“How to Write about Africa” by Binyavanga Wainaina is a satirical essay in which the writer explores the topic of clichés and stereotypes about Africa in Western media and literature.
Clichés and stereotypes about Africa in Western media and literature
The writer first explores this topic by describing what non-fiction texts about Africa should include. He mentions stereotypical words like “ ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal’ ”, as well as what types of photos articles about Africa should feature: “An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.”
After that, Wainaina takes on the inaccuracies many texts about Africa include and how writers omit talking about positive aspects in African society or exaggerate the continent’s most exotic aspects: “In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling…”; “Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African’s cuisine of choice…”
Furthermore, he lists as taboo subjects several positive aspects including: “…ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African writers or intellectuals…”. By this, he means that Western writers rarely depict Africans as individuals with ordinary lives, or successful Africans living in their native countries.
Wainaina explores how writers tend to present only negative aspects abo...