Say the word ‘Africa’ and many people will either think of this:
or possibly something along these lines:
Well, this weekend I was reminded again of how monolithically many people in our society view Africa. I was speaking with a representative from a private company whose business is sending students from around the world to other countries for educational purposes. This person was specifically looking for families to host students from abroad in their homes for several weeks during the summer.
So I was asking the representative some questions about the program, and one of the questions I asked was if they had any students who come from countries in Africa. Here is the reply I received:
“No. We only have students whose families can afford it.”
After I picked my jaw up off the floor here’s how I responded,
“Really? You don’t think that there are any families out of the one billion people in Africa who might be able to afford your program? Do you honestly believe that every single student on the second largest continent in the world comes from a family that lives in poverty? Are you telling me that every one of the fifty different countries in Africa is devoid of anyone other than the people you see on the latest ‘Save the Children’ commercial?”
Ok, that’s not really what I said. It was more along the lines of:
“I’m sure there are plenty of families in Africa that could afford it.”
Several days later I still can’t let go of this conversation. Now, I have no desire to single out this person or this company, because versions of this conversation happen all the time. Statements that demonstrate stereotypes, prejudices and gross misunderstandings of “those poor Africans” are commonplace and routine in our society and in our media.
But just because they are commonplace doesn’t mean they aren’t damaging.