Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind

Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind

Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind

Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind

Excerpt

I teach about Africa at a small liberal arts college where students are required to take one non-Western culture course. Most frequently, therefore, my students study Africa because of the requirement, and they will most likely never take another non-Western course. I have a mere fourteen weeks to interest and inform, and to build a foundation for further exploration and concern. This is indeed a privilege and a challenge.

Over the years that I have been teaching such survey courses, I have found that students' ability to approach the continent is deeply influenced by American stereotypes about Africa. Many students filter accurate information through their inaccurate stereotypes, thus making my teaching less effective than I would like. Therefore, I now take time at the beginning of every course to discuss our heritage of ideas about Africa. I ask students to explore what our stereotypes are, how we have acquired them, where they appear in our culture, and why they persist. As each course proceeds, I find places where students can pause to think about how our stereotypes relate to the topics at hand. I have written this book for students and others who are just beginning to consider how we commonly misperceive and misrepresent Africa.

Africanist scholars have extensively described and criticized American stereotypes about modern Africa. They have had the most obvious success in improving K-12 textbooks, children's literature, and news reporting, but their studies apply to numerous areas of American culture. Thus, I have been able to rely on experts in many fields for both ideas and examples. My own contribution is original only in the sense that I have attempted to gather ideas into one place and in a form accessible to undergraduate college and university students.

I hope that other teachers of Africa will find this book useful. As I wrote, I tried to keep in mind that individual chapters might be used separately or omitted, depending on a teacher's time constraints and purposes, and I therefore attempted to write each one so it stands by itself. I also sought to make each chapter (with a couple of exceptions) brief enough that teachers can assign two or three chapters per class period when there is a need to move quickly to content about Africa itself.

Some faculty might want to use this book to construct an entire introductory course around American or Western perspectives on Africa. This . . .

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