Challenging Misrepresentations of
An Interview with Local Pan African Activists Part II

Interview by Aly Wane and Christiana Kaiser

Kwame Otieku (at podium), M.cere G.thae M.go and Emmanuel Awuah of the Pan African Community of Central New York at Ghanafs 2006 Independence Anniversary Celebration at OCC. Photo: Wilson Akuamoah-Boateng

On November 11 the PNL sat down with members of the Pan African Community of Central New York (PACCNY) for a discussion about the stereotypes and misrepresentations of Africa that exist in our community. This is the second segment of our three-part conversation.

Kwame Otieku (KO), Micere Githae Mugo (MGM) and Emmanuel Awuah (EA) are members of the local non-profit organization, PACCNY, which seeks, among other goals, to foster unity among people of African descent. The January 2007 PNL includes more information on PACCNY and the participants and Part I of this interview on the impact of misrepresentations of Africa.

PNL: How can we combat the constant misrepresentation of Africa in the US? Issues of the media and education have been touched upon and Mr. Otieku mentioned that there is work to be done by Africans. There is also work to be done by Central New Yorkers including those who might not have any knowledge or experience of Africa. What recommendations would you have for people to change those negative images of Africa that exist in our community?

KO: My recommendation would be that if you live in the community you become part of the community. A good example is why we are here today, PACCNY. PACCNY basically is hoping to unite the Diaspora. All this negative publicity impacts indigenous Africans. It does impact the Black world. We live in a community, and we've got to come together. Together we can educate people. When something happens in the community we can join hands instead of doing things as individuals on our own. A team may be able to make a great impact and work through areas where we have problems to have a dialogue. A good example is what we had not too long ago about the squabble at HW Smith School. [In March 2006 African students attending H.W.Smith Elementary School were harassed by fellow students, including being assaulted with bleach.] When that came up PACCNY tried to make an impact. If we have various organizations tackling the same issues and taking interest in them, I think that is a vehicle we may be able to use to squash some of this misunderstanding or enhance the image of our own kind. But we have to do it for ourselves. We cannot wait for anybody to do it for us.

MGM: To follow up on that one, we have been practical and sent recommendations to the HW Smith School offering our participation as well as the skills we have in our midst to go to the schools and run workshops and give presentations that would provide a correct representation of the reality on the African continent. We would also like to create a situation where we can get children from the various cultural communities and nationalities - specifically kids from the African continent and their counterparts from the African American world, as well as other Diasporan communities - to be in conversation with each other so as to understand each other. So, we are already engaged in that important work. Our constitution in PACCNY has as one of its objectives the creation of cultural understanding, exchange and conversations with and between Diasporan Africans (and other communities) in order for us to understand one another better. That desire to promote understanding, work together and try to address problems collectively has been a historical fact and we are anxious to ensure that it truly happens. I know that the Ghana Society of Central New York is known for a number of its activities, including the major annual dinner that is very culturally diversified and inclusive. PACCNY supports such activities as they promote understanding among the various groups. The question of going into the schools to educate students about Africa and the global African Diaspora is a critical part of these efforts at dialogue and something that we have been discussing extensively and have ready for implementation as soon as we receive a nod from the schools. We need to target young people. We need to be in conversation with them. We need to reach them and we are working on that. We have an outreach committee in PACCNY that is going to engage in a lot more of this kind of work in schools and the community.
Griot/Storyteller Vanessa Johnson shares stories of African American history with children in Worawora, Ghana. She integrates stories and experiences from Ghana into her storytelling in CNY.
Photo: Africa Bound

EA: I think one of the things that fundamentally we need to do is to address this problem, first of all, from an academic standpoint. There is a lot of research that has been done about what factors are contributing to the problems that we have in Africa. Unfortunately, when it comes to African problems we tend to explain those problems from a cultural perspective. Yet, when we look at some of the Asian countries and their problems, we tend to look at it from an academic stand point in terms of changes going on within the global system. There is some inconsistency in terms of explaining the African issues or African problems. Not everything is cultural. By using the cultural explanation as a source of poverty and other problems, we do not do justice to academic analysis of the situation. Those who are academicians have a responsibility in not using a double standard to explain why Africa finds itself in this situation.

On a more practical level, I think we can promote sister-city relationships so that Central New Yorkers can go to Africa and visit some of the cities, because it is very easy to stereotype people you don't know. Once you relate to them, you befriend them and you get to know that they hurt much as we hurt, they have needs as we have needs, they have problems as we have problems here. We will find common solutions to these problems as humans rather than stereotype others as being unable to deal with these problems on their own. Therefore, in order not to caricature Africa in those stereotypical terms, there is a need for us to have a better relationship. Those who have visited Africa have a responsibility to present the true hospitality that they've received, the true conditions that prevail - not only the negative ones, but the positive dimensions and aspects of African people. This is something that we need to work on.

African-Americans have a lot to gain or to lose if we do not do anything about these stereotypes because it is a continuation of the stereotypical representation of African-Americans themselves since they originated from Africa, and we tend to see the same stereotypes being used towards African-Americans. Therefore, there is a need for African-Americans to visit Africa and come back and write about the stories of their heritage. This is very important so that they can educate their fellow Central New Yorkers about their heritage and share it. That will be an American who has been there, come back and is telling the stories of the good things that are in Africa rather than those who may be non-Africans and may be looking for only the negative aspects of what's going on in Africa.

Look for part III next month.

Aly, a native of Senegal, is an SPC intern.
Christiana studied International Relations at the University of Ghana at Legon and Syracuse University.