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Africa is poor, there are too many children, and not enough food to go around and feed everybody. Africa needs saving and can only be saved through aid and volunteer effort. These are stereotypical myths that, shockingly, still represent Africa in today’s globalized world. It is true, poverty is still not completely eradicated and many developmental issues persist, however things are slowly changing. Globalization means interconnectedness and an exchange of ideas, beliefs and cultures on a global scale. I would not be able to listen to the heavy metal band from Angola if it wasn’t for globalization. However, the media is one of the most influential mediums that plays a big role in the way it represents certain subjects, sometimes showing them in only a negative light.
“The media give us ways of imagining particular identities and groups which can have material effects on how people experience the world, and how they get understood, or legislated for or perhaps beaten up in the street by others…this is partly because the mass media have the power to re-present, over and over, some identities, some imaginings, and to exclude others, and thereby make them seem unfamiliar or even threatening”.
Information passed on through the media is full of powerful cultural and ideological assumptions about what is ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ according to Western standards or views. The media is a very strong tool capable of fueling damaging stereotypes, stigma discrimination and even hatred towards places, people and groups. When you type African children into Google, you get search suggestions ranging from ‘poor’ to ‘hungry African kids’. Google also gives you the option to endlessly scroll down through the pictures of AIDS victims, poverty stricken, malnourished and sick children with flies around their faces. When these are the pictures representing Africa, they create the dominant stereotypical image that most people have of Africa and reinforce negative assumptions. Recently, news featured negative stories about corruption, dictators and rigged elections, resulting in a ‘what to do about Africa’ kind of theme. Besides civil wars, bad governance, corruption, and disease, the African continent has struggled for years against the colonial legacy, debt, exploitation by MNCs from Western powers.
My friends and family repeatedly warned me before going to Africa to stay safe and never go out by myself. This shows the preconceived perceptions people have about Africa. Negative stereotypes through the media are not reserved only for Africa, but applicable to Arabs, Asians, and other races as well. I got the same warnings from family and friends during my volunteer trip to the favelas in Sao Paulo, Brazil. This is due to preconceived views of crime, drugs and poverty associated not just with Brazil, but South America in general. Same story visiting Sarajevo, Bosnia, the legacy of war still lives on 20 years later. Ironically, these were some of the most beautiful cities I have visited.
While visiting Ghana, I saw a beautiful side of Africa and experienced the warm nature, pride and hospitality of Ghanaian people. Children crawled into my lap, asked me to lift them up and walked with me holding my hand without hesitation. This kind of trust and unconditional love is something we have lost in the developed world where we are taught from a young age to never speak to strangers. Ghanaian culture is rich unique and diverse, as were Brazilian and Bosnian cultures. The way developing countries are represented in the media makes them the losers of globalization. We should learn to form our own perceptions based on research, look beyond what we are told by the media and learn to see beauty in our differences.
Balqis Hindash, Middlesex University Dubai Campus
http://www.developmenteducationreview.com/issue4-focus2

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