Sunday, July 27, 2014

RACE CONSCIOUSNESS ALSO KNOWN AS RACIAL ANXIETY IN THE NEW NIGERIA



#tl;br

People don’t make stereotypes. In fact, I think stereotypes appear from the clear blue and attach themselves to people, who we can say in most cases have attracted it themselves.
Why do I say this? Wait for it. I pride myself in a lot of things and being racially balanced is one of them. I don’t go around thinking, “oh, he is Hausa, he is going to blow us up”, or perhaps “he is Igbo, keep your money a little closer” or perhaps, “he is Yoruba….” and well, honestly I am blank. I can’t come up with any negative attachment for the Yoruba people. And you’re right, I am Yoruba. Which at this point really should not matter, but thing is, it does.

#Nigeria. Again it matters if you were black or black
I am not as racially indifferent as I love to think I am. In fact, I am more racially jaundiced than I care to admit. But truth, truth is that the image is not as flawless as I see it. I am marred and marked by racial leanings and turns out I would be the last to know. So where did I
get this epiphany from, you’d ask. It all started as I stepped onto the bus on my trip back home from UNEC the other day. As I sat, headphones in place, the sweet smell of barbecue hit my nostrils. Someone must be madly hungry or really impatient.  I thought. To be eating barbecue or anything at all in a bus, in Enugu and in the night at that is a venture for the bold.

My eyes inadvertently did a quick sweep in search of the “impatient” one. Directed by my nose, we saw where the smell was coming from and it wasn’t from a teenager ravaged by the munches. There was a barbecue stand on the bus, right beside me. I was like “What! It was a bus home now it’s a GRILL joint? What? A bus? Now a BBQ joint. What?!

Okay, shut down your imaginations right now, nothing dramatic, it was just a hausa Mai’suya returning home after the day’s work. But I am sure you understand how I could parallel the Hausa man to the barbecue stand (no racial pun intended).

So, here comes the boom. As I sat there, disappointed that my findings had blown my hypothesis out of the water, a surge of thoughts swept up the shores of my brain and I found myself staring at the man too long. He shot me a glance; one I could not give a name to. It was not benign, neither was it malicious, it was not even quizzical nor bemused, it was just like a blend of everything I had mentioned.  The gaze would only last for less than two seconds but a lot of data was left for my head to process. The look, I think what would qualify well would be; blank, empty, a little sad, harmless yet reticent, a quiet physiognomy that makes you want to kindly ask; “what is going on in that head of yours?”.  
Say what?
This man, this “barbecue stand”, this Hausa man sitting beside was raising a lot of questions and as one clashed into another, a distinct category of questions started forming clearly in my mind, “Would this man blow up this bus?”, “Could he ever have the guts to strap himself with C4s and take out blocks of building leaving death and desolation?”, “Would this man, with the befuddling expression really hold a knife to my throat if I said something against Islam?”, “is he thinking about his family or he has an IED in that lidded bowl with leftover Suya”.

As my mind asked these questions and formulated new ones without caring too much about answering the existing ones, it jumped at me then. I AM RACIST, and I didn’t even know it. I have profiled a man just because of his origin. I would not ask the same questions about an Igbo or Yoruba man, but there I was, wondering about this man. I did not want to, I wouldn’t want to, but there I was and as I thought about it, I realized, it wasn’t my first time, I have been racist long before I could write this long post about it. Not only with Hausas, but Igbo’s and fellow Yorubas. I would buy anything from a Hausa man without bargaining, I think they are that honest (at least the ones who are yet to succumb to the market ideals of the Eastern traders), and the Igbos, well, always slice the price into four even before the bargaining starts, and the Yorubas, oh the Yorubas, never trust them, emotional blackmail is their forte, they would go from flattery to uncensored verbal slaughter in seconds if they perceive you are starting to get smart. That’s just my market stereotypes, don’t even get me started on how much I have boxed people up along ethnic lines in education, politics and all the works.

But somehow, in the midst of all that, I was able to convince myself that I was not racist. Speak of the “lies we tell ourselves”. Back on the bus, lot more questions flowed into my head, and my mind could not focus enough to answer them. For two reasons perhaps; barring that my head had no business asking those questions in the first place, these questions can’t get answered in my head, I would have to ask the man (which of course is a bad idea), plus, it was the first time I would be that close to a Hausa. I have never ever been that close – like mere inches away – to a Hausa for that extended number of time. At least, not since the uprising. It was a lot to process.

Without knowing, I had grown to be overly suspicious of Hausas even without knowing. But this man, with his bald spot, cradling his bowl of grilled steaks, from which he would probably never earn enough to sleep in a decent room tonight, evoked something more inside, it was pity, a deep and fine pity, so much so that when he stepped off at his Stop, I felt a mild nudge to reach out and hug him, or clasp his hands in mine, or, just tell him I don’t hate him and apologize for all the questions I asked in my mind.   

If you ever judge me, I won’t blame you. But we all are in the same boat - victims of a barrage of information “concussioning” us into a racial stereotype gyre. It's the reality in this new Nigeria, the Post-Boko Haram Nigeria, you probably don’t know yet. But there is the BOOM people. We are all racists in our own little ways. Is it justified? I don’t think so. Can we get out of it? Guess that’s where the problem lies.

Gbenga Onalaja

11:46am 22.07.14