/ / /

In Africa, Black Americans Behaving Badly

It’s been nine months since I made the move to Johannesburg, South Africa from Brooklyn (with a two year stop in London) and I would be lying if I said that the move has been seamless. Everyday, I learn more about the complexities of this country: its history, it’s challenges and it’s hopes for the future. Growing up in the States, my image of South Africa was limited to Nelson Mandela, Sarafina, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Sun City artist boycotts and Denzel Washington as Steve Biko in the 80s film “Cry Freedom.” As an adult I came to appreciate the beauty of Miriam Makeba and the music and life of Hugh Masekela, but overall I was pretty clueless. Living here twenty years after the end of Apartheid, I find myself starting from scratch to make sense of it all.

Despite my frustrations with ongoing race politics, rampant crime, and deep-rooted corruption, I’ve managed to find a piece of home here. I enjoy learning about the lives of those who share my skin complexion, but have experienced totally different lives growing up. Cultural differences aside, we still share similar interests, goals and passions all of which bring us together. Unfortunately, I find that Americans already have a global reputation for being less traveled, narrow-minded and ignorant to news and issues outside of MSNBC, CNN and MTV/BET and I often find myself dispelling a lot of the negative stereotypes that people have of African Americans in particular. It’s a mutual learning.

So maybe this is why I find myself getting so I frustrated when some of my fellow Americans come here and misrepresent my home country, especially Black American celebrities who tend to arrive with a feigned sense if entitlement solely based on their “Americanism.”

Recently, comedian Marlon Wayans hosted the MTV Africa Music Awards where he kicked off the show by mispronouncing the name of one of the largest groups in the country, Mafikizolo as “Mafikizulu.” He then went on to either mispronounce or completely avoid pronouncing last names of other award-winning artists, chalking it up to simply being American, then capped it all off with jokes about having sex with lions and commenting on the asses of South African women. To say that he was offensive would be an understatement. And as I sat in the crowd, I suddenly found myself head in hands, sliding down into my seat in shame. Then there’s Trey Songz, also was in town for the Awards, who spent more time commenting on the physical appearances of female journalists at the press conference and hand-picking girls to join him in VIP at the after-party than much of anything else. >>

Last 5 posts by Sherry J. Bitting