Thursday, February 4, 2010

Africa is not a Country

Dear Readers--

In case you didn't know, Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent. I did indeed say continent right? I didn't make a mistake and say country? Just checking. I don't know when the world decided it was one nation, but I'd like to call you intelligent people to action on this matter. As most of you know, I spent time in Liberia, which is its own independent country in West Africa. I found myself simply telling people I was going to Africa for Christmas. In this case I did feel like a sellout. I knew where I was going, I just didn't wanna make you feel stupid because you may not know where Liberia is. Let me outline a few specific guidelines so we don't have this cultural problem again.
  1. We now get that Africa is a continent comprised of 53 countries. If you were going to claim you were going to Spain for the summer, then the same rule should apply for Nigeria. If you weren't going to say "Europe" then you shouldn't say "Africa." I don't know if somewhere along the line our continent lost importance and became a country, but I would like to just grab that status back if I can.
  2. If you have a cousin from South Africa, please don't claim that as something you and I have in common simply because I am Liberian. Your cousin and I lived two different lives. We will probably never cross paths. Let's say you and I met while you were in Liberia. If I had a friend that was Mexican would that mean anything to you? I didn't think so. You don't even speak the same language. Guess what, neither do we.
  3. We don't click with our tongues to communicate or swing from trees to travel. If you do that to me in conversation or compare my people to Tarzan as a joke those will be the last words you will ever say to me. If someone's communication sounds like a click, why is that a less intelligent foreign language you don't know? I won't argue this case because I don't feel it's necessary. I don't argue with stupid people because you can never tell which one is the fool.
  4. If I see another picture of you posed with village kids from your mission trip, I really may go off. That's the most offensive photo people take and for some reason, Caucasians love it. It doesn't prove anything about the work you did, only about how closed-minded you are. Are our children landmarks? Are they tourist attractions? It would be one thing if these were host families or friends, but just pictures of souvenir children isn't even cute on Angelina Jolie. She's pretty, but not the fake Mother Teresa role.
  5. This next rule gets touchy for people. I've almost lost friends over it. Just because you've been to an African country and had an African experience, doesn't mean you know what it means to be African. You may have gone for a week visit, seen a little poverty here and there, learned a little cultural dance, but in the back of your mind you still know you have an American home to return to. You can try to put yourself in someone else's shoes, but you know when you fly back, you will still have your own shoes to wear. The African experience you witnessed is just that: something you witnessed. It's not your fault, but please try and understand where we're coming from with this. It's like a white person claiming to understand what it's like to be black. As much as one can research the matter, there is nothing like being a product of it.
  6. Did you know tigers only exist in Asia? Please don't ask if I will see them when I go home. I won't.
  7. African countries include but are not limited to: Egypt, South Africa, Cape Verde, and all the Spanish and Portuguese territories. We're working on the freedom thing, but independence hasn't proven fruitful for many countries.
  8. Even fair-skinned Africans are Black. Period. When I was in fifth grade a girl told me our Egyptian friend wasn't Black because she was Egyptian. I was perplexed for good reason.
I don't want this article to seem like I am separating Africans from Black Americans in America. In reality, since we all originate from the same land, we need intelligent Black Americans to recognize and respect all our differences, because if you don't no other ethnic groups will. I love that people are curious about the land where civilization began. I love to talk about the things that make Africa wonderful as well as the things that make Mama Africa cry. I love sharing my culture with all my friends, but in doing so, I've been offended more times than once, and I just wanted to dispel a few common, shameful misconceptions. I have a feeling many people want to comment on my checklist, good or bad, so ready.....GO.

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