Six Common Myths About Africa, Part II

Misconceptions and myths about Africa abound, but here are three myths that we’re happy to dismiss.

Close to 15% of Americans can trace at least some of their roots back to Africa. But as a whole, American ideas about the Mother Continent are either poorly informed or completely misguided. In Part I of this article, we looked at the truth about three such myths. Now, here are the facts on three more.

Myth 1: All Africans are Black.

Not at all. Like most continents, Africa has become something of a cultural melting pot; in the past few centuries, hordes of people have immigrated to Africa from elsewhere for various reasons. These days, substantial populations of many African countries are of European or Asian descent.

Even leaving aside those folks, the idea that all real Africans are black is one of the most commonly mistaken notions about Africa. Take a look at the top half of the continent. You’ll see some countries, most obviously Egypt, Algeria, and Libya, where most of the residents are light-skinned Arabs.

Please note that even among those who identify themselves as black, skin color can vary amazingly — from a very pale brown to almost blue-black. Part of this phenomenon is based on the fact that some African countries have large immigrant populations from Asia and Europe; some of it is just natural variation.

Myth 2: Africa’s one big country.

Heck no, and they don’t speak one language called “African” either. This is one myth about Africa that couldn’t be further from the truth. At the moment there are 50+ African countries, populated by hundreds of cultures, speaking thousands of different tongues in five major language families.

It’s true that most (but not all) of the African nations are working toward joining together in an African Union, by means of the Organization of African Unity. But this has been a difficult process, as many of the member states don’t get along. Given enough time and political will, however, this myth may yet come true.

Myth 3: All Africans belong to tribes.

Not really, though this is kind of hard to explain. The term “tribe” is a European invention, and somewhat racist to boot, since it implies primitiveness. It was also applied to Native Americans, as you may recall. Complicating this matter is the fact that many native Africans now refer to their people as tribes.

Africans do belong to ethnic groups, the same as anyone else. These groups are often much easier to define and offers a more accurate label than so-called tribes. Even so, many Africans don’t really identify themselves as belonging to tribes any more than Americans do, and it’s a myth among many myths about Africa to believe otherwise!