How Did You ‘Coming to America’?

“I’m planning a trip to Africa, and I would love for you to join me.”

“Uhh…I dunno. When I think of Africa, I think of…”

“Women walkin’ around with their breasts going ‘jiggy-jiggy-jiggy’?” (Cackles and simulates jiggling breasts with her hands.)

“Hahahhaaa!”

Conversation between Phaedra Parks and Kandi Burruss during a recent episode of Real Housewives of Atlanta

I don’t know which is more tragic: That two African-American women have this dated view of Africa, or that I am even privy to this view as a direct consequence of watching trash TV. I believe the tragedy is the latter, but it’s like vaginal childbirth. You want to look away but you just can’t!

I’ve recently given a lot of thought about the West’s view of Africa, given that there is a new scramble for Africa with China leading the charge. Asia is gobbling up our resources like a ferocious cancer, and the majority are watching helplessly (or uninterestedly) from the sidelines. Why is Africa still viewed as the ‘Dark Continent’? With the advent of the internet and cable TV, surely the world ought to know by now that we have some of the best education systems and homes that money can buy? Why don’t the broadcasts on Africa include men of wealth cruising around in air-conditioned Land Rovers instead of armed thugs roaming the streets in open Jeeps?

My first inclination has always been to lay blame at the feet of a racist media whose only goal must be to present Africa as a desolate wasteland populated by famished waifs whose flesh serves no purpose but to nourish an ever increasing multitude of plump flies…but then I did a Michael Jackson and took a hard look at the woman in the mirror. Perhaps I am the one to blame. And if you’re anything like me, perhaps you are to blame too.

African Reader, do you remember when you first came to America fresh off of Lufthansa or KLM? Do you remember going to that first University class and sitting amongst your new peers? Do you remember how astonished they were when you were able to blow every exam and engage in enlightened discourse with your professor? Do you remember how astonished you were when they asked you how you got here?

“What do you mean, ‘how did I get here’?” I asked the pretty green-eyed girl from Texas.

“I mean, did you take a plane or…”

I paused and considered my next words carefully. Finally, I decided to recount a tale that my friend from Gambia had told a group of African-Americans in a salon where she was getting her hair done a few years before. I delivered the tale unsmiling, completely deadpan.

“I came by canoe,” I said. “It was a very difficult trip, but fortunately there was a crocodile at sea that gave me directions. When I landed in Virginia, I took the few clothes I had and came straight to Hampton’s campus.” I shrugged. “Now I’m here.”

She looked at me quizzically.

“That’s not true!” she challenged. She didn’t seem so sure when she asked her follow up question. “Is it?”

“Nah man!” I laughed. “I took a plane. I came through Europe on Lufthansa. It was a long trip.”

Some of my favorite questions from “ignorant” Americans are the following:

How long did it take you to learn English?

Did you live in a tree back home?

Do you want to marry Marshall because you need a visa to stay here?

Did you ride a zebra to school?

How did you get that scar? Fighting tigers and sh*t? (This one is my favorite, because everyone knows there are no tigers in Africa. Not indigenously anyways.)

Sometimes the questions are so ridiculous they can do nothing but elicit a laugh. Sometimes, they stun you into silence.

Just 2 nights ago I bought a pair of shoes for my BFFFL, Nana. They are a pink satin pair of Mary Jane pumps made by Jessica Simpson. I casually mentioned to the cashier (whom I work with) that the shoes were not for me, and I would be sending them to Ghana soon.

“They can wear pink in Africa?” asked Jen, an elderly blond woman from Michigan.

WTH? I was so astonished by her question that I was neither able to confirm or deny her query. I paid for my shoes and went back to the sales floor still trying to figure out what she meant by her question.

But how Reader, how are these people to know any better if we do not educate them? When you consider that there are people of my ilk roaming this nation perpetuating the vicious cycle of obliviousness, it seems like an indomitable task. My own sister was spinning tales on her university campus that did nothing to improve the situation.

“There are no airports in all of Africa,” she told one freshman. “Except in South Africa. And that’s only because White people live there. SO I had to walk from Ghana to South Africa and take a plane to here. That’s how I got to Atlanta.”

Of course, the twit believed her. I almost spit my coffee when she told me.

 So what are we to do? Don’t look at me to be part of the solution. I’m far too mischievous to stop the wheel from spinning. I don’t have that sort of personal discipline. That puzzled look when I know I’ve caught a foreigner in my trap of creative falsehoods is just far too amusing! All I can ask is that if you see me engaging in toil, be the bigger man/woman and tell me to stop! After all, how would you react if someone asked you if wearing clothes was a new experience for you?

By the way, how DID you react? What’s the craziest thing anyone has ever asked you? I’ll grab my coffee and wait for your reply.