Debunking African Stereotypes


Lola Akinlade, Online Editor

As soon as I got back from my trip to Senegal this summer, (which is in West Africa—a question asked too often), I was unsurprisingly bombarded with questions regarding my trip. Sure, there were many ignorant ones, including the fixation of where I slept at night (no, I did not sleep in a tree nor in a hut), but one specific question irked me to no end.

The first question my kind, smart, benevolent friend asked was,
“Was it sketchy?”

Now, this may seem minute, but as she said this, she washed away a whole continent’s incomprehensible vastness of beautiful culture and history into just one word: “sketchy.” She revealed the grave ignorance that has plagued the minds of many in America. So, let’s debunk some basic myths.

First of all, Africa is not a country.

Probably the most annoying, seemingly harmless, question I got asked was, “How was Africa?” Gee, I don’t know, I’ll tell you once I visit all 54 countries in Africa.

I didn’t visit the whole continent, so I’m not really sure, but Senegal was great! When people broadly refer to specific countries as Africa, it tends to generalize the whole continent as one, which in turn leads to the reinforcement of African stereotypes.

For example, in 2014, Ebola spread to three countries in West Africa, but many people concluded that the whole continent of Africa was infected with Ebola. There were cries to ban travelers that were coming from Africa from entering the U.S. Currently, in Miami there have been several cases of the Zika virus, yet no one has called for a ban of travelers from the U.S., let alone from Florida or Miami.

According to the social categorization theory, it’s easier for our brain to generalize than to actually think of each person or place as its own, especially when we think of Africa as one big country with no appreciation for its diversity and richness.

Senegal is a country full of alluring culture, vibrant clothes, and the most divine food I’ve ever tasted.

Secondly, not all Africans are poor.

In 8th grade, I vividly remember talking to my best friend about how my parents grew up in Nigeria. Then she eagerly asked, “Did they live in huts?” I knew she wanted my response to be “yes,” as it would coincide with her false reality of a backward Africa where everyone lived in huts while playing the drums, which is commonly portrayed in the media.

However, that is not the reality of all Africans. Yes, some people live in huts in Africa just like some people live in ghettos in America, but that doesn’t mean everyone does.

There is a great need for further appreciation and education of the positives of Africa, such as its extensive richness of history and the variety of different alluring culture that lies in each individual country. Omitting its uniqueness would be criminal.