In this piece, Africa is addressed as ‘mother’ to signify her role as the birthplace of the human race. This piece explores what people think about Africa in a personal yet revealing letter to the personified African continent. The letter also includes African students’ experiences at Soka University of America concerning certain stereotypes they encounter on campus. —Anthony Eduafo
It is with wistful sadness that I write this letter. I recall when you talked about how your children abandoned you and established forts on foreign coasts. For some reason, some of those children, today, think of their siblings as inferior. I recall when you talked about the eclecticism of your children, their cultures, their skin complexions. I remember when you called dark skin beautiful and dear. Today, I am told otherwise, the significance of melanin ignored.
I once thought of change in our world and left you for a cocoon for global citizens. When I thought my fellow global citizens respected you, I was woefully mistaken. In our world’s prying gaze, you have only signified negativity.
Through interactions with people, I have verified that some people do have certain misconceptions about you. In the United States, you are considered as backward, no credit given to the pivotal role played by the US in facilitating the supposed backwardness.
You are known as an epicenter of primitive culture and of economic underdevelopment. A ghoulish “country” whose best achievements are ignominious. As your Swahili-speaking children will say, Chema chajitembeza, kibaya chajiuza: A good thing is hawked, a bad thing sells easily. Your errors, which are, of course, undeniable, have been overly exaggerated by the powers that prevail.
This situation is sad, but I couldn’t help but guffaw when I learned that a fellow global citizen described you as a country. You are thought of not only as a country but as one with prevalent starvation. As one of my black siblings mentioned: “I was asked if we starve in Africa.” A fellow “global citizen” asked one of your children if those of your children who live with you care about dying and if they even have hospitals. Sad? It’s only lurid ignorance.
People comment on the intelligence of your children with surprise on their features. “How did you learn to speak English?” one student asked. “Britain forcefully took over my country’s governance,” I retorted.
Another fellow “global citizen” once commented that the reason why his fellow student, one of your children, runs so fast is that he continually has to chase after gazelles for a meal. Even though this is obviously a derogatory statement, another colleague of mine mentioned that his thinking was the same.
For that colleague, his conception about you was that you are made of deserts and forests. He requested to see photos of my home community to verify his notions about you. He forgot—or was oblivious of the fact—that you support 54 different countries with different tongues, cultures, and environments, even skin colors.
Concerning skin colors, people have the notion that all of your children have dark skin. That usually culminates in your children’s’ identities being stripped from them. In my opinion, Mother, the established association of darkness with you contributes to this very stereotype. “I think people don’t even recognize me to be African because I am not black. Even if some people remembered that Egypt is part of Africa, they still wouldn’t consider me to be an ‘authentic African,’” said one of your children who felt her identity has been denied.
For some reason, the cultures you harbor are not adequately represented in my community of global citizens. Considering the kinds of misconceptions people harbor about you, I am not shocked.
As one concerned sibling said, “I have constantly been asked if I have wild animals in my backyard.” I would love to have lived with a lion in my backyard, but that isn’t the ubiquitous living environment with you, Mother. Unfortunately, people are convinced otherwise. These queries cause tugging discomforts in the minds of your children.
We hear people say they would never go to Africa, because it would be too “scary.” The irony of this is not lost on your children, Mother. “I thought it was ironic because I also don’t feel safe in America—a place that has never valued black bodies,” as your child sagaciously commented thereafter.
“Is that an African thing?” I have been asked at the cafeteria, in my room, in class. My siblings have been asked on the sports field and at the library. You taught me that there is nothing wrong with being inquisitive. You also taught me to never forget the context and to always do unto others as I would have them do to me. In this case, I would not ask a question which, when reciprocated, would make me uncomfortable. When people display their disgust for the supposed “African thing,” that immediately subjects the humanity of the party involved to careful consideration.
The problems with ignorance, including the associated dehumanization, need to be addressed, and that should start in this soil for seeds of global citizenry. I hope that the idea and possibility of progress comfort your bleeding heart.
Your child, Mawuna Koutonin, wisely said, the only thing dark about you, Mother, is the ignorance of those who think of you as dark. Your children will not relent until ignorance is alleviated, minds and hearts de-colonized, and the bright side of you, seen. For your errors, look forward to the days when they are tackled and rectified.
Soka University of America
Aliso Viejo, United States