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It’s Just Africa

July 12, 2011

Heard any good knock, knock jokes lately? How about this one?

“Knock, knock!” <Who’s there?>
“African.” <African Who?>
 “A frickin’ continent not a country damn it!”

The author of a new biography about our 44th President’s Kenyan father, Barack Obama Sr. (titled “The Other Barack”) was being interviewed on NPR today and told a story about the main character’s two sisters who ran away from home, only travelling at night to avoid being caught. In her explanation of the journey, she referred to the many wild animals that they were at risk of running across because they were travelling in Africa.  Now, I realize that this is a really bad example, because truly lions and horrible snakes run (and slither) across nearly the entire 11.7 billion square miles of the place, so author Sally Jacobs gets a pass here, but the rest of us really need to quit referring to this collection of fifty plus countries by using the same single identifier.  Africa.

When those of us titter about an exciting trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, do we announce we’re going to climb Africa?  Would it ever be reported about the current invasions of Libya, that America is currently at war with Africa?  Dreamworks titled their cartoon about Moses “Prince of Egypt.”  Shouldn’t it have been called “Prince of Africa?”

Such examples show that we are able to distinguish that there are borders serperating parts of the continent.  Then, why are we ok with such sweeping generalization in other references to the area?  Why is it that all of the United States’ black population is prefaced with the continental title — African?  Tanzanian queen bees were released in Brazil, but the whole continent gets blamed for the African killer bee.  The offense of hunger is attributed to the entire continent so that when George Michael serenades us to feed the world every Christmas, we are meant to assume that everyone is starving from Cape Town, South Africa to Casablanca, Morocco.

SIDE BAR: Regarding Band Aid’s “Do They Know it’s Christmas (Feed the World)?” here are just a few of the lyrics that are particularly touching:

“And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time.”

He might as well have pointed out that there won’t be snow in Denver, Co. this 4th of July because December is part of that hemisphere’s Summer time.  Morocco, in fact, has ski resorts; South Africa bumps right up against the Antarctic, and Mt. Kilimanjaro is most times of year topped with a smear of the white stuff.

“Where the greatest gift they’ll get this year is life.”

How interesting that George Michael and the band think that they will be receiving a greater gift than life this year.


“Where nothing ever grows.  No rain nor river flows.”

Really? Then, what’s that    ————–>

“Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?”

They may, but considering almost 70% celebrate non-Christian faiths, the continent as a whole probably doesn’t really care.

We can probably place most of the blame on the 80’s for the United States citizenry being completely ignorant about the second largest continent on the planet.  It was in the 80’s, after all, when Jesse Jackson crammed the title of “African American” into our culture.  That was when Hollywood was singing at us and telethoning at us for money and food to air drop over the continent.  It was when celebrities declared “We are the world.”

Hopefully I’ll get to go visit the motherland some day and it will all make sense.  A friend of mine and I are talking about making the trip, you know, just throw a dart and go where it lands.  His name is Chad, but I just call him Africa.

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