Two weeks ago the African Students Union hosted an event entitled “Battling the Single Story.”  I had the privilege to attend, and I gained some outstanding insights into how people incorporate stereotypes into their day-to-day lives.

One of the most interesting parts of the panel discussion was a video the presenters displayed. Various students on campus were interviewed and asked random questions about Africa. It was fascinating to notice how little people know about other cultures. I am sure this ignorance pertains to every culture, including mine. When I was in school we perceived the United States and the United Kingdom as some place ‘over there’ without actual knowledge as to where it was located. The same can be said for the perceptions of Africa. Students were asked whether all Africans speak the same language, and some students said “yes.” Actually, there are six main language groups, each with thousands of dialects and interpretations. When asked what they think about Africa, most people included ideas of poverty, jungles and war. But do we really think the entire continent of Africa is the same? In reality, Africa is well developed with more than 54 metropolitan areas.

During the panel, it was brought to our attention the effect popular culture has on our perceptions of Africa. In the 1930s the idea of Africa was portrayed through the popular film “Tarzan,” which has been remade over the generations to emphasize this primitive ‘jungle’ state of being. The depictions of Africa in he widespread film “The Lion King” emphasize the animal kingdom, but leave out the representations of people, most of whom live in the modern day societies that are the same as those in the west.

Some African students on the panel admitted to having been asked whether there were animals roaming in their streets, or if they lived in trees.  Could we call this ignorance? To use such a harsh word to describe the innocent lack of knowledge may be insensitive. But really, in a society as advanced as the U.S. and with easy access to education as well as the internet, it is imperative that individuals are informed about the basic lives of people around the globe.

I do not seek to defend Africa, but rather to bring this to our attention. I think we should take a minute to reflect on a world other than ours. Instead of making assumptions based on what the media portrays, it is always good to build informed ideas.

As much as it is unfair for someone in Africa to think all Americans do is drugs and party, it is just as unfair to think Africans live in trees, and have pet giraffes. Who has a ceiling tall enough for that?

We are now living in a global world, where technology makes information accessible in a split second. Whatever we find on Google or in the news, it is up to us as responsible global citizens to form ideas and opnions based on informed sources.

Howard Mukanda

Howard Mukanda is a Sophomore Student from Zimbabwe. He is Double Majoring in Business Management Information Systems and Global Studies. His Involvement with International Students, Peer Mentorship and International Admissions echoes his immense interest in Cultural Diversity. Howard is also intrigued by Global issues concerning Peace, Justice and Democracy.

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