I’m sick of the stereotypes Americans have about Nigeria

No, we don’t ride lions

When people at Brown ask me where I’m from, a series of answers run through my head.

I was born in Philadelphia, but I really don’t feel like I’m “American” now that I live here. I live in London, but I’m by no means English, and to complicate things, my family and I are from Nigeria. What I’ve noticed though is people’s opinions of me depend on where I say I’m from.

When I say I’m from Philadelphia I get the casual “oh cool” and nod. When I say I’m from London I notice people’s pupils dilate and their mouths widen as they shout, “OMG THAT IS SO COOL,” and therefore, by extension, I’m cool. I mean, I am, but that’s beside the point.

However, when I say I’m from Nigeria I get, “Oh…Okay. That’s cool.”

I am far too familiar with what the sound of ambivalence means. Frankly, you have no idea where that is. Probably somewhere in Africa. (You would be right, it’s in West Africa). You’re not sure what to say because you don’t know if our life experiences are comparable (You’d be surprised to know we probably do share a lot in common). The ambivalence is followed by: “Do you know Tom, he’s from Kenya? I think he lives in Keeney?”

Trust me, I don’t know Tom.

Despite all this and my occasional identity crisis, I would say I am Nigerian.

We are famous for our oil — one of the world’s largest exporters of petroleum products — as well as our film industry known as Nollywood (Unfortunately, we are also famous for fraudulent “Nigerian Prince” email scams, but let’s not dwell on that).

Do you drive cars?

This city I live in Nigeria is called Lagos, and it’s just like every other major city in the world. So to those who ask me if we use cars to go around and if it’s a safe place to live: Yes, we do use cars but only when our lions have fallen asleep for the day. Thankfully that doesn’t happen too often! And Lagos is just as safe as any other metropolitan city.

So, what do you do for fun?

We call ourselves Lagosians, and we are known for our lavish parties. Ain’t no party like a Lagos party.  As a nation we have popularized afrobeat, a genre encompassing traditional juju music and contemporary beats, which you can hear booming out of our many night clubs or down the hallways of EmWool where I reside.

My brother and I at his 16th birthday party

What is your food like?

We also absolutely love food. The way to a Nigerian’s heart is through our stomachs, and every Nigerian’s favorite dish is jollof rice. It’s a delicious meal usually served with chicken and fried plantain. If you want a taste, there will be some available during Africa Week this semester so watch out!

Do you speak Nigerian?

Contrary to popular thought in Providence, English is our official language in Nigeria. So yes, I do get offended when people compliment me on how well I speak English or how well-spoken I am. All praise really goes to our colonizers – The Brits. Whilst we are on the topic of languages, I also don’t speak Nigerian. #sorrynotsorry

There is actually no such language as Nigerian. We have over 250 languages spoken each representing a different tribe and ethnic group. The three main tribes in Nigeria are Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa – and no, I don’t speak any of those languages either.

Unfortunately, most of us are misinformed or unaware about cultures apart from our own. This syndrome seems to be particularly endemic to the United States. Remember folks, Google is your friend.


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