By Joey Clavette
Earlier this semester we screened “Concerning Violence“. I wrote a little something about it here. But before the film I had also given a presentation on Africa which attempted to dispel a lot of myths about it. While this film which is set in Africa is about violence, it is imperative to know that Africa is much more than a land of violence. In an African history course I took I was made to sit down and actually write about this subject so I thought I’d share it here:
The word Africa comes from the Latin word Afri. Originally the name was meant to describe one tribe which the Romans had known from Libya. The term then came to be used to describe the entire expansive and diverse continent. This is an illustrative example from ancient Western culture to show how simplistic the Western view of Africa has been for a very long time.
In his work The Invention of Africa, philosopher V.Y. Mudimbe points out that African unity was not a concept on the continent before European contact. Blackness and Africanness are descriptions of an “Other”; as something different in such a way from Europeanness. Africans are described altogether by their relative difference to Europeans rather than their own characteristics. This results in a vast homogenization of Africans in the Western psyche, and we can clearly see that present today in what Chimamanda Adichie calls the ‘Single Story of Africa’.
One might hear a friend say “I’d like to go to Africa”, and when asked “where in Africa?” they might respond with dismay… “just Africa”. Africa to many people is thought of as a vast, wild (yet relative homogenous) landscape full of violent conflicts, diseases, poverty, safari animals and “black” people. This is how Africa is portrayed in popular media. This is the single story. The fact that there is more genetic diversity among the natives of Africa than there is among white Europeans is not important, they are simply “black”. The vast size of the African continent, the metropolitan areas, the ecological diversity, the more than 1500 unique languages, the stability, the health and the economic development are all glossed over and replaced with a single story.