“Are You From Africa?” And Other Stupid Questions

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In the 6th grade or “Standard 6″ as it is called in Botswana where I lived at the time, my teacher once said, “There are no stupid questions.” I really liked my 6th grade teacher but I’m calling bullshit on that one. There are stupid questions, lots of them. After six years of living in America as an African, it is high time I call out the stupidity that I have faced in this context.

1. Are you from Africa? This is just a really annoying question and it’s stupid because technically, I am “from Africa,” but Africa is a continent. And while I, specifically, may be complicated because I was born in Nigeria but lived elsewhere, you still don’t get a pass. Universally, nobody claims to be from a continent. We claim to be from a city, from a state, and from a country. But, asking me if I’m from Africa is like asking you if you’re from North America or Europe or Asia, etc. It’s stupid, isn’t it? Stop asking me if I’m from a continent.

2. Do you speak African? Really? Okay let’s put this in the context of other continents once again. Do you ask someone from a country in Asia if they speak Asian? Or do you ask someone from a country in Europe, if they speak European? Exactly, you probably don’t. “African” is not a language. And while we’re at it, don’t add “an” to the end of the name of a country and assume it’s a language. (Ex.”Do you speak Nigerian?”) What the heck do people learn in school these days? It’s better to simply ask, “What languages do you speak in country X?” It’s not that hard people.

3. How do you speak English so well? Gee, I don’t know — how do you? Wait, you probably learned it at school or spoke it at home or come from a country where English is widely spoken. As it turns out, Britain kind of colonized many African countries too so guess what? Many of us speak English. Weird.

4. How did you get here? This was one of my favorites in college. I would sarcastically tell people that I swam from Cape Town to Florida, and then hitchhiked to the mid-west from there. I really don’t understand what I’m supposed to do with this question. Are you asking me my reasoning for choosing this city or what mode of transportation I used to get to America? Or do you think that Africans are all so poor that I must be a refugee? And even if the latter, were true, it would still likely have been by plane as far as transportation is concerned. In any case, let’s at least clarify the stupidity.

5. What is Africa like? I’m always taken by surprise whenever I get asked this question. What do you mean, “What is Africa like?” Do you know how many African countries there are? 54. Explaining what one African country “is like” may be tasking enough, now you’re asking me to explain 54. Are you asking what the culture is like? Or what the weather is like? Are you asking whether my family lives in a hut or hunts for their dinner every night? Are you asking if I roamed around with lions in the wild or whether I wear clothes when I go back to the homeland? Again, I need some clarification here.

Okay, this became a sarcastic rant and I’m not really sorry about it. The point I’m trying to make is that I am tired of having to pretend to find stupid question about Africa enduring. They’re not enduring and they’re not innocuous; most of them are flat-out ignorant and make me feel embarrassed for you. I will be glad to satisfy your curiosity but there is a way to go about asking questions, intelligently. We live in world that is increasingly becomingly a global village and one in which Google is literally at your finger tips — use it. TC mark

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