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Persona of the World’s Paranoid Manifestations: When Africans Cease to be People

Imagine with me.

Imagine you’ve invited your favorite person to lunch – your dad or you mom, perhaps – and you’ve invested a lot time into executing the endeavor. The reservations at the restaurant your mother has always dreamed of going to have been booked. You go to pick her up from her door and she takes your breath away. She’s standing there in a demure floral frock, a hint of color on her lips and the most beautiful smile on her face. Your mind transports you back to those sun filled afternoons when she would take you to the park or for ice-cream and you realize she’s still the center of your world.

You arrive at the restaurant and are seated by the maître d’. She’d like to start with some hot tea. He pours it and walks away. Suddenly, you realize there is no sugar on the table, so you ask the gentleman at the table next to yours if you could borrow his. He studies the pair of you briefly.

“Is this your mother?” he asks.

“Yes,” you reply, beaming with pride.

Without another word the man strides over to your table, clenches his fist, and punches your mom dead in her face.

There. You see that face you just made? That’s how I feel when I’m engaging certain people on the topic of Ebola. These people tend to be American – whom the world ridicules to scorn for their general ignorance – but Africans can’t escape this one either. Some of you are just as guilty.


My friend Sangima posted this meme on Facebook about a week ago and gave permission for me to share it with the MOM Squad. I’m sure you have seen other similar images on social media. The first one I saw was of a very statuesque woman draped in black. She was holding a sign that said “I am a Liberian, not a virus.” It is poetic and melancholy that Sangima and so many people feel compelled to make such a prosaic statement. Of course you’re “not a virus”. We can plainly see that you are bipedal and warm blooded like the rest of us…but are you like the rest of us?

The unique thing about the African experience on this earth is that it is indeed unique. As diverse as the continent is, with thousands of languages and innumerable ways of living, we somehow all get lumped as “African” once one travels/resides outside of the continent. In the best of times, like during the World Cup for example, we gleefully participate in this charade. The World Cup is the only time we are “One Africa”. Calamity compels us to do the same in the worst of times as well. Ebola, like HIV/AIDS did in the 80s, makes it necessary for us to force the world to see us as human; not a cause, not a disease…just human.

When you consider that all the most effective western fundraising campaigns of the last century or more have used some image of “Africa” to promote their causes, it’s not difficult to understand why an American slurping their spaghetti over dinner would fail to identify with an African’s humanity.

Pick a global campaign and compare the images you find online. Nearly 100% of the time, the face of hunger is Black. The face of abject poverty is Black. The face of disease is also Black, all set against a backdrop of dust, flies and rubbish. No many how many glossy images we put of a Rising Africa out there is going to change that for far too many people, which is how and why I found myself embroiled in two very unique conversations surrounding Ebola in the last seven days.

The first involved Douche Bag, who can always be counted on to say something completely imbecilic.

Nadjah came home from her weekend visitation and flounced on my bed. She had a very concerned look on her face.

“Mommy? Douche Bag says that if we move to South Africa, I’m going to catch a disease.”

I put down my magazine and inspected her more closely. There was no melodrama, only sincere alarm.

“What disease did he say?”

“I don’t know. E—e—“

“Ebola?” I finished.

She nodded and I blew out a breath. Marshall was in bed with me and rolled his eyes. Enraged, I explained that her father was an idiot. (I shouldn’t have said that, but the words tumbled out.) I then set out to draw a picture of the world, demonstrating the distance between the countries where the Ebola scourge is most rampant to South Africa and their distance to America.

“You would have to travel 7-8 hours at a speed of 500-600/mph to catch Ebola,” I explained. “And if he brings up the topic again, let him know that he has a better chance of catching Ebola down there in Dekalb County and so close to the CDC and Emory Hospital. At a speed of 60/mph and a time of 30 minutes, he could be exposed to the virus!”

I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. Of all the preposterous things to say to a child!

In the midst of this, the scientists at Fox News and some other choice outlets had been proposing that we stop all flights out of that country until the “virus was contained”. How do you stop a virus that is transmitted from animals to humans by stopping flights? There are 104 things wrong with that suggestion, but I was content to chalk it up to the drivel of well-paid talking heads until a GOOD friend of my proposed the same.

The kids had been invited to the park by my Somali friend Ameera* (the one I told you jumped in the pool with her hijab and overcoat to save her daughter) and our mutual friend April* had met us there with her daughter. When Ameera got up to walk her toddler around on the other side of the park, April turned to me excitedly. Her eyes were wild.

“So how’s your dad with all this thing – this sickness – that’s going on?”

My dad wasn’t sick. What was she talking about? “What sickness?” I asked.

She was exasperated. “Ugh! Ebola! He’s in Africa ain’t he?”

“Yes,” I laughed, “but he’s in Ghana. Hundreds of miles away from the nearest Ebola case.”

Her mood turned pensive. “What about Ameera? Where did she say she’s from?”


“She near Ebola?”

Now I was beginning to get vexed. This woman had a bachelor’s degree and had traveled. That was supposed to mean something. I pointed out that Somalia was even further away than Liberia and Sierra Leon…and irrespective of that, Ameera lives here in Alpharetta like April did.

I could not believe that this woman, my friend, had just equated this woman’s nationality to a disease. I didn’t have much time to ponder it further, because she was still going on about how she didn’t understand why the world couldn’t end flights out of Africa until Ebola was contained. Surely I misheard her.

“Are you saying ALL flights out of ALL African countries should be stopped?”

“Yes,” she confirmed. Ebola should stay in Africa.

Well, yeah. Because Africa is a country.

I explained that unless she was planning on kissing, screwing or swapping fluid waste with anyone in or from Africa, she was in no danger. And then I told her she sounded like a Republican. You would have thought I’d called her sainted mother a whore.

The danger of what happens when the world Africanizes a disease or catastrophe has already been experienced by two boys in the Bronx this past weekend. Two brothers aged 11 and 13 who just returned to America from Sierra Leon were brutally attacked by their classmates as they chanted “Ebola, Ebola” under a hail of punches and kicks. It would not surprise me if the perpetrators were Black themselves, since the only time I or any other African has been called an “African booty scratcher” or other derogatory names stemming from my African heritage has been from Black American children. Because really, what those bullies did to those two little boys with their fists is no different from what April did to Ameera.

Africans don’t do ourselves any favors by feeding into the stigma and fear. According to a recent report my own president, John Mahama refused to shake hands with the heads of state of the three Ebola-stricken nations he visited on Monday September 15, over fear of contracting the deadly Ebola virus.

*Face palm*

How are we going to expect common cordiality from the rest of the world when we treat ourselves in this manner? How can we collectively demand to be treated with dignity when heads of state like Mahama – who are paid to know and do better – behave in this manner?

Discuss! ↓


This article has 11 comments

  1. sechaba

    I am from south africa and americans’ sheer ignorance leaves much to be desired’

    • Malaka

      It’s pretty disappointing, but if you take the time to discuss these things (not belligerently like I do) Americans shape up pretty well.

  2. sallybonn

    Some people take ignorance to a whole new level. Even with a lot of research the internet have to offer & credible news sites & stations, some folks still show outright stupidity. I am Nigerian & glad we were able to control the outbreak of this virus & I hope same can be achieved in other West African countries too. I am sorry Malaka but if I see any stupid joke or unwanted BS by an ignorant American like Trump for example or any other person especially hungry comedians that cannot draw the line I will curse the person out, because I know they just chose to be stupid. They should read, google & stop exporting stupidity around.

    • Malaka

      HAHAHAHAAAAA!!!! Oh then this one I fear for them. It sounds like you have your “give it to them” cocked and ready for blasting! Is it bad that I’d love to see you go off?

      Honestly, I don’t think people think these things through. Can you imagine if we treated people who have cancer the way we do Ebola? They wouldn’t tolerate it.

      And Nigeria’s containment of Ebola is to be celebrated. It’s a true success! Well done to your medical practitioners. If only CNN would keep that story on loop the way they treat our wars and tragedies. But they can’t, because Africa.

  3. Nana Ama

    Nigeria has succeeded in containing ebola in ways that USA couldn’t and hasn’t. And now they are fouling up traffic on the Eko bridge to find out how it was done? A writer friend had this to say “So when it comes to successful containment of ebola, oyibo wan speak Yoruba?”

    And Ms M., more face palms to Mahama who as current chair of ECOWAS has missed the opportunity of joined up thinking, planning and pooling of resources to respond to the outbreak, as a pan-West African response. I am sooo not impressed with him and the others, for not working together. Instead the three countries affected by the virus, have been left to the mercies of foreign mercenaries masquerading as helpers (with the laudable exception of Cuba).

    Is ignorance getting to be a terminal disease in America?

  4. David S.

    We didn’t cease to be people to them. We were never people.

    • Laureene Reeves Ndagire

      Strong, and yet so true.
      Everything happening now, is very much rooted in the colonial mindset that will always remain with us, we were never a people because then colonialism would never have existed if one race thought itself better than another to keep it in chains and surbordinate it
      Our societies now are very much built on this colonialism that has never quite left us, we have been painted as a face of all evil, the dark continent, and you are right, we do not do ourselves any favors either in playing up to these stereotypes, in failing to unite , in being made to feel uncomfortable in our own skins. But no one is going to do that for us, we will never be seen as one of them, regardless of what that paper we carry says, judgement starts from our color before we say anything. But until we learn to take ownership, the legacy of pan-africanists before us will die out, indeed it is dying out.
      At the end of the day,, united we stand divided we fall, and boy are we falling hard

  5. guestar

    *warning, long, comment*….

    American ignorance is legendary. The American response to Ebola is almost comical, and the media (with CNN being the worst) is just fueling the comedy. News and social media is now full of all things Ebola, yet Ebola broke out in January, with every indication then that it was getting out of control. Yet the only time it really started to make international news and fill social media is 8 months later when non-Africans/westerners got infected. On Twitter I only follow or get updates on medical issues. The first tweet I saw on Ebola was in July, when it made twitter news that “An American has been infected by Ebola” and then that’s when others started paying attention it (it seems like this is what triggered the likes of UN, WHO, CDC to pay attention too) Its like, so long as thousands of Africans were being infected and/or dying, it was cool- no need to panic as its just Africans being infected and dying . But the minute a white person/non-African/Westerner gets infected, the world starts freaking out like it signifies Armageddon. Maybe if they had freaked out about it like this 10 months ago, this Ebola issue would’ve been solved.
    BUT, for me, it still doesn’t detract from the fact that the bottom line is that Africa dropped the ball on this one. This is something Africa, and all her governments/organizations should have and could have contained on her own within the first two months (still hearing crickets from the useless likes of the African Union, and someone also mentioned ECOWAS. Where are they and what are they doing?! ) Nigeria’s response is commendable. Very proud of it ( added pride from the fact that my friend and former classmate when studying public health is the man in charge Nigeria’s emergency ebola response operations, DR Faisal Shuaib) 54 countries and we still holding out our begging bowl to the world. Sitting around praying, waiting for the rest of the world to figure it out and come and “help us” is only going to end up being devastating for Africa. The rest of the world is going to worry about protecting their own. They aren’t worried about what is happening in Africa, they’re just worried about making sure that whatever is happening in Africa stays in Africa and doesn’t make it to their land. Africa needs to solve for herself, and Nigeria has proven that we can.

    Rant over. Sorry for the thesis comment, but….eish! this thing has my blood boiling for all kinds of reasons

  6. Laureene Reeves Ndagire

    The African Union/ECOWAS, all these are a joke, puppets to their international partners, aka former colonial masters, choosing to serve the hand that feeds instead of seeking partnership on the continent, sometimes i wonder who they serve !

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