Generalizing Africa


Generalizing. Reasoning from recurring specific instances to general, broader conclusions.  

We all do it. Some more than others. I admit that as a communicator, I do it more than I should. Sometimes generalization is helpful in making a point. But sometimes it's hurtful and short sighted, stripping people of important aspects of who they are. 

Let's just examine one gross generalization: Africa. 

  • Africa is... 
  • Africans are... 

I can't count how many times I've done it. I did it in a careless Facebook post a few months ago about corruption, and a wonderful friend from Nigeria helped me see what I had done. Nothing has made me more aware of how spectacularly diverse Africa is than moving to our second African nation as a family! When you travel in for a trip and out again, you can only grasp little of a place and a people. It kinda all looks the same place to place. When you move in, you start to notice it. Tanzanians do this differently or that differently. Tanzanians are distinct from Kenyans in so many ways.

 "Africa" has 54 countries and 2,000 plus languages. North Africa is drastically different from Southern Africa. So, as you can imagine, generalizations are simply impossible, if not ridiculous. 

This month, our family is back in South Africa and will travel to Mozambique on Friday. In the few days we have been here, this has stood out to me the most. Now that I'm starting to grasp Kiswahili, I'm frustrated that I can't speak in native language with the people I'm meeting here. But I can't. They speak Zulu and Setswana and Tsonga and Xhosa. They aren't Tanzanian. They're South African. Calling them "African" and assuming of 1 billion people that "they're all the same" treats people like cookie cutter products off a factory line and risks stripping them of their unique identity. While recognizing The uniqueness of a person usually makes them feel incredibly loved.  

So… I'm working on this. I still mess up and overgeneralize. But I'm committed to growing. And it is certainly becoming clearer and clearer to me how complex and unique and diverse and vast this great continent is. And her people are worthy of being recognized for who they are, not who someone else is.