My father once told me that if I wanted to know something, ‘look it up’. Growing up without the internet, this piece of advice took more time and energy. When looking for information on African countries, I found I couldn’t readily get my hands on a wide variety of information. I also found that when I found subjects they were unbiased and not local to the continent.
Today, we have access to a plethora of information. There are books ranging from histories of the continent to commentary on a wide range of subjects – political, current events, and economy. We have access to thousands of African writers and their academic publications. We can watch news stations from a multitude of African countries through YouTube. Western mainstream information, however, still is Eurocentric and negative. One must know how to search and spend time in just finding an accurate, well-rounded, basic analysis of African countries.
Socially, the continent’s perception is of a country, rather than a continent. We speak of cultures, people, and languages, as ‘African’ rather than understanding there are thousands of culture groups and ethnicities of Africa. Saying someone is ‘African’ would be the equivalent of saying, ‘I am North American’. Even though we are North American, we identify as an American from the United States. If I don’t make that distinction, I could be Canadian or Mexican. These cultures differ vastly from each other. The same goes for the African continent.
Ten years ago, when I began my journey into the continent, I knew almost nothing. I started with a country – Zimbabwe. I only chose Zimbabwe because the former President, Robert Mugabe, was in the international news over some decisions he had made for his country. Prior to my research, I knew nothing about Zimbabwe, I’m not even sure if I had even heard the name, ‘Zimbabwe’. And that’s how I started. I began reading everything I could find about President Mugabe and slowly began researching the country’s history, politics, cultures, and geography. Once I had a grasp of Zimbabwe, I chose other countries and subject matters.
I realized, through my research, the richness Africa holds, and not just with natural resources. Africa was an entire world that I had never experienced. I realized that Americans in the diaspora need to understand the continent of our ancestors.