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Uzo Aduba Recalls Grad Student Asking if All Africans Live in Huts

“This is a person who has an education, a high one at that, asking this question.”

New York, NY - August 9, 2018: Uzo Aduba attends BlogHer18 creators summit Women inspiring women at Pier 17 - Image

Emmy Award winner and proud Nigerian-American Uzo Aduba is sick of the centuries-old narrative western media has pushed of the Motherland.

The Orange Is the New Black star sat down with EBONY during the Marriott #LoveTravels Mandela Luncheon in Washington, D.C., recently to discuss her love of Africa and to challenge the negative imagery often associated with the beautifully diverse continent.

“I’ve been to every region of Africa outside of the Northern region,” the actress shared. “Africa’s been poppin’. I’ve always known it to be an exceptional place; it’s my favorite place in the world. These are my favorite people in the world, and you’ll never have a better experience. Our expression in Nigeria when you come off the plane is, ‘You are welcome.’ It doesn’t just mean, ‘Welcome to Nigeria’; it means, ‘You’re welcome to all I have.’ I’m not certain every culture lives by that tradition.”

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The first time I came home to Nigeria, I was 8 years old. I was with my family & remember being so excited for everything- visiting my parents’ homes, seeing relations I’d either never met or hadn’t seen in years, standing on the land where I am from. After a brief stop in the city, we’d head to our ancestral home in the village. Village life is a slice unlike anything that could ever be found elsewhere. There’s laughter, love, a slowing down of life, community, family & a genuine appreciation for every blessing that has been favored over your life. I love the village. But, with it comes inequities that, at times, cannot be described or explained. From my first trip, I couldn’t understand the lack surrounding so many basic human needs. Chief among them was the lack of clean, drinkable & useable water. If my family & I wanted to bathe or cook, we’d use the water we had collected from the rains. If we wanted water to drink or brush our teeth, it had to come from the bottled water we’d brought with us, and if it ran out…well, it ran out & we drank the rain water. It didn’t make sense to me at 8 or as I grew and would return home. It makes even less sense to me now. 69 million Nigerians live without clean, drinkable or useable water. I know it’s not the entire country living like this. I know as a nation we’ve seen tremendous growth that makes us all proud. But, we still have far too many in this country only surviving, not thriving. Far too many parents losing their children to waterborne infectious & diarrheal diseases that could be set in our nation’s past. The time is now. Through a joint effort of EVERY community taking up behavioral changes, like hand washing & stopping open defecation; paired with unwavering & committed support from passionate state leaders, like @dr_betta of Cross River, working to bring Nigeria & her youth to her fullest and brightest potential, we can DO this. I came to Nigeria with @glblctzn & @nationalgeo new docuseries #ACTIVATE with a single focus in mind: our nation’s children. They are our future, our citizens. They stand where I once stood. The future is what they will inherit. Let’s make it a future worth more than gold.

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Aduba, who was born in New Jersey and raised in Massachusetts, has always shown pride in her Igbo ancestry, taking family trips to Lagos since she was a child. She encourages those who’ve never been to experience the continent for themselves.

“It’s my favorite place to vacation. I think what has been exciting for me is that the outside world is starting to realize the fullness of who she is.”

It’s been a long time coming because there are plenty who still believe “the singular narrative of swollen stomachs and flies,” as the actress put it.

“I had a graduate student ask me one time if we all lived in huts, and she wasn’t joking. That’s the tragedy; the question wasn’t to be funny or to even ask do ‘most’ of you. I was like, ‘Wow, this is a woman getting a master’s thinking this. This isn’t an uneducated person, this is a person who has an education, a high one at that, asking this question.'”

Rather than fly off the handle at the ignorant inquiry, Heifer International’s first celebrity ambassador to Africa decided to call in an expert.

“I was like, ‘Well, let me not be the singular definitive answer. Let me go ask my mom,’ she said, laughing. “I don’t know anyone [that lives] in a hut, but maybe there is someone!”

Aduba continued, “My mom was like, ‘A hut? I haven’t seen someone in a hut since I was a small girl. And even then, it would be scraped so clean, you could sit on the floor in a white dress and get nothing on you. It’s not the way they show you on TV.'”

“I went back to the grad student and told her that. Then I told her, ‘Listen, if the only reflection of Africa I had was what you read in a travel journal and what you see on travel news, I probably would think that’s all that there is.’ But that’s not my personal experience of the continent, so I don’t know it to be only that.'”

She went on to admit the continent has its “troubles and issues,” but so does the rest of the world.

“Just as we have our issues, we have our successes, and those things should be pushed and promoted the same way they are in other cultures.”


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