I am a writer, so, yes, I know the danger of telling a single story. And when Chimamanda gave her famous speech, “The Danger of a Single Story”, she alluded to various instances where people come to conclusions (usually wrong) all because they have been presented with just one story, while the others are lost, or intentionally not shown. This has, in no small way, affected the way we perceive ourselves. The average white man or woman, presented with nothing more than pictures and videos of Africans (especially children) suffering from poverty and various diseases would come to a very negative conclusion about Africa, forgetting (or not being aware) that many an African have continued to make strong imprints on the walkways of civilization.
But that is even far-fetched. Chimamanda focused on internationally-held stereotypes about Africans (Nigerians). But stereotypes abound even more at home! What inspired this piece was an incident I encountered this morning. Permit me to tell about it briefly. Well, the transformer powering the street where I live has been faulty for over a week now. And we have been suffering from a very dark blackout ever since. There seems to be hope now though, since the transformer is now being looked into. And since it has become a general concern, some of us ‘who had nothing to do’ went to see how the Power Holding Corporation of Nigeria (PHCN) guys were trying to get the transformer fixed. Just watching how they go about the job got boring after a while. And, naturally, seeing that most of the observers where men, it did not take long before the site became a forum for political debates. A man introduced the topic of the Fulani Herdsmen (aka the new terrorists) who have been wreaking havoc recently in some states in the South East and South-South region and that was all it took to relieve the stereotypical worldview of many who were listening.
I understand that in matters of such nature, it can be difficult to be unbiased and objective. But the range of what amounted to noisy comments that plastered my ears with curses was just too reflective of how stereotypical the average Nigerian can be. And stereotype is at the heart of tribalistic sentiments. Rather than address the topic with facts and fairness, many of the phrases that they kept churning out were:
“Hausas are brainless”, one man said.
“Walahi talahi!”, another responded, making gestures with his hands pointing to the heavens to support his response.
“Muslims go destroy Nigeria. All of them na bunch of Boko Haram.”
And the rest followed suit.
Meanwhile, one Hausa man, I could tell from his looks and utter dumbfoundedness, was present. He simply remained silent; and, later, perhaps because he couldn’t bear it any further, quietly went his way.
And that was what really got me. I don’t know him from Adam at all; but he surely didn’t cut the image of a brainless man, talk less of him being a member of the much-dreaded Boko Haram sect. My heart went out to him because I knew these other men only have a single story about him and Hausas in general, including Muslims. That no matter how different he was, he will be a brainless Boko Haram where these men were concerned.
As I walked back home too, I began to recall numerous times people expect me to eat dog meat because I am an Akwa-Ibom boy; lol, or how some persons expect me to be super strong just because I am Calabar. Really funny. But it would have just simply been funny, until you realize the dark side to this game of stereotypes. I could still recall a neighbour saying, some time ago, “Na so Yoruba people dey behave, very dirty people.”
Because we live in society, our potential for self-actualization depends upon the goodwill of others, and the kind of relationships we form with them. Tribalistic stereotypes will only make our relationships with people from places other than ours mar our dealings with them due to fear and defenses developed based on preconceived sentiments.
Recognizing and accepting others as individuals in the sense of their being unique and relating with them on the basis of your own findings about their behavioural pattern is the mark of true enlightenment. And this is a risk worth taking. More so, why not take out time to really learn about other aspects of the person or the culture, to, in effect, hear other stories of such persons. It’s time we stopped the negative stereotyping of one another.
I am an Igbo boy doesn’t make me naturally entrepreneural. It doesn’t make me love money than the life of another human.
I am Igbo doesn’t mean I will replicate your product, counterfeit it and sell it.
I am a Yoruba man/woman doesn’t mean I talk out with two sides of my mouth.
I am Hausa but not brainless. I am not fiercely loyal to my leaders. I AM NOT A BOKO HARAM member
I am Hausa doesn’t mean I am uneducated. I do really care about education for that matter.
I am an Edo woman doesn’t make me diabolic.
I am an Edo man doesn’t mean I am chauvinistic.
I am a Yoruba person doesn’t mean I am dirty.
I am an Ijebu person doesn’t mean I am a miser.
Can we all do without the stereotypes?
The danger of a single story is that the more it is spread and ingrained in the psyche, just like gender prescriptions, the more it becomes difficult to take it out of our culture. What is even sad is that even some (or many) educated persons also join in this stereotypical projections.
Nigeria will never be united if the majority continues to paint single, and, especially, negative stereotypical imagery of ourselves.