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Negative African Stereotypes: Do Africans Live On Trees?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

A Stereotype according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment”.

Another definition: “To believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same”.

Stereotypes are very common, more common than they should be. Africans are stereotyped, The Irish, Nigerians, Asians, homosexuals, Mexicans, Muslims, blonde-haired blue-eyed females, rape victims, rich people and so on have various stereotypes that bedevil them. Nobody is safe. My point is that most of us have been on the receiving end of stereotyping either directly or indirectly. And on the same boat, most of us have stereotyped others knowingly or unknowingly. Then there is an additional category of people that unintentionally or intentionally perpetuate the existing negative stereotypes; a lot of times without knowing the damage this simple act is causing. It’s easy to blame it all on sheer ignorance but it’s still not an excuse. It is important to realize that stereotypes hurt people and cultures psychologically, economically and even medically.

Rather than assuming a person is a certain way solely based on their skin color, country of origin, religion, or sexual orientation, why not get to know and find out more about them for yourself. Hear their stories, be curious, learn about their experiences, and ask questions about their culture. Everyone you meet is a product of a combination of factors including but not limited to culture, past experiences, education, exposure, economic capacity, parental influences, societal influences, religion and so on. People are different even if they are from the same city.

As far back as the times of colonialism, Africa has been plagued by many stereotypes mostly due to the one-sided media coverage of the continent in the western world. Social media also has played a role.

Here are some of the stereotypes I’ve come across.

Let’s start with the mother of them all

Africa is one country!

Quick GS

I’ve never really been able to wrap my head around this one mainly because, in a majority of countries, scholars learn about countries and continents in elementary school.

For anyone who is not aware, there are 7 continents in the world- Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia/Oceania, Europe, North America, and South America. Africa is a diverse and dynamic continent with 54 countries within it. No African country is identical to the other.

“OMG! you’re African? You speak very good english for an African” 

“All Africans live in huts and on trees”


LOL! What’s the origin of this myth? If you know, please drop a comment below.

If you’re an African in the diaspora, chances are you’ve been asked this question directly or indirectly at some point. But for anyone who’s wondering, NO! Africans don’t typically live in huts and on trees. They mostly live in houses and apartments like the people in the other 6 continents. 

Yes, there are parts of some African countries where huts are still in existence and the media has not shied away from solely showcasing these as “today’s Africa” but it is not logical to generalize based on that alone. It’s like noticing the large numbers of homeless people on the streets of New York and Houston and then going ahead to portray the USA as a country of homeless individuals. 

Countries and continents are dynamic. 

“All Africans speak one language”

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“Do you speak African?”

“Oh you’re from Africa, do you speak the language?”

Currently, there are an estimated 2,000 languages spoken in the continent. There is no solitary “African language”. 

“All Africans are poor and hungry”

Not really. Poverty and hunger are global issues and are not unique to the continent that is Africa. I think this ideology of all Africans being poor and hungry stems from the dominant media coverage of the continent. When it comes to Africa, the media has consistently fed us with images of starving children with barely any clothes on, flies all over and in most cases, crying for help. But as educated, exposed, well-informed citizens of the world, we should not rely solely on the information we get from our TV screens and ads on the Internet and billboards. Do your own research, ask informative questions, get curious, and don’t be stuck with the single sided portrayal of an entire continent with 54 very culturally and economically diverse countries.

No doubt there are parts of many African countries with limited access to resources. But this is also the case in other countries in the other continents. As a continent, massive economic growth has been recorded in various areas and industrialization is currently at its peak. 

“Oh you’re African? Do you know Tunde? He was my classmate 6 years ago in high school and he’s from Africa too! I’m sure you must know each other”

“All Africans have no access to modern day technology”

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Within the first 3 months of 2013, mobile penetration in Africa hit a whopping 80% and has been increasing by about 4.2% yearly since then. 8 in 10 of every African has access to a mobile phone. The same can be said for the Internet, agriculture, and so on.

Just like in many of the other continents, there are people with limited access to technology and resources. But the positive side of this in Africa is that many African people have the habit of making the most of what they have. Practical examples include the drone made at the Nigerian Airforce School of Engineering, the urine-powered generator, the traffic-regulating robots, the sunlight water purification system, solar-powered cars, water-powered generator, zero emission automobile, the INYE-1 and 2 tablet computers, solar-powered operating room and so much more. 

As an African or a member of any group that is plagued by negative stereotypes, it can be disheartening for assumptions to be made about you solely based on what another saw on TV last week. Take up the responsibility of telling your own story the way you want it to be told, change your narrative. Educate those around you who might not know any better. Don’t let these stereotypes affect how you see yourself because at the end of the day they are just stereotypes, nothing more.

Let me leave this video here for anyone who is curious and wants to know more. It is both informative and humorous. It speaks volumes.

Featured image: Inklings News
Dr Wendy Evans-Uhegbu

The author Dr Wendy Evans-Uhegbu

Dr. Wendy Evans-Uhegbu is a graduate of The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, with experience in Connected Health, Medical Technology, Clinical Research, Medical Education, and Web Design. She is a member of the Medics Abroad team with the role of Chief Communications Officer. She also runs a Medical Communications and Publishing business, and is the author of the newly published children's book "The Things Around Me".

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