Mistaking Africa

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I am reading a book entitled Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind by Curtis Keim and in this post I will be posting some quotes from the book that I think I will have to share with you esteemed blog readers:

1. [Page 5]

A recent survey (1999) by a major American museum on popular perceptions of Africa found out many misconceptions such as the following: Africa is just one large country; Africa is all jungle; Africans share a single culture, language and religion; Africans live in "grass huts"; Africans mainly hunt animals for their subsistence; and Africa has no significant history.

2. [Page 7]

During much of [our] history, racism and exploitation of Africa have been considered acceptable to a large majority of [our population]. Although we never ruled colonies in Africa, [we] did enslave Africans and maintain both a slavery system and segregation. Moreover, we profited from our businesses in Africa, sent missionaries to change African culture and did not protest the colonization undertaken by Europeans. This exploitation of Africa, whether direct or indirect, required thinking about Africans as inferiors...The legacy is obvious in the words and ideas that we call to mind when we hear the word Africa...

3. [page 8]

We also perpetuate negative myths about Africa because they help us maintain dominance over Africans...Whereas in the past, the myth of the racial inferiority of Africans was the major justification for [our] control of Africans, now cultural inferiority is a more likely reason. Our news media are more likely to inform us about African failures than African successes. And the successes we do hear about tend to demonstrate that our own perspectives on reality are correct. [Some]... describe Africa in ways that justify the importance of their own work [in Africa].

4. Page 15

What is still lacking, however is a serious understanding of how people live currently in Africa. Today, 30 to 40 percent of Africans live in cities and most rural Africans are deeply connected to cities in one way or the other. Why then do the shows we see on television rarely ever show a city scene, a paved road, a farmer producing a crop that will be sold in a town or eventually reach us?...

5. On brain drain in Africa [page 77 - 78]

... Frequently those who gain special, modern skills dissociate themselves from their villages and countries. The "brain drain" of African professionals who emigrate to Europe and America is legendary. Less noticed, but equally significant is the drain of talent from African villages to towns and cities. Even more important in terms of damage done, are those who become westernized and then use their knowledge to exploit ordinary Africans...[the elite?]

I will be adding more quotes as I continue reading the book. I hope they are also providing a moment of reflection in your mind...


ObakengM Friday, January 18, 2008 11:40:00 PM  

Hey Bennett, that book sounds very thoughtful and an interesting read.

It looks like it gives a first hand view of what Americans really think/thought of Africa. I was quiet taken aback with point #3:

"Whereas in the past, the myth of the racial inferiority of Africans was the major justification for [our] control of Africans, now cultural inferiority is a more likely reason"

I hope that this is something we Africans can overcome. That is something that makes us look stupid to the world!!!

Bennett Kankuzi Saturday, January 19, 2008 12:26:00 PM  


This book is very interesting. I hope you can find it in one of your local libraries.

Indeed its a shame that many Africans we are never proud of our own culture and we have resorted to define modernity on the basis of Western culture.

It sad to note that even our own African radio industry (which definitely has influence on the direction of culture of a society), adores 'other' cultures. Just imagine that we have some radio stations in Africa which broadcast 24 hours non-african music! Is this not something that can warrant us to look stupid to the world!

Daniel of "Daniels Counter" Saturday, January 19, 2008 4:15:00 PM  

Hey Bennett - thank you for your comments on Daniels Counter. I have given the time to write an elaborate response! I understand where your hope is coming from but disagreed in the end. P.S. I have close Black West African family and ties, so that gives me some right to discuss this topic, as I have heard stories from my family in Freetwon since 2005 now about this.

Lauren Wednesday, September 09, 2009 7:47:00 PM  

I apologize but I have to disagree with this book. I am an American and do not agree with the feelings expressed in this book. I feel that the racist statements are far reaching. His mention about the book about the Mango tree is ridiculous, many books make no sense and stories are not realistic however they are simply stories. The continued far reaching ideals about racism is what keeps it alive. This book is required reading for my college course I wish it were banned from bookstores.

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