Several years ago, my mother and I were sitting in an overheated, overcrowded lecture hall watching on a giant screen the speeches that were ostensibly welcoming me to college. We were sitting with my roommate, Adjoa, and her mother. They had flown in from Accra, Ghana, where Adjoa grew up.
As Adjoa and I planned our dorm room layout, I overheard an anonymous mother down the aisle ask Adjoa’s mother where they were from. She replied, “from Ghana, in Africa.” The woman nodded thoughtfully, and then leaned in to ask if they knew Dr. So-and-so. Is he from Ghana? asked Adjoa’s mother. “Oh, I’m really not sure, I just know he’s from Africa, and I was wondering if you knew him,” said the lady.
Watching this TED talk by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (who wrote the excellent Half of a Yellow Sun), I flashed on that conversation. It’s about the dangers of relying on one story to define any group of people; Africa is not synonymous with poverty, just as America is not synonymous with wealth. And also how you shouldn’t ask Africans to listen to their “tribal music.”