By Tosin Adeyehun
We met for the first time and I introduced myself to him. I told him I hail from Ondo and I expected him to ask for more information regarding what part of the state I hail from but rather, he exclaimed “ah! sé oò ní agídí , nítorí àwon omo Ondo máa n lágídí. (I hope you are not stubborn because Ondo people are stubborn). Then he moved on to say; “most especially their ladies”. Cliché, isn’t it? I know this is not new to a lot of Ondo state indigenes, such that we even anticipate it when we introduce ourselves to non indigenes. However, it has sank deep into our unconscious and we have come to accept it to the point that when we hear it, we readily agree without making an effort to convince otherwise. This implies that stereotypes can sink into people’s real image of themselves and do them harm. When stereotypes sink into the psyche of a group, they swallow it, they digest it and never doubt it, they come to define themselves by it; hence, the whole culture is warped.
In every ethnic group, there are stereotypes about others, often founded in our attempt to read other peoples culture through our own looking glasses and sometimes, ethnocentrism. Most likely, all of us grew up hearing comments from our parents or peers about certain individuals, a group, or the way they act. It would be interesting to find out how people perceive other ethnic groups in Nigeria. I’ve heard something about Ijebus being ‘fettish and selfish’, the Igbos being self centred, the Ibadan girls, dirty, even Yoruba girls as a whole are called dirty, not to speak of the popular label for Yoruba boys, known as ‘Yoruba demons’; the list is endless. Although some may seem humorous, they can affect people’s psyche.
Often, we make generalizations and assumptions that classify people by putting them into groupings that are familiar to us. The origin of this may be traced to a single or a few occurrences which in turn becomes unrealistic and exaggerated characteristics of a group of people. This explains how we tag and label people wrongly such that it clouds our judgment and the subject is not given a benefit of doubt when he/she exhibits something close to what was preconceived. According to Martina Navratilova, labels are for filing, labels are for clothing, labels are not for people. It is forced on you by people who see you through the judgmental eyes of who they think you are.
Gustavo Lequerica-Calvo describes stereotyping as distorted taxonomies; incorrect map of the socio cultural landscape. Stereotyping is risky, offensive and unproductive, built on a foundation of misinformation and bias. You assume that all people of a certain group are exactly the same, removing their true identity and believing that they are resistant to change. It also means to cast a person in a preset mode which often denies individuality.
However, it is important to understand that noticing differences in a group or individual is something natural but having to judge and characterise is a decision. It hinders people from expressing an honest meaningful opinion about a certain person group or race. Even if you think that some stereotypes are correct, most are blatantly incorrect and can be emotionally damaging. You should understand that one occurrence of “agidi” trait does not make the entire Ondo people the same. So, stop overgeneralising but if you think that you must categorise, you need to be more constructive in building stereotypes for people’s culture. The next time you are tempted to follow a stereotype, look at your own ethnic group for an equivalent. If you find one, then your conjecture has no basis.
By the way, Have you met an Ondo person, he is calm, gentle, meek, and beautiful in and out. If you aren’t married, aspire to marry from Ondo, and make sure you achieve that goal!