Africa Misrepresented?

December 9, 2011

Every so often Africa becomes the ‘trending’ thing. Take for instance the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas” by a posse of celebrities in 1984, and all the (RED) campaigns, the “make poverty history” wrist bands, etc. etc. the list goes on. If you were to ask people what parts of Africa these campaigns were targeting how many could have answered that the Band Aid song “Do They Know It’s Christmas” was originally written to raise funds for the 1984 famine in Ethiopia? But could you blame them?

As altruistic as these campaigns are, they have reduced Africa to a single mass of black people. I got on this thought process after watching Leslie Dodson in her TED talk ‘Don’t Misrepresent Africa’. Dodson discusses these popular culture images as rendering Africa into one big country. She says we often see “monolithic homogenous stories about the great country of Africa, but Africa is not a country, it’s a continent. Its 54 countries and thousands and thousands of languages.”

Earlier on Afroklectic, Gillean shared her personal experience of arguing with her primary school teacher that Africa was not a country. The year is 2011 yet there are people who still hold to this falsity.

Dodson goes on to ask the poignant question, “is this imagery productive or reductive?” What are your thoughts? Do these campaigns perpetuate the misconception that Africa is a single generic mass of people?


  • Speech (Arrested Development)

    I’ve seen this understandable pet peeve expressed a lot in African Blogs. As an African American, I don’t know much about Africa, mainly because of the misrepresentation it’s always had in schools and media in my country. Yet, many blacks romanticize about the continent as an adopted child may do his biological, yet unknown parents. Everyone seeks a sense of belonging. I think Americans and our mis-representation of Africa as a country is from the American – centric default, we come from. So, simply because our America is “united” as one country with many states, then cities etc. we tend to assume that’s the same everywhere else.
    Is it a fact that these various stars that campaign for Africa aren’t actually making a difference within the continent, even a little? If so, then I agree with those who shed light on that issue. I think that until blacks and Africans that live in America start producing their own programming (news, movies etc.) Africa will continue to be grossly mis-represented as wildlife, poverty, corruption & savage with only a few exceptions. Thanks for the blog, I appreciate it!

  • Gillean

    I totally agree that we have to present a different side of Africa. Whether it’s through TV programs, magazines, radio stations and so forth. If we don’t present a different of Africa, who will?

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