Africa Straight Up: Countering Stereotypes

  • Ethan Gelber
  • 16 November 2012

As a young American, I vividly recall most of my continental travel firsts – embarking in Europe (Rome, solo, as a teenager on a bike), arriving in Asia (Bangkok, with friends, as a mid-20s backpacker), setting foot in South America (Quito, for a conference, in my early 30s) and, most memorably, crossing into Africa (Casablanca, solo, in my early 30s).

For reasons that will surprise few of you, the kickoff of my African travels was the one filled with the most stepping-into-the-unknown worry, both for me and those alert to my peregrinations. So many of us have been conditioned to think of Africa – the vast continent of more than a billion people at home in 54 countries and speaking more than 3,000 languages – as a singular and ominous entity, one wrapped in a thorny cloak of mystery and challenge.

But anyone who has been to Africa – and I am now honoured and blessed to have visited 12 countries in four regions over the course of eight trips to the continent, including an astounding month on a bike in Southern Africa with with trans-continental Tour d’Afrique – knows that there is no such thing as a single Africa, any more than there is a unified or universally touted sense of Europe or Asia.

This is one of the big things our video spotlight this week addresses.



Africa Straight Up debunks the (in)sensibility that Africa could ever be limited to a single narrative. The video is “a more complete story about Africa and its diaspora” and “a dynamic ‘not your parents’ documentary’ about the stereotypes confronting Africa,” according to promotional material written about it.

“Perceptions of Africa have been changing over the last couple of years, starting with the World Cup in South Africa in 2010,” Teresa Clarke, writer and executive producer of Africa Straight Up, as well as chairman and CEO of Africa.com, told me. “Viewers of our video have given extensive feedback; we have over 300 comments on Youtube alone. These viewers invariably felt that they learned something new about Africa – including Africans who learned something new about another part of the continent outside of their own region.”

The video appeals to all viewers to do three things: share word of the video (use #AfricaStraightUp on Twitter), look deeper at the Africa.com website and, most importantly, tell their own personal stories of Africa.

Sharing word of such an inspirational and uplifting video is only fitting on this November 16, also known as International Day for Tolerance, a day during which the UN calls on everyone to “advance human welfare, freedom and progress everywhere, as well as to encourage tolerance, respect, dialogue and cooperation among different cultures, civilizations and peoples.”

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Ethan Gelber

In addition to his freelance travel writing (Lonely Planet author, ex-AFAR Ambassador, Huffington Post Travel blogger and more), Ethan has agitated tirelessly for responsible/sustainable travel practices, family travel, keeping things local, and quality and relevance in publishing and destination marketing. Among many other things, Ethan is editorial director of the Family Travel Association, a co-founder of OutBounding, and tackles content projects for HomeExchange.com and RW Social, which produces the NY Trav Fest. Previously, Ethan was Chief Communications Officer of the WHL Group, for which he founded and edited The Travel Word (this now-independent blog); publications manager of the French government tourist office (Atout France) in NYC; and helped manage a Paris-based bicycle tour operator.
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Africa, fine arts, opinion, personal experience, video spotlight,

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