Ben Buchwalter


Is Africa African?
November 28, 2008, 3:51 pm
Filed under: Random | Tags:

Ezra Klein asks whether we should refer to African countries as “African.” The basic arguments are as follows.

  1. It is ridiculous to refer to all countries on the continent as similar. The continent is infinitely larger than the United States, and we barely speak of people from California and Oregon as the same nationality. Referring to it all as “Africa” instead of the name of the specific country being discussed reinforces the idea of Africa as the Dark Continent, a large mass of indistinguishable land.
  2. There is a really powerful connection to be drawn between the African countries. Even though each has its own distinct history, countries as diverse as Ghana, South Africa, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have a similar post-colonial identity because of the shared legacy of European colonization. Speaking about “Africa” is useful to study this connection.

I see both sides. While living in Ghana for a semester, I saw that people definitely think of themselves first as their individual ethnic group – Ga, Ibo, Ewe – and second as Ghanaian or African. But there was still a certain pride in being African. My roommate Derek was thrilled by the success of Senegal’s Akon and the prospect of Kenya’s Obama being President of the United States. Their success showed that success for Africans in the United States was possible.

So I don’t think that we should unilaterally say that the “African” connection should be used or avoided. But I think that we need to be careful about how we talk about African countries on a cas-by-case basis.

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