by Jessie Karangu
Did you swim to America? Did you live amongst lions, zebras and giraffes? What was it like leaving your pet monkey back home?
If you’re an African who moved to the United States as a youngster or you’re an American of African descent then you’ve probably heard all these hilarious but insulting stereotypical statements before.
You’ve also most likely been called an African booty scratcher and have been asked to click your tongue “like they do in the National Geographic shows.”
The media’s portrayal of Africa doesn’t help either. Around 2 a.m., while you’re watching a movie on TV, a commercial will pop up asking you to donate 2 cents a day to help needy African children who will starve in 30 seconds or less if you don’t donate at that instance.
Whenever a movie takes place in that huge “country” (because there’s no way Africa is a continent) always full of disaster and destruction, there is usually a rebel war or some type of conflict occurring. Most of the time, the African character is an evil warlord who doesn’t smile.
As a video from Mama Hope (an organization which specializes in building new communities in Africa) points out, there is always a fearless stallion Western protagonist who saves the innocent African people who are being brutally mistreated by a horrendous African leader. It’s as if other Africans aren’t capable of thinking or acting for themselves unless someone from the Western world comes to their rescue.
It’s something which Africans are tired of. So how do we fix it? How do we change the way Africans are perceived in Western society?
1. Accept ourselves. When you enter a new environment, the one thing you crave and desire is acceptance.
Many Africans who come to America or are born in America but raised in an African environment at home want to immediately assimilate with the new culture which they’re surrounded by.
Because they don’t want to be looked at as different, some are quick to either renounce who they are or not openly show pride of their identity.
If you don’t love yourself and what you represent, how can you expect others to reciprocate friendship or acceptance back?
2. Accept our diversity. When a part of African culture is displayed on television which is perceived as deviant in the dominant European culture which we live in, some are quick to note that it doesn’t represent who they are.
This is wrong in my humble opinion. Poverty is a real problem in Africa whether we like it or not. Clicking languages actually do exist and there are many people who really do live in huts. So what?
You and your family may not be personally attached to those circumstances but that doesn’t mean you should deny certain aspects which make up the fabric of Africa.
There is no continent or country in the world which doesn’t have a separation or divide amongst it’s people. It’s the unfortunate circle of life. How is Africa’s poverty any different from the poverty which has stricken over 600,000 Americans?
Acknowledge our diversity and uniqueness even if it’s not “socially acceptable” because at the end of the day we’re all brothers and sisters and we all deserve to be treated equally.
Failing to acknowledge the truth and existence of underprivileged Africans or Africans who live under different social norms is the worst kind of discrimination ever.
You are neglecting the stories of hope, courage and perseverance which rise everyday by doing so and you’re committing the same sin which you’re trying to prevent others from committing against you.
Use those circumstances as motivation for you to want to do something better in improving the lives of your fellow brothers and sisters.
3. Become influential citizens in society. Everyday you spend taking classes at school, working in the community and making yourself known; you are not only representing yourself. You’re not only representing your family. You’re representing the future of your descendant country and of Africa’s perception in society.
It is up to each of us right now as college students to work hard and become influential figures. The African-American, Asian and Latino communities have their own representatives in Congress, have entertainment programming targeted for them, products targeted for them, food chains targeted for them because they wield a certain amount of influence politically and financially which has convinced politicians and CEOs alike to market themselves differently.
Even though all of those demographic groups have bigger numbers than the African population in America (approximately 3 million as of 2010), it doesn’t mean the population isn’t capable of making some type of cultural impact on society.
But if we want that to happen, we need to become successful individuals in society who are making a difference/impacting our world. If you want to be a doctor, make sure you’re the best doctor who your community has ever seen.
When Barack Obama (ironically, an American of African descent) was elected President in 20o8, he made being black “cool”. As a group, we can make being African something “cool” if we serve as outstanding members of society who cooperate with everyone while making ourselves and our identities well-known.
4. Stay informed and don’t forget where you come from. It’s imperative that you are alert and knowledgeable of what is happening in Africa. We can’t let certain narratives about Africa spread throughout Western society without educated Africans fighting back and combating stereotypes/the miseducation of our culture and our people.
5. Don’t be afraid to go into something different than nursing. If we want to become a voice which is heard and understood, we need to be active in as many different types of industries as possible. If your passion isn’t nursing or medicine, don’t go into it just for the money. Do something which you know you do well and will make an impact and change the way others perceive our people.
THE GOOD NEWS — The revolution is already happening and is in it’s beginning steps.
1. Jummy Olabanji is a perfect example. She’s the morning news anchor at ABC 7 in Washington, DC and is the daughter of two Nigerian parents. She doesn’t avoid her Nigerian heritage and hasn’t changed her name to fit cultural standards. She also serves as an outstanding role model in society who normal Americans can relate and look up to.
2. African comedy has taken Vine by storm and has become some of the most popular comedy among high school and college students who often use the app.
3. Lupita Nyong’o, Kenyan, is a well-spoken actress who recently won an Oscar for best supporting actress in “12 Years A Slave”. As her career moves forward, it’ll be interesting to see what types of roles Hollywood places her in because depending on what it is, it could help influence our perception in society positively.
4. Wale has become one of the most popular rappers who hip-hop heads pay attention to constantly. He is also unafraid of addressing his heritage having recently visited his Nigerian family for the first ever.
Let’s continue this progress. It’s time for Africans to have their own Donald Trumps, Oprah Winfreys, Michael Jordans, Barack Obamas etc. assimilated in American society who’re cognizant of their culture but are also relatable to a Westernized audience.
Remember that every move you make as an African in the Western World is representative of a bigger, more grand purpose. Stand out and bring about change! You don’t have to be famous.