Thursday, July 23, 2009
Nigerian scammers, African American robbers, and racist white cops--the problem with stereotypes
The last day I was in Nigeria, I was riding in the car with my host to the airport, making small conversation, when all of the sudden the conversation took a more serious turn. Seemingly out of nowhere, the man said "It's a shame that the Western media portrays us Nigerians as crooks and robbers. There are many good people here. After all, can you guarantee that if I go to America that I won't be robbed?"
I have to admit that I had harbored some pretty negative stereotypes of Nigerians before my trip last week, and I consider myself to be a person that works hard to fight negative stereotypes against entire groups of people. Even so, my impression of Nigeria before actually going there was that it's a nation of corrupt politicians, e-mail scammers, and a church steeped in witchcraft and extreme prosperity teaching. In my defense, some of the stereotypes came from my Nigerian friends and from watching Nigeria movies in the past, but even so, I should have known better.
The problem with stereotypes is they put walls between people, and they allow people to think they know someone without actually taking the time to get to know the person. I have a feeling that the vast majority of people don't fit the stereotypes placed upon them. Whether they be stereotypes of religion, race, or political persuasion.
So let me just say in light of the recent unjust arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates. Not all Nigerians are crooks. Not all African Americans are robbers. And not all white cops are racist. Having said that, I think that racial profiling is a huge problem and needs to be addressed. While we address the problem, let's not forget that unjust stereotypes come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.