Africa Is Not, Repeat Not, A Nation

by Chris Tognotti

From the "headlines that'll never go out of style" file, here's some not-so-surprising news: Joe Biden made a big-time snafu during a speech Tuesday, yet another installment in his gaffe-tastic tenure as vice president. Biden claimed that Africa was a nation, which is about as far from truth as it gets — Africa is actually a continent containing 54 distinct countries, a particularly embarrassing mistake given that he was speaking at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum. Oh, Joe.

This isn't some kind of huge shock. After five-and-a-half years of the Obama administration, we're all pretty well-aware that ol' Uncle Joe has a way with words — a not-so-great way, sometimes. And most of the time, it seems pretty harmless. But in this case, Biden stumbled into slightly controversial waters. According to CBS News, he was addressing business and governmental leaders from 51 different African states when he made the flub, and even independent of the context, the misperception of Africa as a country has sparked some pushback in recent months.

This was hammered home back in February, with the launching of the social media campaign "The Real Africa: Fight the Stereotype," which fought against the American public's tendency to view the continent, bigger and more populous than the United States by a wide margin, as if it were homogenous.

Basically, it's a mistake many people were already fed up with, and coming from the vice president of the United States, it's got to be even more troubling. It makes a lot of sense why there'd be some sensitivity around this — imagine, for a moment, if British Prime Minister David Cameron called North America a country during a U.S./European summit.

Now, imagine that's the kind of mistake that happens all the time! A few examples ...

Sarah Palin and Joe Biden Took the Same Geography Class

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Hardly a surprise on this one — former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin made the same mistake Biden did, though to her credit, she didn't do it in front of a room of African leaders. Rather, the story emerged immediately after the 2008 presidential election, as former McCain campaign staffers dished dirt on Palin's allegedly woeful level of preparation.

Of course, a huge part of what Palin had to prepare for in those days was the vice presidential debate again Joe Biden himself. It all comes full circle!

CNN Can't Tell the Difference Between Nigeria and Niger

When even CNN can't keep it straight while reporting on the Ebola outbreak — basically the hottest international news story from the continent right now, for better or worse — you know you've got some serious geography issues.

Maybe Biden's a Fan of Politico?

Reporting on President Obama's dinnertime toast to the assembled African leaders Tuesday, Politico fell into the same trap that the vice president did the day before. As illustrated in the tweet above, the Wednesday morning post referred to the U.S. and Africa as "the two countries" — come on guys, not every continent has a union of states like we do.

The Politico piece was corrected, with the reference changed to "continent," about two hours after the fact. And let's be honest, innocent mistakes are always going to happen. But suffice it to say that the continent of Africa, which often falls prey to this casual generalization, deserves better from all of us.

Images: Getty Images