You are African?

by Ejiro Osilama

So which of these have you heard?

“You are African? Cool, do you speak Swahili?”

“You are from Nigeria? Waoh. I know this guy from Nigeria too. He just got arrested.”

“You are from Africa? So you speak another language right? Like not English or French or like a real language though. Yeah? Cool. Say something.”

“You are African? what does Shaniqua mean in your language?” (this one almost started a fight)

“You are African and you don’t celebrate Kwanza?” (open mouthed shock)

“You sure are big for an African. I thought y’all was starving down there”

“That’s your family home? In Africa? Y’all got houses like that back there?”

“Stop playing! You from Africa and you ain’t ever seen a lion? For real?” (once again, open mouthed shock?)

“You are from Nigeria? Is that near Jamiaca?”

“You are African? So how come you can’t speak Zulu.”

“Oprah said one of her ancestors is Chaka the Zulu. You African right? Maybe you and Oprah are related” (to which I say, I would NOT mind)

“You are African, right? Did you ever see the God’s must be crazy“? Y’all be running around all scared of a coke bottle!”

“You are African, hun? I guess that’s why you talk like Eddie Murphy from Coming to America”

“How come African names are always so difficult to say?”

“You are African? I heard y’all got like Zebra’s and all just walking all on the streets and all. That must be so cool.”

“I just knew you were Nigerian, how come y’all always have a’ uppity English accent.”

“You are African, can you do voodoo?(…so well, it’s a spell. Makes me wanna….)

Looking at a picture: “that a Mercedes! Yo, y’all got Benzo’s in the motherland? That’s what’s up!”

…and now for my absolute favorite. This happened quite a few years ago, but it made a lasting impression on me. Granted he was only about 14, but…..

White boy: “So you are from Africa right?”

Me: “Yes”

W.B: “So how did you guys get here?”

Me: “uh..we got a VISA”

W.B:Yeah, I know that. I meant, how did you get here. I mean it’s not like y’all have planes and stuff in Africa right?”

Me (Completely flagabasted): “No we don’t actually. We had to cross the Sahara by camels and then take a boat from Egypt to Spain and then caught a plane in Spain to New York.

W.B: Waoh, that must have taken a real long time.

(Apparently, my sarcasm does not translate well. Maybe it’s the accent, so I simply went with…)

Me: “Yeah, it took about two weeks.”

And that my dear is a true story.

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Mayowa April 27, 2007 - 8:46 am

This is interesting to read. A close friend once told me, that african students in africa know a lot more about europe and america than these people know about africa. It was difficult to believe until i began finding myself in those situations that would initially get me annoyed. With time i had to accept the reality of their ignorance indeed. I live in germany. My Professor/supervisor onced approached me, asking if he could forward my email address to his little son's teacher in school. He said his 13yr old was now learning geography in school and they've been working on world geography in english. He said they were now on africa and would be glad to learn from an african directly. I was excited and told him to go ahead. I began getting e-mails from the teacher. She explained how fascinated the kids were, to learn about africa. She said they were now studying africa in detail and are now looking into HIV/AIDS in africa. (i asked myself what african geography had to do with HIV/AIDS). She didn't stop there. She asked if i could give them e-mail contacts of africans living with the virus, so they could understand how they lived with it. (Germany has over a hundred thousand people living with the virus, so i thought they should have enough contacts to work with). I told her i didn't know anyone living with the virus and so i had know e-mail contacts to give. She replied my mail saying: "but the problem is so serious in nigeria that you must know at least a few nigerians, friends or relatives, living with the virus". I told her i didn't have any one. So the topic changed. She later invited me to speak to the pupils about nigeria, which i gladly accepted. A few weeks later, i was standing before the pupils. I did my best educating them about nigeria and it's people. The time for questions now came and i was to be shocked to the marrow. All manner of questions from telephones to cars and high-rises were thrown at me. It got to a point the teacher had to caution them on the questions they presented. I had to tell the teacher never to do that. These are the leaders of tomorrow and they deserve to know what you as a teacher would never tell them even if you knew. What the electronic media with which these kids are raised would never tell them, even if it knew. A report showing technological advancement in africa, however little, would not attract the average european or american. I have lived in this country for about two and a half years now, and i'm yet to see anything positive about africa on german TV. Pictures from primitive africa, with men whose groins are covered with leaves is what you see most times. They show disease, poverty and war as if that is all there is to africa. My german friends would explain that that is what it is. This is what would attract the average westerner, with millions of euros going into TV ads. My friends would say that they just enjoy watching something different sometimes. And that it reminds them of how good and lucky they are, to be on that side of the world. No matter how bad things may be back home, i think africa should be allowed to write it's own story. Africa is about the only continent whose story is written by others. Let's start writing our own story. I believe we have what it takes.

'Toye March 16, 2007 - 10:38 am

Funny but then do you blame them. that's why we need to keep 'enlightening' them. At least, they'll have to listen to us!

Ejiro February 5, 2007 - 1:40 pm

ThanX Rotimi. welcome to Boston, enjoyin our icy winter, I hope hit me up on the email anytime.

feyi February 3, 2007 - 12:10 pm

this is really funny because its sad that with all the diverity in this country, people know very little about the world and most often i do not blame them because most westerners especially in america are very closed minded and the educational system here does not help the students get a cear understand on the advancements that we have in Africa. it is upseting sometimes because it is not all the fault of the people here but also the bad press and bad information that is being transmitted. i believe it would help if Nigerians and Africccans in general brought in some good press to inform these people that we dont ride carmels to the United States

Rotimi January 29, 2007 - 9:33 pm

Hi Ejiro,

I had a great laugh reading this article. Not just for the apt combination of reality and humour….but the delivery was so real I could touch it. I totally identify with the theme of the article. By the way, it's only my second week in Boston, and would appreciate further tips from you to aid my integration.

Thanks, 'Rotimi.

Asuquo Ema January 18, 2007 - 1:57 pm

Oprah Winfry has Zulu ancestry?

Yeah right! Oprah doesn't know what the hell she is talking about. I am sure that her viewers will ignorantly believe everything that comes from her mouth.

Anyone that has studied African history and slavery knows that most of the slaves were taken from West Africa from countries that are known today as Togo, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

Reply January 17, 2007 - 1:01 pm

Nice write-up. This one is my experience:

White Woman: You are from Africa? That's so nice. Have you seen a lot of animals?

Me: Of course! Infact my family has a pet giraffe in our backyard.

Tashi January 17, 2007 - 12:34 pm

This was funny, but to some it would be very annoying. It's hard to believe that people are still this ignorant in this day and age. But to some ignorance is bliss!

Ugo Daniels January 17, 2007 - 9:51 am

It really is very sad and discouraging on the way western kids, even some adults view us africans. A similar incident happened some time back to me. I was on the net just free chatting. I was actually bored with nothing important to do. So, i met this greek guy thats schooling in US. he's 16 years old. We got chatting and when i told him am from Nigeria in Africa, he got so excited and started asking me all sorts of questions:

1: is it true you guys live with wild animals

2: have i ever seen an aeroplane before

3: am i wearing a shoe right then

4: is my teeth all black-colored

5: everybody's got aids in africa

6: how did i learn to use the internet(didnte tell him am in europe, though)

7: and lots more i cannot remember.

I believe its high time the nigerian govt did something about promoting Nigerian image abroad through the media, especially major TV Networks in US and Europe.

Anonymous January 17, 2007 - 8:32 am

hilarious! priceless! It shows how ignorant Americans are about the world around them….and the media doesnt help matters. Journalists will come from the West stay in 5 star hotels in Abuja or Lagos like Sheraton or Nicon and when they need to report hire a cab to the nearest village or hamlet or slum and do their report there! Nut cases!

Anonymous January 17, 2007 - 5:20 am

Haha that was funny if it wasn't so sad!!!

SMJ January 17, 2007 - 1:05 am

A friend of ours with traditional tribal Ogbomoso mark on his cheeck once told us that a white person once asked him if he got the marks on his face by fighting with lion and leopards in the jungle of Africa. He said yes, lions gave me those marks, am a warrior.

This is true.


Virginia, USA


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