Nigerian scammers, African American robbers, and racist white cops–the problem with stereotypes


The last day I was in Nigeria, I was riding in the car with my host to the airport, making small conversation, when all of the sudden the conversation took a more serious turn. Seemingly out of nowhere, the man said “It’s a shame that the Western media portrays us Nigerians as crooks and robbers. There are many good people here. After all, can you guarantee that if I go to America that I won’t be robbed?”

Gulp.

Good point.

I have to admit that I had harbored some pretty negative stereotypes of Nigerians before my trip last week, and I consider myself to be a person that works hard to fight negative stereotypes against entire groups of people. Even so, my impression of Nigeria before actually going there was that it’s a nation of corrupt politicians, e-mail scammers, and a church steeped in witchcraft and extreme prosperity teaching. In my defense, some of the stereotypes came from my Nigerian friends and from watching Nigeria movies in the past, but even so, I should have known better.

The problem with stereotypes is they put walls between people, and they allow people to think they know someone without actually taking the time to get to know the person. I have a feeling that the vast majority of people don’t fit the stereotypes placed upon them. Whether they be stereotypes of religion, race, or political persuasion.

So let me just say in light of the recent unjust arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates. Not all Nigerians are crooks. Not all African Americans are robbers. And not all white cops are racist. Having said that, I think that racial profiling is a huge problem and needs to be addressed. While we address the problem, let’s not forget that unjust stereotypes come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

Posted on July 23, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. What makes you say that the arrest of Henry Louis Gates jr. in Cambridge was an "unjust arrest". Remember, arrests themselves do not ever promise to mete out justice. We have courts for that. Arrests are made when policemen have due cause to believe that a crime has been broken. Now, you might criticize the arrest of Gates as unwise, but unjust? Surely not. From what I have read, a routine police visit was turned by Gates into a cause celebre because he had a great big chip on his shoulder. Why he had a chip on his shoulder is a subject worth discussing, but not witih a policeman who is making a legitimate call at your home to see if your home is being burglarized. If you have never had police show up unbidden and unannounced at your home for legitimate reasons, then you have not lived long enough. I have, and I did not get myself arrested by tumultuous behavior. In fact, I didn't even get angry.

  2. Thank you anonymous for your comment. I understand your perspective, but I respectfully disagree. Getting agitated with a policeman is not grounds for arrest, unless the officer feels under threat in some way, hardly a likely scenario in this case. Even the police report says that the arrest was made even after it was proven that the house was indeed Gate's. As far as Gates having a chip on his shoulder, that could be true, but given that just about every African American that I've ever talked to has experienced racial profiling in some way, I can understand why Gate's perspective might be different from the average white person that has never experienced racial profiling.

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