Africa / African / Blacks / Men / Race / Violence

Undoing Stereotypes of African Men

I saw this video from the organisation Mama Hope a few months ago and found it quite provocative. I’ll explain. First, though, this is what the write-up introducing the video states:

‘After viewing our first STP video, “Alex Presents Commando,” the Kenyan men in this video told us they wanted to make one that pokes fun at the way African men are portrayed in Hollywood films and the media. They said, “If people believed only what they saw in movies, they would think we are all warlords who love violence.” They, like Mama Hope, are tired of the over-sensationalized, one-dimensional depictions of African men and the white savior messaging that permeates our media. They wanted to tell their own stories instead, so we handed them the mic and they made this video. We started this series so you could begin to reimagine Africa. It is only when people are no longer seen through the stereotypes of poverty that we can begin to see we are not so different from each other. We wanted our supporters to see that Africa is full of progress, potential, and hope. The “Stop the Pity. Unlock the Potential” video campaign is our first step towards building a global society based on hope and connection. If you agree with us, join our movement and raise awareness!  Join us in unlocking potential for a better future for all.’

The stereotypical African man is something I know not from books and movies, but a lived experience I grew up with. The very way I breathe, walk, speak, dress, and love are marked by colonial prejudices about what I am, what I can be. The contents of my mind are still soaked by racist belief. The time when I, like all African men, will feel completely secure, free from Europe’s white, blinding gaze, is in the future. 

Years after the formal end of apartheid I am still making my way to ‘I’, for, like all men of my shade, continue to be ‘them’ – not entirely individual yet. I remain unknown and unpredictable. I can’t be really known or fully trusted even though I am the shadow tending the garden, the figure standing guard at the gate in a uniform, a speaker of parliament, a CEO of major corporation, father, lover, global football star. Like these men in the video and millions of other black men, being a stereotype remains a fact of my life that is hard to shake – when I get followed in department stores, when white women hold tight to their bags, when I hear car doors go click when I jog past, when I am thought incapable to looking after my child on my own.

Under these conditions, reimagining oneself as fully human, capable, hardworking, loving, caring, intelligent, knowledgeable, creative, fun, and all you can dream of, is nothing short of life-saving.

But as I said, I found the video provocative, in both the positive and negative kind. The positive and stimulating aspect of the video arises from the fact that it centres African men’s voices and seeks to undo stereotypes about African men. That is undeniably important for anyone who believes in Africa and its men, women and children.  

However, there are the negative aspects to this video. The main one is that it is not really addressed to African men but primarily to a white US audience, who are the ones who are called to stop the pity by the organisation’s “Stop the Pity, Unlock the Potential” campaign.

The simple message is that, even though the are organisations and individuals that help in working to change African and how it is viewed in the US and other parts of the world, we, African men, must produce the images, videos, films, books, newsreports, studies about ourselves. The more diverse the images the better, for that is how stereotypes are undone. Make some noise.

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