I would like to begin this brief discussion with a short anecdote:
I was about 8 years in elementary and very excited about class picture day. Not so much because of narcissism but because I was very proud of my outfit. While most girls that age had on bejeweled Baby Phat or Rocawear denim outfits I had on a knee-length, cap-sleeve African print dress with a sash tied it a neat bow. I was so proud of it because my Grandmother made it especially for me and had it shipped all the from Ghana. I went to school feeling great that morning however that feeling did not last. The confused glares that I received from my classmates and teachers made me feel uncomfortable and out of place. Eventually a classmate of mine (the undisputed class bully) asked why I was dressed ‘so African’, I replied saying because I am African. That was all she needed to hear. She dedicated the remainder of the day to tormenting me for being an ‘African booty-scratcher’ and recruited other students to do the same. Until that day I wasn’t aware of the stigma that came with being African, the rude comments, the taunting and ignorant questions…just because of my nationality?
Now, let’s fast forward to summer of 2011
While standing in line at a store in Soho I was shocked to realize the person standing in front of me was that same ‘undisputed class bully’. What was even more shocking was that she was wearing shorts and a turban made of the exact same print as the infamous picture day dress. The irony! What made the moment even more infuriating was that when the sales associate compliment the print, she had the nerve to deliver a speech on the importance of staying in tune with your roots.
At first I was livid, but after further thought I found it hard to draw a conclusion on the whole matter. Had she really grown out of her childhood ignorance? Or was she glorifying the African print because the media had declared it the ‘in thing’. I couldn’t decide if her new found insightfulness was due to the new portrayal of African fashion in media.
This brings me to the whole idea of how Africa is depicted in the media and how this depiction influences the views of society. The media in itself has an enormous impact people. A wealth of the information we absorb today comes from the media and it’s questionable sources.
In my opinion, the media tends to fail in telling both sides of Africa’s majestic story. The image of fly covered sickly children have been so imprinted in peoples’ minds that+ they are unable to comprehend much else about Africa. How can this needy, poverty-stricken continent produce some of the most influential minds in history as well as some of the inspiring figures in contemporary culture? How can one appreciate the diverse panoramic landscapes and rich resources when they are constantly reminded of how war-plagued and corrupt an entire continent is? People will find it difficult when both sides of the story aren’t always told. So ultimately I decided to give that class bully the benefit of the doubt. If she actually took the time to learn about the other side of the story then I applaud her.
-Joy Otibu | email@example.com