Africa- A case of mistaken identity

This fall I’ve had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with elementary aged students. It’s something I’ve literally been craving and the universe is finally delivering. I creatively weave in some aspect of geography and culture through games, activities or my book reading as I try to find ways to engage in conversation.

In this short period of time I’ve learned what I suppose I already knew, which is that the vast majority of young people STILL believe Africa is a country. One student in particular specifically stated that, “Africa is a very big country and people there do a lot of cultural dances.” Now the same could be said about the Irish or Indians, but we all know that’s not all they are made of, plus at least Ireland and India are actual countries and not continents.

Not too long ago I was reading a very insightful book on leadership. The author went on to state that “leaders have similar traits, whether in Silicon Valley, the Oval Office or the fields of Africa.” Once I read this line, I could no longer absorb anything else intelligent this person had to say. And not too long after this, I read another book from an esteemed author whose book was a National Book Award Winner.  As I was nearing the end of this beautifully written novel, the author mentioned something about children in Africa, Texas, China, Spain and New York City all in the same line.

I was quite puzzled. How is it that some of the most intelligent and well read people can participate in this cycle of wrongly identifying Africa and Africans? I’m sure they meant no harm, but the fact is they did harm. The subtle messages that people receive over and over again, in literature or via television are so damaging. Young impressionable minds absorb this information and before you know it they are grown people, leaders in their communities and influencers. Some of those people become teachers and authors, who then continue the cycle.

I’m left to wonder at what point will our education system find it a moral obligation to educate the masses that Africa is not a country and no one speaks African?  It seems to be a known fact that Europe or Asia are not countries, and yet Africa is deemed to be so complex that it’s easier to let people make up their own assumptions about this enormously diverse continent.

As a person born in Zimbabwe, Southern African country as beautifully complex as any other, this makes me so sad. 🙁

-Christine

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