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Rant: The Generalization of Africa

Posted by Maureen Monday, January 11, 2010 Labels: , ,



I'm going to try to avoid starting a blog series about my pet peeves. But allow me just this one.  It frustrates me to no end when people generalize the 53 countries and innumerable tribal/ethnic groups (literally, innumerable) into nothing more specific than "Africa", as if that says it all.

Probably three times in the past week or so I've been telling someone about Toby's time in Kenya and Sudan or of my studies of the area, and I've been met with something like, "That's great. One of my friends just went to Africa."

And I ALWAYS follow up a statement like this with, "Oh really? Where in Africa?", and nine times out of ten, the person does not know.  And it drives me CRAZY.  It takes everything in me not to say, "Really? Really?! You don't have any idea? Do you know how many different countries and tribal groups there are in that continent? Do you realize that depending on what country this friend of yours went to, unless it's one of the 3 or 4 that I have particular interest in and/or have been to, then you might as well just be telling me that your friend went to Chile?

(Now, I give you this: Africa does have a large portion of cultures which come from "Bantu" origins--there are endless commonalities among a significant portion of tribes in Sub-Saharan Africa.  So there is some solidarity among the Sub-Saharan portion of the continent.)

But, I mean, come on people.

When your friend goes to Thailand or China, you don't just tell me they went to Asia. When your friend goes to Italy or Sweden, you don't say, "Cool, I went to Europe once."  WHY is it that our culture continually over-generalizes Africa?  It's as if the whole world sees it as one big blob and not the rich diversity of cultures and nations that it is.

Really?!

Now.

For the record.

I do understand that many people who hail from the great continent also refer to it as "Africa".

And yet.

AT LEAST THEY KNOW WHAT COUNTRY THEY'RE FROM.

And what's more, they probably know what countries border that country, and where on the continent many other countries are.

So, my challenge to you, oh Africa-over-generalizers*, is to just take a few minutes to study the above map.  Try at least to learn where some of the most commonly-traveled-to nations are.  Or at least that one country that your friend went to.  THEN, next time you're talking to someone who loves Africa or even moreso is from there, just please remember the name of that country. That's all I ask. The name. 

'Nuff said. 

Really?!

*My apologies to anyone who actually asked me this question recently and is now seeing how I really feel.

3 comments:

Amber said...

Amen. My thoughts exactly.


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YES come on the 19th! ill email soon.

Billy Brame said...

Great post . . . on having a similar conversation with Melissa a few months ago she challenged me to an online quiz to see how many countries I could identify on a map of Africa. She kicked my tail getting more than half while I barely got 20.

Maureen said...

Amber--great. We'll talk details soon.

Billy--20 isn't bad at all. I commend you for that!