Recently, the smiley faced picture of Esther Okade, a 10year old, accepted into the Open University to study mathematics, graced the pages of British Newspapers and online news outlets. The caption in The Daily Mail read: Is This Britain’s Cleverest Girl?
Esther’s mother, a rather outstanding lady called Omonefe, a mathematician herself, home-schooled her children; the result: a C grade in GSCE for her 6 year old daughter. By 10, Esther had passed her A Levels. She hopes to get a Phd and own a bank. The article went on to drool, like articles do when the writers are themselves, awed. There was no mention of Nigeria, no indication towards Esther’s Nigerian heritage.
As Nigerians living in Jand, we need to stop and pay attention. We need to realise that there is a blanket of mediocrity that has settled over some young British Nigerians. One of the culture shocks I encountered during my early years in UK, was the lackadaisical attitude of young British Nigerians, towards education and self development.
Living in a country like Britain where there are seemingly many options, albeit myopic options, young British Nigerians, are wont to exchange the competiveness and knowledge their parents tried to instill in them, when they were young, for a life of indolence. The over prized nurseries, piano and clarinet lessons and private school education their parents ensured they got, all go to waste.
These young people grow up to become comfortable with mediocre jobs. They convert the amount of money they earn in a month say £1000 +, to naira, and gape, awed by the hundreds of thousands they are earning and assume themselves better than their Nigerian contemporaries, forgetting that they still live with their parents, or in government subsidised flats. They drive hire purchase cars; they eat out on credit cards. They wear half prized designer clothes, and carry the latest contract phones. So busy are they in their credit driven lives, they do not understand that if the benefit laws in the UK are suspended, their ‘easy going’ lives will be suspended.
If they haboured dreams, it would have been dreams of playing football in the English Premier League. They hoped to earn thousands a week like Etò. Have girls chasing them like fly chasing shit. They dreamt of yachts on foreign waters, wives and girlfriends (WAGS), sparingly clad, stretched thin beside them. Them, six packed and glistening, grinning like buffoons. But like most generic dreams, they collapse like a balloon without air. The beauty of a busted football dream however, is that it happens early, usually by 16, and by then it is hoped, that you can untangle yourself from the fantasies of a football career and move on, to an education or a new pursuit. But most never do.
The sheer complacency of some of these young people is truly sad. It is sad because they fulfill a stereotype, a bias called Soft Bigotry of Low expectations, a subtle form of racism where children from ethnic minorities e.g. Blacks are not expected to achieve high standards.
This thinking is reminiscent of the prevalent notion in 19th century Britain when pseudo scientist, Robert Knox, propagated the then popular assumptions, that blacks are an inferior race. In fact Knox in his publication, The Races of Men, famously declared, ‘look all over the globe, it is always the same, the dark races stand still, the fair progresses.’
I remember, with pain, the story of Sara Baartman nicknamed the ‘Hottentot Venus’. Sara was a young South African girl, sold into slavery and taken to England, where she was caged and paraded as an ‘oddity’ along with other oddities on Piccadilly. She was later transported to France, where the same fate awaited her, this time she was showcased alongside animals, her large buttocks and un-white-like features a fascination to the public who came in droves to view her. Sara died at 26, diseased and poor. Upon her death, her was body was sold to a Cuvier, a naturalist, obsessed with proving the inferiority of the black race. Cuvier dissected Sara’s body, picked her brains and displayed her genitals and remains in jars at the Musée del’Homme until 1974.
As Africans, Nigerians, Black people, we must not forget Sara Baartman. We must celebrate the Esthers of our world. We must realise that we are not just here to watch the snow and acquire an accent; we owe it to our past, our present and our future, to prove a point. Let us remember that the larger society expect us to fulfill certain stereotypes, may we strive to disappoint them.
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