Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Dear African friend – did YOU know that Africa is not a country?

“Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts.”
                                                                                                                                         E. B. White

(this image is from http://teenskepchick.org/2011/06/13/logic-me-this-hasty-generalization/ )

This article represents the burst of some of the frustrations I have from my interactions with various friends/acquaintances of African origin! This article is dedicated to them – although I think they will not really get it until they will go out of their countries for a while (at least)!!!
Or maybe is more for me to make my frustration public in order for me to let it go and move on!

I am Romanian – but believe me I am in no way representing with my beliefs and life style most of Romanians. If you meet me you have a small piece of Romanian information through me but only that. I’m well aware of that and I am careful not to talk in the names of Romanians – “we Romanians are like that or like that” although maybe in some instances I might have some right to say stuff like that- when I do it – I try to have it based on as many facts and information as possible – and preferable as many personally experiences.

Now- Romania is in Europe as continent but Romanians are different than other people in Europe – that’s the way it should be, right? When I grow up I never had this European identity developed in me- the system I grow up in didn’t feed such feeling – for me Europe (from growing up in Romania) seemed always a very divers land and indeed once I started explore it with my work and my travels it proved to be exactly like that.
Yes- I follow the news, I want to know what is happening around me, the developments in various countries but what these news give me as information are maybe some aspects related to the political and social situations in those countries (which can be anyway biased or corrupted) and little to nothing about the culture of those countries.
After all these years of working and experiencing on different levels “Europe” (West, East, South, little bit North)…I have almost nothing that I could say “we Europeans are like that or like that”- not in terms of cultural aspects at least. Oh yeah – they are some similarities among some Eastern, among some Western, Nordics, etc. but then again that’s not all Europe no? Even those they don’t really apply so much to everybody!

 (this image is from http://ac2013.eu/annual-congress-2013/trainings/typical-european-coping-with-stereotypes-intercultural-communication/
First time outside of European continent I end up in “ASIA” –better said South Asia (Sri Lanka, India, and Bangladesh). In these countries the people I interacted with had a national identity quite strong (especially in India) but not a continental one (“we Asians…”) and I never felt I am in ASIA- Asia is like that or like that! Later I discovered other countries from Asian side of the world- once again never such feeling come to me and my own mental image for Asia doesn’t really include such generalizations.

I refrain myself from generalizations – doesn’t mean is easy, and doesn’t mean I always refrained. Somehow I think people tend (me included- especially in the past) to generalize more exactly the things they know the least –“never been there – 1 example then is good for all”. Once we start to have more and more experiences (and an open enough mind) then we realize in fact how little we know and how in fact nothing that you assumed about a certain culture could be really applicable to everybody.
For me was like that – once I travelled more and more and realized how complex, divers and complicated is this world and that most of the images I had were distorted, outdated, fake, stupid, not relevant, etc. and that in fact what I thought I knew I should just unlearn it (which by the way is very hard) and just continue to explore the world as critical as possible, with as least as possible expectations and to be careful in how I talk about my experience to the others. 
 (this image is from http://johnkapeleris.com/blog/?tag=mind&paged=3)

I am no “saint” in this being objective, sensitive, politically correct game – you can just check the posts on this blog from my first trips to Asia and Africa (2008 and 2009) BUT nobody is – the point is that is a continue process to work with oneself, to become more and more critical. I suppose I am now more intercultural sensitive than in 2008 and there is a long road ahead of me in what matters my sensitivity and intercultural competences.

So what about Africa? – You know that huge continent (wrongly presented on the maps and here), very rich, very divers, et.- is Africa a country? NO, of course not, even if,  let face it many of non-Africans (I know) might talk about Africa as a country – I did it in the past – I confess!
  (these  images is from http://www.ryot.org/dear-rick-ross-africa-is-a-continent-not-a-country/227809)

First time I been to Africa (yes to Africa I said- when I went to Sri Lanka I didn’t say _ I went to Asia) I was like – Africa here I come (like I was about to conquer the whole continent in the 2-3 weeks I spend in one country) and my limited experience that I had in Ivory Coast in 2009 didn’t stop me from talking to everybody about what “I did in Africa”, to name my photo albums “Exploring Africa” and so on.
Of course the people I meet there (in Ivory Coast) helped a lot in this – “so how do you like Africa?” “First time in Africa?” “We Africans are not like you whites/Europeans, we are like that and like that”, or to find souvenirs with the African continent, etc. – it was just feeding my distorted way of perceiving my own experience.
(this image is from http://blog.johnrchildress.com/)

In all these years, as I mentioned before I worked with myself, and with my own intercultural sensitivity and also I continued to travel as well in different countries in Africa (Ghana, Cape Verde, Togo, Tanzania, South Africa, Ethiopia, North Africa (Libya, Morocco) – not sure where the last 2 fit in the context of this article) and I broke that bubble of “Africa”- even if I had small experiences in all these countries I know something for sure - Africa is not the same and Africans are not same!!! Of course they are not – different history, different influences, different context, different people reflects in different cultures and cultural expressions – yes they do!!!(I know I am stating the obvious but this obvious is not same for everybody that’s the thing!)

BUT strangely enough my African friends do not know that! Most of them never traveled in other African countries BUT have absolute no problem in talking in the name of all Africa and Africans!!! No problem at all!!!
  (this image is from http://thyblackman.com/2010/09/24/an-african-identity/)

 So yes- here I am working with myself, to be careful not to generalize and to present as objective and contextual as possible the experience I have on the continent and guess what - my African friends/acquaintances don’t really mind!!! More than this they actually could potential reverse my own process and go back to the way I thought before – they talk about Africa like is 1 – so is ok no? (stay strong Andreea- they are not right- you know that!!!)

Is quite intriguing the following process

  • I want to be sensitive, I try to be objective and contextual as possible, not to generalize what YOU do or say, to be careful on how I think and talk about YOU

  • But YOU in fact want me to do that!!! YOU want me to generalize you to everybody in your continent, YOU want me to talk about you and your country and I can just replace with the word AFRICA, YOU want me to think that what I experience in another country applies to YOU as well (Or is just what is in your country applies to the others as well not the other way around? Hmm….I’m bit confused at this part)

  (this image is from http://lifeonwry.com/2012/11/16/are-you-sure-you-want-to-do-this-gratitude-experiment-day-93/) 

Now … my dear “African” friend, are you really not aware that Africa is not a country? Are you in some sort of denial? Do you really want me to explain it to you again? But how to do it as we talked about it many times and nothing changed!!!

You, that never travelled to other countries on your continent (or just to your neighbors), that you see some news on television (and not about all countries, and not about cultural aspects), you that not even in your own country you don’t know all the cultural aspects and diversity, you, that tell me that have the right to talk in the name of all Africa? Is that so?  So what gave you this privilege – just that you are born in a country from Africa? Amazing!!!!

How come you have such a strong African identity my dear? (is a mystery to me- I guess for you too as you never managed to explain it to me in clear enough terms)

You don’t know even know how much harm you do you your dear country/ sorry continent- you feed a general image which of course is not applicable to all its people, you encourage the travelers that visit your country to generalize to everybody and they will continue to do so!

Please go and travel – please go far away from your country – please go in all the corners of your continent- please stop talking about things that you never experiences, please be critical about the news you see, please think more critical about the consequences of the way you present your country, culture, PLEASE challenge yourself…and then let’s talk about what means to be African if there is such thing as African (besides somebody living in African continent)

  (this image is from http://ikale.deviantart.com/art/Open-your-mind-271889960)

 Until that stage could you do me at least a little favor? Please don’t talk about Europeans or whites (just from the perspective of the whites or Europeans that visited your country – they are really not representative – really they are not!!!) – Believe it or not – there is no such thing as white or European culture- sooner or later you will realize that (of course if you have an open enough mind)!!! The people that are coming to your country are such a minority/they are exceptions for the fact that they even end up in your country – do you know that? Don’t make any assumptions about their people back home based on them – they will probably be wrong!!!

 (this image is from http://lovelightlaughterandchocolate.blogspot.com/2013/05/am-i-ass-or-are-you.html)

 Done- I said it – is out here online, I'm ready for whatever will come after this ;)
Feel free to approach me and we can talk more about it – if you feel like me , or you feel that I am talking about you or you just don’t feel like anything from this article!

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