Min. Nathi Mthethwa (@NathiMthethwaSA) August 29, 2016
Thanks to these girls diligence, fearlessness and determination, the school is a little less hostile to people who wish to express their African identity…in Africa.
Veronica Wells is the culture editor at MadameNoire.com. She is also the editor of Bettah Days.
If you hadn’t noticed, Africa is hot right now. As the birthplace of humankind, we can argue that it always was. But these days, with African fashion being pushed to the forefront of runways and its ever-present influence in our music, and the [slight] push for Black folk, across the diaspora, to know and understand our roots, Africa is getting just a mere fraction of the acknowledgement and praise it deserves. Again, cradle of civilization.
But it’s a slow build.
And Joel Ryan, a Ghanaian-UK writer, and founder of SpiceUKOnline brought that undeniable fact to the light in his think piece that simply asked a question.
Why don’t more African American artists include Africa in their world tours? In fact, the official title of the piece was “Unapologetically Black But Won’t Tour in Africa…Hmmm”
“Love all these American and even British artists using African influences in hair, clothes, music and more. It is so inspiring and makes me so proud to be black, so proud to be African and it really is changing the game. But when was the last time they went? And no, I don’t mean when was the last time they gave money or the last time they went to Uganda to take pictures. I mean when was the last time they went to perform and really showcase their talent which Africa has so heavily influenced? Celebrities and artists who go on “world” tours only seem to go to western countries even when their musical production, choreography, lyrics and costume are heavily influenced by African countries.”
While Ryan said South Africa is a lovely country, one tour date there is simply not enough when there are 53 other countries.
“I can’t get my head around it. I can imagine artists sitting there in a board meeting discussing dates and places and I don’t get how a whole continent can get missed out. A WHOLE CONTINENT. If you like your cornrow (Kim K Boxer-Braids), African print, afros and your negro nose, there are plenty of them in Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Angola, Tunisia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and many other countries.”
I initially stumbled across the piece on Clutch, and thought, from the title, it was a very valid question. But the author of the piece seemed to believe otherwise. Not only did she, (I’m assuming), believe that there were Black artists who had traveled to the continent recently. (To be fair, Chris Brown broke records in Morocco. And in Ryan’s defense, he included a picture of Brown’s concert in his piece as an argument for touring in Africa.) She mentioned that instead of questioning the artists, Ryan should direct his confusion and inquiry at the entertainment companies like Live Nation, who are the ones who choose the locations and finance these artists’ events.
It’s a valid point. But I also wonder how many artists, Black artists specifically, are even mentioning Africa when they sit down to choose locations for their “World Tour.” And if they do suggest it, which excuses from Live Nation do the artists accept that prevent them from ultimately going? Because at this point in the game, there isn’t enough data and there haven’t been enough examples of big-named artists performing in Africa for any of those excuses to be valid. We can’t really say what the turnout would be. But Ryan says when Church Crusades in Africa can draw upwards of 30,000 people, there’s no reason an artist who the people love wouldn’t be able to do the same.
To be honest, I think the lack of Black artists touring in African countries might have quite a bit to do with Live Nation executives and their beliefs and views about Africa. We live in America and we know how the whole entire continent, is painted, by the media, with the broad brush of being completely poverty-stricken. And with some of the greatest resources, natural and man-made, in the world, that’s just not true.
The Clutch writer also took issue with the fact that South Africa was discounted in this discussion. But I think that is also a valid point as well. With European rule still prominent and prevalent in the country until the early ’90’s, the country still enjoys a level of privilege not extended to other African nations. Not to mention that most of the Black people of the Diaspora have roots in West Africa. Out of respect, there should be a couple of stops on that coast for our cousins.
What do you think about Ryan’s piece? Does he raise a good point?
Welp, it looks like that dream some of us have of uniting all of the Black nations under one cultural, socioeconomic and political agenda might have to wait a while longer.
What am I talking about?
Specifically, how two weeks ago, Black folks from across the diaspora celebrated reports that the small island nation would possibly be inducted as the 55th country to join the African Union. For those unaware, Haiti has been an “observing” member of the Union since 2012. The AU was founded in 2002 to “achieve greater unity and solidarity between the African countries and the peoples of Africa,” among other objectives. Currently, the AU is led by the President of Chad, Idriss Déby.
Apparently, this historic announcement was made on South African Broadcasting Company News where Jacques Junior Baril, the Haitian ambassador to South Africa, appeared and said it’s about time Haiti was admitted into the Union.
“Well, I mean, I think it is very important to understand the basics of it. I don’t think we decide. I think it is a place that we are entitled to. I think it is a place that we earned after we fought for our independence 212 years ago. We kind of paved the way for every other African nations to be free today. So historically speaking, Haiti actually should have already been in the A.U. already. So we are glad that it is happening now. We are very happy that everybody came to the understanding that our place is right there with everybody else from the continent and A.U.”
It’s a sentiment widely shared by much of the diaspora. And as previously reported by the website Face 2 Face Africa, “Just like NATO or the OECD, some of the more influential communities of nation states around the world form their membership purely out of shared interests or a common ideology. The AU is hopefully moving in that direction.”
Great news, right?
But there’s just one little snag. Apparently, membership wasn’t granted after all.
In a statement released just a day after news began to circulate around social media, the AU Commission said they only allow “African States” to join the Union.
The African Union Commission informs the public that Haiti will not be admitted as a Member State of the African Union (AU) at its next Summit to be held in Kigali, Rwanda, as erroneously reported by several media outlets.
According to Article 29.1 of the AU’s Constitutive Act, only African States can join the African Union.
Given the importance that the AU accords to the African Diaspora, it has developed strong cooperation with sister States in the Caribbean region and citizens of African descent around the world.
The AU was pleased to welcome Haiti’s President Michel Martelly and his Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe to its Summits in the past as Special Guests, and the AU had a high level delegation at the celebrations of the 200th Anniversary of Haiti in Port-au-Prince, in 2004.
The press release goes on to state that while Haiti does not qualify under current rules regarding proximity, the country might be able to join its proposed “sixth region” of Africa, which has the responsibility to “facilitate direct peoples’ involvement through Civil Society Organisations from Africa or the Africa Diaspora that wish to interact with the African Union.”
Of course, that sixth region has yet to be recognized (ratified) by the Commission and there is no telling when – and if – that will ever happen.
Still, this story, while erroneous, does reignite questions about what role, if any, the diaspora should and can play in the coming together of the African agenda.
It should be mentioned that some nations have started to address that question, including Ghana, which in 2000 became the first African nation to pass the Right of Abode law. Under the law, anyone of African descent can apply for the right to stay in Ghana indefinitely. And according to the UN, there have been around 3,000 African Americans and Afro-Caribbeans who have repatriated to the West African nation since 2004.
Personally, I would love to see this connection happen. I know that the diaspora is wide and culturally vast. However, there are socioeconomic and political benefits to coming together. For example, some African countries could benefit from the wealth of knowledge and Western connections of its non-continental brothers and sisters (this is particularly important when so many of the continent’s more educated inhabitants continue to leave), while the diaspora could benefit from having a place to run to when the Western world gets to be too much.
The problem is, how do you structurally welcome a nation of people who technically have no sovereignty or boundaries?
What can a young woman with an idea, an Internet connection and a bit of creativity achieve? That’s all Siyanda Mohutsiwa needed to unite young African voices in a new way. Hear how Mohutsiwa and other young people across the continent are using social media to overcome borders and circumstance, accessing something they have long had to violently take: a voice.
When her hashtag #IfAfricaWasABar went viral, young Botswana writer Siyanda Mohutsiwa, age 22, triggered a lighthearted but electrifying discussion of some serious African issues.
“It began with one question: If Africa was a bar, what would your country be drinking or doing? I kicked it off with a guess about South Africa, which wasn’t exactly according to the rules because South Africa’s not my country. But alluding to the country’s continual attempts to build a postracial society after being ravaged for decades by apartheid, I tweeted, #ifafricawasabar South Africa would be drinking all kinds of alcohol and begging them to get along in its stomach.
And then I waited. And then I had that funny feeling where I wondered if I crossed the line. So, I sent out a few other tweets about my own country and a few other African countries I’m familiar with. And then I waited again, but this time I read through almost every tweet I had ever tweeted to convince myself, no, to remind myself that I’m really funny and that if nobody gets it, that’s fine.
But luckily, I didn’t have to do that for very long. Very soon, people were participating. In fact, by the end of that week in July, the hashtag #ifafricawasabar would have garnered around 60,000 tweets, lit up the continent and made its way to publications all over the world.”
Why you should listen
Blogger, humorist and math student Siyanda Mohutsiwa explores African topics both weighty (reviving PanAfricanism) and witty (“5 things NOT to say when trying to seduce an Afrikaner”). Her columns for African media outlets like the Mail & Guardian, Za News, and her own website Siyanda Writes have gained a loyal following.
But when Mohutsiwa’s hashtag #IfAfricaWasABar exploded on Twitter, the viral thread (which pondered the hypothetical bar mannerisms of various African nations) became a platform for everyday Africans to unite in a playful dialogue on national differences, and helped turn Mohutsiwa into a social media star.
Learn more about Siyanda Mohutsiwa at Ted.com here.
This week, entertainment site PopSugar published a slideshow titled, “9 Tribal Makeup Tutorials That Honor the Beauty of African Culture.” The post showed several makeup tutorials inspired by traditional African face paint. Its author, Brinton Parker, noted to PopSugar readers: “Remember, it’s important to respect others’ backgrounds without erring on the side of cultural appropriation — if your heritage is not African, it’s possible to learn from and appreciate these culturally significant makeup looks without donning them yourself.” Although Parker warned readers not to appropriate African culture and face painting, it’s interesting to see PopSugar show appreciation towards the tradition now when the majority of their content revolves around euro-centric beauty standards.
PopSugar, I see through your thinly-veiled PR move. On the heels of Allure, Elle and countless other outlets receiving backlash for deeming afros and dashikis in style, PopSugar decided to get in on the “Black people are cool” trend much in the way a closeted racist brags about having Black friends. It’s like hey, give us credit for being faux- diverse instead of full-blown ignorant like our competitors! No thanks. If Black culture didn’t become so mainstream within the past few years, I’m sure PopSugar would never “honor”African face painting.
And yes, the argument here very strongly lends itself to a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” rebuttal, but the one word that shuts all of that down is: authenticity. PopSugar, are you covering tribal makeup because you really care about honoring the beauty of Black women or because it’s the safest way you could jump on the cultural appropriation trend, but not really? Only time and their Beauty and Fashion pages will tell.
The world’s largest liquor company, Diageo PLC, has its eyes set on Africa as it drives smaller native companies out with cheap spirits and easy access. But, what does this mean for the future of Africa? Could these new liquor companies hungry to capitalize on the market bring more jobs or are they crippling societies just getting on their feet?
The Wall Street Journal spoke with Leonard Odhiambo who has run a homemade liquor distillery for 20 years in the slums of sub-Saharan Africa. Despite years of success, now that Diageo has set up shop just a few doors down with cheap drinks Odhiambo’s business is suffering. Diageo has set up shop in shacks across Kenya to compete with one-man merchants such as Odhiambo where a whiskey can go for just 20 cents. The London-based spirits company has invested more than $1 billion in Africa in the past five years and controls almost 25 percent of legal-spirit sales.
International liquor companies are expanding across Africa as markets close up in other territories yielding less sales. The London-based Diageo saw sales drop in America, but with highly discounted drinks in Africa profits rose by 6 percent. While wealthy African communities can afford more expensive liquor, Diageo and other companies have targeted many of the poorest communities and dominate lower markets.
But Diago isn’t the only liquor company hoping to gain new sales in Africa, beer companies and other hard liquor brands are all vying for a piece of the pie.
SABMiller PLC, the No.2 brewer in the world by sales, began selling in Tanzania last year and already holds a 30 percent stake in the South-African based Distell Group Ltd., the No.2 African distiller.
Liquor companies are battling for their share of the market with Nairobi, Kenya, being a hotspot for many brands. Walking down the streets of Nairobi one would run into multiple billboards with brands from Diageo to SABMiller hoping to appease consumers and to get into new bars opening every year.
The battle for new consumers and profits in Kenya, will likely happen across the entire continent as liquor brands eye out lower markets.
“Africa is Asia in 15 years,” said Alexandre Ricard, Pernod Ricard’s chief executive. “That’s how important it can become for us.” Pernod is another liquor company expanding in Africa.
But health administration in Africa says the rapid increase of liquor brands spreading across the country presents a serious problem. While almost half of African men abstain from alcohol, many who do drink have the highest cases of “heavy episodic drinking” than any other region in the world reported the World Health Organization.
“In our society, drinking is a big problem,” said William Ntakuka, a program officer for SCAD, a Kenya-based nonprofit organization that campaigns against alcohol and drug abuse. “It’s bad, and it’s getting worse.”
The spirit companies argue that they all manage responsible-drinking initiatives and publicize the fact their alcohol should be consumed in moderation. But is that enough?
Meet the Heatons! A middle-class American family from Abingdon, Va. This family is comprised of the head of household, Jeremiah Heaton, his wife, Kelly, their two sons Justin and Caleb, and their 7-year-old daughter, Emily. Jeremiah works in the mining industry and even attempted to run for Congress in 2012. However, he has managed to make the news for something that has less to do with Congressional politics and more to do with White supremacy and continued disrespect of the African continent.
Emily, like most little girls her age, has an affinity for princess stories. After asking her father if she would ever become a princess, Jeremiah began researching places that he could claim as king so that Emily’s dream of becoming a princess could come true. His quest landed him smack dab in Africa, right between Egypt and Sudan on the land of Bir Tawil. In the midst of turmoil between Egypt and Sudan, Jeremiah Heaton in all his supreme authority and invincible power, traveled to Bir Tawil, planted a flag made by his children, and Emily’s wish of becoming a princess was granted.
Bir Tawil is frequented by Bedouins. They are a nomadic people whose ancestral lineage is a part of the Bir Tawil land, which they roam. The Bedouin way of living differs from the Heaton family’s White American way of life, so one can’t expect the Heatons to understand it. But the Bedouins should be respected.
This move by Heaton is White supremacy at its finest and perpetuates the colonization of the African continent. Sticking a flag in the sand and claiming land that is not yours, which you did not cultivate or even buy, all the while benefiting from the resources of that country perpetuates the colonialist attitude that has raped Africa for decades.
Though this highly problematic story of White superiority and entitlement continues to hijack Africa of its riches and denigrate the history of African peoples, what is most alarming is that this story will be passed on for generations to come. It has been picked up by Disney for development into a film called The Princess of North Sudan.
Disney has paid for the rights to Heaton’s story, and while many are in an uproar about it, we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s not like Disney has any respect for the stories of Black and brown people. In 2009, Disney released The Princess and the Frog featuring its very first Black princess, Tiana. It only took a mere 72 years since Disney’s first studio film release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 to make this happen. I, along with many Black film enthusiasts, was elated at the idea that little Black girls would finally have an animated depiction of a princess who looked like them. But we don’t look like frogs. The Princess and the Frog ended up being adapted from the Brothers Grimm story The Frog Prince.
But what makes this recent decision by Disney to develop this story for the big screen so offensive is the fact that they don’t need to. Africa is overflowing with a rich oral history full of folklore and folktales of kings, queens, princes and princesses. Full of magical moments, love stories, adventure, family bonds, and happily ever after. And there are plenty other classic stories based in the continent that deserve to be shared. Here are a few authentically African princess stories we love that Disney could adapt instead:
Written by African-American author and illustrator John Steptoe in 1988, the popular children’s story takes place in an African village where kindhearted villager Mufaro and his two beautiful daughters Manyara and Nyasha live. Nyasha has taken on her father’s attributes and is giving. But unbeknownst to Mufaro, Manyara is mean and selfish. Mufaro gets word from the city that the king is looking for “the most worthy and beautiful daughters in the land” to marry. Mufaro can’t choose between his daughters as they are both equally beautiful, so he decides to take both of his daughters to the city so the king can decide for himself. Instead of traveling with her family, Manyara takes off toward the city in the middle of the night hoping to get there before her sister and be chosen as queen. On the way, she is faced with a few tests that challenge her character. Nyasha leaves the next morning with her father. She also has to take on the challenging tests, but she handles them with compassion and grace. Once they arrive at the palace, they realize the tests were set up by the king to see which sister possessed not only physical beauty, but inner beauty as well. The king chooses Nyasha to wed, and she becomes queen.
This Akamba legend is the story of a princess with beautiful long hair. According to the tale, she has “the loveliest hair in the world.” Singing maidens weave her hair into magical plaits every evening, which causes her hair to grow even longer. The maidens even adorn her hair with gold and carry her hair so that it won’t touch the ground. The princess loves all of the attention. One day as she sits in the garden getting her hair done, a bird lands on the garden wall and asks the princess for a strand of her hair to make a nest. The princess is so into her hair she feels disrespected that the bird would even ask her such a question. She denies the bird’s request. The bird casts a spell on the princess, which causes all of her hair to fall out and brings drought and famine to the kingdom. A young beggar boy named Muoma wants to help the kingdom and sets out to find the bird to ask if the spell can be broken. On his way, he faces a few tests where he has to practice kindness and share the last of his food and water with a mouse, an ant, and a flower. Because Muoma shows how kind he is, the spell is broken. Muoma helps to save the kingdom from the drought and famine, and the hair of the princess grows back. She falls in love with Muoma, for he truly showed her the meaning of kindness. Muoma and the princess marry and live happily ever after.
This tale from South Africa is often compared to Cinderella but we think it’s much better. Nomi, an adventurous young girl, is being starved by her father’s second wife. On a day out exploring her village, she meets and becomes friends with a fish at the stream. The fish brings Nomi food. Nomi’s evil stepmother becomes very suspicious and follows Nomi to the stream one day. When she sees Nomi has made a friend in the fish and the fish is bringing her food, the evil stepmother kills and eats the fish. But the fish had already predicted his demise and told Nomi that when the day came that he is eaten to throw his bones in the village chief’s garden. Nomi does just that. The next day the chief solicits help from whomever can bring the bones to him and offers his hand in marriage as the reward. Nomi is the only one who can do it. The two are married and live happily ever after.
We are not quite sure how we stumbled upon Moon-Look, it may have been on one of our nightly weekend Pinterest binges, but since we have we can’t look back. Moon-Look.com is your answer to finding the most chic, stylish and classy designers incorporating African prints and styles into their fashions. From Paris to Nigeria, MoonLook curates looks and brings them to your fingertips with their online store while keeping you inspired via stunning street style looks over on Instagram. And who wants the same old same? Not us! Or the likes of Beyonce and Solange as these ladies have been spotted in some stunning African prints.
“Having long been on the lookout for the latest creations of major retailers, I got tired of looking like everyone else and got my last shot of heart on all the girls from Paris to Moscow via New York and Rio de Janeiro. In a few years, I created a directory of designers that are found almost nowhere else. I traveled on the continent Toumaï looking for gems. I share my findings with you www.moon-look.com. You will find a selection of young designers fashion exclusively for you at affordable rates,” says MoonLook founders.
But MoonLook doesn’t stop there, as they sponsor and support the “Made in Africa” sourcing of materials to make sure sells benefit the economy where all of these beautifully bold pieces originate. And these pieces aren’t just for the ladies, MoonLook is on the lookout and offers both men and children styles – call it a truly stylish family affair. When the clan behind MoonLook is not continent hopping and curating the hippest closets, they are offering interviews with African designer newbies and heavyweights at MoonLook Mag.
Stay up to date with everything MoonLook and check out these fashionable ladies across the globe to add a little (or a lot of) Motherland to your closet.
International Runway: 15 Looks That Bring African Fashion to International Street Style
Every Saturday my sister and I teach an ethnic studies class. Basically, we teach minority children, who range from 7-12, about world cultures. Naturally, since history and science has told us that human life was first documented in Africa we decided to start there.
I googled “Introducing Africa” and there were some great resources available. Including an introductory lesson about “Unearthing Stereotypes” about Africa. It actually turned out to be very thorough. There were 12 pictures, each from various countries in the continent. There was a boy drinking from a Coca Cola can, buildings in downtown Uganda, a castle in Morocco, the pyramids of Giza and a Black man and White man working side by side in South Africa.
The children were supposed to look at the pictures and determine whether or not the subjects and scenes in the images were located in Africa and explain why or why not.
We heard all types of rationalizations.
– The boy with the Coke can wasn’t in Africa because they “don’t drink from cans in Africa.”
– The pyramids were not in Africa because the pyramids are in Egypt.
– The skyscrapers were not in Africa because they don’t have tall buildings there.
– The crossing guard wasn’t in Africa because they don’t have those in Africa.
It completely and utterly blew their minds when we told the students that every last image they had seen was a scene photographed in Africa.
I’d like to think they learned that day.
When my sister and I took their papers home, I was saddened to see some of their thoughts about Africa and the pictures they saw. It wasn’t until my sister asked me a very rhetorical, very telling question about our own education system, that I started to understand it really wasn’t their fault.
“What did you learn about Africa in school?”
Really, aside from a unit on Egypt, in middle school, not too much. And even then, I don’t know if the fact that Egypt was in Africa was really stressed. In all honesty, my African education came from my parents first, later, research of my own and then traveling to Ghana and Egypt once I was old enough.
Our children aren’t the only ones ill informed or misinformed about the continent. For instance, today when we wrote about Nicki Minaj’s canceled concert in South Africa, someone suggested she didn’t show up because was she scared of contracting Ebola.
Ebola is currently affecting West Africa. And Africa is a continent. It’s the equivalent of saying people in the southern most point of Mexico should take cover because there’s been an outbreak in the northern most point of Canada. There are thousands of miles between the two regions of a continent.
In our ethnic studies class, we have a lot of Latino students so we were going to just spend a couple of days on Africa and then move on to other countries, so they see themselves represented in the lesson. But seeing those responses, we might have to take a few more days to make sure they understand the width and depth of Africa’s richness, diversity and influence the world over.
I’m writing all of this as a cautionary tale. Don’t assume your child’s school is doing their due diligence when it comes to educating our children about our heritage, outside of slavery. And you know if our children, in this age of connectivity, don’t know what they should about Africa, our generation and older learned practically nothing. This could be a great way for us all to get it right together.