Talk Africa: “Re-Wrapped Ideas”
My friend and I sat on the G train headed to the gym. As usual we were in our own world discussing a random assortment of things when I turned to see a father with a young child strapped to his chest. Heart warmed, I said to my friend, “Isn’t that a great innovation?”
In my mind I was thinking the multi-strapped contraption was great because parents, whether male or female, could literally attach their children to their bodies leaving their limbs free to do other things. For instance, instead of hefting a large stroller up and down the subway stairs, a mother could carry her child, a purse, some groceries, and make it home without necessarily needing assistance.
My friend, a fellow African, swung a classic side-eye my direction, “Our mothers have been carrying us on their backs for years, we call it a wrapper (wrapa).”
When she said this I was both annoyed with her for knocking the legs out from under my comment, and with myself for not checking my western bent innovation bias. So many times, in marveling at the newness, the packaging, and, the frills, it is easy to forget that innovation is not in the refining, but in the thinking, the creating, the originating of ideas. While the west has consistently told stories that places itself in the role of originator or discoverer (for instance the archeological discovery of the pyramids of Egypt, Manifest Destiny and North America, the natural resources found in many African nations) it is important to recognize that most often those stories are not the true history.