How music is rebuilding trust in Nigerian personality, internationally
When Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Adichie, gave her famous TED Talk – ‘The Danger of A Single Story’ – a lot of people could relate because of the context she spoke to. I’d first listened to the speech as a first year undergrad studying Psychology, and it completely blew my mind how she was able to fit the essence of my Social Psychology textbook into a less than 20-minute speech.
See, what the majority of people who listened to that TED Talk would not have fully grasped – understandably so – was that her talk was based on a concept known to the layman as a stereotype, which the Oxford dictionary describes as ‘a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.’
Stereotypes in themselves are not due to evil or wicked intentions, in fact, stereotypes are as much a physiological fault as it is as a cultural fault – and the culprit to blame physiologically is something psychologists call the Schema. A schema is ‘a cognitive framework or concept that helps organise and interpret information’ – basically a mental shortcut that human beings use to form urgent perceptions about people, things or situations.
Humans by nature are not built to think hard, simply because it’s not very adaptive. Imagine having to think long and hard about every tiny decision you make, such as, should you wipe your bum with your left or right hand? Should you turn the door handle up or down to open a door? – do you know how unproductive we’d all be if schemas didn’t exist? We’d all be standing around THINKING about tiny things that are necessary yet unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
Think of the schema as your wardrobe, there’s just so much clothes (information) it can take – so you put only the absolutely important and personalized things in there, then use a shortcut (schema) for everything else. Pictures, colours, shapes, smell, sounds, and tactile feedback are all the ways we make decisions about the world. This is where art, culture, and design directs our individual and/or group unconscious perceptions about the social world.
Which brings us to the point of this article – a point that will not take me very long to make if you understand everything I’ve tried to explain so far in this article.
The perception of the Nigerian personality has been scarred from the early days of credit card fraud, when broke Nigerian students in the United Kingdom were jailed and then deported. Since then, all kinds of scam or dubious ways of making money or gaining access have been associated with the Nigerian personality. Two familiar examples are; the extreme immigration experiences that are tied to our national passport, and another less severe situation is the blocking of our regional IP addresses from accessing certain areas of the internet.
Now, I’m not saying scamming was the singular cause of prejudice against Nigerians internationally, however, it’s the singular most talked about keyword that has been sensationalised by the media – so much so that the ‘Nigerian Prince’ unconsciously became a part of pop-culture.
In recent times, however, we can sense a shift in the breaking down of the barriers of entry across different industries; music, tech, and the design eco-system. Now, Nigerians are being hired en masse for remote tech and consulting positions. Nigerian artistes are being featured as headliners in international music festivals, and as part of cultural projects.
When Burna Boy won the Grammy Award for Best Global Music Album, I remember telling a friend how happy I was, because this was not only a win for Burna, it was also a win for the individual Nigerian who is pitching business projects in Europe, the individual Nigerian who goes to an all-white school in Germany, the individual Nigerian who imports goods from China, and also the individual Nigerian creative voice.
Suddenly, these individuals are not being looked at sideways any more. Music as a language of the soul has permeated the unconscious, and the ‘scammer’ and ‘untrustworthy’ schematic tags have now been replaced with ‘cool’ ‘entertaining’ ‘funny’ and ‘charismatic’ – a phenomenon that can be explained best by a concept Psychologists call the Halo Effect, which is the tendency for positive impressions of a person, company, brand or product in one area to positively influence one’s opinion or feelings in other areas.
We like to think of humans as complicated or mysterious, but the truth is human interaction can be boiled down to whether they simply like you or not, and this in part is being rectified by the Nigerian narrative that is being pushed by the works of Tems and her team, Wizkid and his team, Davido and his team, and every other creative voice representing the Nigerian personality across the world.
Grey, a psychologist and communications specialist, writes from Lagos