Do’s and Don’ts when writing or teaching about Africa
- Use the names of specific countries where appropriate.
- Present problems such as hunger, poverty, disease, and war in global contexts and highlight African solutions to problems. Avoid perpetuating stereotypes of Africans as hungry, poor, unhealthy, and the continent as consumed with war, political strife or corruption.
- Avoid the offensive, inaccurate or biased terms listed below. As often as possible, use words and phrases that are normally used when discussing life in the U.S.
- Offensive and Inaccurate terms: native, tribe, hut, jungle, witch doctor, dialect, primitive, warlike, fetish, uncivilized, pagan
- Western bias: developing, under-developed, civilized, emerging, backward, non-white, non-Western, Black African, communist
- Emphasize African perspectives and actions. Avoid overemphasizing western solutions and western celebrities.
- Avoid stereotypical art activities such as building “huts” or making generic “African” masks.
- Include North Africa countries when discussing Africa.
- Emphasize typical social groups and activities with which Western children can relate. Avoid highlighting exotic practices and small minority groups such as the Maasai.
- Focus on animals that most Africans commonly see (domestic animals and small game). Avoid safari and big game themes.
- Avoid depicting Africans leaders as the sole agents of change. Discuss them within historical, political, economic, and social contexts.
- Strike a balance between information on men and women. Discuss the problems women have faced in historical and global contexts.
Guidelines for Evaluating Multicultural* Fiction
(adapted for fiction set in Africa)
Meena Khorana, Chair Sr. Mary Evelyn Flynn Hugh Keenan
Sr. Regina M. Alfonso Margaret Franke Carlos Lugo
Ron Danko Catherine Hurst
The guidelines below were prepared by the multicultural committee during the NEH Institute on Children’s literature, held at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut, in 1985. The objective of this committee was to outline the literary criteria necessary for identifying racial bias in literature in order to become sensitive to the values and perspectives of other cultures. Such a study will instill a sense of pride and belonging in minority groups and lead to a better understanding of the complexities of human relationships.
*Note: The original document was prepared with reference to U.S. population groups. With the permission of the committee chair, we have used the word African or other terms in brackets where applicable.
CULTURE AND HISTORY
- Is the book sympathetic to the culture?
- Are the details of holidays and festivals presented respectfully, or are their ‘quaint’ and ‘exotic’ features stressed and made trivial?
- Are the customs – speech, clothing, food habits, religious practices, and values – judged according to the norms of western culture? For example, are arranged marriages, the strong family unit, and assuming one’s traditional role represented negatively or as being supportive of the individual?
- Is the changing cultural climate – the conflict between traditional and western values, between young and old – presented faithfully?
- Is [African] history presented accurately?
- Does the book mention the contribution of [Africans]
- Do the characters reflect the common stereotypes associated with their culture?
- Have the characters been individualized and presented as interesting human beings?
- Do the characters belong to a variety of occupational and educational backgrounds? Are they always depicted as being poor and uneducated and doing menial jobs?
- Who takes the leadership role in the book? Are [Africans] described as making decisions, trying to improve themselves and their community?
- Are characters shown to be models of good behavior (“good [blacks]”, “faithful blacks”)? Do they imitate “white” behavior to gain acceptance? Do they have to be exceptional in order to win approval (risk their lives for someone, get the highest grades, etc.)?
- Is the success of an interracial friendship contingent upon the [African] character’s willingness to adjust and make concessions, or is it a relationship between equals?
- Is the story original and interesting? Does it avoid stereotypical themes about a particular culture (the missing black father, alcoholism and Indians)?
- Does the story center around [Africans] as being the cause of the conflict in the book?
- Is an unjust racial situation accepted passively or does the story allow for anger and opposition on the part of the afflicted party?
- Is the situation resolved by someone belonging to that community or by a “do-gooder” white?
- Is the story an authentic portrayal of the problems and perspectives of the group?
- Do the illustrations avoid tokenism? Are [Africans] prominent in group illustrations?
- Do the illustrations portray the racial diversity (facial features, skin color, hair, clothing) within a cultural unit?
- Are the illustrations stereotyped in order to associate characters with their group? For example, pig-tailed Chinese, Mexicans in sombreros, Indians wearing feathers, and Kimono-clad Japanese women. Are the characters dressed appropriate to the time and situation in the story? __ Are the details of the environment, clothing, daily life, rituals, etc. accurate?
LANGUAGE AND TONE
- Does the author make ethnocentric or condescending statements? Are pejorative terms like “primitive,” “gullible” and “old-fashioned” avoided?
- Is the author’s tone sympathetic towards the culture or does he/she assume a demeaning or patronizing tone?
- Are the characters made to speak in non-standard or pre-literate language of children? Is the dialect shown to be an inferior way of speaking?
- Is the flavor of the (indigenous) speech reflected through imagery and symbols?