Talk about learning the hard way, French journalist, Caroline Broue’, will not forget January 2018 in a hurry, same way her country men would not recover from their red faces so easily. We do have her to thank for reminding us of the deep seated ignorance that contrived the institutionalized prejudice, on which colonialism and other dehumanizing forms of discrimination were predicated.
The Institute Français’s third annual La Nuit des Idees (The Night of Ideas) event, held in Paris was meant to honour Nigerian-born literary icon, Chimamanda Adichie, for her immense contribution to contemporary literature, a burden too heavy for Boue’to bear. Not satisfied that Nigerians read the world-renowned author’s books, the journalist drifted from one level of absurdity to another during the interview session she had with Adichie, until she delivered her racist punch, asking if there are bookshops in Nigeria.
To justify her jaundiced view of the giant of Africa, which produced Africa’s first ever Nobel laureate in Literature more than 30 years ago, she declared, ‘I ask because French people don’t know. They know only about Boko Haram …and things that we don’t know about your country. I would like to take advantage of your presence for us to talk about other things.’
The import of the controversial question was neither lost on the best-selling author nor her fellow countrymen who are well aware that serious things are said in jest.
Thankfully, the Nigerian novelist’s response, “I think it reflects very poorly on French people that you have to ask me that question,” acknowledged as an epic clap back, did justice to a badly concealed racist remark borne out of perceived French arrogance.
Surely, Baroue’ did get more than she bargained for, having been subjected to some didactic session, she also garnered for herself the butt of internet jokes, the narrow mindset expanded beyond the pre-conceived notion.
While Adichie’s response elicits warm feeling of pride, it is also reminiscent of the Negritude Movement of the 1930s, a literary and ideological movement by Black writers based in France. Among colonial masters, the French added a mischievous flavour to colonialism through their culture of assimilation which entailed a repudiation of African culture as a ticket for French civilization. It was a notorious credo premised on supposed superiority to African culture. The Negritude Movement which portrayed the beauty of African culture and values influenced the writings of foremost story teller, Chinua Achebe and other African authors.
What played out at that event was a classic case of stereotyping based on the widespread belief that Nigeria has little to cheer or boast of being embroiled in perennial conflict like the rest of the continent.
Simply put, stereotyping seeks to place a label on an individual based on some preconception. Rather than objective profiling of an individual’s identity, a person is lumped together with some group characteristic.
It is a global malady, evident in every country in diverse shades and colours. Beyond racial stereotyping, there are gender, occupational, ethnic, institutional, religious instances, and the list just goes on. In spite of tough sanctions, racial prejudices continue to dominate sporting events where blacks are taunted with bananas and monkey gestures. Men of colour despite lofty professional and economic status are typically viewed with suspicion and mowed down at the least semblance of threat.
Coming back home, our ethno-religious eccentricity thrives on stereotype. People from a particular area are perceived to behave in a certain way or are presumed to have innate capabilities or characteristics. If you want a security guard, a maid, there are designated tribes and tongues…even in 2018!!!
People have been deprived of lifelong opportunities based on such poor sentiment of others.
The danger of the received idea is that it not only beclouds your vision, but engenders snap judgement about others which typically tends to be wrong, and most importantly robs you of a great association.
Pigeonholing people as the French journalist attempted to do, usually gets on the wrong foot, as such palpable banality stirs up offensive behavior.
People prefer to be assessed on individual merit rather than be being categorized. Unfortunately, that is the bane of our world. Until people have devised a means of compartmentalizing or classifying you into any mold, they are hard put to figure you out.
Such shallowness is anathema to etiquette. That epic encounter would no doubt serve as a watershed, so that future interviews with people of African descent would be garnished with robust intellectual discourse other than petty and primordial stumps.
The socially smart individual recognizes the strength of individual character, which enables him dig deep beyond the surface and maximize every opportunity that a profitable relationship offers.
Stereotype is the foundation of a three pronged evil bedeviling human relationships, leads to prejudice which ultimately results in discrimination.
It is shallow and an anathema to social graces, neither advances the cause of etiquette nor serves the betterment of humanity. Dig deep.