Expanding your mind

I’ve lived in Canada for about two and a half years and people always ask the same question: What is a black African female doing in Calgary? Whenever this happens, I’m always caught between my own thoughts on the hypocrisies and shallowness of the West, and my ideas on the misconstrued perception of Africa.

Now I can’t speak for the rest of Africa, but what I learned about Western civilization profoundly altered my view of it. However, it has not tarnished my own view of my African roots.

The priorities of Western civilization illustrate the fact that liberal ideals have gone too far. We’re told we need the bigger-better-faster-more-expensive car, that we have to become less personal, more isolated, more ambitious and more competitive to win "the race of life." While the average American now worries about safety on the streets, the average African worries about getting his next meal.

When most people hear about "the motherland" with the help of reality television like Survivor, they hear that Africa is a paradise. Viewers are mystified by "barbaric" tribal people living in harmony with wild beasts. I’m saddened by how many people would rather ask about my African dreadlocks or that wild elephant they saw on Survivor, than ask me about the escalating African AIDS epidemic that continues to cripple the continent.

This place of so-called higher learning is becoming a symbol of blind and misguided perceptions. Don’t get me wrong, an education has its worth and serves its many purposes; however, the Western education I acquired made me more critical of Western liberal societies and made me even more sympathetic toward, and nostalgic for, my fellow African people.

Africa is a continent with amazing potential, but remains hampered by bad politics and abandoned by the West. Most Political Science or History classes seem more interested in Africa’s past than its current struggles. Slavery and colonialism have become no more than topics of academic interest, instead of the social, cultural and political consequences of the Western world’s obsessions.

These thoughts were sparked by a conversation overheard between two people on
education. A young female said that all she wanted was "to move to Pakistan and get an arranged marriage." Instead she was forced by her parents to get a Western education and "better" her life in the pursuit of a more successful career like law, business or anything the Western world deemed more worthy.

The irony is almost too humorous.

So here I am, caught between my Western environment and my African roots. As I listen to my professor lecture about how the African Union will inevitably fail in its pursuit of unifying the African continent because of struggles with AIDS, political corruption and ethnic cleavages, I am not in any way discouraged about my future as a young African female.

Instead, I have become more cynical of a "liberated" Western society that creates the illusion of a "happier, more productive life." This is a society that praises Nelson Mandela and honours him with a spiritual and humanitarian medal while abandoning starving African nations and idolizing Britney Spears. I have acquired an education that insists on the achievement of a "successful" career, that will get me the latest talentless pop CD and all the other material possessions I "require." I have acquired an education where I just have to know who Nelson Mandela is to be considered educated and liberated.

Feedback on this article can be sent to opinions@gauntlet.ucalgary.ca.

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