OPINION: Proud Africans with an Inferiority Complex: Self-Esteem and Race in Nigeria

“On the surface there does not seem to be much to talk about when it comes to the subject of race in Nigeria. To clarify, ‘race’ in this post does not refer to the different ethnic groups that reside within in Nigeria, but rather to the global classification system that categorises mankind based on phenotype, geography and physical appearance. Out of curiosity, I typed ‘race in Nigeria’ into Google, the first ten pages of results were links to articles on Nigeria’s presidential race, Nigeria’s ‘race’ to the Olympic games, another ‘race’ to save Nigeria’s last lions. Most amusing was a link to a question on Yahoo Answers; ‘What race does Nigeria belong?’, to which the answer chosen was ‘Africans or Blacks’. The results after a quick search for “racism in Nigeria” are closer to the theme of this post. However here, I focus on how race and racism work in Nigeria as opposed to the anti-Black racism Nigerians face outside the country.

Are Nigerians racist against white people?
In 2009, a group of Commonwealth MPs were refused carriage by a boat company operating in the Niger Delta. The four white South Africans and a mixed-race person from Namibia who were barred from a boat trip to Bonny Island cried racism. Outraged, the Black MPs decided not to use the boat company’s services in solidarity. Their cries reached the governor of Rivers State who apologised and promised to use his power to force the boat company to change their policy. This experience was cited as proof that racism against white people exists in Nigeria.

The so-called maltreatment of the MPs based on their race overshadowed the boat company’s claims that they were only looking out for the security of their passengers. The Niger Delta remains a tense region where people, both Nigerians and foreigners, can be kidnapped by militants. In a region where people with light skin are targeted for kidnapping, a boat company says that it cannot take white people on board for security reasons, apparently this is racism.

A few white travellers in Nigeria have complained about the racism they face as they are targeted by the police for bribes, or by criminals just on the basis on their skin tone. This apparently is evidence of racism, even though it fails to recognise that Nigerians are also, perhaps more so, targeted when it comes to bribery, kidnapping and other crimes in the country. It also ignores the fact that in Nigeria, as well as in other countries around the world, the West and white skin in particular is associated with wealth.

Or do Nigerians love white people?
Indeed, it may be due to this association of pale skin with wealth that some Nigerians will say that ours is a country that loves foreigners, the whiter the better. It seems that the only Nigerians who openly resent foreigners are those who have spent time abroad and lived through anti-Black racism. To elucidate in an anecdote, I know of a family who won a visa lottery and were very keen to travel and live in the United States.

A few years after having experienced racism for the first time in the States, they felt betrayed, and said anytime they saw white people having it easy in Nigeria, they wanted to tell them to leave. Another friend of mine who has lived in England for about six years once said while we were in Abuja that, “When we are in their countries we hustle and “suffer” but white people in Nigeria get first-class treatment”.

Most Nigerians who have spent most of their lives in Nigeria grow up revering white people and seem eager to defer. Mixed race children are praised for their beauty, wealth and intelligence. Nigerians abroad believe that Nigerians at home are overly accommodating to foreigners usually at the expense of their own people. . . ” Full Story on


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Founded in 2007, Ladybrille® Magazine is a California based pioneer digital publication demystifying the image of Africans in the west through contemporary African fashion and celebrating the brilliant woman in business and leadership, with an emphasis on the African woman in the diaspora. Our coverage includes stories on capital, access to markets, expertise, hiring and retention, sales, marketing, and promotions.

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