“So, if you’re from Africa… Why are you white?”
The REAL facts about the continent you thought you knew…
By Diana Odero, Chapman University
I’m sure you are all familiar with that famous quote from the Mean Girls movie yes? Well it has come to my attention from a couple of avid readers on this site that most of you if not all don’t really know much about the motherland. I don’t blame you because it’s a nationwide phenomenon; most Americans and Canadians as well know very little about Africa and what they do know is based off of what they were either taught in school or what they see on the media. As an African myself, I can attest to the fact that we know actually way too much about first world countries such as the United States and those in Europe etc. Why there is such an imbalance? I have no idea but after living here for a few years and having been exposed to the ignorance ranging from respectable senior adults to young kids in high school, I feel I should do my part and correct some of those ‘false truths’ that is said about the continent and the people alike here.
Let’s look at this as your basic Africa 101 class and to make it more informal instead of just a large spewing of facts, I’ll address all the questions I have ever been asked about Africa and Africans since my first year here. I gathered a few more from some friends living here as well so hopefully this will shed a more positive light on Africa than there was before.
1. “You’re from Kenya? I thought you said you were from Africa?” 1st things 1st; Africa is NOT a country. Never has been, never will be. Africa, just like North America, Europe, Asia… is a continent. The 2nd largest continent in the world to be exact. Kenya is a country within the African continent as is South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria, Angola and Rwanda etc. Africa has a total of 54 countries including the Seychelles, Madagascar, Morocco and Egypt. Most people tend to think these countries are not part of Africa.
2. “How did you get to America?” I don’t think my fellow college tourists are this ignorant though as most of you have travelled to Africa, but yes, contrary to popular belief, we do have planes in Africa. We have running airports and major airlines such as South African Airways, Kenya Airways and Egypt Air that fly all over the globe. A typical flight from Kenya to the US takes about 16-22hrs depending on which part of the country you are going to so basically it’s a two day trip.
3. “Isn’t it super hot in Africa? I don’t want to go there and come back dark skinned.” Someone legit asked me this in my sophomore year of college. I am dark skinned and I relish in that, would’t change it for anything but I do have friends who are just as light skinned as any mixed race American and yet are purely African. I have friends who are white and are fully African. Some of them have never left their home country leave alone the continent, so no… the sun isn’t that intense that it would change your skin color. Or if it has, I have never heard of such a case. It’s unfortunate that because of all the Western Media present in Africa most people, especially women, feel the need to manually change their skin color because they want to fit in and look like the girls they see on TV who have been crazily airbrushed. Skin bleaching is rampant in many parts of Africa and has been the cause of many skin diseases. Moral lesson of this point: don’t try bleach your skin, it never works out well.
4. “You guys have cars in Africa?” I was asked this on the day I was preparing for a driving test and had my Kenyan driving license on the table. I don’t even think I should really answer this question… I didn’t on that day. Why would anyone think we have no cars? A new millenium came and passed and even BEFORE then cars were still in existence. This question really frustrated me but for the sake of this article I shall answer it. YES. There are cars in Africa as there are roads, traffic lights and cops who can stop you for speeding or driving recklessly.
5. “You speak such good English, how did you learn it so fast?” Now this doesn’t apply to all Africans as I know there are some countries where English is not the first language such as Sierra Leone and Angola where they speak French and Portuguese respectively. But most countries in Africa have their first learning instruction in English due to colonization by the British and thus learn it from a very young age. We still speak our respective native tongue as we grow up learning that from our families but English as a national language in most countries is needed for all educational, political and economical purposes of the country.
6. “Do you know Ken? Ken Mbithi? He went to my high school and he’s from Kenya too!” A friend of mine was asked this a few years ago. Please Note what I said in point #1; Africa is the 2nd largest continent in the world. Therefore all Africans can’t possibly know each other. All Kenyans don’t know each other, all Nigerians do not know each other… I honestly don’t know why people assume we would know the ONE token African kid that was in your class, or you met at a party, a conference or church. Imagine if it was vice versa and I asked my roommate in Freshman year, Francesca from Oregon whether she knew my penpal from middle school Katie from Ohio?? Just because I thought all Americans know each other… doesn’t work that way. There are very rare probabilities of that actually happening.
7. “Is it safe?” The most typical question asked by even the most knowledgeable editors at CNN. Africa is portrayed in the media as being unstable, unsafe, filled with crime, terrorism and no sign of development at all with the exceptions of South Africa and Egypt that are the most developed countries in the continent. I have lived there all my life and yes I won’t deny that crime levels rise and fall with each passing day but it’s the same with any other country. Sadly I feel much safer in my own country than I do here in America due to the constant gun violence and racial crimes that seem to go on on a daily. No country is really ever extremely safe even the neutral scandinavian ones because life is a vicious cycle and some people who can’t handle it take it out on innocent people every day. As far as I know there are no travel bans to many African countries and that to me shows just how safe they are. We try our best so I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
8. “Do you have Lions just walking around town?” I literally laughed out loud at this question. My family had warned me that I would be asked some crazy questions when I got to America but I never expected the stereotypical ones at all. My cousin was asked if she lives in the jungle with monkeys. Or if we ride Elephants to get to school or work. We take huge pride in our wildlife especially in Kenya as they provide a major boost to the tourism industry and thus strengthening the country’s economy. BUT we don’t really live among the wild animals. In some remote areas of the country some communities still do and that is all everyone in the world gets to see. A week ago some Kenyans outran some Cheetahs, captured them and had them taken to wildlife services because the Cheetahs had killed and eaten 15 of their goats. This made BBC world news and I understand why because who outruns a cheetah?? But did you know that that four 20yr old college students developed a software equivalent to Yelp in Kenya? And the youngest billionaire in Kenya built his company with just a starting capital of $100? Such stories are yet to reach the CNN offices. So I really blame the media for being biased on what they show about Africa as it ‘educates’ people differently. Lesson of this point is: No we don’t have lions, zebras and elephants roaming around the city. No we don’t live in trees or jungles and no we don’t have giraffes for pets. It would be cool to have a giraffe as a pet though, just saying.
I won’t go further because I may end up writing a mini novel at this rate. All in all, please if any of you have African friends or know people who do or you are just curious about Africa, don’t base your facts off what you see on mainstream media. This continent has a lot more to going on than just poverty and crime and wild animals.