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In Africa, Black Americans Behaving Badly

Last year there was Rick Ross’ infamous tweet about his trip to the “country of Africa,” and Jay-Z’s 2006 trip to West Africa on his “Water for Life” campaign when he allegedly left many locals with sour taste by refusing to shake people’s hands and being a complete recluse except when the cameras were rolling.

Obviously not everyone falls in this category. One could argue that Yassiin Bey (Mos Def), Alicia Keys, and Samuel L. Jackson’s visits to the continent have yielded very different results–each coming with an openness and genuine interest in learning and exchanging with the local community. On the same day that Marlon Wayans tripped up what was otherwise an entertaining MTV Africa Music Awards, Nas performed in Johannesburg and played a tune by legendary South African singer Brenda Fassie, during one of his sets and literally turned the venue upside down. Nice one, Nasir.

Granted, the responsibility of representing all Americans cannot and will not fall solely on celebrities and public figures. There are amazing people on the continent doing great things and holding it down every-day. But one cannot resist the power and influence of American pop culture. It’s our biggest export and plays a part in how the world sees us, whether we want to admit it or not. Until more of us get passports and start to truly travel the world, that’s what the world has to rely on.

I do find it unfortunate that more modern-day artists don’t come to the continent with the excitement and intentions of the Harry Belefonte’s and Maya Angelou’s of the past, but instead come for a quick check, a few photo ops and a visit to the safari. I figure why not be smart, learn a few things and do it well? Because the current strategy just makes it more difficult for the Americans like myself who are here living on the continent to clean up the remnants of your mess after you leave.

Last 5 posts by Sherry J. Bitting