People don’t know African geography and it is a serious issue. We’re talking about grown, college-educated adults who live in major landmark cities with a large population of immigrants and foreigners. Think about it- how many times have you had someone ask you where you’re from and squint their eyes at you when you tell them? Having a mother who is from Côte d’Ivoire and having lived in several African countries myself, I encounter this issue on a daily basis. It has gotten so frustrating to the point where I started to just tell people that I lived in West Africa; no specific city or country, just simply ‘West Africa’.
And I know plenty of other Africans who are guilty of doing this too. A lot of the times that I encounter other Africans and ask them where they’re from, they too will respond to my question with ‘Africa’, assuming I also wouldn’t know what country they’re speaking of if they tried to tell me. But who can blame them? After having to constantly explain where so-and-so is located and what language we speak, you start to just assume that most people won’t know.
The thing is, we too perpetuate ignorance by not trying to educate others on African geography. I myself would feel guilty whenever I responded to inquiries about where I grew up with a curt “West Africa” and immediately tried to change the subject. Although it’s tedious for me to have to repeat the same spiel whenever people ask me where I grew up, I’d much rather go through that instead of lumping all 54 African countries and over 2000 languages into a vague ‘Africa’. Yeah, it might be easier to not have to explain, but that does nothing to try and combat outdated Western stereotypes and perceptions of the continent that already exist.
But of course, our own generalization of the continent in response to the ignorance of others is just one part of the problem. It is unacceptable that I have to explain where the Democratic Republic of Congo is to people who own iPhones that use conflict minerals FROM Congo. People can easily name twenty European countries off the top of their head, yet cock their heads in confusion at me when I mention Cameroon or Senegal in a discussion. And the excuse I always hear, “well, we were never taught about African geography in schools..”
While eurocentrism in school curriculums is also another issue in itself, the fact of the matter is that we are now all adults and we have an obligation to educate ourselves about what is going on in the world. That includes studying geography and familiarizing ourselves with the countries of the world. The DRC is the second largest country in Africa after Algeria, and is larger than Spain, France, Germany, Sweden and Norway COMBINED. If you own an iPhone, there is no explanation as to why you shouldn’t know where Congo is.
Americans, we need to do better.