Stories out of Africa – Replacing Pessimism with Optimism

Stories out of Africa – Replacing Pessimism with Optimism

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

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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.

References

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

4 Comments

  1. Thank you for bringing this important topic to light. I can certainly relate to your thoughts as a child, wherein you viewed Africa as a powerless continent and held an overall pessimistic view of it. The one thing I remember as a child was seeing the TV commercials of starving or sick children in Africa and feeling sad and helpless that other children my age did not have the same privileges I did. So, of course, for many years, these were the images that resonated with me whenever I thought of Africa. This is where social media can really be impactful – hashtags like #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou can help diffuse this overarching negative, pitying view of Africa that many people around the world still hold. As you said, only when more stories are shared can the narrow perceptions of Africa be challenged and overcome.

    1. Hanna Renkel

      Thank you Sorina for your comment and your input! Like you, I have seen the TV-commercials and compared my ‘privileges’ with the people shown in them. I am happy that movements are moving us in the right direction, even if we have a long way left to go!

  2. Anne

    Thank you for an interesting post, Hanna. Indeed, it does matter how and by whom stories are told. I think we’re many who grew up with an image of other continents, and probably especially Africa, that wasn’t correct due to media images, films, and other people’s lack of knowledge. While science is essential to correcting facts, I also believe local writers like Adichie (both ‘Purple Hibiscus’ and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ are great btw if you haven’t read them), popular tv and films are crucial to reach a wide audience with a more correct image. Also, thanks for sharing the initiatives @everydayafrica and #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou, which I’ll be keeping a close eye on. Such initiatives really show how social media can be used in a positive way by people to balance the image of a continent.

    1. Hanna Renkel

      Thank you for your comment, Anne! So true that also African books and films have an important role to play in this case. All initiatives should be encouraged!

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