Thursday, 15 September 2016

"The Dark Continent" - ...ugh.

Warning: I may offend a number of you with this post. This is not my intent - I'm just venting. Should I offend you, I would encourage you to discuss this with me further.

I'm frustrated about the language I've heard while gearing up to head back to Uganda. I'm also frustrated with being told that I'm being oversensitive when I attempt to correct the language used. What language, you ask? Well, two things, the use of 'Africa' as a singular entity, and having it being referred to as "the dark continent."

Allow me to tackle the first. Africa is a continent... which I know many of you know, because you've referred to it as the latter. Going to Africa would be like saying going to North America or Europe, and yet, no one says that. In fact most use the term America to refer to one* of several countries that make up NORTH America or the Americas, in general**.

Now to the latter... the dark continent... really? There are so many terrible implications in using this term when referencing the African continent. Sure, a good number of individuals that find themselves deriving from said part of the world happen to have darker skin (which in comparison to me, makes pretty much any individual found anywhere on this great planet of ours darker skinned than I!), but this is only one of the meanings behind this reference.

Most notably, it refers to the misconception that Africa is made up of nothing more than poor, backwards, loin-cloth sporting folks that are devoid of Western things such as cars, electricity, cell phones or really any form of modern day technology. And while some of these aren't always a given on the continent, to call it THE dark continent is riddled with racial implications.

As I'm getting older, I've become acutely more aware of the impact of my place of origin (which will be tackled in a later post), skin tone, and the overall privilege that comes from both of those things***. This has likely made me a bit sensitive to how language is used to describe certain nouns. And, I'm guilty of using terminology that when I think about it after the fact, I realize, while I may have said it innocently, the meaning behind it may not be so innocent (and is the same situation for those of you who may have made this reference in my presence).

But the reference of Africa as the dark continent**** irks me more than others, because the Africa I have come to know (and yes, I realize I've only seen a minuscule fraction of it!) is not what is often meant when this term is thrown out there. You don't have to look far to see images I have personally captured***** that show the true beauty of some of Africa's landscapes. I have shared stories with you about incredible and inspiring people of all ages that I have met along the way (the school kids in Ghana, the farmer in Eastern Uganda to name a few) who prove that "Africa" is more than just a 2-minute infomercial from World Vision. And so it really angers me to hear people I love using such a term without thinking about the impact of doing so.

The actual origins of this term begin in the 19th century. It was used to reference the unknown of Africa, but has since developed - as I've noted above - to include the many stereotypes of underdevelopment believed to exist throughout the continent. It is coated in ignorance, racism, and several other issues. It's an outdated term that has been proven false time and time again. Yet, here we are using it freely without actually considering what is being implied. And that isn't okay. We talk a big talk here in "the West" about not using sexist language, about anti-bullying protocol******, and yet, we still haven't figured out how to erase casual racial slurs from our vocabulary.

It's a harsh world we live in. That's part of the natural, everyday process of life, but we don't need to make it any harder by continuing centuries of ignorance. I, for one, am working consciously at discontinuing some of the language choices that have passed as acceptable for far too long. But, I believe it's equally important to explain the why being the action, as it is to put that act in motion. So I ask you to think about what you're saying, think about the implications behind using and the origins of certain words. And better yet, referring to the first rant of this post (although it really applies to both), take the time to ask questions. Find out where an individual is going and do a little research about that area. And I would encourage that for any area of the world one might be going, not just the African continent. If we fail in doing this, we fail in becoming better humans.

-the Orange Canadian

*the United States, but I digress...
**The reference as AMERICA to solely the United States is one of my greatest pet peeves! I think the Arrogant Worms sum this up perfectly.
***I don't get the grand-slam/tic-tac-toe of white privilege because I wasn't born a man, sadly.  
****In response to this one, though, I would argue that Canada or "the West" is/are the true dark continent/continents. But doing so is completely dependent on my energy level and the other persons likelihood of digesting my rebuttal (which in and of itself is flawed on my part, I know). 
*****Found right here in this blog in past posts!
******Not that we're doing overly well on those either, but at least there's a priority and conversation started about them. Black Lives Matter anyone? Where white people are still trying to make it about them...

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