Beware of the oyinbo
Last week I wrote about the ‘Afroyinbo’ tag I assumed circa 2009 and what being an Afroyinbo entails including a deep appreciation of the multiple stories of the African continent and its people and a mistrust of those who perpetuate the single story.
Being an Afroyinbo can sometimes land you in trouble. As you feel such an honorary citizen of the country that bestowed on you your ‘African white’ status that you often forget you are actually white and freely discuss the shortcomings of your beloved adopted homeland. I have in many a case had to stop myself ranting and raving as a patriotic Nigerian would in that half affectionate half frustrated manner people assume when talking about the shortcomings of an otherwise much beloved land. Much like I would talk about my own homeland.
Midway through a rant about the pot holes that turn into swimming pools on the roads of Lekki in the rainy season, or fuel scarcity in the run up to Christmas or that in the 21st century there are parts of Lagos that have not had power for the last two years, I remember I am in the company of Nigerians and that those who do not know me may genuinely feel I am turning up my nose at their beloved country and that I may be just one the regular ‘oyinbo’.
What do I mean by the regular ‘oyinbo’, you wonder… Let me explain. The regular ‘oyinbo’ is the one you should be aware of. The one that comes in a range of forms and factory settings. The one I often have a hard time relating to or understanding. As they come in numerous forms it is sometimes hard to decode them but there are a few tell-tale signs.
The ‘saviour’ oyinbo
We gave them a mention last week if you recall. The white saviour so attuned to the poverty of the masses fails to see the wealth of an increasingly growing middle class. Keen to see their single experience as a sum of the whole, they fail to understand what goes on in a part of Kenya has no relation what’s happening in that same moment in Angola, or Botswana or Ghana.
The colonial oyinbo
A close cousin of the ‘saviour’ oyinbo, the colonial oyinbo adheres to the single story of a colonial past and perpetuates the colonial attitudes. They may come from all corners of the world, may have graduated from Ivy League colleges or barely finished a degree at their local college back home, but as soon as they set foot anywhere in Africa, mental shutters come down, Africans reduced to mere natives, and these white specimen aggrandised into colonial masters. You would have seen them swaggering in the boardrooms of multinationals, in the conference halls or leisure facilities of five-star hotels, frowning in traffic in the back of their chauffeur driven 4x4s. You may have an IQ 25% higher than theirs and three more degrees than they hold; in their mind by virtue of their ‘other nationality’ passport, they are here to boss you around, and fill their pockets while at it.
The traveller oyinbo
This one went backpacking in East Africa in his twenties, and 20 years, two kids, and a steady job later, in his mind he is still that backpacker. He wears dreadlocks and African print. He eats pounded yam with his hands because “that’s how it’s meant to be eaten” and frowns on you for using cutlery. The female of the species deems it perfectly fine to discuss the challenges of black hair because she got her glossy blonde hair braided that one time on holiday in Kenya. And it is always Kenya, or South Africa, also known as Africa Light. At a push, Ghana. He talks about staying in a hostel on Labadi Beach or doing humanitarian work over the holidays in the backwaters of Kenya, but scratch the surface, that’s the depth and the width of his African experience. Africa is a fad, a La La Land he escapes – like many before him, and doubtless, many after him – to “find himself.”
The clueless oyinbo
This one doesn’t mean any harm. They are just clueless. They may have evolved since the ‘90s and may no longer be asking if you keep tigers as pets or live in a mud house, but they sure will gasp at your perfect English, be bewildered when you mention your friend’s private jet and holiday home in St Tropez, incredulously shake their heads wondering how little Lizzy’s new African friend at school has not one but three siblings attending a private boarding school at – gasp! – £25,000 a year. Also the same species who will suggest that Afroyinbo borrow a traditional outfit for a Nigerian funeral from a Ghanaian.
The sheltered oyinbo
The sheltered oyinbo can tolerate an African, or two at a push. He will even try to make polite conversation despite the impolitely tone deaf statements or sweeping generalisations. He will reminisce on his time in Rhodesia, then with the smoothness of a bull in a china shop turn to his Zimbabwean neighbour about how much better the country was in those days. He is often the one who will, upon meeting a Nigerian, without missing a beat, will ask, “You are that prince who’s been emailing me, are you? So where’s that £1million you speak of” breaking into a sleazy snigger. If the African population rises above the acceptable threshold he will be the one eyeing the vicinity, trying to make a quick exit, because… “too many of their kind around now.” Worse still, if protected by American law and order and right to obscene prejudice, they may even make like the Starbucks manager and call the cops on you for just breathing the same air as they do.
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