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Xenophobic towards Xeno-centrics

August 29, 2008

I love a good greek word I do, nothing like a million-syllable, unpronouncable word to get my brain cells pinging to find a way to use that word! Luckily for me, in this case, it’s linked to something I can relate to!

So a few definitions for you from the all knowing Wikipedia:

Xenophobia is a fear or contempt of that which is foreign or unknown, especially of strangers or foreign people.

Xenocentrism (adj: xenocentric) is the preference for the products, styles, or ideas of someone else’s culture rather than of one’s own.

I came across an article written by Nnena Uzowulu in the BHF digital Magazine talking about this concept of Xenocentrism. How many of us spent a misunderstood childhood hating our parents for making us wear traditional atire to parties when someone elses parents let their child wear jeans? Or did you complain when you were getting a packed lunch that might contain a home-made meat pie instead of cheese strings? Or worst of all, did you hate to bring friends home in case your mother was cooking something that involved tripe, cowfoot or dried fish which meant your friends would be welcomed by the unfamiliar scents of Nigeria? Well then we should all accept that we spent a childhood being xeno-centric.

The thing is, we have an excuse of sorts, we were living outside of our culture. Being a child in a foreign land with foreign influences and the band wagon that is peer pressure meant we had a bit of an excuse to feel this way. As we’ve gotten older we’ve swung back, we’ll sing Sweet Mother louder than anyone at parties, we have Fela Kuti on our iPods and printed on our tee-shirts and we’ve all begged our mothers and aunties to put us in touch with their tailors so we can make our own African attire.

But what of our cousins in Nigeria? Why do they reject Nigerian culture? They would do anything to leave Nigeria, they emulate the accents of Americans not realising that “Wos up dog” is not quite the same as “What’s up dawg”. How is it that I have cousins born and bred in Nigeria who do not speak Yoruba? How on earth did our native language escape them in their native country? I find it so dissapointing that they not only take for granted, but never stop rejecting Nigerian culture in favour of British or American culture. They don’t grow out of it like I and others in the diaspora have, it continues to bore deeper into their psyche until one day, they wake up realising that all along they’ve hated themselves.

I’m currently reading Graceland by Chris Abani that deals with similar themes. It’s sad to read how someone can reject what is amazing about them for something they have no idea of and that they will only ever poorly imitate. We have choices now, choices to not continue to reject our heritage, no-one is holding a lash over our heads to force us to deny ourselves. However, that those who have never left their native land are the latest victims of this legacy is a problem that may have far reaching reprecussions in the next generation to come.

(Pics show some of the outfits my friends and I are all over at the moment, plus the picture from Nnena’s article on the BHF site. Long live African outfits!)

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