I have a deep love for Nigeria. Yes the country has it’s problems. And indeed sometimes the corruption can take your breath away. But Nigerians are amazing people, resilient, dynamic, talented, creative. It’s a culture of hope. Frankly put, some of the finest people I have ever known, are Nigerian. It therefore is heartbreaking, and so unfair, when one can see the “latent” forms of discrimination out there. Please allow me to tell 2 stories to paint a picture.
The first story is a truly life-changing moment for me. When I saw the world through a different lens. And how shocking it was.
18 months ago, I flew from Sydney Australia to help my dear friend and marathoner run the Berlin Marathon. I arrived before the Nigerian contingent.
Now, I have in my mind, unconsciously, a “feel” for how I am normally treated. How I am addressed when checking into a hotel. How I am treated in a shop. Or how I am seated and served in a restaurant.
So when I was alone in Berlin, everything was “normal” to me. The level of service and general treatment. I would wake up, head down to breakfast, be greeted and walk in and eat. Walk the streets. Shop. Have lunch.
Then my 3 Nigerian friends arrive. My marathoner and two of her dear friends and supporters. Now it is myself, the one white American, and 3 Nigerian women in a group.
The world changed before my eyes. Changed my life. I saw the world through another prism.
We meet the next morning for breakfast. We assemble in the lobby and head into the restaurant. Like every other patron, and like I did for 2 days before, we walked into the open seating to sit down.
Within seconds, the entire management of the restaurant is demanding to see our room keys and making sure we don’t approach the buffet until we are “verified”. It was downright hostile. And funny enough, ONLY OUR GROUP was being questioned. Nobody else!
Clearly we were looked as as “thieves” who just were looking for a free meal.
My Nigerian friends were far more tolerant than I. I put up a huge fight. I called the management out for singling us out, a form of “Ethnic profiling”. I called it racism. And when they discovered we were truly clients of the hotel, and just good honest people, the apologies could not come fast or strong enough.
We eat. We leave the hotel. We go shopping.
We visit the same shops I was in previiously. I just wish I could say the same treatment.
In store after store, we would walk in and be “tailed” by someone on staff, never more than a meter or 2 behind us, always making sure we didn’t stuff items down our pants or into our purses! It was downright invasive! And something I had never experienced before!
So we head to lunch. We are seated in a cafe. But comparing to the tables around us, it is shocking. Speed of getting a menu. Rapport of the waiter. Speed of getting our meal. Responsiveness to polite requests for “more water” or “Some ketchup”. Shocking. We were treated quite poorly. I refused to leave any tip whatsoever.
It changed my life, that one day. I truly understood, for the first time, the latent nature of discrimination. It’s still there. It’s just more subtle.
Fast-forward to today.
I am working on a blog and website and I was emailing the team in Canada that is building the site. I sent them some write ups and some web links to Nigerian sites.
They write me back and say, “Please can you send this and that….” I immediately tell them, “I already sent it”.
We go back and forth, so I resend it again. They don’t get it. I resend it a third time, and they don’t get it! What the hell?
I then try a different email for both of them, and they get it INSTANTLY. Hmmmmmm.
So we investigate. Both are using ME mail.
We find out, ME has a screener on ANY Nigerian link. You attach any Nigerian link to your mail, and it gets screened out. Put in a trash bin. Must be spam or a scam.
Yes Nigeria does have some scammers, sending letters promising to “let you help them to get 5 million dollars out of some bank….” It is clear. But to now paint all 155 million Nigerians into a box, and just shut it all down? How is this not discrimination, just a different shape and size? Shameful.
It’s interesting, I can remember exactly where I was when Obama was elected president. I was enroute to the USA and the polls closed right before I landed in Tokyo. I ran to the lounge between flights and they called Obama’s victory when I was standing there with everyone else. I started to cry tears of joy. I was so proud. Only in America could a half-Kenyan, half-Kansasian (is that right?) man who grew up in Indonesia could become President! I was brimming with pride as all the others in the lounge congratulated me. And for a brief moment, one could think we have put discrimination behind us.
There is no doubt the world has come a long way and we should recognize this. The outright discimination of 40 years ago is behind us. And Obama’s election is a major milestone. And hopefully HIllary Clinton’s election in 2016 will continue the trends of tearing down the glass ceiling.
But it’s still around. It’s just more subtle, more latent. It may not be any longer white hoods and the burning of crosses, but it is disguised behind the fake smile, the generic muttering of “Valuing diversity” or even the rants of “legitimate” news programs and political movements like the tea party.
And whether it is latent, or blatant, it’s wrong.