See the kind of nonsense Ellen is tweeting.
After Marlon Wayans’ fiasco at the MTV Africa Music Awards, I’m seriously getting incredibly sick and tired of Americans (in this case comedians specifically) using this tired ‘ignorant American’ angle as a base for their jokes. What they, and many who come to their defense saying it’s ‘just satire’ or ‘just a joke’, don’t realize is that this type of rhetoric is wrapped up in US exceptionalism and US superiority. Only Americans can make jokes like this, jokes that remind us (or perhaps just me) that we live in a world where Americans can dominate on so many levels and still happily be ignorant about places where they’ve more than just left a bad taste in people’s mouths.
If all this sounds like I’m taking a joke too far, just know that many of us Africans are reminded daily of how unimportant our lives are in this world and jokes about this don’t make us feel any better.
Seriously consider— how often do people half the world away have to know any detail at all about Ghana? It’s not a country that is regularly on US news. Most people only learn the name of the country and that it’s in western Africa. Yes, it’s shitty. Yes, the “ignorant American” joke is old. But realize that most people in the US don’t have any reason to know anything about countries outside The US, Canada, Mexico, England, Germany, Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Japan, China, both Koreas, and wherever the latest natural disaster is. And even then, we don’t bother with most news coming out of any of those named countries unless it will directly influence some inane part of our lives, like traffic. It’s not that your lives are unimportant to the world. It’s that most US people and news outlets are busy with news and events happening in the US, just the same as other countries and their inhabitants are busy with the news and events happening in their own counties. It’s not to belittle anyone group or persons. It’s just.. blinders.
To address the above, nothing in this explanation explains the irreverent and dismissive mentality towards things relating to Africa in general. This is the crux of the matter with these so called “jokes”. What you’re asking me to “seriously consider” isn’t why the tweet was offensive.
Let me give you a scenario. I know very little about Azerbaijan. However, I don’t act like Azerbaijan is an irrelevant non-entity I know little about or can’t locate on a map for “jokes”. Whether you can locate a country on a map or know anything about the sociopolitical climate of a country is not the issue here. There is a long, racist history of African nations being depicted in irreverent and dismissive manners, as if Africa is an unknown and uncharted place without over a billion people. Some people still think Africa is a country and will mention visiting Africa instead of an actual country or countries. Anything pertaining to Africa will reference animals and landscapes. In the event that people are mentioned, then the narrative will center on poverty, famine or war. This baggage cannot be ignored.
Here is a life tip. When people point things out that don’t sit well with or has offended them, try not to explain away the wrong and offensive behavior, no matter how rational you think you’re being. It rarely comes across well, despite your intentions. This is a time for you to listen, take everything in, try to understand and then reflect. It is not a time to retort and explain. Nothing you said are things we don’t already know. Was that supposed to be educational? Westerners aren’t bothered to know about Africans, news at 11.
Here is why your explanation is off-putting. If someone has a problem with how they are constantly being depicted and spoken about, be it with “jokes”, or anything else, it’s not really prudent to retort with something along the lines of “Well, I know it sucks how we sometimes describe you, but the reason we describe you in such a terrible manner is because we have no reason to know anything about you whatsoever. It’s not that you’re unimportant or anything, we just aren’t bothered to know things. We have no reason to know things outside of the US, Canada, Mexico, England, Germany, Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Japan, China, both Koreas, and wherever the latest natural disaster is.” - Gee, thanks.
I also find it curious that your last 2 sentences say “It’s not to belittle anyone group or persons. It’s just.. blinders.” Right, because someone “joking” about how it took them longer to locate Ghana on a map than their country scoring a goal is not belittling at all. It’s downright uplifting and empowering. Ghanaians should be beaming with pride and they should feel like giants after reading that. How could that tweet be anything else but belittling?
If this is a case of blinders, then people need to open their eyes. Going through life with blinders on sounds terrible. Especially when in this case, those blinders are voluntary. They don’t have to be on. People can take them off if they want to.
Anyway, this has little to do with differing opinions or ignorant people making “jokes” at the expense of Africans. This is more about Africans asserting themselves and not taking BS lying down. We’ve been the butt of cheap jokes for far too long. I’m well beyond the point of reforming the ignorant. That’s not my job. We shouldn’t have to beg people to recognize our humanity. These “jokes” are about minimizing us, and by us I mean Africans collectively. Now whether the joke tellers or people who think these jokes are not a big deal get that is another matter entirely. They’re going to do what they’re going to do. If I have to explain why our existence is not a punchline, then I know I’m dealing with a person who has an empathy chip missing.
What I care about are the negative and harmful messages we imbibe about ourselves as Africans and how we can combat that. When there are systems in place that keep making us feel little and less than, the vulnerable and impressionable among us will start to believe it. Dingbats like Ellen and others who continue to employ this tired and antiquated trope of “unknown Africa” are the least of my concerns. They are always coddled. I know that their ignorance will always be explained away, no matter how inconsiderate, egregious, distasteful and unnecessary it is. Someone will swoop in to rescue them or explain away their behavior, instead of rightfully chastising them and taking them to task. That’s the thing, the privileged and powerful are always rescued after doing wrong, while the vulnerable and marginalized are left hanging. They remain the punchline of the joke, forever to be victimized for hilarity or whatever else the powerful want to use them for. We’re the meat in their grinder.
It truly will be a new day whenever people collectively come together and say something is wrong, fullstop; and then leave it at that. Imagine no one explaining the rationale of entire societies dismissing you, as if there is a reasonable explanation for that. Not knowing where a country is on a map does not explain this attitude. You don’t have to be a master of geography to be a decent human being.
Westerners don’t come out of the womb with an irreverence for all things Africa. This is learned behavior. It is the blueprint of white supremacy to not value Africa and Africans. Western societies are built entirely on this. My goal is to make sure fellow Africans don’t adopt mentalities that are self-hating and corrosive. I focus on the children.
I have 3 nieces and 3 nephews and they have to hear garbage jokes that deride Africans all the time and they are constantly made to feel less than for simply existing. From their beautiful names to everything else that identifies them as being ‘African’ children. It’s a constant battle having to tell them that we are worthy when the outside world tells them we are not. My friend’s mom was reduced to tears when she found out that her daughter didn’t want her to come to a Parent Teacher Association meeting because she didn’t want to be seen with her mom wearing traditional clothes and because she has a heavy Nigerian (Igbo) accent. Now ask yourself what kind of environment would make a child feel ashamed of their own mother wearing her beautiful traditional clothes and the way she speaks. It’s an environment that makes you and your people feel less than and that is routinely dismissive of your identities. It’s an environment that has you as the punchline for jokes and that refuses to acknowledge your existence and humanity. There is always something to make us feel less than. From mean spirited attacks to “jokes”. From being called “African Booty Scratcher” to beloved comics using their broad platforms to make insensitive jokes and to sometimes outright insult us.
This is why we must value, love and support ourselves. No one else will. Part of this process is not accepting being the constant punchline for ignorant jokes. I see far too many Africans putting up with and going along with this nonsense. I want to tell them that it’s not okay to be complacent about your own derision for the sake of fitting in. Speak up about it. If someone has a problem with that, then they don’t need to be in your life.
Keep pushing back. Don’t shut up. Don’t take it.
Before even read your response, the section that is in bold is exactly what I was thinking about when I intended to respond to that person’s comment. There’s a reason why I made mention of Marlon Wayans, it was to note that these kinds of jokes aren’t one-off solitary statements, they are something of a trend that exist in a world that unjokingly support this kind of rhetoric and have real consequences. These are the kinds of things people like Ellen, Wayans and other comedians, and even companies like Delta, need to be especially aware of. To grow up and to exist in a world where you are constantly being ridiculed and reduced to insulting stereotypes is incredibly dehumanizing.
In short: we are tired of the bullshit. It’s not funny. Never was, never will be.