Thursday, May 6, 2010

Why Not Africa?

When a white person is interested in Japanese culture, nobody bats an eye. Traditional Chinese medicine is a popular interest among Westerners, Asian philosophies and martial arts are also admired, and of course there is anime.

When a white person is interested in Native American culture, it doesn't really surprise anyone. South or Central American culture is also often interesting to the layperson, Mexican culture is fairly integrated into American culture, pretty much any European country has its fans in America, and many people, although they wouldn't go out of their way to research it, would listen avidly to someone speaking of Pacific Island culture or many other less "mainstream" cultures.

So, that leaves the Middle East and Africa. Unless you are African-American or from the Middle East, it's not "in vogue" to be interested in those cultures. Middle Easterners have a bad rep in this day and age, and Africa is just kind of ignored by the masses, unless we are looking up news segments about grisly warfare and changing political structures. So when I tell people that I'm studying traditional African religion, I often get a puzzled look, and the sentence, "Why would you be interested in Africa? You're not black." hangs unsaid but very much present in the ether between us.

"Why not?" I want to reply. Why are African cultures so unappealing and ignored by white Americans? My guess is that there is still an implied separation between white and black people in this country. People still think of race in terms of "us" and "them." A lot of white people would be totally supportive of African-Americans researching African culture and expressing interest, but have no interest themselves. I'm not sure why this barrier exists less prominently between whites and Asian-Americans. Perhaps because Japan is on the technological up-and-up, and Africa is thought of as just another poverty-and-war-ridden "third world country" even though it's really a whole friggin' continent! Also a lot of white Americans feel a connection between themselves and Native Americans... understandable, since we are living on their land... however Africa is too far away to care about.

People interested in Africa are not going to find a lot about it in the mainstream. In college, my World History class barely mentioned it, my ethics class had nothing on it (even though we studied a few other cultural world views), there weren't even any electives dealing with the subject, even though there were other world culture classes, and many students attending were Sudanese. Even most African-Americans don't know much about Africa.

However, look deep inside yourself, and you'll find an inherent connection with Africa. After all, it is all of our "motherland" because it's where human beings originated from. Our souls are still connected to that big wide continent, even though our minds are busy being interested in other things. Go on Youtube and listen to some African drums and let your heartbeat mesh with the beat of the drums. Find a map of the continent and remember some of the country's names. Find one that catches your eye and look up a brief history. Find out what tribes lived in that country, go to google images, and type in "traditional _(tribe's name)__ dress (or art)" and admire the craftsmanship of a people largely forgotten by today's society.


  1. There is still a demonizing of African origins and inherent racism that sits under the surface of many American's thoughts.

    I agree with you. There is a rich and beautiful cultural and spiritual history left to be explored. So much so, it's sometimes difficult to know where to begin.

    The one exception seems to be Egyptology. People seem to have no issues studying this. I wonder if the early Hollywood films play a role here, since the early films had white actors in them.