Dear America: “Ebola” is not synonymous with “African”

The social impact of “Ebola” is raising questions about what it means to be an African in America, when an outbreak from the continent takes centre stage

It just so happened that a prepubescent prick repeatedly called me “Ebola” in a Bronx corner deli last week. I would have smacked him over the head except this is America—you don’t touch peoples’ kids. Also, I had to represent the entire continent while I clung onto my juice, so I only managed to throw a diplomatic but icy glare in his direction (Sorry Africa, I couldn’t do much more).

There are many nicknames designated to Africans living in America. Among them “Booty Scratcher”, and now “Ebola”. These tasteless labels have one thing in common; they deny people of their individual identity by suggesting we are all backward, primitive people who carry strange diseases. In short, tolerate the African from a distance.
Dear America: “Ebola” is not synonymous with “African”
Dear America: “Ebola” is not synonymous with “African”
As a Kenyan-born, part-time Afropolitan it dawned on me that outside my borders I am “Africa” in America. My continent is still seen as a country of disease and death in the hip, cosmopolitan city of New York.

Even the uptown Manhattan folks are naming and shaming. In a rather uncomfortable conversation about Ebola, someone “jokingly” said: “She’s from Africa!” (Translation: Watch out for the African a.k.a Ebola). When people are not cracking up about the disease, they are exhibiting their ignorance, literally.
In America, some people associate “Ebola” with being “African”. The stigma is rooted in the fact that people still view Africa as a country known for strange diseases and death. (Photo Source: Mile2Herald).
Did you see those Hazmat suit-styled Halloween costumes? How popular a choice it was for people to walk around in their scariest outfits (various Ebola themed get-ups) in the name of “fun”. That’s another thing, you can’t be African and angry – it’s too much, so we have to swallow our opinions because it’s all in the name of fun and to assimilate in America you must be ready to take a few racially insensitive jokes.


Something tells me the Ebola stigma won’t wear off so easily. I get the feeling we forgot that decades worth of selective reporting, and apathy towards Africa (that poor country) wouldn’t change opinions about us just because we’re shouting: “Africa Rising” and “This Is New Africa (T.I.N.A).”

On that note, someone tell America that “Ebola” is not synonymous with “Africa” or even “African” for that matter. For those who are still slightly confused, kindly point them to this Washington Post article which uses a map to illustrate the very basic point that not all African countries are fighting Ebola.

I have all the confidence that the disease will be eradicated, but what I have less faith in is how the Ebola stigma will be treated long after the last case is recorded.

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