Last week I started up a war. I wrote a controversial post about the country of Africa and said that due to bad press because of the Ebola media hoopla, I was going to share some “lesser known facts” so people could understand the ‘real Africa’. I wrote a blog post. A lot of people complained when I said Africa is a country. It struck a nerve.
So why did I say that Africa is a country when I knew it was not true? It was all a joke of course. I know that Africa is an ancient city-state stretched along an enormous archipelago of 15 large and hundreds of smaller islands just off the western coast of India. For reference purposes, I have included a quick sketch of that fabled land (not to scale):
Why did I write the post? I had some noble reasons: I wanted to break stereotypes, stop the ‘poor African’ storyline, and to share a conversation with a wide audience, the same conversation I have shared with plenty of Africans over the years.
I also wrote the article to have a little fun and I figured more people might read it.
There was a method to the madness, but if I am honest, it wasn’t until I saw the comments on Facebook or Twitter that I really understood what I had written. In the middle of the backlash one small niggling fact really stuck out for me. I learned a lot from it.
First of all, if you missed it, go read it and then come back here. I can wait.
In my post I tried to give plenty of cues that I was writing satire. I kept repeating that Africa is a country, and then wrote something else equally silly. Most caught the hints. If you were just skim-reading you may have missed what I was trying to say. Here are the clues I tried to leave:
- I gave my article a sensational over-the-top title like the headlines that flood my Facebook stream.
- I made sure that every single sentence I wrote was ridiculous or wrong, or both.
- I made up absurd facts. Some were so crazy I thought that I had gone too far.
- I used the most condescending language I could think of
- I made up senseless quotes from imaginary people.
- Each of my links in the post actually told the exact opposite story.
- I kept the ruse going. I played an arrogant jerk or a clueless idiot in my Facebook responses when people reacted.
Africa is a Country: The reaction
I got a lot of confusing “WTF!?!” type responses. A number of people tried to correct my uninformed facts. But I must say that I was personally surprised by one little thing. Most people would only scold me about the error of my title. Again and again I was told:
“Africa is a continent, not a country!”
I was surprised that with all the dumb things I said about Africa, people were mostly concerned about my geography. They ignored the bigger picture. No one questioned my condescending tone about the needy people in Africa waiting for a brave hero from the west. People were fine with the thought that volunteers should go to Africa to hold babies and give away stuff. Or that an African’s favourite sport was war. No one challenged those statements.
I am not sure, but I have suspicions. Most people got the joke of course (many Africans loved it!). But for others I wonder if it has a lot to do with how we have grown up thinking about Africa, or maybe it is about reverse racism where we elevate people unrealistically. I don’t know. All I know is that I am sure glad I wrote the article. I loved the reactions! It has definitely given me some ideas for future posts!
Enough serious reflection. Back to the funny!
One of my favourite recent videos comes from a group of students in Norway. SAIH has made some hilarious videos about this way of thinking. Do yourself a favour and please watch this genius clip! Maybe Africa is a country you can visit to save a child?
Other videos from SAIH are here on their Radi-Aid page. They are so brilliant that the only fault I can find is that I jealously wish I could have made them.
Know any other great videos like this? Share the link-love and post them in the comments below!