It comes as no surprise that most Americans, or to a general extent, most Europeans would have a different and wrong view of Africa and Africans. This perception may be as a result of stories or even the result of the difference inequality between the two regions: civilization-wise, development wise, technology-wise just to mention a few. Considering that Africa is on the path to development, this invention of the American mind is not only far from the truth but is really disturbing.
Africa is stated to incite images of safaris, jungles, animals and strangely dressed ‘tribesmen’ on the mind of any sound American (Keim and Somerville). We can all agree that civilization, even in Africa, is beyond the cave man era and therefore we need to look at Africa in a more decent way. More to this are the newspapers that describe situations in Africa in such a way that the negative and, say, barbarism is usually the headline. In this essay, we are going to look at the stereotypes that America has in Africa. In this aspect, we are going to look at: the various stereotypes and representations about Africa and Africans that exist in America, the historical origins of the identified stereotypes and the reason behind the endurance of the stereotypes in America.
Stereotypes and Myths about Africa and their historical origin
Stereotype that Africa is a place of Danger darkness, poverty, and hopelessness
This generally expresses the view of most Americans and Westerners. Africa has been regarded by many as a place where there is very little progress and the people are unintelligent. This may be regarded as a more judgemental approach in the sense that there is the comparison. The lack of progress describes that this place is mostly a jungle where there is a general atmosphere of danger. Furthermore, considering the view that it is still isolated from the rest of the world, it has generally been thought as a place where strange customs and practices are carried out.
In the American context, progress does not necessarily describe movement towards a goal but it is defined in terms of technology, wealth and other factors that basically define the western societies (Harth). This thus broadens the scope to this definition: Innovation in Africa is backward in comparison to America and the other European states, and the contribution of the African continent to global progress is little with the only contribution the availability of raw materials among others.
The Myth of primitive existence
This simply describes Africa as a place where tradition does not change. Africans are viewed as to have a history that is basically described as static and can, therefore, be regarded as primitive because the aspect of progress is so low. Furthermore, the practices in Africa simply make the African person more or less exotic and in an outward and backward to the world. More to this is the dress code, the food the daily routines that are practiced in Africa. In this definition, there is also an aspect of judgment contained therein. The definition of primitive simply indicates that there is something more advanced.
Myth of lack of History
This might be regarded as a myth that basically is based on the fact that Africa was colonized. In this respect, the myth states that Africa has no history and is basically propagated in the defense of white supremacist. These people emphasize that Africa has history because they delivered it to the continent. Furthermore, it tries to emphasize the idea that Africa is timeless and has shown no signs of progress in the recent past. Finally, considering that Europeans brought history to Africa, the continent may be regarded as inferior and the people inferior to the people from the Western states.
The myth Of Hopelessness
To some extent, it may be true, but the perception that Africa is a lost cause is really absurd. The myth states that Africa has no future because of the various issues facing the continent. These issues include unstable governments, murder and killings, corruption, disease such as AIDS and Ebola, corruption etc. which are described as unresolvable. This is a generalized assumption of the whole continent.
The myth of African continuity and geographical myths
These myths to a large extent describe Africa as one continuous place, and basically a jungle. The continent is described as undifferentiated with jungles and deserts everywhere. It is with this that the myth justifies the colonization of Africa by the Europeans and Americans. With no differentiation and with lands that are barren, Europeans were able to curve up Africans in whichever way they liked. On the aspect of the population, the myth describes Africa as having one continuous population, and with the inability to rule themselves. The myth is totally wrong considering that Africa has only 5% of the land as jungle and with over 800 tribes and 54 countries (John).
The Myth of Population
It describes Africa as to be under and overpopulated. Considering these two aspects of population, the one about overpopulation basically focuses on Africans as more primitive and unable to restrain from the sexual instincts. In so doing, the rearing of children is at an exponential state in Africa and this behavior is mainly regarded as irresponsible with no self-control. On the part of under-population, the myth describes Africa as a place where many people are dying from diseases such as aids and Ebola (Sohar and Stam). Considering that AIDS is a sexually transmitted infection that can be passed on from generation to generation, this idea of under-population does not contradict the first idea of overpopulation but the major difference is that the children and the people do not live long enough.
Endurance of the Myths in America
One thing that has continually ensured that most of these stereotypes about Africa are still viable is the media and television (marc and Dagenais). In regarding poverty, the media presents the continent as very poor with only a few corrupt generals and leaders being rich. This is very far from the truth considering the different classes of people that are in Africa.
Another important aspect is that media and television most of the times present Africa as a travel destination with lots of wildlife and tourist attraction. This is very wrong considering that Africa has only a few places that can be regarded as travel destinations and with lots of wildlife. The second aspect that has ensured that Africa is still stereotyped as inferior to America and the western states is the persistence in the newspaper headlines (Sohar and Stam). The headlines focus on the negative aspects of Africa such as corrupt generals, famine, hunger, crisis, and violence and to a large extent neglect the positive aspect of Africa. It can, therefore, be described to create an impression on the minds of most westerners and Americans.
Educational background of many Americans is still to blame for the endurance of these myths and stereotypes. The majority of people are to a large extent uneducated about Africa and this leads to very inaccurate referrals. To overcome this requires an overhaul of this system with a proper background of the African continent.
The last factor that has ensured the growth and development of these myths is through the movies and advertisement programs. Movies generally describe Africa in a jungle manner with the population generally describes as bound by tradition. In this context, most people may view Africa as a backward continent with less intelligent people
The stereotypes regarding Africa in the American society may be regarded as erroneous considering that the basis is usually not true. The erroneous assumption by most Americans is further described by the fact that most Americans have very little background of the African continent and most obtain the knowledge through television, newspapers, and movies among others. It can, therefore, be considered very unethical to describe Africa as an underdeveloped continent with calamities everywhere etc. The reform of the American educational system can be a way forward.
Harth, Amy E. Representations of Africa in the Western News Media: Reinforcing Myths and Stereotypes. n.d.
John, Sorenson. Imaging Ethiopia: Struggles for History and Identity in the Horn of Africa. New Brunswick, 1993.
Keim, Curtis and Carolyn Somerville. Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and inventions of the American mind. Westview Press, 2017.
Marc, Raboy and Robert Dagenais. Media, Crisis, and Democracy: Mass Communication and the Disruption of Social Order. London:: Sage, 1992.
Sohar, Ella, and Robert Stam. Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. London, 1994.