March 4, 2015 by Kambili M.A. Chimalu
I am an African woman in general and a Nigerian woman in particular. I am a very proud Nigerian and my love for her people and culture is boundless. I have never denied Nigeria and I don’t think I ever will, no matter what the situation. Why am I bombarding everyone with this profession of love about my Nigerian-ness? It is because a lot of people, relatives and friends, always find it pertinent to remind me that I am a Nigerian woman whenever I express an opinion that is contrary to theirs. This is a subtle reminder that no matter where I find myself, that I should always subscribe to ALL the ideas I was raised with as a woman. However, as a human that aims to evolve with the ever-changing world, I have been privileged to examine some of my beliefs and to adjust them accordingly. In my reflections, I realized that I had some prejudices I had internalized as a result of the culture I was raised in. Challenging those prejudices and evolving on my understanding of issues have been wonderful for my personal growth.
The first prejudice I had to confront was my belief in my own (tribal) superiority. Nigeria is often times divided along tribal lines on all issues, so it is no surprise that I learnt “tribal-allegiance before country.” I was raised in the South-East, so I didn’t really mingle with people from other tribes except the odd “Aboki” that sells suya or mends my shoes. I was not actively taught to dislike others, but the environment had a subtle way of reinforcing Igbo superiority. To insult someone, one may say “negodu onye hausa a,” “aboki,” or “onye ofe mmanu.” The underlying idea being that being an Hausa or Yoruba is somehow inferior to being an Igbo. This idea of tribal superiority did not just stop with people who are not Igbos. It also extended to certain parts of the Igbo community (people who were deemed inferior to other Igbos). So, when one wanted to throw around insults, words like “negodu onye nsukka a” or “negodu onye Abakaliki a” were let loose. In unlearning the tribal prejudice I carried within me, I first recognized that members of other tribes are not inferior to me. Hausas, Yorubas, Fulanis, etc. are not secretly wishing they had been born Igbos.
After I was done confronting my belief in my own superiority, the next thing I needed to confront was my belief that people who do not share my religious beliefs are going to hell. I remember one time I was going to evening service when I met another young girl going to evening mass. Our churches were close together, so we decided to walk together. As we talked, she tried to convince me that I was following the wrong path. Her advice was for me to join her in her church and then go home and convince my parents to convert as well. Of course I argued that my belief was the right one and that Jesus himself was a member of my brand of faith. We were both under the same umbrella of Christianity, but I believed that her denomination was her one way ticket to hell. Since I believed this about someone who was still under the umbrella of Christianity, imagine what I thought of people whose beliefs were outside Christianity. They didn’t just have a ticket to hell. They had a first class ticket on the fastest mode of transport available. Recognizing the validity of other beliefs forced me to acknowledge that people of other faiths may hold the same bias I did, and since I wouldn’t want them disregarding my beliefs, I felt it was only necessary that I not disregard theirs.
Along with that, I also realized that I cannot be prejudiced against people based on their lifestyle choices. I accepted that as long as there is something called freewill, other people’s choices are bound to be different from mine. Am I then allowed to condescend others because they make a choice that is different from the choice I would have made? No. My examination of my prejudice showed me that other people’s lifestyle choices cannot be governed by my whims and idiosyncrasies. I cannot expect others to live their lives based on my sense of morality. If at the end of the day they are not harming anybody human being, what right do I have to judge?
Last, a prejudice that I had to confront was a prejudice I had against myself: the belief that males are somehow superior to females. As a Nigerian woman, I was raised in a culture that elevates the males at the detriment of the females. When I started to question the subtle biases I had internalized as a result of the culture, I realized that I was biased against my own self: pitying someone with only female children; looking at an unmarried 30+ year old woman with pity; etc. I am female, so any bias I have against other females in only a reflection of how I am going to see myself. If I pity someone with only female children, I indirectly devalue my worth as a human being because I am female. If I pity an unmarried woman, I indirectly internalize that marriage is the only yardstick by which a woman can be measured. I had to ball all these prejudices and throw them into a lake of fire. I started to recognize the equality of every man and woman.
Every day that I wake up, I aim to be better than I was the day before. I am a human being, bound to evolve to accommodate the person I am growing into, so constantly, I hold my beliefs up to scrutiny in order to see how firmly they hold. Some of us walk around with prejudices we don’t even realize we are carrying around. It is a worthwhile endeavor for everyone of us to examine our beliefs and figure out why we believe what we believe. I was willing to allow that some of my beliefs were prejudiced and I believe that is the first step in learning and evolving.