My last name is Mushimiyimana and I am Rwandan-American.
Growing up in the United States I must admit that when I encountered those with the last names of Smith, Jones, Andrews, or any other common last name I never bared shame for having such a drastically, different last name. Immediately, when people see my last name they know that I am African because of its long, tongue-twister like qualities, and because of my dark skin. However, even when I would tell people that I am Rwandan they would forget that there are countries within Africa and would simply refer to me as African. Don’t get me wrong I love being African, but what bothered me was the ignorance behind this label.
Africa is not a country it is a continent!
Eventually, as a little girl I gave up and told silly stories to my friends just to see how ignorant they were. One of the classic stories I told people was that I had a pet lion back in Africa. It made sense to them. This is a little girl who could obviously tame a dangerous animal because they are everywhere in Africa. Let’s not forget that Africa, you know that one little country full of huts, is where her family lives. Duhh. It was amusing for a 10 year old girl to say the least. However, now that I’m older it’s not a funny game anymore.
Undermining the complexities and diversity of a beautiful, large continent is not amusing. When people think of Africa in such small-minded ways it reflects their views on the way they see Africans who are complex, diverse humans just like any other human.
I bring this up because I thought that the fact that Africa is a continent was common knowledge by now, but apparently not. Last week in my reading prose class at Depaul University we were assigned to read The Case Against Babies by Joy Williams. Now what caught me by surprise was when Williams writes,
“Ninety-seven percent of the surge is going to take place in developing countries, with Africa alone accounting for 35 percent of it(the poorer the country, the higher the birth rate, that’s just the way it is)”.
Whether or not Williams is implying that Africa is a country, her wording makes it sound like it is a country. The interesting thing is that she later mentions other countries that are ACTUALLY countries like China and France, rather than labeling Asia or Europe as countries. In fact, she’s even capable of explicitly using the title “East Indian” when she makes further remarks (insert sarcasm). So, why couldn’t she say the continent Africa or give us examples of some of the many African countries rather than implying that Africa is a country?
Now I understand that this piece by Williams is old but what also surprised me was that I was the only person disturbed by her generalization of African countries. As a matter of fact, I was the only person in my class to catch that grave mistake. Therefore, if my class in 2015 with a size around 20-30 wasn’t able to notice that, then it shows that Africa is still not appreciated, considered, or noticed as a continent.
So here's my PSA:
I’m here to tell you all that yes indeed, if you haven’t already gotten it, Africa is a continent, and an underrated continent might I add. It is a continent full of countries that are vastly different from each other in terms of culture and beauty. Enlighten yourselves my friends.
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