Yesterday I went to the bank to do a transaction. I had to wire some money abroad to my business school, and considering the fact that the current exchange rate had screwed me over, I was already feeling grumpy. Anyway I got to the bank (which shares a name with a precious stone) and it looked like the entire Africa plus parts of Asia were there to do transactions; it was literally a sea of heads and there was barely enough space to pass through. I told the security man that I wanted to make a domiciliary transfer, intentionally increasing the volume of my voice as I addressed him, for others to hear so that nobody would yell when I jump the queue. The security man however sweetly pointed to the end of the line, which I walked to, defeated.
Anyway, here I was on the queue for almost an hour, keeping myself busy with twitter, when this oyibo man walked in, blonde hair and pale skin in tow, and made straight for the counter, where he proceeded to announce to the teller (loudly also) that he wanted to make a local transfer. The teller proceeded to collect the already-filled transfer form from him.
I nearly exploded with rage at this, but I took a few seconds to calm my nerves, before walking to the counter and the teller, and firmly telling him that he would not attend to the white man before me, seeing as I was here before he came. The teller gave me a scathing look, and I stared stonily back, ready to draw blood, when some people at the queue started shouting at him too, prompting him to back down and collect my own form. The oyibo man smiled graciously, took his form back and went to the beginning of the line, while I went back to twitter and waited for the bank teller to finish.
Nigerians amuse me. People come to Nigeria to work and earn obscene amounts of money for doing things many Nigerians can do, and then you deify them because they have white skin?! If you live in Port Harcourt as I do, then I’m sure you are used to the siren-blazing, expatriate-carrying and military-manned vehicles that careen about on the roads, nearly running you off the road if you do not swerve. You’d think these vehicles are transporting the box containing American nuclear launch codes, whereas they are probably carrying the housewife of some Dutch SPDC worker, on her way to shop for groceries.
I’m a member of a fitness club, and I have a few Caucasian friends who belong in the club with me. When we go for runs or bicycle rides together, the usual crazy drivers in Port Harcourt, upon coming in contact with us, would immediately become courteous and well-behaved, braking their vehicles outrightly to let us run or cycle through. However, try running or cycling alone or with just Nigerians, and the same drivers will nearly run you over, with a healthy dose of insults to go with. What is the difference between the two scenarios? White skin. This is also my experience in restaurants, as the quality of service I get increases twenty-fold when I am with a foreigner, whereas while dining alone, I’d get the usual crappy Nigerian customer service.
This worship of the white skin is a relic of colonialism. But for how long are we going to continue acting this way? For how long are we going to consider something better for the sole reason that it is foreign or from Ala Bekee? Tune into the radio and hear the OAPs speak with a cacophony of accents (I am not talking about Toke Makinwa though) because it is deemed cooler to sound foreign. I was with a female friend at the mall the other day, and we started talking about hair as we passed by a hair shop. I marveled at all the Brazilian, Peruvian, Pakistani and Syrian tresses available for sale at outrageous prices. I asked her a question, “For hair to be deemed beautiful, does it have to be long and silky?” She did not answer. She couldn’t answer. I don’t get it. It is for this idea of beauty in hair that women put caustic sodium hydroxide in their hair and sit for hours under hair dryers so as to achieve the Caucasian standard of beautiful hair. We have bought into the narrative that our hair is not pretty as it is, so we must change it to the western standard for it to be considered beautiful.
This also explains the concept of “black beauty” or “African beauty”. Quite frankly, if I was a woman and you used any of those two terms on me, I’d give you a hot slap. The term “black beauty” is a phrase of surprise, like Black women are not expected to be beautiful, so it often surprises us so much to see a pretty black girl that we have to adulate her. You may argue that this is not your intent, but have you ever used the term “white beauty”? No, because white is always considered beautiful and black is considered…well, black. This also explains the skin bleaching epidemic in Nigeria, as we have bought into the ‘fair is better’ narrative. It is a big shame.
We have to consciously begin to own our story and write our own scripts, while doing away with this deification of white skin. We are the generation that should break this cycle and change the narrative. We cannot continue to allow the West tell us what is fashionable, or to define beauty for us. Many people do not know that the United States of America was a British colony, because after the colonial masters left in 1774, America changed her story and created a new identity for herself.
We can do this too. We can find our own identity. We can change the narrative. And it is our generation who can do this.
Written by Dennis Macaulay