18 February 2014

African Stereotypes

A few weeks ago Adam and I had dinner with friends from different countries in Africa. At one time or another they had all gone to university in the United States. They had all lived with Americans and worked with Americans. As the evening went on, and the Tembo flowed, they talked with each other about their experiences Stateside. Naturally, some good-spirited storytelling and stereotyping ensued...

You know I never minded when Americans asked me crazy questions about Africa. Because how are they supposed to know? They've never been here. They'd ask if we all speak the same language [no] and if we pay taxes [of course!]. I always appreciated honest questions because that's how we learn about each other. 

Agreed, I prefer the Americans who have never been to Africa. It's the Americans who have been to Africa that drive me crazy... Listen, just because you did Peace Corps in a "village" in Zambia doesn't mean you know anything about the country I'm from.

From a collection of drawings by students in Congo: "Stereotypes about Africa."

I think a lot of Americans feel ashamed that they don't know about anything that's going on in my country. But how can they?! Any big city in the US will have more local newspapers, TV and radio stations than we have in my entire country. How can I possibly expect Americans to keep up with all their local news and what's happening in my tiny country. It's impossible. Me, on the other hand, I have to keep up with international news. I can't afford not to. 

Everyone warned me that Americans would judge me by the color of my skin. In my experience, Americans fell over themselves to accommodate me. The only time I experienced racism in the United States was when a shop owner followed me around his store because he thought I was going to steal something. But it turned out he was French. [Followed by uproarious laughter.]

You know what I never understood about Americans. Their emotions! They're so afraid to show they're sad. My co-worker's father died and she only took two days off. TWO DAYS. And I never saw her cry. I have to take two days off work if I even start thinking about the day my dad will die. 

More from the collection of Stereotypes about Africa.




 Stereotypes about America by students in Africa. 

My, my. Aren't stereotypes fascinating. 


  1. I think there's usually some bit of truth behind stereotypes...these are definitely interesting.

    1. Stereotypes are created before the child is born,by the educational system. Children grow into the mold already created. Children are a clean slate, a computer not yet programmed. All humans have the same basic needs, most are not within their control. that is, controlled by the ruling party, or the 11%.

  2. I am that peace corps person. I almost always bring it up when I meet someone from sub-Saharan Africa. They almost never seem to care that I lived there (unless they are from the country where I worked, and even then... not really), so maybe I should take a hint. But when I was working, everyone always told me about everyone they knew in the states, if they had been there and what state their cousin/brother/father lived in. It never bothered me.

    1. That is so true! I really wish I knew more people in Washington, D.C., New York or Florida. Those tend to be the hotspots for Africans trying to play the American-connection game.

  3. What I find funny is when I'm in Africa (Republic of Congo) & someone says, "Oh, I have a cousin in New York. Do you know him?" Then in America, I get the same, "I met someone from Kinshasa or DRC. Do you know him?" This happens even after I painstakingly explain that there are 2 Congos & I've never even been to the DRC. I guess it's just human nature.
    Other funny things are that Americans have trouble grasping that Africa is so big and varied, and Africans have trouble grasping that America is so big & varied.

  4. This is fabulous. I want to have dinner with your friends - they sound awesome :)

  5. Thanks for good posting! Local TV Africa. Local TV Africa

  6. I completely agree with Anna's comment. My husband and I are just beginning to experience this! We moved to Tanzania two months ago and are fascinated by the attempts by folks, on both sides of the ocean, to connect their story to ours. "Do you know so-and-so in California?" (when we're both from the Mid-west) and "I had a friend who volunteered in Ghana!" (which, yes, is still quite far from us in Tanzania, even though it is the same continent!)

    I love these posts on cultural stereotypes, norms, and experiences! Keep 'em coming!


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