Black History Month: Africa is NOT a country…

Africa_9…were the words I wanted to scream out loud while watching Blended, a romantic comedy starring Adam Sandler, in addition to addressing the other gross stereotypes and plainly racist innuendos used during the characterization of Africans and “their homogenous culture”.

How about “Uganda be Kidding Me” by Chelsea Handler, a stand-up comedy special “recounting her African adventures”? I couldn’t even make it to the five minute mark! What made my blood boil even more were the common references made throughout the aforementioned about this illusive “Country of Africa”.

My friends’ response to my utter frustration was that, “It’s just comedy”. After a few not so very pleasant conversations with my friends, I realized that they did have a point, it is indeed just a comedy film- an artistic device of entertainment consisting of jokes and satire used to bring light to different issues within society.

It was then that I realized that my frustration, one that many other Canadian-Africans share, was misplaced; I am frustrated with the power of media that is used and abused by leaders, friends, teachers and society at large.

We are living in the 21st century! Where there is this magical portal called the Internet that enchantingly gives us [frequently misleading] answers, that still keep on referring to Africa as a country.

Case in point, Bill Clinton in 2013 tweeted “Just touched down in Africa with @ChelseaClinton. Excited to travel for next ten days to @ClintonFdn projects. #Africa2013”.

But this is not a rant; after all I don’t want this to be “Betty’s rant”. I want to go back to a lesson that Trent professors taught me. After submitting our papers on philosophy and social justice we, we had to ask ourselves “So what?” Why should we, as Canadians, care about whether or not Africa is not a country? After all, the Western perspective, be it fostered through the media or otherwise, is the dominant perspective, giving us no particular incentives to care.

Besides developing the skills of critical thinking, a very integral component of a university education, I believe there is a lot more that we can learn as global citizens.

Globalization through elements such as technological advancements has broken down many of the barriers that have existed before and our lives are more intertwined than ever.

The aromatic Starbucks coffee that you enjoy every morning, the coffee beans have been farmed by Ethiopian coffee farmers. The vey clothes you wear might be from imported material from Uganda, Kenya or South Africa. The oil that fuels your engine might very well be crude oil imported from Nigeria. All of these countries are only five out of the 54 states in Africa.

There are decisions we make that affect these countries, and there are decisions made in those countries that affect us. This, in my opinion, is an incentive to educate one’s self regarding different issues in our society. In contrast, isolating one’s self from the potentially enriching experiences unique to different nations and nationalities around the world is a huge loss.

On a more positive note I am happy to see the TCSA and TACSU work together to address this issue. They have launched a campaign called “Africa is Not a Country” as part of a larger campaign named Reject Stereotypes, Embrace Humanity.

This campaign was inspired by the efforts of the African Students Association of New York’s Ithaca College and the events of Lady Eaton College’s 2014 Black History Month celebration. It aims to challenge negative misconceptions and stereotypes perpetuated towards people from different African countries.

In fact, it raises awareness of common generalizations and prejudices towards the continent. Let’s hope this is a beginning to a healthy conversation this Black History Month.