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African Self-Representation Then and Now


Nowadays, Africa is considered the poorest continent in the world. Remarkably, for such a long period of time, Africans’ way of life remains unchanged (Walton, Smith, and Wallace 2017). Certainly, there are many reasons for that, ranging from some peculiarities of their culture to the hundreds of years of terror inflicted by the Europeans when they first arrived in Africa.

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Early history

The history of the continent has been heavily influenced by European colonization, which started in the 15th century. Possibly, that was not their initial intention, but when they saw that Africans were much less developed, they considered them low-intelligent and used them for hard physical work (“The African American Odyssey” 2017).

Despite being constantly oppressed over the centuries by the Europeans, Africans managed to create their communities in America and Europe. They started families, educated each other, developed their own culture, and even established their religion. Nevertheless, they were still slaves, and in those rare cases when they were not, they were still deprived of many rights and were looked upon with disdain (Shafer 2015). However, a crucial point occurred in the 19th century, when the process of the enslavement of African people was finally stopped, and slavery itself was abolished both in the USA and in Europe (“The African American Odyssey” 2017).

After the abolition of slavery, African people were willing to become an integral part of those societies where they lived. However, there were still a great number of people who were either reluctant to accept Africans as equals or who had not stopped regarding them as slaves and wanted to kill them for their arrogance (Miles 2017).

The beginning of black culture recognition

In the 20th century, the situation turned for the better, as African people were partially accepted by society and, therefore, had an opportunity to develop their culture and share it with other people. The quality of the lives of African people improved significantly (Acharya, Blackwell, and Sen 2016). Their urban culture began to thrive, and such musicians as King Oliver and Louis Armstrong made considerable contributions to its development, particularly, to jazz culture.

Besides, at that time, many black novelists commenced expressing black culture in their works. Thus, the main focus of most of their novels was the slavish past of African representatives, racism, and the oppression of their identity (Miles 2017). Interestingly, such negative events as the Great Depression in the USA managed to strengthen the unification of black and white people, thereby improving their relationship. At the end of the 20th century, although the clashes between black and white people were still quite frequent, the overall attitude towards African people had significantly improved since the beginning of the century.

Current situation

Currently, the two biggest diasporas of African people, namely, those in the USA and Europe have assimilated to the local population. At the same time, they have preserved and even improved their own culture. Therefore, despite having the common history, black people in France, in the USA, and, certainly, those in Africa have developed different cultures (Crutchfield 2015). Additionally, according to the survey, most African representatives are interested in the history of their ancestors in Africa and that of their genealogical tree.

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Today, African people in the USA and Europe are finally considered an indispensable part of those countries’ societies where they live. They make major contributions to every sphere of society, namely, politics, business, art, literature, entertainment, science, and so on (Walton et al. 2017). Although the discrimination problems are still in effect, they occur rarely. Moreover, electing a person of the African origin as the president of the USA was a major step forward in the process of eliminating racism in general, and to black people in particular.

However, if the scornful attitude towards African people in developed countries has almost disappeared, the African continent is still perceived as retrograding (Oguh 2015). The main reason for this is the image of Africa in Western media as a needy continent characterized by numerous war conflicts, incompetent governments, tribal anarchy, primitive way of life, political instability, famine, epidemics, and poverty.

This representation of the Dark Continent does not take into account the specifics of economic and social processes occurring there, particularly, economic and political successes that have taken place in Africa for the last several decades. Thus, the main problem is that the information presented by Western media highlighting the economic backwardness of Africa is rather outdated, as it does not consider the recent improvement of the overall quality of life in Africa (Oguh 2015). Although African countries are still underdeveloped in comparison to those, for example, in Europe, the general tendency is positive as they are moving forward.

Furthermore, these stereotypes about Africa decelerate the process of its development by means of enhancing the perception of this continent as hopeless in the minds of people of developed countries. Therefore, because these stereotypes are very influential, it is imperative for Western media to start the process of treating Africa differently, first of all, by removing them (Walton et al. 2017).


The self-representation of African people has been changing throughout its long history. In modern society, black people can finally express themselves and their culture after hundreds of years of oppression and slavery. Although the discrimination issues still exist, considering the current tendencies on this matter, they will eventually disappear. However, the problem of Africa being treated according to the image created by Western media that defines it as hopeless hinders the process of its political and economic development.


Acharya, Avidit, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen. 2016. “The Political Legacy of American Slavery.” The Journal of Politics 78(3):621-641.

The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship.” 2017. Library of Congress. Web.

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Crutchfield, Robert D. 2015. “From Slavery to Social Class to Disadvantage: An Intellectual History of the Use of Class to Explain Racial Differences in Criminal Involvement.” Crime and Justice 44(1):1-47.

Miles, Tiya. 2017. “National Museum of African American History and Culture.” The Public Historian 39(2):82-86.

Oguh, Chibuike. 2015. “The Representation of Africa in Western Media: Still a 21st Century Problem.” Web.

Shafer, Gregory. 2015. “Teaching the African American Experience: History and Culture.” Journal of Black Studies 46(5):447-461.

Walton, Hanes, Robert C. Smith, and Sherri L. Wallace. 2017. American Politics and the African American Quest for Universal Freedom. Abingdon, UK: Taylor & Francis.

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