The Black Experience 2.0: Africanism and The Western Portrayal of Africa (Part 1)

Hello and welcome to The Black Experience 2.0: Giving White Comfort The Backseat.

The Black Experience 2.0 is the second edition of The Black Experience which held last year in February. The Black Experience is a month long blog series held in honour of Black History Month, which features Black authors and Black bookish content creators and aims at highlighting Black stories and experiences.

TBE 2.0 is especially about giving Black people the space to be fully them and share their stories while centring themselves and their experience of Blackness and without care for the white gaze.

Today on TBE 2.0, author, Deborah Falaye (she/her) and booktuber, Chioma (she/her) talk about Africanism, the western portrayal of Africa and how it differs from the experience of actual Africans

This post divided into two parts; an article part and a Youtube video linked in the post.


Deborah Falaye: MY AFRICA IS NOT A JUNGLE: SHIFTING THE WESTERN GAZE

9.00 am. Mid-October, 2004.

Two weeks after my family and I moved to Canada, it was officially time to enroll me in a new school. The semester was well underway, and like most Nigerian parents obsessed with education, my father didn’t want to waste any more time. So off we went that morning, covering the short distance between our home and the school. My mother and I arrived at the principal’s office a little after first period, with me clinging ever so closely to her side, filled with that same familiar dread most twelve-year-olds felt when they had to start over at a new school.

But I would soon come to find out just how unfamiliar my experience was.

One of the first things the principal wanted to know was if I had another name. “An English name, perhaps? Something to help her assimilate better with the other kids.”

Prior to arriving in Canada, I’d gone by the name ‘Tolu’ my entire life. It was the first name on my birth certificate. A name emblematic of my cultural identity as both Nigerian and Yoruba. To change it then didn’t feel right, but I was a foreigner in a new country. More than that, I wanted to belong. So my mother and I said, of course, and the switch to my Christian middle name began. This name would be easier to pronounce and remember. It would be better accepted. Less African, more western. And so ‘Deborah’ went on all official documents, from my social insurance card to my bank statements.

When all was said and done, the principal sent me off to class with a name card in hand. It wasn’t lost on me that he’d hastily scrawled Debra across the flimsy white paper. It seems even he had somehow managed to butcher my easily pronounced, better accepted, more western name the first chance he got.

Fast forward to lunch period, where I now sat amongst my new classmates, all of whom were quite welcoming. As expected, my arrival was a hot topic, but as I answered many questions about what it was like growing up in Nigeria, something else became apparent.

The Africa I know is not the Africa they’ve been shown.

Did you used to play with monkeys? No.

Did you live in huts? No.

Sleep on trees? No.

So you really had beds in Nigeria? Yes.

I still cringe at any reminder of this moment. Back then, the ignorance was new to me, strange, and I had no idea how deeply flawed the portrayal of Africa in western media was.

A few months before my arrival, Hollywood had released a new film that would rise to become an epitome of pop culture and teen drama. I loved Mean Girls the first time I saw it. But less than two minutes into the opening scenes, we are immediately greeted with a series of disillusioned shots of Cady Heron’s Third-world Africa. A sprawling, jungle-like landscape stripped of its civility, and replaced with roaming exotic animals, wilted grass, and a weapon-wielding tribesman. The filmmakers made a point of reminding their audience of this throughout the duration of the movie, as Cady so often alludes to the barbarity of the “wild jungle” and the violent methods with which disputes are often solved. We also see a similar, distorted view mirrored in George of the Jungle, an old classic about a man raised by apes in the belly of an African jungle and its surrounding native tribesmen.

It should come as no surprise that there are representations and stereotypes attached to the depiction of Africa in western media, all of which have become synonymous with a poverty-stricken, uncultured wilderness in dire need of saving. We are well aware that the foundation of this is very much steeped in the West’s justification of slavery and colonialism. Yet, even now, we still see how much the media continues to perpetuate this false narrative of western superiority and African inferiority.

It’s 2021, and there is a slight shift in the exploration of Africa through the western gaze. 2018 gave us Black Panther, a revolutionary movie that so unabashedly and simultaneously shows us Black excellence and African pride. But to celebrate Black Panther and its brilliance is to celebrate the authenticity of the African culture that existed long before it. It is in the intricacy of African art, the vibrancy of the elaborate garments and beads worn across the continent. It is in the richness of afrobeat and the growing emergence of other forms of African media—all of which tell the story of a thriving, diverse civilization unlike what has long been portrayed.

So when I return to that very particular moment with my classmates, fielding their questions left and right, it comes with this realization in mind: though they may have had no clue, the West knew better.

My Africa is not a sparse cluster of crumbling huts erected along a muddy, dirt road.

My Africa is not that acacia tree you’ve slapped on the front cover of a children’s book.

My Africa is certainly not a jungle.


Chioma: Western-centric view of Africa and New Releases by African authors.

“There are so many African authors out there that are writing African fiction, African fantasy, thrillers, mysteries, coming-of-age, etc. that they do not need to be overshadowed by the white gaze of Africa”

About Deborah Falaye

Deborah Falaye is a Nigerian-Canadian young adult author. She grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, where she spent her time devouring African literature, pestering her grandma for folktales and tricking her grandfather into watching Passions every night. When she’s not writing about fierce Black girls with bad-ass magic, she can be found obsessing over all things reality tv. BLOOD SCION is her debut YA fantasy, soon to be published Winter 2022.

Twitter

Instagram

About Chioma


Hello all! My name is Chioma (I go by Chi on the internet) and I am a Nigerian American lifelong book lover, data scientist by trade, and over opinionated Aries. I am graduate student who also works full-time and reading is my favorite form of procrastination for both of these obligations. So I outlet my bookish opinions on my booktube channel!

YouTube


|Instagram |Twitter | Goodreads |

4 thoughts on “The Black Experience 2.0: Africanism and The Western Portrayal of Africa (Part 1)

  1. Yes yes yes yes to this piece!! I hope there’s another article about the homogenization of Africa. Sometimes, I feel like screaming, “Name the f**king country!!” at people on the Internet. What’s the point of having 56 countries in a continent? If you search “Africa”, one of the most-asked questions you see is “Is Africa a poor or rich country?” like why?

    Like

  2. This is such a beautiful post! I admit that I haven’t read much from African authors, and I don’t know much about different cultures in the continent. I love learning from all of you, and I’ll most likely refer to this post as a starting point for researching more.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.