Saturday, May 07, 2016

The mother of all

There was no concept of "Mother's Day" in the old country, back when I was a kid.  Now, of course, such Americana has spread across to the other side of the planet as well.

No, this post is not about my mother, nor is it to rant about Mother's Day.  It is about "mother" Lucy and the home to all of us--you, me, and the rest of humanity as well.  Lucy--not the redhead on television who made us laugh--but the fossil in Ethiopia is what I am referring to.  And, hence, the motherland of all of humanity--Africa.

I routinely ask students if they have upper division courses that were only about Africa's countries and peoples.  It is a rare student who has something to say.  To most students Africa is something out there.  A blob. Irrelevant.

I remind them about Africa's size.  A few eyes wake up to the realization that if one country of Congo itself is that big, then the continent is "yuge."  About how tiny Oregon is compared to Tanzania. I tell them about the demographic future--that population growth this century will happen in Africa.  And about the noticeable uptick in the economies of the countries.  To the scientifically inclined, I even suggest knowing more about "mitochondrial Eve."

It is unfortunate that the university where I teach is like most colleges and universities that continue to remain Euro-centric in what we teach.  Everything from literature to the social sciences is mostly about Europe and North America, with a little bit about South and Central America. It is pathetic that even my university offers more courses about Slovakia and the Balkans than about Africa and its countries.

The result is that most students never, ever encounter Africa in their formal education. I would not be surprised if they then graduate with nothing but the old stereotypes of Africa.


So, here's a suggestion for Mother's Day: In addition to wishing the mothers around you: do whatever you can in order to get away from those old stereotypes about Africa.    



Ramesh said...

Rather stretching, the link between Mother's day and Africa.

But your point is valid - ignorance of Africa is there all over the world - not just in the US of A. Look at the blatant racism against Africans here in India. And as far as Chinese are concerned, Africans are maybe not even of the same species.

Have been privileged to have traveled quite a bit in Africa, in my working days. What an amazing, and often misunderstood , continent it is.

Anne in Salem said...

Africa is remarkably complicated. Most Americans see Africa as unimaginable poverty, terrorism and pirates, disease, tribal warfare and safaris. The author makes a good point that positive news about any African nation seems to be more footnote than news item, except perhaps business news. The "emerging markets" in the larger countries like Nigeria seem to make news somewhat regularly. And if one chooses her news source carefully, there will be discussion of the impact of such growth rather than just soundbites.

Changing the story will take years. Americans are myopic and perhaps a bit narcissistic. Relate Africa to Joe the Plumber's life, and you might make headway.

Sriram Khé said...

Not a stretch by any means, Ramesh ... I will admit, though, that I do bring up Africa whenever I can find an opening in conversations ;)

Yes, the stories from India that I have read and blogged about shock me ... shows how much we humans can be screwed up :(

That's an interesting way you have phrased it, Anne: "Relate Africa to Joe the Plumber's life" ... as an educator and as an opinion-writer, I want to think more about how to do that ...

Most read this past month