Something that has bothered me about some of the African studies departments I have seen is that while people complain about Americans viewing the continent as a homogeneous entity, you then see a lot of lectures and initiatives by educators and activists that effectively do a similar thing. It goes down the very presentation brochures for lecture series.
I once went to a lecture at my university that juxtaposed the history of Muslims in Senegal to the diaspora in Harlem. It started out as something rather interesting and then veered into this commentary of non-African, Arab countries to the North. I often view “Arab” as a word that has more basis in political qualities so I’m not the sort to protest too much if its used for superficial reference (emphasis on superficial), though I found it striking that they could totally detach a segment of the misunderstood continent for purposes of demonstrating conflict and inequality. Never mind that there are indigenous African groups there, never mind that these countries have vast cultural differences from those in the Middle East.
Its not to say that there aren’t qualities that tie the Maghreb to the Middle East via politics, invasion, some architecture, religion and language and even some ethnic origin (you can’t call for nuance and then say no one’s family came from elsewhere), but this could be easily said of some countries further South.
Its just very difficult to not only dispel a monolithic view of the continent, but its also hard to deal with issues of inequality whenever you completely detach people from their association with continent and view them as perpetual outsiders. It only spurs a sense of detachment on both sides. Also, perhaps the real problematic mentality is that we try to co-opt so many things into a single land mass. Perhaps segmentation isn’t the issue, perhaps we don’t study and demarcate enough unique regions. Is it truly better to be able to associate the word Africa “with a bunch of stuff in one location”?
I’m not purporting to have a better alternative, but I find a lot calls for greater attention to diversity and heterogeneous depictions to be inconsistent with how even a lot of academia presents it. I don’t know how people expect everyday people with less exposure to such regions to move away from problematic mentalities whenever some of the people battling them are also perpetuating them at the same time.
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- dfrezh said: Have you read any of Dambisa Moyo’s books on Africa? She’s a Zambian economist with a lot of insightful views regarding the economic development of many countries there.
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