The new Nigerian child

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A year ago, my daughter would say things like “Mummy, I want my hair to look like Tiffany’s hair.” I was not alarmed when this started because her friend Tiffany is a black girl with natural hair and what my daughter wanted was for her hair to be styled with beads like Tiffany’s hair. No problem! She got beads.

When the requests started going something along the lines of “I don’t like my hair, I want my hair to be straight like Christie’s hair,” my own kinky hair stood on ends. You see, Christie is Caucasian and has Caucasian hair. And here was my African child wanting straight shiny, bouncy Caucasian hair like her friend Christie’s. I thought it was a one off request until she started saying that she wanted her hair to be like her nanny’s hair (her nanny wears a straight weave or relaxed hair most of the time).

This got me wondering if I was not being remiss in my duty as a parent by assuming that I did not need to speak to my daughter about how beautiful each person is in their different ways. Teaching her to love her kinky African hair and by extension other things that make her African/Nigerian. You would think that at the age of four, it is much too early for conversations like that. Especially as we live in Nigeria.

While my hair is natural, I am the only one of my sisters and extended family that has natural hair. Yeah, I stick out like a sore thumb but who cares? My daughter has grown up seeing relaxed hair and long weaves on her female relatives. She has a number of Caucasian friends (who she refers to as being white while she refers to herself as being brown) and for some reason she focused on straight hair as being her idea of “beautiful” even at her young age.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against females that choose to relax their hair. I am just wondering what sort of message our kids are getting and how that message spills into other things like what the accepted way of dressing, talking e.t.c. is.

I know Nigerian parents, living in Nigeria, that have sent their young primary school level children to boarding schools in the UK because they did not like the fact that they were sounding so Nigerian (you can’t make this stuff up). I also know parents, living in Nigeria, who flatly refuse to let their children learn a Nigerian language, insisting instead on English (our lingua franca) and a European language like French or Spanish…I am NOT kidding. No be say dem say. Suddenly meals like Eba and soup are being thrown out of the weekly menu at home and are being replaced by Indomie noodles, hotdogs and pizza. It never ceases to amaze me when I speak Igbo to my daughter in public places and people are dazed at the fact that she can understand me. Hello! She’s Igbo! It’s her language. Unfortunately she does not speak it but I am hoping that will change with time.

I do believe in exposure to different international cultures, but you really can’t expose a child to a culture if the people have let their culture die can you?  Can you Imagine a France where no-one speaks French or drinks wine and eats smelly cheese? What if they all decided that being white was not cool and got permanent tans or locked their hair? What if you go there and they do not maintain their old buildings and let it all fall to ruins….imagine no Eiffel tower? Now, think of Nigeria. What will we have 50 years from now that is representative of our culture? Of who we are?

So I guess my questions are: what are our children getting from the way we act? What will our legacy be for them? Is it really that uncool to be Nigerian/African? What can we do to right this wrong?

36 thoughts on “The new Nigerian child

  1. 9jaFOODIE

    Education Education Education!!!!! …… I didn’t start watching Cartoons till I was 11, and that when when the complex started for me.I hated my bigger boobs n big eyes. I was 16 when I finished Highschool, spent the year after at home watching channel 0; I have not liked my body for a day since then. I know I am all grown up now :D and I should start seeing things differently, I try but It’s hard for me to consider myself as “BEAUTIFUL”. I wish I had some kind of body image education when I was growing up.
    Education is critical!!!!

    Reply
    1. Natural Nigerian

      Post author

      I am sorry to hear that – TV can be soooo evil. Don’t worry, appreciation of your body will come to you. Yes, education is critical and it is the reponsibility of parents to educate their children and validate them. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  2. naijalines

    A thought provoking post. The ‘colonial mentality gone mad’ state of the nation makes my blood cold. And it’s the so called Nigerian elite displaying such mind numbing ignorance! Really sad. Love your blog.

    Reply
    1. Natural Nigerian

      Post author

      Thank you for loving the blog. It means a lot to me to hear that.
      To be fair, I think it is not just the “elite” that displays the ignorance. They are merely the ones who have the means to display it so glaringly. I totally agree about this sad state of affairs being an offshoot of colonial mentality.

      Reply
  3. Chizzy D

    ya!!! you speak Igbo to you daughter, awesome. I was born and raise in America but my parents taught us to know and love the culture we came from. That is why today i understand and speak Igbo as if i was born and raised in Igboland. Its sad cause when i go home to Nigeria, i meet so many igbos (who grew up in igboland and have never left nigeria) that don’t know their own language…IMAGINE!!!

    My parents always spoke to us in igbo, that is why i understand it. Try telling her to respond back to you in Igbo, that helped me growing up. Igbo history is amazing(especially igbo women’s history-straight up beautiful warriors) tell her about the them.

    Also you may be interested in these two post i did:
    http://www.chizzyd.com/2011/01/things-that-make-you-say-hmmm.html
    and
    http://www.chizzyd.com/2011/02/eye-of-beholder.html

    Anyways, sorry i wrote so much, this topic is very interesting to me.

    Reply
    1. Natural Nigerian

      Post author

      That is such a great story about your parents. It shows that it IS possible to transmit knowledge of ones’ culture regardless of geographical location. I will try getting her to respond in Igbo. Thanks for the tip. Please don’t apologize, write as much as you like. I will read every word happily.

      I am going over to yours now to read the posts.

      Reply
  4. NikkiSho

    some parents/teachers need to change the way they see things,i remember while my sister was still in elementary and the teacher used to complain and write in her report sheet that she speaks too much “vernacular” (yoruba) i’m not sure what happened after then but now my sister cannot speak or maybe doesnt even understand yoruba again which i dont like at all.

    Reply
  5. Ibhade

    Thank you so much for this write-up sistah….it expressed my feelings so well..i mean, i had learnt to keep quiet & watch SOME people i know that wants to be like ‘oyibo’ right from their decor, mannerism & accents… …like W-E-T-I-N??!!!.. this is why i love the indians!

    A mother was complaining that her kid did not have play clothes, that since all his clothes were imported, she did not want him to play with them on the floor becox he is about to be crawling. So i suggested, those chinese clothes that goes for N400-500, which i used for all my kids as their casual wears becox it is affordable, easy to maintain & durable..a kid can use it for 2years. She said nooooo! that they get ‘spoilt’ on time, that she had told a friend to buy first grade okrika, from her customer that opens Bales weekly.

    Is the accents that puts me off mostly! I love our ankara materials so much because it is so ideal for our weather, affordable, easy to maintain, so i invest in them a lot, sewing several styles…but a comment i heard one time pissed me off, that i wondered so, becox i refused to squeeze my body into all these lycra-material blouses that makes one sweat a lot & shows all the love handles of the body & trousers that exposes one’s k, W, C -legs & extra luggages at the back & front means I AM NOT ENLIGHTENED OR EXPOSED?, though i am a graduate?..i mean J-E-E-Z!!!!! !!!

    Like someone said calling a woman MAMA XXX, is archaic! I once had this argument with my friend Chima, who said it does not matter to call someone that is older by his or her name..so i wondered if she would be happy i called her husband by his name in people’s presence? listen, some of this wanna be’s is a ‘class’. status thing.

    Reply
  6. paige

    it’s really sad indeed.

    in the UK, we havea lot of migrants from India, North Africa, Eastern Europe, Somalia and more. You do not see them covering up their own culture. they dress proudly in their ethnic attire, eat their ethnic food and their children can fluently switch between speaking ‘Queen’s English’ and their own cultural language, complete with the authentic accent – lol.

    we have a lot to learn. our culture is not something to be ashamed of. It is possible to successfully intergrate with the British culture & language, whilst still retaining our own personal identity.

    Thanks so much sharing this much needed info

    http://www.paigetheblogger.com

    Reply
    1. Natural Nigerian

      Post author

      ” It is possible to successfully intergrate with the British culture & language, whilst still retaining our own personal identity.”

      I couldn’t agree more. In fact that is the mark of a properly evolved people in my humble opinion.

      Reply
  7. Dee!

    Tell them o! Preach on sistah!

    I do not like it when people (Nigerians) pretend to be what they are not!! Let’s drop the forming and be REAL! This is one of the many reasons I feel pained and annoyed when people talk from their noses with foreign accents.

    I am A PROUD NIGERIAN to the core!
    How can a typical Nigerian live by noodles alone? Na wa o!

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    Reply
  8. Adamu

    Interesting post. I can relate to it in many ways. I can’t blame some of our parents and maybe grandparents too much for insisting on English etc. They were either colonial rule or were living just after it. They were under serious pressure etc. And most parents want their children to be better versions of themselves or at least to achieve more than them. I’m not excusing what happened.

    I’m just saying we have to look at the context. We can criticise now, but we live in a post colonial, post black rights movement era where we have the internet where we can see China and India on the rise and the U.K. and the U.S. loosing their ‘grip’ on power so to speak.

    BUT when I see parents doing it now even with all that’s around then I wonder. Because there’s no one really making you feel ashamed of African culture anymore. In fact in the ‘west’ that these Nigerian parent look up to, they are even courting African culture. (not all I know but things have changed incredibly. You can’t deny that otherwise FELA the musical wouldn’t be a hit on Broadway.) During colonial times especially it was a tactic used obviously and was enforced with violent and other means. You could be killed for practicing your culture. But now? If I’m Chinese and you don’t like it, well, get lost. Same for Indians etc. So we can do the same.

    Anyway I’m rambling. It’s a complex issue. I also don’t think TV is evil. It’s just a tool. If used right it can be a positive. I make cartoons and I’ve decided to make a Nigerian cartoon for kids. The reason is because the images we see as young kids are very influential and we just don’t have enough of those on out TV screens. Our TV networks import many cartoons but don’t show, support or commission any local ones. But things are changing and I think that will impact on our children in the future.

    Reply
  9. Adamu

    I just read my reply after coming back to reply to Chizzy D’s question and realised I didn’t make sense for the first paragraph or so.

    What I meant to say was that back then we were sold the line that EVERYTHING white and english was good and our cultures were not.(simplified I know). Our parents and grandparents lived in that world. So naturally if they wanted their children to ‘better’ themselves then it made sense to make sure they were as close to the white man as possible.

    It’s hard to fight propaganda. Just look at today. No matter how intelligent some women are they still feel pressure to look a certain way etc. Likewise black men feel they have to be some form of Pdiddy. Again Iknow I’m simplifying it but I just wanted to make it clear why I don’t blame the older generation too much for having a colonial mentality.

    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Natural Nigerian

      Post author

      Hi Adamu, thanks for dropping by. You make a fair point. It was important for the old generation to ensure that they had children that could function in the “new” world. You have also pointed out that this was during our parents and grandparents time. I am concerned with the future generation, so that is really our time. A lot of the new parents have “colonialists” as friends and colleagues, but it appears that the mentality is still raging.

      Congratulations on going live with the sale of the Bino and Fino cartoons. I am sure a lot of work went into it.

      Reply
      1. Adamu

        Hi,
        I think we’re agreed on this one:-). Like you said it’s our generation I now don’t understand. But I always like to see both sides of an arguement when I can. I can still maybe see why SOME only some :-) might still think the West and white is best by default due to the continuous powerful media deluge. Actually I see it more as some form of perverse snobbery/insecurity. Remnants I suppose of the colonial era. I really find it hard to put down into words. Maybe Myne can step and help me out on that front! lol!When I meet such people I try to have a discussion with them as to why they have those views.I try to say there are pros and cons from both sides. But at the end of the day you have to love your culture the best you can. That in it’s self is another topic in itself. But in today’s rapidly global village one’s culture is even more important.

        Thanks regarding the Bino and Fino cartoon.The discussion we’re having is partly why I wanted to risk doing the project. It might not look like it but it’s taken about 3 years to get to this point. The plan for the cartoon is to have a vehicle than can teach African and non African kids about African languages and culture and also do the stuff good educational cartoons do. I see it as something crucial we are lacking. As we hopefully pass each hurdle we’ll make the Bino and Fino gang better. :-)

        I’m glad I found your blog. I also stuck it up on our website too. There are many great African American etc parenting blogs but I didn’t know of many Nigerian/African ones.

        Reply
        1. Natural Nigerian

          Post author

          Thanks for linking the site! I am so chuffed :)

          3 years is a long time, but I guess that things move at a certain pace when you want to ensure that you have all your bases covered. Implementation should be easier now that you’ve put in so much time in the planning phase. Insha Allah! You have a really important and delicate task on your hands. For some children, Bino and Fino will be their only insight into their culture.

          Reply
          1. Adamu

            Many thanks. Yes you are right. We’ve laid the foundation to enable us to produce future episodes etc quicker.I had to build a dedicated studio etc. So the next phase will be different. We intend to give it our best shot.

            Reply
  10. Adiya

    Are you kidding? What kind of ‘slave’ mentality do people still have. This is why we still have problems with made in Nigeria stuff. How on earth are we supposed to progress when this is what we are teaching our next generation? :(

    Reply
  11. paige

    PS – for any one interested, Lorien Hay in connection with Shea Butter Cottage of akuwaood.co.uk and Ace Your Face of aceyourface.com and Afrocenchix or afrocenchix.com are organising a Natural hair Meet Up in the UK in May. Ideal for people who work in the beaty & hairdressing industry and especially for naturals, those with natural hair or interested in going natural or evn if you have a friend, colleague or loved with natural hair. Men, women & children are all welcome.

    Please read more about it in the post below & kindly spread the word on your blogs & other social media. Let’s embrace not just our cultural heritage but also the beautiful natural hair & skin we have been blessed with.

    Thank you so graciously

    http://paigetheblogger.com/2011/04/04/event-alert-birmingham-uk-natural-hair-meet-up/

    Reply
  12. Myne Whitman

    Having come from reading an article where the reporter was wondering about how we will maintain our cultures, I found this was very striking. It seems the more education some of us have, the more the western bug bites us. Hmm…

    Reply
  13. Adaeze

    Very interesting and well written …just the kind of things I like to discuss…it’s so sad about the ‘colonialization’ of the mind..but great with people like you to try to turn it around. It frustrates me to see people who deprive their own children of their mother tongue – one of my close girlfriends is from Uganda and her parents never taught her lingala…the older she grew, the more confused she became about her identity, and has now started educating herself about being natural, about her homeland, about Africa as a whole (which is great). I completely agree with you that everyone regardless of race should ALWAYS think about what messages we are putting across to our children with our own behavior. It’s one of the things people never think about – they seem to forget that children watch us and copy us, probably even more than they listen to what we say to them, so that is definitely thought-provoking…I’m thrilled to read about how you’re raising your daughter because it just brings a smile to my face :-)
    I completely agree with you on needing to maintain one’s culture. I wish people could j ust get that right (meaning, my way lol) – promoting and maintaining ones culture is a beautiful and important thing, more so for African cultures than many others because they have been undermined and devalued for centuries, and are incredibly rich and important in human history…but people needs to know the difference between that and just being ‘tribalist’ or looking down on other people in one way or another….at the same time, exposure to other cultures is just as important. I live in a country where I see this happen very successfully and very unsuccessfully at the same time, and it is a stark reminder of how globalized we are all getting as a world..balancing the promotion of ones own culture but at the same time promote understanding interaction is a hard but very important task!

    Reply
  14. Nenyenwa

    chai! Nne I see this all the time; I remember when we first moved to the states and I freaked out because I felt that our igbo culture is becoming extinct. I started to teach myself to speak igbo and now I speak it fluently; I prayed for an igbo man and I told him I have no intentions of giving my children English names and I was so glad that he agreed. We have already made plans to buy them igbo books to teach them to read and we will speak to them like we speak to each other. They can learn English at school…I am so afraid of our igbo culture for the next generation

    Reply
    1. Natural Nigerian

      Post author

      That is really commendable – teaching yourself Igbo. How did you manage that? Tips please! I have no English names and I have made it thus far :). My daughter has no English names either. And like you plan to, I started out speaking Igbo to her, figuring that she would learn English in school. Unfortunately, I slacked off and now she has forgotten some words. :(

      I do think that it is important for us to understand how important this thing called culture is. It is important to protect it for the future generation.

      Reply
      1. Nenyenwa

        It was difficult here but like your daughter I understood everything but could not speak; I could even read story books to myself in igbo though it took longer than the English books. My mom said I started that when I was done reading the books in the library and all that was left were igbo books and I will get so bored, I would borrow them and at first she felt I didn’t really understand them until she saw one that she read as a child and asked me to narrate the story and I narrated everything except for a couple of proverb that I didn’t understand. When I got here my challenge was every Nigeria that was igbo, I spoke to in igbo. I was laughed at- since I was raised in Lagos for the first 14 yrs I sounded funny but I didn’t allow it to discourage me. When I went home for my igba-nkwu people would often say you speak so much better than your sister; you speak so fluently. The only thing I hear sometimes that I hate is I met my husband shortly after all of this and he is from Imo sometimes people tell me I sound more Imo than Anambra…I just didn’t really have a dialet, I learned from listening and repeating back so it was only natural that since I talked to him the most in my language my dialet sounds more like his. Oh well all I care is that I embrace my language…I am so hard on older men or women that cannot speak- it is a disgrace to our forefathers that they embrace the whiteman’s tongue more than our own. I was the only one out of five with no english names and I luv it! kudos to you on your daughter, you can start by whenever she ask for something asking her to try saying it in igbo. Because if u can understand it is in u, u r only afraid to speak it. :)

        Reply
        1. Natural Nigerian

          Post author

          That is an inspiring story. Really? This is evidence that it can be done. I will try and get my daughter to ask for things in Igbo and hopefully that will make the difference.

          My own Igbo is not very fluent which frustrates me…thanks to a secondary school where vernacular was frowned upon. I found out firsthand that if you don’t practice, you lose it. However, based on your experience, I see that it is possible for me to improve my fluency.

          Thanks for sharing!

          Reply
  15. Nenyenwa

    great points! I am transitioning now to natural hair and carrying my first born- I just didn’t want to be the hippocratic parent and it will be alright with me if later on they grow and make their own choices but I would like to teach them that the way God gave them to me is beautiful and I am grateful each day for it.

    Reply
  16. Iwalewa (Beauty is in the character)

    Hmmm this reminds me of my mom’s younger sister that used to tell her kids and my younger brother to speak English at home because we were not allowed to speak vernacular(is this even in the dictionary lol) in school….well guess what? now my brother and younger cousins can’t speak yoruba but they understand perfectly smh…. interesting post

    Reply

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