6 Saddening Observations About America’s Reaction to the Ebola Outbreak

I want to begin this post with stating that, as with most things in life, there are exceptions in various circumstances. This post contains my observations of the American reaction to ebola. If you are American and didn’t do or think any of the following things this post will mention, that’s great. No, really I mean it and I am not trying to be sarcastic about it. It’s good to know there are folks who know better. However, it does not negate the fact that many have spoken or behaved out of ignorance in ways that actually harm the perception of African people. 

1. Violence, poverty, and disease in Africa are only worthy of American awareness because we’re desensitized to how they affect us in The States.

The causes targeting the removal of AIDS from Africa, the end of Joseph Kony’s power, and the return of the school girls in Boko Haram’s captivity have been known throughout social media. These events happen at a distance from the U.S., often with the perception that those who engage in violent behavior in Africa are savages while some enablers of violence in America are merely disturbed or troubled. We choose to pity AIDS in Africa to distract us from the fact that 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection, and almost 1 in 6 (15.8%) are unaware of their infection or the fact that 50 million Americans live below the poverty line. After all, real violence, poverty, and disease are in Africa. And the minute we experience 8 cases of an “African disease” (ebola) compared to the outbreak of 1000 cases in Africa, the focus shifts from feeling bad for Africa to reacting as if there is an epidemic in the US. We are now “dirty” like them.

2. Ebola is fatal. So is malignant cancer. But it’s only okay to make a joke out of ebola.

And I’m not talking about the kind of joking that satirically mocks those who are blowing the reaction to ebola out of proportion. I’m talking about memes and sexy ebola nurse costumes being sold for Halloween. So hilarious, right? Also, there is a company in Connecticut that makes plush toys of microbes and the ebola one has already sold out. I’m not sure how to feel about that but I’m not convinced that all the purchases of this plush toy were done because folks wanted to educate others about ebola.

3. It’s okay for America to take credit for getting rid of ebola in Nigeria when it was mostly a Nigerian effort.

One of my favorite authors and speakers, Chimamanda Adiche, said it best in her blog post

“On October 20, 2014, The Washington Post wrote this: ‘According to WHO, the success of Nigeria — Africa’s most populous nation — was attributable to ample funding, quick action and assistance from the WHO, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the non-profit Doctors Without Borders.’

This is a lie.

The success in Nigeria was mostly as a result of NIGERIAN action. Why then does the Washington Post not credit a single Nigerian body? 

This is very poor journalism. This is the kind of journalism that is not about informing the reader but about making sure that the readers’ real and imagined petty prejudices remain undisturbed. In the mind of the Washington Post, the American reader thinks that all the problems in the world are solved because of American action. And the American reader expects that Africa is a continent of people who cannot act, who are limp dolls, who have no agency.” 

This is not too different from how an American lady took credit for the #BringBackOurGirls initiative this past summer. Apparently, having an African country show any sign of self-sufficiency is asking too much.

4. If you’re an American living in East Africa for the past 10+ years, you’re expected to leave Africa because…EBOLA.

My blog friend, Rachel Pieh Jones, is an American expat living in Djibouti. Recently, she was asked if she and her family were going to leave Africa because of the outbreak. She responded in her article, “No, we aren’t going to leave Djibouti. That is like asking someone who lives in Boston if, after the Boston marathon bombings, they were going to move to Canada. Or like asking someone in Florida if, now that there is Ebola in the southern part of the United States, they are going to move to Maine. People don’t simply pack up home and leave because something bad happens 3,000 miles away.  In fact, there are currently zero direct flights between Djibouti and any country with a confirmed case of Ebola.”

5. (a continuation from #4) Americans lack the proper geographical perception of Africa.

An accurate knowledge of Africa’s geography would give us a better context of the disease and prevent us from being afraid out of ignorance in way that is hurtful to Africans or those who have visited countries Africa that are very far from the area of the epidemic. Some us would rather not learn of the true ginormous size of Africa and stick with the unfortunately all too popular narrative that Africa is a country. 

6. Being African not only means you have AIDS, but now, you also have ebola.

We have reduced African people to diseases. Some of us see Africans as ebola-infested people, regardless of their travel and medical histories. Some of us would even resort to violence and name-calling in order to demonstrate our ignorance and stigmatization. We would rather do this instead of investigating ways we can protect ourselves without stigmatizing a large group of people in the process. But sometimes I wonder if that should even surprise me. Examining our prejudices can be accompanied with guilt and changing our worldviews for the sake of others is a selfless, laborious act. But when I talk about the differences among us that shine light on our negative perceptions of each other, I often hear responses that declare that we are one human race. If this is truly the case the, we need put this human race idea in action and actually think of communities outside of our own as people. Otherwise, preaching our oneness is hypocritical and useless. 

The #IAmALiberianNotAVirus movement is an initiative started by Liberians
in order to go against the stigmatization they have encountered. Click the link for
more photos and infos about the initiative.
How else can we counter the ebola stigma Africans face? Let me know your thoughts.

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