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Colourism: Will Yellow Fever Ever Leave?

Passively living in my country of birth, people stroll by ignorantly slapping colourism right in my face like I had a sign on my back saying: “Drop colourism here!” I ran from a European country to Nigeria looking for my heritage – or rather a home. I ran here, because I believe in the Nigerian diaspora returning and contributing to rapid, successful development of a country that has all the resources, but just doesn’t seem to figure out how to organise its distribution.


Now I mostly spend my evenings wondering whether I will ever find the so-called home in this country. How ironic that the same me who fights white privilege in a majority white country comes to her country of birth to be forced upon the benefits of “light skinned privilege”.

There is nothing special about my skin tone. I am a creation by two people who were in love. No angel approached my mother saying “Madame oo, God say make I ask what colour una pickin skin go be, abeg answer his call na, before she go black pass her mama.” I just happen to be this. Like other Nigerians happen to be fair, even though both parents are Nigerian. However, I am the one to be told by old men I should not greet in my native language because I was too white to do so.

The police man would make my driver wind down the window to tell me “Oyigbo, make I see your pepper.” – Oga, I hope this pepper no go blind you. A woman shared her prayer point with me on how she wished her baby would have my skin colour. Shouldn’t she be praying for the child’s well-being, health and light in this world?

The attentive waitress would set cutleries for everyone except me, thinking my light skin was an indicator for me eating Pizza with my hands. Well, eating Pizza with cutleries is the most unnecessary thing to do in my opinion, but treating me different because I am “white” is rude. Random men get on their knees out of nowhere to tie my shoe laces while my date stands next to me perplexed by the sight. For the love of black women, I deeply hope this does not result from the complexion of my skin. But sadly, I know better.

Fela Kuti knew better when he sang about this artificial, mind killing Yellow Fever which threatens our country. With approximately 77% of Nigerian women (disregarding the unreported cases) bleaching their skins; with children exposed to the dangers of bleaching creams and family heads favouring light skinned wives for their sons as sign of prestige; with white mannequins in nearly every shop, adverts showcasing European beauty standards and white people in a black majority society, I am positively surprised that our beautiful Nigeria has not voted a white president yet.

Antonio Gramsci, Italian politician of the early 20th century, propounded the concept of hegemony. He defines Hegemony as “a form of control exercised by a dominant class, in the Marxist sense, a group controlling the means of production.

White or Black Hegemony are therefore just like hegemony concepts. Merely the same concept, but the focus lays on another aspect: Race. American-Haitian journalist Patrick Jonathan Derilus defines White Hegemony as “systemic structures administered in pedagogical and societal practice, which emphasizes and reinforces the racist ideology of White superiority linguistically, socially and intellectually.”
Obviously, we will find forms of these in white majority societies, where political actors or decision-makers are mainly “white”; where other ethnicities have difficulties standing their ground within the political sphere of the society they socialize in. Coming to an African country, Nigeria specifically, one could have expected on the contrary a Black Hegemony. At least I did.

Yes, we may have Nigerian politicians and decision-makers; we may value our various traditions of Ogbas, Yorubas, Igbos, Hausas and many other tribes. The question is, how black is our hegemonial system really, when we try so hard to mimic the West and subconsciously or not – therefore keep our country dependent? When women exposed themselves to the dangers of skin cancer, because we think light skin is the answer to all our problems? When we harm our economy importing products which we can easily produce in Nigeria, simply because “the products of the white people are better”? Or sending our children to American or European schools abroad, instead of investing in our own educational system and wondering afterwards why nothing’s changed?

Somebody once told me with a pretty smile mixed with more pity than mischief, I loved Nigeria more than “pure” Nigerians did. Probably he is right. I learned the hard way who I am. But Nigeria, do you know who you are?

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