In my first post, I told you about my childhood dream to save the distant and vulnerable child living somewhere in Africa. This dream was shaped by books, images and stories I had been told. Many of these stories were filled with misconceptions and disproportionate representations of the African continent. They were pessimistic rather than optimistic. My naive impression was that conditions in Africa was alarming and the people powerless – all over the continent. Hence, it matters how stories are told and who is telling them. According to Bunce et Al (2017), “Afro-pessimism”, e.g. representations of Africa in a negative light, has substantial impact on how the world perceives the continent.
The Single Story
Have you heard of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s famous TedTalk: ‘The danger a single story‘? If not, make sure you check it out through the link below! The Nigerian author raises awareness of the prejudices and stereotypes that are often inherent in Western literature and popular media. She argues that a stereotypical narrative of Africa has long been the only story that the West has had access to. As many of the stories are incomplete, they provide an angled view of reality. (Adichie 2009)
Thankfully, things are changing in this regard, even if they are changing slow. ICT advancements has made it possible for new platforms of agency. They have the power to give voice to people who have not had it before. As a result, stories created by Africans, from Africa are now spreading across the globe.(Bunce et Al, 2017) Africans should have agency of their own image. Through agency, information becomes more diverse and the world gets a more complete image of what is real.
Examples of new platforms
The other day, I stumbled upon the Instagram account @everydayafrica. On this account, Africa-based photojournalists share with the world the Africa that they see everyday. According to one of the two founders, Peter DiCampo, in an interview with lensculture.com, they started the account to combat stereotypes and provide an alternate and balanced image of Africa. Features about the account has been publish by many media channels, National Geographic and the New York Times being two. It has resulted in an “everyday movement” with the aim to combat misconceptions about different parts of the world. (Woods, 2020)
Another platform for alternative narratives is the hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou, which was trending on social media a few years back. Today, there are more than 26 000 tags instagram and a substantial number also on Twitter. In a form of protest against the narratives media often use, people get to tell their story from Africa through this hashtag. Scrolling through the images on instagram, I see amazing photographs of strong people, beautiful buildings and breathtaking nature. For a moment, I am remembering the images that shaped my childhood dream, thankful that I now have been provided an alternate image.
Striving for optimism
While we have come far in this regard, afro-positive material online needs to multiply. Only when a wider range of stories are told (and read) can narrow perceptions of Africa be challenged. With help of social media initiatives such as @everydayafrica and #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou, afro-pessimism can be turned into optimism.
Adichie, C. N, 2009, The danger of a single story | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, TED, Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg&t=307s, Accessed: 2020-10-12
Bunce, M., Franks, S., Paterso, C., 2017, Introduction: A new Africa’s Media Image? in Africa’s Media Image in the 21st Century: From the “Heart of Darkness” to “Africa Rising” ed. Bunce, M., Franks, S., Paterso, C., 2017, Routledge, London & New York.
Woods, K., 2020, Everyday Africa, LensCulture Inc. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/blink-network-everyday-africa Accessed: 2020-10-12