Stepping into Khadija Fai’s office is like taking a step into Africa’s vastly diverse culture. A waist-high statue of an African man from Ghana stands next to the guest chair, and small figurines from Egypt stand on her windowsill. Africa is often portrayed in American cinema and media as a barren desert landscape or dry savanna, void of any modern civilization or technology and inhabited only by wildlife. Black Americans in American media often are portrayed as rappers and gangsters or basketball players.
The cradle of all civilizations’
Stepping into Khadija Fai’s office is like taking a step into Africa’s vastly diverse culture. A waist-high statue of an African man from Ghana stands next to the guest chair, and small figurines from Egypt stand on her windowsill.
Africa is often portrayed in American cinema and media as a barren desert landscape or dry savanna, void of any modern civilization or technology and inhabited only by wildlife. Black Americans in American media often are portrayed as rappers and gangsters or basketball players. This misconception of Africa and African-American black culture in American pop culture is one of the issues that Fai, president of Portland State’s Association of African Students (AAS), set out to subvert.
As a Somali-American growing up in the U.S., Fai said she has encountered her fair share of skepticism and racial discrimination that are the results of deep-rooted misunderstanding about these two subjects.
Sitting in her office in the Smith Memorial Student Union on a grey afternoon, Fai recounted incidents that acquainted her to racial stereotyping in America.
“I have had random people asking me things that implied that this is the first time I’m wearing clothes,” said Fai. “And how was it like for me to live in a village in a jungle with lions and animals roaming next door? Immediately, [being African] they assume I was uncivilized.”
The fact is, Fai said, she never in her life had been close to the beasts of wild Africa often pictured in travel brochures until she went on a safari tour–in America.
As president of the AAS, Fai’s duties include planning for the Party in the Park 2008, an event hosted by Student Activities and Leadership at PSU.
Founded in 1991, Party in the Park is touted as the largest student group recruitment event at PSU, where students have the opportunity to learn about and get involved with a variety of student groups.
The AAS will have a table at the event today, where they will try to recruit new members to get involved and learn about Africa and African-American culture.
Fai said the AAS office has been hectic as of late in preparation for multiple events. “We’re also getting ready for the AAS open house,” Fai said, “which is sort of the same as the Party in the Park, but it gives people another opportunity [to get to know] us.”
Erica Lee-Johnson, President of the Portland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said the NAACP and AAS have been collaborating to bring the African community at Portland state together.
“We have been at the forefront of everything that AAS does and we provide support for the organization in various ways,” said Lee-Johnson.
Fai said she wants to educate people about the reality of Africa’s rich and diverse culture, a sentiment echoed by others at the AAS.
“What is most exciting about our club this year is that we truly represent the diversity of Africa. I myself am from West Africa, I’ve been here in the country for about a year, and our social chairperson is from Egypt,” said AAS Secretary Murna Majan.
Despite its name, the AAS has an open policy when it comes to member recruitment.
“Anyone interested in getting to know more about Africa is welcomed,” said Fai, adding, “What some people don’t know is that we are all Africans, you and me, because Africa is the cradle of all civilizations. We all came from Africa and your struggle is my struggle.”
As a double-minority being both black and a woman, Fai’s life experience has taught her that it’s better to be yourself and try to go beyond what people perceive you to be.
However, minority students needn’t feel the burden of having to prove something of themselves to others, Fai said.
“As colored people today, we have already accomplished so much in history, we always strive to set a good example, but [ultimately] it’s about being true to yourself,” Fai said.
Which is what Fai loves most about being African. “What people don’t know is that [Africans] are very humble,” Fai said. “If you visit Africa, you will see that the people there are very comfortable in their skin and they stay true to themselves.”
Get InvolvedAAS Upcoming Events
AAS Open HouseFriday, Oct. 105 p.m. to 9 p.m.SMSU Multicultural Center
AIDS Walk PortlandSunday, Oct. 28 a.m. to noonPioneer Courthouse Square
Books Not BombsFriday, Nov. 145 p.m. to 9 p.m. SMSU Parkway North$10
Panel Discussion: “African Women, Public Health Education and Human Rights”Friday, Nov. 213 p.m. to 5 p.m.SMSU Multicultural Center
National AIDS DayMonday, Dec. 13 p.m. to 6 p.m.SMSU Multicultural Center
ContactPhone: 503-725-5656E-mail: [email protected]