I am writing this piece today because for some reason, I woke up strongly feeling the need to share my thoughts and also reaffirm us. Because we are worth it.
Today, I live in a country, Kenya, where Nigerians aren’t particularly favoured or liked. Although the women here are convinced Nigerian men know how to treat women well (a.k.a spend money on them). I tend to roll my eyes whenever they mention this so-called positive attribute. But more importantly, I live in a world where Nigerians are simply often treated as bad apples everywhere they are or travel.
I possess a Nigerian passport, to the surprise of many of my friends (anchor babies were very popular in my generation and I also have an Indian mum). And till date, I continue to ask my mum why she would make the decision to let me be a Nigerian, instead of an Indian. Now, my mum has a bunch of reasons why she did this, ranging from her love for my dad to her innocence about the future disastrous implications of the green passport. So here I am, sweating in the line for immigration, knowing I have all my documents, no negative records, no past felonies, no desire to commit illegal actions, but also knowing that they need just one thing to send me back: my green passport.
As a Nigerian, my understanding of my nationality comes with a lot of complexities. I appreciate our culture of hard work and respect. I despise our politics of corruption and greed. I love our food and music. I dislike our lack of electricity and customer service. We are loud, but extremely intelligent. We are feisty, but also compassionate. As a Nigerian, it is a constant struggle to identify and love every aspect of yourself and it’s a journey I am still on everyday. Nevertheless, like any Nigerian, I can criticise my country, but lets be clear, I don’t expect anyone else to.
All over the world, Nigerians are often treated like bad apples. I always notice the change in the tone of people whenever I mention I am a Nigerian; it’s a mixture of surprise, disbelief, a certain level of awareness and a guarded spirit. It reminds me every time of the struggle of getting a work permit and being told outright (with a condoling smile) that my chances are lower than normal, based on my green passport. It takes me back to numerous uber rides where I have been told about the illegal and illicit activities of Nigerians in other African countries. It jolts up xenophobic images of Nigerians being beaten and assaulted in South Africa. And for a second I stop to think, what did we do to deserve all this?
Our biggest crimes most of the time is the fact that a certain, small population of Nigerians engage in money laundering, trafficking, and drug dealing. These are our bad apples. I once sat in a class in New York and when I said I was from Nigeria, a white man sitting to my right placed his hands on his pockets, as if to protect them, and told my fellow classmates to hide away their things. He later explained that he said that because Nigerians are known as thieves and apparently, it was meant to be a joke based on his perception of Nigerians. I also sat in a class taught by a British professor (whom I had a huge crush on) who said that even though people think yahoo yahoo (email money laundering) is just a bunch of thieves, it is actually operated by groups of the most intelligent minds out there.
The one thing I have come to learn about Nigerians is that our culture does not permit sub par performance. Whatever you do, you better be the best at it. Many Nigerians can attest to this, including Jidenna, the Igbo classic man. I guess this is why in many ways, Nigerians always try to get the best out of life; we are the true definition of hustlers and we can take it from class to the hood. But sadly, we have to tremble at immigration lines and sweat through every pore in our bodies when carrying our green passports; simply for fear of rejection. Because they have let our bad apples define us.
But I will tell you this: whenever I get a surprised look from people when I mention my nationality, I find that I put on a sort of arrogance. Why? Because it takes a certain level of value and intelligence to be of the same nationality as the most educated immigrant group in the United States (yes, Nigerians are the most educated, not Chinese or Koreans or even my other half:Indians. It is an African country and for that we must be proud). Because it takes a certain level of pizzazz to come from probably the most fashionable black nation on earth (the number of black Nigerian successful fashion and beauty bloggers will speak to this). And because it takes a certain level of wit to outsmart people of their money in a simple email (I am not saying it’s a good thing, but it isn’t ‘beans’). At the end of the day, with all the bad apples out there, Nigerians are also some of the actual best and smartest people in the world. And that’s a fact. I am proud to be Nigerian and even though I sweat in immigration lines, I know my people, are of a very special breed 🙂
Much love to all my Nigerians! In this “Trump as world leader, South African xenophobic” world, stay strong!