Don’t just complain about the media! Change them!
Use your own networks to speak truthfully about Africa!
The Ebola epidemic painfully revealed the pervasive ignorance and stereotypes that still attach to “Africa” among Americans. Whether it’s CNN displaying a map with Nigeria in the place of Niger, or schools panicking about Ebola because someone has been to Zambia, or immigrants from Liberia or Sierra Leone being dismissed from their jobs, the lesson is clear. There is fundamental work to do in changing minds as well as hearts.
Too often, however, all we do is complain. And it’s true that changing the mass media, even with some good journalists on the inside, is a formidable goal. But with word of mouth and with social media, each of us can make a difference. We can supply a multiplier effect for alternatives to misleading stereotypes or outright lies.
It is true that the largest percentage of Americans get their news from TV or other large news organizations (88% according to http://www.americanpressinstitute.org/publications/reports/survey-research/how-americans-get-news/). But 65% also rely on word-of-mouth from friends, and 46% depend on social media or other on-line sharing. That means that each of us has the capacity to influence our own networks, whether in person or through electronic communications. Even if few of us will write any post or tweet that “goes viral,” we can be more strategic about passing on reliable information and analysis to our friends (who can in turn transmit them to “friends of friends”)
There is no one “truth” about Africa, any more than all African countries or all Africans within one country are the same. And it isn’t about substituting a new simplistic “Africa rising” narrative to combat “Africa as victim.” But we can counterbalance narratives that pander to prevailing stereotypes. For example, “white savior” stereotypes were prominent in stories about Ebola, notably in Bandaid’s remake of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” But AfricaStopEbola, by West African musicians, was also circulated widely on social media. Many voices highlighted local health workers and others in the most-affected countries who made heroic sacrifices to help their fellow citizens. Ebola quickly faded from the media mainstream. But the need to end the epidemic and to build sustainable health systems continues. We can and must add our own voices to counter media indifference, by relying on sources such as the website http://www.eboladeeply.org.
The U.S.-Africa Network calls on all who care about Africa to teach and speak truthfully about Africa. Pledge to inform yourself and to use the networks you have to expand the reach of accurate narratives about Africa. Telling the truth is not enough to change Africa or the world. But it is an essential first step. We all must be a part of clearing away lies and ignorance so that the real issues can be debated and acted on.
Even if each of us can only have a small impact, over time they can and will add up. USAN and its partner AfricaFocus Bulletin, for example, began posting regularly on Ebola after agreement on a statement in September 2014 (https://usafricanetwork.org/we-all-must-respond-to-ebola/). In 2015 we will continue posting on Ebola (it’s not gone, and learning the right lessons is imperative) and concentrate on the central issue of climate justice, beginning with this powerful video by Archbishop Desmond Tutu (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlh_ptOljkg).
These messages are reaching US-Africa Network participants and their friends, reaching an expanding circle in both the United States and Africa. Whether you “share” through Facebook, Twitter, email or in person, join us now in “speaking truthfully” about African issues.