Africa Revealed

The following sample History essay is 1285 words long, in MLA format, and written at the undergraduate level. It has been downloaded 489 times and is available for you to use, free of charge.

Admittedly, I had never given much conscious thought to Africa. I honestly have had little exposure to the continent and all of its myriad people and global manifestations other than Tarzan and the apes—which somewhere, part of me knew was based on stereotyping. I have read some African literature, such as Death and the King’s Horseman, yet even this particular piece simply reinforced conventional conceptions of Africa and Africans. As a result, Curtis Keim’s Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind, was truly eye-opening to me. There were many modern truths associated with this continent that I simply was not aware of. There appears to be a systematic masking of the true nature of this place and its people that has been perpetuated throughout history in its most relevant and recent incarnation (for me, at least) within the United States. My reading of Keim’s book has shown me that three distinct branches of the media--news, advertising, and entertainment--have purposefully kept others such as me from fully understanding and respecting the rich history and full diversity of Africa and its inhabitants.

 The respect I have gained for this continent is based on the fact that it has just as much—if not more—diversity as contemporary civilizations within the Westernized world. Strangely, however, this perspective of Africa is rarely shown through the media, which is one of four essential components that Keim’s book deals with. It is difficult to discern which of the aforementioned three branches of the media is most guilty of clouding the true diversity and sophistication of African culture, but it is certain that the news media (in the form of television broadcasts, newspapers and magazines, as well as web sites) does not help. Keim notes that the images and the coverage of Africa’s current events that are depicted within major American media outlets seems to reinforce ancient notions of African inferiority, which began in earnest during colonialism. The following quotation alludes to this fact. “Our news media are more likely to inform us about African failures than African successes. And the successes we do hear about tend to demonstrate that our own perspectives on reality are correct” (Keim 8). This passage alludes to the inherent bias that is frequently present in news media coverage of Africa. This type of coverage has a huge influence over Americans, particularly those who do not make an effort to investigate alternate sources regarding the stories depicted. I was essentially one of those Americans until I read this book. Thus, by recognizing the slant in the news media’s coverage of Africa as largely a falsity and one which exists merely to perpetuate notions of Westernized dominance and African subservience, I am actually able to have much more respect for this continent by knowing more about its actual state of affairs. 

I also was able to gain a considerable more amount of respect for Africa as a modern place with many contemporary institutions and urban environments found within any westernized setting due to Keim’s analysis of the media’s advertising exploitation of Africa. Traditional notions of Africa, in the form of its jungle lineage and pre-colonial heritage, are routinely used to sell products in the form of television commercials, print and internet based advertising. This type of marketing is merely looking to exploit the stereotypes of Africa that have been propagated about it by westerners for quite some time. The subsequent passage alludes to exploitative nature of the relationship between the U.S. and Africa. 

Although we never ruled colonies in Africa…did enslave Africans and maintain both a slavery system and segregation. Moreover, we profited from our businesses in Africa, sent missionaries to change African culture and did not protest the colonization undertaken by Europeans. This exploitation of Africa, whether direct or indirect, required thinking about Africans as inferiors. (Keim 7)

Ultimately, the type of exploitation that still continues today in which Africa’s historic image is routinely used to sell products and tap into American stereotypes persists in entertainment media as well. Many movies and television shows, if they make any reference to Africa at all, depict it in a manner that is consistent with the imagery of noble savagery mitigated by benign Western influence. Reading Keim’s book has helped me to understand that there is a considerable amount of more depth, history, and sophistication to contemporary and historic African life—once one knows how to decode the rampant stereotypes and propaganda surrounding this continent.

Moreover, Keim’s narrative actually provides a great deal of evidence that the circumscribing of the image of Africa as an ancient, tribal place (even in the twenty-first century) transcends mere media depiction and has actually been incorporated into the psychology of both its natives and visitors. The author directly addresses this concept in the part of the book in which he discusses the so-called ‘brain drain’ in Africa. I actually interpreted this part of the manuscript with a fair degree of ambivalence, for the simple fact that the discussion about the brain drain both proves that African does has a number of individuals who can make substantial contributions to society (and who always have - Botswana has numerous success stories), yet alludes to the fact that there is a dedicated movement towards extracting these valuable human resources from Africa and appropriating them in conventional Western society. The following quotation clarifies this term: 

Frequently those who gain special, modern skills dissociate themselves from their villages and countries. The "brain drain" of African professionals who emigrate to Europe and America is legendary. Even more important in terms of damage done are those who become westernized and then exploit ordinary Africans. (Keim 77-78)

Ultimately, this passage has a direct influence on my newfound respect for this continent and the many people it has spawned through the years. It indicates that there are accomplished professionals in Africa just like there are in other parts of the world, and that they become alienated from conventional centers of African life (either in the form of their villages or of their countries) in pursuing their profession. This quotation makes me realize that Africa has rarely (at least as I understand it from reading Keim’s book) been the beneficiary of its resources. Just look at the Sub-Saharan economic geography. The majority of slave labor that built the last superpower on Earth (America) was African, yet was not used to build a similar facility in Africa. Material resources as well (including diamonds, minerals and precious jewels) have also routinely been removed from Africa by those of European or Arabian descent. Thus, it appears as though Africa has the raw materials in terms of people, talent, and resources that can and have contributed significant value to the world—yet it gets no credit for it.

In summary, my perception of Africa has changed dramatically after completing Keim’s manuscript. His book demonstrates how the degree of ignorance and low esteem that Americans and Westerners have for Africa is part of a clever scheme that has existed since colonialism and is currently carried out by the media in news, advertisements and entertainment. This devaluing of Africa seems to have been incorporated into certain psychological aspects of its people as well, who become Westernized and disavow their native traditions. Yet it is worth mentioning that these occurrences would not take place if there was not some intrinsic value regarding Africa and its powerful resources (people, talent, and material goods). As a result, I no longer believe the contemporary American myths about Africa, and believe that there is something unique and potent about this place that begat a concerted effort to suppress it. 

Work Cited

Keim, Curtis. Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind. Boulder: Westview Press. 2008. Print.