Opinion: Africans ask us to ‘Stop the Pity’

Christina Bucciere

Christina Bucciere

Christina Bucciere is a junior journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].

Editor’s note, story updated: The writer referred to the entire region of Africa but stated the area as one country.

As an amputee, people often sweep their curious eyes over my metal ankles and shortened fingers, to which I take no offense — it’s a completely natural reaction to an unordinary circumstance. But there are brief moments when I plainly read their thoughts ripple across their face. It’s that kind of droopy-eyed, furrowed-brow, sorrowful half-smile look, the same pained yet compassionate expression given when confronted with an ASPCA commercial full of homeless puppies. I try to remember it’s a look born out of goodness, but it’s the look that bothers me the most. It’s pity, and I don’t want it nor need it because, in my mind, I’m doing just fine.

When I discovered the African “Stop the Pity Movement,” I found myself emotionally connecting with people to whom I previously felt I had no right to liken my situation. I deal with the pitying stares on a much smaller scale, but I do know, in my own way, how crippling pity can be on my spirit. That’s exactly the sentiment to which this movement wants to put an end: to change the way people view Africa. The “Stop the Pity Movement” seeks to “re-humanize Africa and look to the positive change that is happening,” according to the Mama Hope website, a partnering organization.

A series of videos further helps to explain the movement’s message. A group of young women from Kenya play their favorite sport — netball, a combination of basketball and ultimate Frisbee — wanting to shed the stereotypes of poverty and sorrow and make a video about “something they love.” Their passionate proclamations about real life in Africa, accompanied by their genuine inner joy, makes it clear these young women do not represent the “traditional” African mold.

Young African men share their thoughts on African stereotypes in film in which they frustratingly reason machine guns plague their society’s image. A montage shows various portrayals of African men in the same violent scenario, the young men sarcastically commenting that, according to these stereotypes, “a day without war is a day not worth living.”

According to the “Stop the Pity Movement” website, the main goal is to make people realize “what makes us the same is far greater than what makes us different,” and their infectious optimism and display of utter normalcy, not often associated with Africa, does just that.

These videos speak a harsh truth, one that made me rethink my own pitying behavior. Africa is no doubt a war-torn, poverty-stricken region but it’s also true that America is largely obese, and I am certainly uncomfortable being lumped together in that embarrassing stereotype. It’s difficult to divorce ourselves from the image of the malnourished, swollen bellies of small children, horrific war stories or the shocking malaria, HIV and AIDS statistics, but by creating this narrow view of Africa as a whole, we create a cultural norm in which the topic of Africa is only worth discussing when focused on its tragedies. We learn to see Africa through one specific lens that filters out the progress, hope and pride many African people contribute to their continent for which they would like to be recognized.

It’s not easy to reorient the Westernized perspective about the state of Africa because there is so much evidence to contradict what the “Stop the Pity Movement” asks us to do, but just like we as a generation do not appreciate being grouped together to take the blame for the mistakes of previous generations, these young African people feel the same way, and if we don’t try to distance ourselves from feeling sorry for African citizens, we create a harmful, egocentric double standard.

Pity is a powerful, and largely reflexive, emotion, but it is often misplaced upon strong people who just happen to live under difficult circumstances. I strongly suggest visiting stopthepity.org, experiencing the strength of spirit of these African people for yourself and thinking about pity in a new way.