Americans know very little about African culture, while Africans know a lot about America, an anthropology professor told attendees at a lecture this week.
On Wednesday, Oct. 16, African Student Union hosted “Africa As ‘WE’ Know It,” led by anthropology professor Scott Youngstedt.
The event started with testimonials from students who are from Africa. Each student gave a quick description of their country and what day-to-day life looked like for them.
Youngstedt started the lecture by talking about the similarities between Africans and Americans. He said Americans know very
little about African culture, while Africans know a lot about America.
“There is significant asymmetry between Africans and Americans and what we know about each other,” Youngstedt said. “Africans know way more about Americans than Americans do about Africans, and most of what Americans think they know about Africa is wrong.”
Youngstedt then talked about how it can be dangerous for Americans to have such a negative view of Africans.
“Corruption, poverty and conflict are real, and they do deserve sustained attention,” he said. “But this narrow focus on chaos and decline pathologizes a vast and diverse continent. If we think of Africa only as a place of trouble, a large zoo or a storehouse of strategic minerals rather than as a real place, we will likely be willing to exploit the continent for our own purposes.”
He wrapped up the lecture by telling stories of friends from the country he knows best, Niger.
Youngstedt has taken many trips to Niger and has made many friends while completing his research. He told stories of their lives and what it’s like for them every day.
He spoke of a man in his 60s named Djibrilla, who is a retired airplane mechanic and occasionally works as an auto mechanic or a tutor for the kids in his neighborhood.
“We were introduced by a mutual friend in 1991 and have been close friends ever since,” Youngstedt said. “He’s helped me to conceptualize most of my research projects.”
Henrietta Nwolseabla, president of ASU, said she hopes students who attended the event learned that Africa is more than just the bad things that are heard about it in America.
To her, Africa is a warm and welcoming place where everyone feels accepted.
“Nobody ever sees us beyond what is being told in class, and in class it’s always in a negative aspect,” Nwolseabla said. “Nobody thinks that we also have families. We have people that we grew up and did birthdays with. That is our home. We came here thinking that we were going to be accepted here as well, and it’s just kind of different.”