A few months ago I went to an event called “Africa Day” which promised to be a day of fun, African Music and food and African crafts for sale. Needless to say, it was interesting.
The food tasted good (and it should have because it was about 30 dollars a plate). But it was mainly dishes like couscous, tajine, injera ethiipian stews and an assortment of grilled meats. It felt more like East African food day to be honest.
The crafts for sale were lackluster, but I didn’t mind that as much because how many authentic local craftsmen can you expect to find here?
The entertainment was abysmal. One the one hand they hired a live band. On the other the only thing “African ” about them was one dude’s dreadlocks and the lead singer’s Erykah Badu headwrap (pan-African, anyone?). What really annoyed me about the band and the music at this event in particular, was that the band only sang one song. I don’t mean they only sang one time. I mean they sang the same song, over and over and over again. And what song was that?…..
Waka Waka by Shakira!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Are you effing kidding me! Are you effing kidding me! Of all the great African Music artist out there from classic, respected artists like Mariam Makeba, Youssef Ndour, Anjelique Kudjoe, Fela Kuti etc. and even the relevant comtemporary artists like Nameless, Wiz Kid, Dbanj, Bracket, Timaya, Omawunmi etc.
They pick a song that is not even by an African artist. The most fun I had at the event was making fun of it. But I left with my belly full, and my heart full of disappointment: This is the essentialized view of Africa. It’s garbage.
Fast forward today, I am sitting at Shake Shack (their burgers really are quite nice!) and Waka Waka comes on. I start telling the two people I came with about the Africa event and how it was the only song that the band sang. And then we hear drums… A live African group is marching into the restaurant area (which is within a mall) complete with all the requisite representations of Africa: Leopard print strips of cloth, red fabric tied as regally as Mufaro’s beautiful daughters, cow print pants, a drum the color of Ghana’s flag, cowrie shell head dresses and face paint.
I. Just. Can’t. I. Just. Cant.
We left two minutes later.
It hurts that this is how Africa is viewed in the Western world, but I know this is the way it is. For some reason, any image about Africa, even a positive one ahs to include an African Woman’s bare breast, whether it’s a tribe in some remote village or a NYT article about a maternal health program started by the Sierra Leonean government that is saving lives go through the slide show and count all the times some woman’s breast is exposed, look at some of the other photos of births, photos we would never see if this were any other part of the world…how many pictures of births in Syria, Gaza, Somalia, China, heck even Latin America are presented in this raw manner?— it’s not journalism it’s poverty porn and rubbing out respect for these women’s chastity, modesty and femininity). Heck even Google is on my shit list check out the first picture that comes up when I google the word “African” I am sickened and disgusted by the othering of people who look like me, simply because
But to be so otherized by a group of people that complains of the same thing, it leaves my heart heavy. I’ve blogged about it before, as recently as yesterday.
Everybody, it seems thinks they are better than Africa and Africans….
I’m just done.
It’s not enough for me to be the privileged exception to this rule (sometimes, once my background and accolades are enumerated for all to see). Events like the one I witnessed today exasperate me 5 years ago, when I thought I wanted to tackle these issues as a PHD, and they exasperate me now as regular Jane. I don’t know what I can do to undo these disgusting archaic ideas about AFrica that everyone and their grandmother’s cat has articulated, internalized and now regurgitates about the continent. No one bats an eyelid.
I’m. Just. Done.