“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get Aids. Just kidding. I’m white!”
So tweeted the director of corporate communications for media conglomerate IAC yesterday, unleashing a storm of online protest. To be fair, the lady in question is apparently no poster child for sensitivity or good judgement in her utterances, having previously tweeted equally ridiculous and offensive missives. One hopes the backlash of this will teach her some tact – her twitter account certainly has been deleted since.
The fact remains though that the vast majority of stories being reported on out of Africa in today’s news are stories of poverty, disease, war or injustice. While Africa as a continent is certainly beset with great problems and those problems should be reported; if they become all that is reported and all that the majority of North Americans hear and associate with Africa, not only will their picture of Africa be very skewed, but they may well become too emotionally overwhelmed to actually engage in any way that is helpful – Africa then becomes either a topic to be avoided, or the butt of ridiculous jokes, as in the case of the tweet above.
The truth is that Africa is replete with stories of hope, stories of love, reconciliation, joy, ingenuity, beauty and value. Until we begin hearing and sharing those stories, we risk caricaturing and dismissing a continent of a billion people whose lives have a much greater effect on ours – even if we are oceans apart – than we may realize.
“We have two choices: One is to continue to see a poor, ill, crying Africa, carrying guns, that depends on other people forever. (The other is) to promote an Africa which is confident, peaceful, independent, but cognizant of its huge problems and great values at the same time.” — Zeresenay Alemseged in his TED talk: ‘The search for humanity’s roots’.