The American stereotype of Africa consists of villages of people living as large families in huts with no running water, no electricity, children dressed in rags with stomachs distended, animistic rituals, and women breastfeeding their infants in public with no shame. These stereotypes are used to pity Africans, to make ourselves superior, or to incite people to help a continent in need. The Sénégalese I know in Dakar do not conform to this picture. My time in the village, however, was very similar to the tropes Americans have, with some important differences; cell phone coverage was wonderful, my family's compound of five huts was equiped with a solar pannel to provide electricity, and everyone in my family was Muslim.
- But how do I reconcile the fact that so many stereotypes appeared on the surface to be true?
- Maybe the motivation for perpetuating these stereotypes among Americans is what differs from my discovery of the "reality"?
- Did my beginner's knowledge of Wolof reveal a more accurate picture of what my family in the village's life is like?
- Was I more keen at observing the reality of certain stereotypes because of my conditioned mindset and expectations to see these things? Did this blind me to other cultural aspects that a villager might value more than the American's obsession with naked African women and a "more simple lifestyle"?
- How do I portray what I experienced without adding to the stereotypes that objectify the people that opened their house and hearts to me?
- What does it look like to improve a villager's quality of life by providing nutrients, schools, and medical supplies without opperating on stereotypes or exercising power over a community?
- What is the difference between modernization and Westernization?
- Why does the color of my skin mean I merit special attention?
- I will always be an outsider, always be visibly different here, so how do I reconcile my physical differences with my desire to truly understand and fit into the culture here?
- How do I respect a culture without denouncing the culture I grew up in?
This culture thing is just so confusing and complicated...but interesting and intellectually stimulating nonetheless.