If popular culture is to be believed, Nigeria is a country full of scammers, witchcraft and drug lords. I have personally met a few Nigerians in my time, they ranged from academics, businessmen and writers. I have yet to meet a drug-peddling Nigerian and yet I just have to switch on my TV to meet with horror stories of how every Nigerian is looking to sex traffic me.
South African and Western media, in particular, peddle this misconception. Now, I am not denying that there are, of course, Nigerians who are guilty of all those things, but it is a country of roughly 186 million people with a thriving economy. So, perhaps we should be asking ourselves how 186 million scammers, drug kingpins and sex traffickers have managed to have a gross domestic product (GDP) of around US$405.1 billion. But as always, with humans, it is so very easy and satisfying to believe the stereotypes.
Stereotypes are bothersome and to change a stereotype about oneself it is so often necessary to break down barriers and tell our own stories, change the narrative. Now, the narrative about Nigeria and African countries, in general, bother me, but nothing bothers me quite as much as the popular culture narrative about black women. It is hardly a year since Winnie Madikizela Mandela passed and with her passing, we got a first-hand experience of how a biased narrative can alter the perception of a woman. Of course, those who believed the stories about Winnie that were peddled by white media that sought to vilify her are guilty of a lazy type of naivety and back then one supposes there was nothing that Winnie and the other black women of her generation could do to change the narrative about themselves.
Fast forward a few decades later, and black women have more access to information and technology more than at any time in history and yet we have done very little to alter the narratives being peddled about ourselves.
Black women are portrayed in popular culture as angry, sassy, victims with daddy issues or a cheating husband. Successful black women are portrayed as bitches. The ones who dare speak boldly and loudly are either promiscuous or unhappy dominating people who need to have sex, as Drake puts it “...she actin' like she need dick in her life” and a lot of other stereotypes that are very unflattering. Are they black women who fit this stereotype? Of course, but there are a lot of black women who are not angry whose stories never get told. To equate a whole group of people to struggle is a very harmful type of laziness. This narrative largely advanced by Tyler Perry. I feel a lot of acrimony towards Mr Perry, a term and emotion I learned from watching his latest cinematic offering of the same title.
The problem is not that Mr Perry and other popular culture offerings are advancing the stereotype, the problem is that black women are complicit in furthering this misconception. The opening of ‘Acrimony’ was attended by an overwhelming number of black women, there are writers who try to portray black women in a positive light and these do not gain as much following as the people who try to put us down. There is a hugely followed account “nandicakes” on Twitter which bashes women daily and the following and the retweets are huge. It is as if black women are invested in proving to the world exactly how marginalised and struggling we are. I have no idea why a whole group of people are so invested in martyrdom and being tied down. One might be forgiven in thinking that we are practising for the struggle Olympics.
As black women, we do not essentially need to do much to change the narrative about ourselves, we do not need new achievements, and we already have them. Black women work hard, are innovative, smart and funny but these are not the stories being told about us. Indeed if we do not tell these stories about ourselves who are we tasking with this objective? We have the expertise, the financial muscle and the audience and yet we constantly choose to throw our money and support behind those who would seek to tear us down. To quote a cliché, unless the lion learns to write, the story will always glorify the hunter. Oh, wait that is not even factually accurate because we do know how to write.
*Thakane-Rethabile Shale is a lawyer, writer and an investigative journalism intern with the MNNCH