Chimamanda Adichie said, “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are inaccurate, but that they are incomplete.” First impressions are so important because people are prone to mistake part of something for the whole. Stereotyping even happens between cultures. This holds true for Americans and Ghanaians as well. Africa is often misrepresented, especially by Americans, which influenced us to look through the opposite lens of how Ghanaians perceive the U.S. Overall, we found that most Ghanaians have a positive idea of the U.S. because they have bought into the American Dream. However, Ghanaians hold this perception because the media typically represents Western or American culture and progress as superior. Since Ghana’s independence from British colonization in 1957, Ghanaians have progressed significantly, but when they compare themselves to the West they still feel like they fall short.
Ghanaians have heard different versions of a single story. Their perceptions of the U.S. are actually misperceptions because they are stereotypes. Ghanaians have held these views for as long as they have been migrating to the U.S. Many factors compel Ghanaians to buy into the American Dream, which pushes them to adopt a Western or American view of progress.
Ghana, or the Gold Coast, was the location of The Door of No Return for Africans during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The slave trade was the largest migration of Ghanaians to the U.S., although it was only the first wave. Beginning with Ghana’s independence, the second major wave of migration occurred during the 1960’s in pursuit of education. The goal of these immigrants was to learn as much as they could about modern progression and return home with knowledge to form a foundation for their newly founded country. The last major wave happened in the 1980’s when Ghanaians sought out economic opportunities.
Ghanaians to this day move to the U.S. for education and economic advancements, but the U.S. is never the final destination. The U.S. is a means to an end. To them, the U.S. is the land of opportunity, and if you work hard enough you will become rich. A Ghanaian student at Furman reported his desire to study in the U.S. and return to Ghana wealthy. The adinkra symbol for going back to your roots is extremely important in Ghanaian culture. Ghanaians always have Ghana and their family in mind when migrating. For those living in the U.S., they are expected to send money home. Ghanaians in the U.S. send $33 million home every year. The U.S. is simply a means for bettering their life in Ghana.
This idea that the U.S. can turn one’s life around simply by moving is a misperception. Media tells a single story of the U.S., a story of affluence. It never mentions the failures, the stories about the cycles of poverty, or the lack of job opportunities. One Ghanaian vacationer admitted, “It didn’t take [him] too long to realize that the U.S. wasn’t the land with streets paved of gold that the 18-year-old [him] had thought it was.” The images Ghanaians envision of the U.S. are based off of popular films, which distort reality.
In addition, U.S. citizens who travel to Ghana are the ones who can afford it. Ghanaians never see the poverty in the U.S. because travelers are simply a subset of the country; they fail to accurately represent the entire population.
Ghanaians are also at fault. A Ghanaian immigrant confessed, “I do not blame anyone but those Ghanaians living here. My reason is that, we do not tell our folks back home the truth—how the system actually is here. We tend to stunt (show off) to them and lie about the jobs we do here.” The U.S. is a country that runs on loans. In effect, Ghanaians in the U.S. feel pressure to reflect the stereotype of success associated with living in the U.S. Ghanaians have the power to flaunt the wealth that they might not have. They can buy expensive cars and houses when they cannot immediately afford it. Ghanaians who move to the U.S. often fail to share the rest of the story to the people back home. They feed into the single story of the U.S. just as much as the media and travelers. The problem with Ghanaian’s perceptions of the U.S. is that they only see part of the story, part of the population. That part is not untrue; it is incomplete.
For Ghanaians, the U.S. is the land of opportunity, not the ultimate destination. The U.S. is a means to an end. They migrate to the U.S. to make Ghana better. They seek education and economic opportunities so that they can either return to Ghana knowledgeable about how to help innovate their young country or to send money home. The story is exaggerated and romanticized. Ghanaians wear gold lenses when they look at the U.S. Ghanaians and Americans alike need to work on painting the whole picture of the U.S. so Ghanaians can have a more accurate perception. One Ghanaian summed it up nicely: “What I want my beloved Ghanaians to know is that, we do not pluck money off trees wherever we go, we have to work for it, and most of the times, you work more for less.” The U.S. does have great educational and economic opportunities, but moving there is no guarantee. The media and other factors need to help Ghanaians remove the lenses that romanticize the U.S. and allow them see the real picture in full form.
Our group interviewed a couple Ghanaians to learn about their perspectives. Watch the video to hear from them directly about how they view the U.S. and how some of their perceptions have changed.