Whether one was born in Africa and now lives in a Western country, or was born in the Western world but identifies as an African descendant, somehow, someway we are influenced by a Euro-centric mentality. Is it because of the schools we go to? The people we’re constantly around? The media and the messages that it’s always throwing in our face? The fact that many of our youth do not think critically enough is frightening. Sadly, media perception just reinforces negative stereotypes of Africa, African born individuals, and African descendants. The only way to stop these stereotypes is to change these social mindsets associated with African heritage; being African is not a curse. Socialization happens in many forms and our agents of socialization change as we get older. Still the most influential agents are those we come familiar with in our younger years. The primary influences are the family and the educational system. How can we start changing the negative stereotypes targeted toward Africa and the people of Africa? Change the education system.
In September 2009, the Toronto District School Board opened their first Afrocentric Alternative School. During the process of putting forth the idea there had been negative criticism from community leaders, other educators, parents, and so on. Despite the criticism, those who were willing to change the educational system stood by their word and opened the school. Since then, reports have shown that students are eager to come to school and more engaged in what they are learning. Due to these positive reviews, there are a number of waiting lists for families to enroll their children, there are even talks about opening up an Afrocentric Alternative High School. But with such positive reviews, how is there any room for negative criticism?
Being a sociology student in a university setting, almost everyday the issue of race comes up a lot in the discussions I hear. Many of my fellow peers share similar views with the Afrocentric School’s critics. They believe that this alternative school is just reverting back to days of segregation and racism. They believe the school is detrimental to the growth and development of children. The misconception that many people have about the Afrocentric school is that it is only for Black students. A response to that notion is no and yes. The alternative school is a public school and all students are welcome, however, it is a system that is there to allow for the minority to feel like a majority. In public schools, the ideologies being taught are influences from Euro-centric teachings, which unfortunately shine a negative light on Africa. Often times the narratives we hear of Africa are limited to the misguided notion that Africans need some sort of saving, and often times their savior is the White man. You can fight to try to change the ideologies of the older generation, but like many see in our grandparents, what they know is what they stick to. There is no questioning it, no need to over-think it. Children however, have minds that are quite beautiful and able to grasp concepts better than some adults. So in educating people about Africa, we need to start early if our aim is to shine Her in a positive light. Often times you cannot change the ideas of the established majority, so that leaves us witheducating the young generation as our only solution is to educate.
African and black culture are tremendously diverse and need to be recognized. Our history is rich but seldomn focused on. There were many wealthy kingdoms all over Africa like in Benin, explorers like Ibn Battuta traveled all over the world and documenting his trips. Some of the most established communities known to man existed in Africa with traders, taxes, military, and impressive educational institutions. As a kid, I was never taught any of this in school. The only thing I was taught was that Africans were slaves and brought to the New World; but what many students today fail to see because of lack of exposure is that Africa was/is so much more than that, Africans were/are so much than that. Thankfully my parents showed me a side of Africa that is hidden to many. Years later I can now understand why many of my childhood classmates who were African felt ashamed and embarrassed. We cannot let are kids feel ashamed; because being African is nothing to be ashamed of. The only way to break down stereotypes is through education. As Africans, we must reclaim our history and tell our story. Being African is more than just having an African name or ties back to Mama Africa. Whether we from West, East, South, or North Africa, we are one. We share such a rich history that travels all along the boarders of Africa. This history needs to be made known.
Understanding the situation and negativity that is often reflected on Africa, it’s difficult to come up with solutions that counteract these deceptive notions. But for a start, to shed a positive light on Africa, education needs to play an essential role for the younger generation. Africa is much more than deserts, huts, and people running wild. Africans are civilized, some of the most amazing homes and buildings are in Africa, some of the smartest, and bravest people come from and are in Africa. However, stereotypes and other false notions have given Africa a degraded identity it does not deserve. And the only way to stop these perceptions is to inspire our children and reclaim our history – which is the purpose of the Afrocentric school in Toronto, not to cause segregation but to incite empowerment. To conclude this post I’ll leave you with this quote:
“We as Black people have to tell our own stories. We have to document our history. When we allow someone else to document our history the history becomes twisted and we get written out. We get our noses blown off.
– Erykah Badu, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
(The nose being blown off is in reference to the Sphinx in Egypt)