How do you recommend that we better educate blacks from America (or, i.e. not Africa) and blacks from Africa about one another?
Great points!
Mikala Streeter
625

You have raised a fascinating question about education among the African diaspora, but perhaps there is an even broader issue that needs to be addressed. It seems to me that an underlying problem is a general lack of knowledge about Africa — among people of all ethnicities in the western world. I would love to see the day when people consider Africa to be just as fascinating as Europe, and just as worthy of study. Africa is certainly just as diverse as Europe, if not more so, with an incredibly wide range of cultures, geography, and climates.

The core of the issue is that our educational system — along with Western culture in general — often fails to provide young people with adequate tools to create mental distinctions among the various parts of Africa. If you hear a news story about Norway, and then a news story about Greece, you are likely to put those stories into two different mental buckets. You probably already have mental images of each country — such as steep fiords in Norway, and sunny islands with white and blue architecture in Greece — and this distinction allows you to retain and store new information you encounter about either country, rather than just dumping it into a broad, vague mental category called “Europe”.

In contrast, most people in the West make no such distinction among the countries of Africa. If they hear a news story about Nigeria, and then a story about South Africa, and then a story about Kenya, it all gets assigned to a vague mental category called “Africa” — as if all three stories were about the same place. Likewise, most people make no distinction among the various ethnicities and languages of Africa. For these people, there is no mental distinction between a story about ethnic Somalis, and a story about Shona people, or Hausa, or Tswana, or Mande. The key point is that if young people learned enough about Africa to make the same kinds of distinctions that we all make for the various parts of Europe, then subsequent information they encounter becomes more meaningful and memorable. By being better able to categorize the information they hear about Africa, they are much better equipped to continue learning about Africa throughout their lives.

Of course, it would help if the stories that are reported from Africa were themselves a bit more diverse. Although many of the news stories that come out of Europe are about acts of violence, natural disasters, and political crises, there are also plenty of stories about culture and geography. If young people were better educated about Africa, then perhaps we would see more stories about modern African culture, along with details of African geography that don’t simply reinforce the usual stereotypes of Africa.

Africa is not the only part of the world that it is sadly neglected in Western education — it is simply the most egregious example. Most westerners put most of Latin America into a single mental basket, failing to distinguish (for example) between Honduras and Bolivia. Much of the Middle East is one big mental blur. It would help if we all learned more about the world. But if one place is especially deserving of increased attention in our educational system, I would suggest that the place is Africa.

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