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Author Highlights Challenge Facing African High School Students in US

Thousands of African students attend high school in the United States. Most come to gain an education that many of their peers back home can only dream of. They also want to share their experiences as Africans with their American schoolmates. But an American researcher says some of these students have been frustrated in their efforts to reach their goals, in part because of negative stereotypes about Africa in American schools and the media. Educator and writer Rosemary Traore says negative ideas held by American students about Africa often make it difficult for African students, “whether immigrants or refugees, to accomplish their goals of getting a quality education.”

Traore researched and co-wrote a book about the experiences of African students in an urban Philadelphia high school with a large number of African-American students. The book is called This Isn't the America I Thought I'd Find: African Students in the Urban U.S. High School. She says that the title of the book "came from a student as a direct quote from a student in a Philadelphia high school" , that she shadowed along with other students.She adds that the African students " were definitely having a hard time. There was harassing, teasing and name calling….”

Traore says these young African students had a hard time fitting into their new environment because of the animosity from their peers with no clue about Africa, or worse -- negative stereotypes. As a result, she says the new arrivals were treated as outsiders. “Americans have so many negative stereotypes about Africa, the jungles, lions and AIDS…and they would ask them if they had worn clothes before they came to the US….” she adds with consternation.

The African students said the reaction was odd, since they had an impression of the United States as a friendly and welcoming country. They were also surprised by the hostility of African Americans students whom they had assumed would easily identify with them. Traore said in reaction to the jokes and criticisms, the Africans either became hostile, or looked for ways to avoid contact with their peers.She observes that the experience was "very demoralizing and African students were very shocked by the treatment. They expected to be welcomed and appreciated by especially their African American peers. Some of the students became invisible and silent. Other acted out and became angry….”

Troare helped the students create an association, which they enthusiastically used as a vehicle of self-expression. The students wrote poetry, stories, and plays in which they creatively shared their cultures in ways that enriched everyone who experienced these new ideas, including Americans who came to the events.

Traore said it was a learning experience for both the Africans and the American students. The Americans learned to appreciate African culture and expand their knowledge beyond crude stereotypes.

Meanwhile, some of the African students born in the United States began to openly identify with the new arrivals from Africa. For the African students, the experience helped them understand the importance of their culture and the need to preserve it regardless of where they live