Confronting a Non-Existent Continental Identity
Written by Morenike Adebayo on December 4, 2017
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Africa is the world’s second-largest continent, spanning over thirty million square kilometres. Despite its diverse population, the continent of Africa is often homogenised in Western popular culture.
Our continent is as ethnically diverse as it is geographically varied. Although Africans share a lot of similarities between them, we are, contrary to Western beliefs, not all the same. As a matter of fact, we can and must do more to fight the Western perception that Africa is a single political, cultural, or social entity.
The lack of knowledge about Africa in the West is appalling. Western media and scholarly work is dominated by stereotypes and outdated tropes of African people.
The homogenisation of African culture is evident in the 1988 popular American movie, “Coming to America”. Starring several popular actors, the movie chronicles the journey of a prince from an imaginary African country to New York City.
The movie was well received in the United States, despite its offensive humour and tendency to laugh at, rather than with, contrived stereotypes about African culture. As a result of such movies, the caricature of the uncouth African character is a widespread feature of African-American entertainment.
Almost forty years after Coming to America was released, the same ridiculous stereotypes about Africans permeate black entertainment. What was supposed to be an informed satire on race relations was released in 2014. “Dear White People” received a lot of praise in African-American circles for its delicate treatment of inter-racial college life.
Despite its apparently well-informed intentions, the movie contained a token African character. The character, Rashid, was supposedly Kenyan despite not possessing anything sounding similar to a Kenyan or any other African accent. The character is portrayed as unintelligent and ignorant to American culture, despite the reality of millions of Africans assimilating perfectly into the cultural life of the United States.
Hollywood’s failure in representing African characters is simply a representation of the Western attitude to Africans. Indeed, we are all considered to be the same, without regards to our cultural complexities. Although Hollywood is largely responsible for this perception, there is more we can do to fight it.
We Nigerians need to stop referring to ourselves first as Africans. We should, in reflecting on cultural similarities, say that we are Nigerians first. The tendency to refer to ourselves as Africans was borrowed from foreigners who see Africans as all the same. Thus, by calling ourselves Africans rather than Nigerians, we are asserting an outdated and largely racist view of our entire continent.
If our non-Nigerian peers are too ignorant to know about one of the greatest countries on the African continent, it is their issue. If we want to begin to fight the narrow global perception of Africa, we must do so intrinsically by asserting our national identity, rather than clinging on to a continental identity that doesn’t exist. May God Bless our beloved Country, Nigeria.
Funmilayo Adetokunbo A-A, a political International Affairs Analyst, writes from Somerset, England, United Kingdom.