6 common misconceptions the West have about Africans

by Lydia Ngoma

All the examples I give below are based on my personal experience; I do not speak for ALL Africans.

Six common misconceptions people of the West have about Africans:

1. We cannot speak English

Some white folk, especially if it’s their first time in Africa, assume we can’t read, write or speak English.

And so, a black African would be spoken to loudly and very slowly as if to ensure our ignorant brains are able to process the information. I get that in some regions there are those that do not speak English, but in many parts of Africa, especially countries colonized by the British, where our people were forced to learn the “Queen’s English”, English is a major language.

To date, English remains the national language of many former British colonies, and the language of instruction in many parts of Africa. So yes, many of us can understand you just fine.

2. We are all starving

This misconception is thanks to adverts like those by do-gooder humanitarian groups who depict naked, starving kids with flies around their mouths. I understand that those adverts are needed to guilt-trip people into donating, but it also creates an idea in people’s minds that nearly everyone in Africa is dying of hunger or disease. This is not the case; many Africans are successful in their different fields of work, and many more live comfortable middle-income lives.

3. We all have HIV/AIDS

The ignorance which people have regarding the AIDS pandemic in this day and age still baffles me. I’ve had some white folk try to politely ask me if I’m HIV+ or if I’ve ever had AIDS before. Yes, the continent has high infection rates, but it doesn’t apply to everyone.

4. We are hyper-sexual

This is my least favourite misconception. We are so mystified and exotified that this frequently produces two reactions:

(a) Some white men has put tastetheblackcherry goals on their to-do lists, effectively objectifying us.


(b) They will avoid us like plague for fear that our only intention is to seduce them.

We are just normal, everyday people, please!

5. We are lazy

Another common misconception is that we are slackers, and do not have the work ethic of other races. I’ve been in professional scenarios where a white colleague would applaud me for being punctual, or express surprise at me doing my job correctly while implying in poorly veiled terms how I am unlike the ‘rest of my friends’.

Every group has lazy and hard-working people alike; these traits shouldn’t be exclusively attributed to one group.

6. Twins are being killed in Africa

This is simply untrue. Yes, while there are some cultures that might have feared twins in the past and even had them thrown away, but the practice of infanticide is long dead, rarely now heard of even in very remote regions.

I understand that you probably believe Africa is crawling with savages … but people here are more informed than you think and would ever give them credit for.

So no, no one is killing twins in Africa.


Lydia Ngoma is a relationship banker at United Bank for Africa, Zambia.

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