As an Igbo, from the Eastern part of Nigeria, I will use some of the experiences prevalent in this part of the world to drive home my opinion.
Some Igbos have this weird opinion about Imo people, an Igbo state. Either they tell you that their girls are wayward or they tell you that their men don’t know how to marry a woman or that they are promiscuous.
It is also said that Imo State people are very cunning. Another set of people said to be cunning are Nnewi indigenes. Coming from a family where our parents are respectively from Orlu, Imo State and Nnewi; it is assumed that we would be “cunning Promaxx”😌.
Imo people suffer a lot of stereotyping including the thinking that their men are very lazy, their elders attach huge prices on their daughters and so on. This article isn’t to debunk all of these stereotyping but to tell my own little story which I’ll be doing in the second part. But for now, let’s address the issue.
Of every single thing that has been said to be the character of an average Imo man or woman, the same is obtainable elsewhere even in much more numbers. Talk about men who are lazy and want to marry rich women, we have a lot of them cut across all regions, all villages and all ethnic groups. Talk about wayward women, we have them in every tribe and tongue.
Several other people suffer dangerous stereotyping. An average Ebonyi man is seen as senseless and you would hear people say things like “stop acting like an Abakaliki man”.
Stereotyping people blur whatever they are and make whatever you think they are more pronounced. You can’t get the best of people when you already have a preconceived notion about them.
The reason is that instead of seeing them for who they are, you are forcing your perception of them into play. You are seeing them for who you think they are.
Another example is the stereotyping of Anioma girls as promiscuous, especially Asaba girls. We all indeed have stereotypes but negative stereotypes are very dangerous.
Stereotypes don’t appear from the moon. They start as people’s valid experiences with certain individuals which are eventually but unfortunately applied to the entire family, ethnic group, region or even country of the person. What we often forget is that when people act, they don’t act as members of ethnic groups, they act as themselves; as individuals.
Sometimes, stereotyping people negatively are a way of excusing our lack of ability to deal with their complexities. For example, Imo State is said to have the highest concentration of beautiful and naturally endowed women hence the “ukwu nwanyị Owerri” mantra which means “the waist of Owerri women”. For a lot of people, this is translated to more possibilities of promiscuity among their men.
Stereotypes are formed when we box a group of people into perceptions formed by our experience of just one or two persons. Whether harmful, funny or positive, stereotyping people is dangerous. Enough of explaining what stereotype means, let’s see how it’s dangerous.
The dangers of stereotyping
#1. Assumption is dangerous.
Settling for assumptions about a people denies us the opportunity to truly have a first-hand experience of them, learn who they are and understand them. When we have wrong assumptions about people, it blinds us from wanting to know them better.
#2. Justifies unfair treatment and discrimination.
Negative stereotyping of people can justify the unfair treatment meted out to them. For example, some people especially from the North and some parts of the West believe that Igbos are undeserving of Nigeria’s Presidency because the Igbo President will divide Nigeria. Also, they have a negative perception of Igbo’s dominance in other parts of Nigeria plus another stereotyping of Igbos as people who love money more than anything else.
Westerners are agitating for the Yoruba nation, there are even some Northerners calling for the Arewa nation. The North is also burdened with a full-fledged war against terrorists who are calling for an Islamic State in Northern Nigeria. Yet, they believe they deserve the Presidency more.
In all Igbo states, there are communities where people of Northern origin are predominant. Even in parts of Onitsha, there are areas you find Yorubas especially tailors in very high concentrations. In Asaba, an Igbo City in Delta State, you find that majority of Keke riders and Okada riders are people of Northern origin.
They are all where they are because they are looking for greener pastures and want to make more money but nobody assumes that they love money above everything else when indeed what everyone is trying to do is make more money. There are also so many Northern and Western politicians involved in money laundering, young ones involved in cybercrime, drug trafficking and other crimes obtainable everywhere.
However, because of the stereotyping of Igbos, a lot of things are denied them, and they are marginalized and treated unfairly. This is the same way some Igbo people treat fellow Igbos whom they have negative preconceived perceptions about.
#3. It reshapes people’s thoughts about themselves.
When Stereotypes are left unchallenged for a long time, it even begins to shape the thoughts of the victims to believe that what people say about them is true. Some people have accepted the generalizations about them as true and are now even deliberately exhibiting such tendencies, not because that is who they are but because that is who they are learning to become.
For example, some women believe that they are weak, inferior, God’s afterthought and less intelligent. Some men believe that they are “polygamous in nature” and hence cannot be able to control themselves. The same happens on ethnic, religious, racial and national levels. You’d see a man cheat on his wife and the excuse is “well, you need to understand that men are polygamous in nature”.
#4. It facilitates Inferiority or Superiority complex
Both positive and negative stereotypes are dangerous. Sometimes, positive stereotyping makes a group of people think that they are better, wiser and superior to the rest of the people. As a result, they don’t just become egocentric, they also become unable to learn and evolve as s better people.
Negative stereotyping also makes some people feel inferior when they are with others. Some Abakaliki people in Nigeria will feel inferior when they are among other Igbos especially when ethnicity is been discussed. This is because of negative stereotyping of them as unintelligent people. All stereotypes are lies.
#5. Stereotypes are easy to form but difficult to eradicate
Stereotypes are like habits which become addictions. They are easy to form and people grow up learning about these stereotypes and even holding them to be true. It’s difficult to be challenged and people who challenge it are often seen as uninformed.
Challenging stereotypes requires a lot of work, much more effort than the efforts put into establishing them. Gender inequality is fueled by stereotypes, racial discrimination is fueled by the same too. It creates ripple effects that metamorphose into other problems.
HOW TO FIGHT STEREOTYPES
Truth is, things that trigger stereotyping are people’s experiences which we cannot merely overlook. However, when we find ourselves judging other people based on what other people did to us, we are already stereotyping.
When we also find ourselves ticking the box about a person merely based on where they come from, their gender, ethnicity or colour, we should stop and ask ourselves “Am I right about this?, Am I just assuming because he comes from a certain place? Have I experienced everyone or a larger percentage of people from the same group?”
Another way to fight stereotypes is to get to know people for themselves instead settling for what other people told you about them. Yes, there are lazy Imo men but that is as much as we have them in other states of Nigeria. There are promiscuous Imo girls but that is as much as there are promiscuous girls in other places. There are Imo men who don’t take care of their wives but that is also as much as there are men everywhere who don’t take care of their wives.
In the same way, you can find a lot of responsible men and women in Imo State and elsewhere. So, the next time I don’t meet your moral expectations, don’t blame it on where I come from, blame it on me because I am responsible for my actions and I am the only one that can answer for it.
When fighting stereotypes, we are bringing about balance, equity and fairness.