Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Tale of Bicycles, Complex and Stereotypes

"You Africans please listen to me as Africans...and you non Africans, listen to me with open mind"

So began Fela Anikulapo Kuti in Shuffering and Smiling before he lunched into a musical rendition that describes a reality only mostly Africans might be able to relate with...

And in that same spirit, I write this post...

Of late I have become more acutely aware of certain thought patterns the social system I live in has unconsciously etched in my mind. And it reeks of acceptance of stereotypes and of inferiority complex.

I would explain with a story involving bicycles...

You Nigerian? Do you remember when one transport minister proposed the idea that we should all start riding bicycles?

I remember and I remember my reaction to it. It was that of disgust, disdain and incredulity.

Why? my God, we are in the twenty something century! Keke? This guy wants to take us to the stone age! Why do these leaders like to make us look so backwards! Imagine! Just look to the "developed countries" (whatever that means)...they have moved past riding bicycles! This dude wants to take us back! Uncivilized, uneducated baga! So we would now be the backward African country these "developed people" would now start looking down on as the place where everybody rides bicycles: the primitive transportation machine? How do these people get to become leaders sef...?

State of mind? Disdain!

Then I went to Togo and spent about 3 months working there. And saw that a large amount of the populace goes about on bicycles and scooters...I viewed this with a mixture of amusement and disdain. But not only these, there was some smugness also. See them...backward African country...even for 9ja, we don pass this stage. How can you be riding "keke" all about the place? So Ara'ko-ish!

State of mind? Smugness and disdain!

Only for me to get to the Netherlands and discover there are more bicycles than people.

And people jolly well go about their daily life using bicycles. It is not a strange sight to see people all dressed up in their suit and tie with their briefcase, riding their bicycles to work. It is no strange sight to see mothers strap their babies to a seat that has being specially attached to the back (or sometimes front) of the bicycle.

Just Google Dutch people riding bicycles.

...And all of a sudden riding bicycles stopped being uncivilized or backwards! In fact it is something to recommend! Look, it is nice on nature, you don't want to continue harming our dear planet Earth with all these locomotives that emits dangerous chemicals? With bicycles, you don't get to emit any of such, so it helps us fight this global warming thing.

And also, it is soooo good for the heart! You know, cycling is good exercise and helps keep body and heart in good shape!

State of mind? Let's do it!


What changed? The people riding the bicycle!

It is quite shocking and sad to observe how my emotional reaction towards the idea of riding bicycles moved from utter disgust and disdain to one of admiration and commendation to the point of recommendation due to the type of people involved.

It is a different thing if my initial negative reaction to populace adopting the bicycle as a prominent mode of transportation was based on valid points. Perhaps something in those locality that makes bicycle riding ineffective? costly? But no, that was not the case.

When I shared this with a very good friend of mine, he made the following statements

...One May question the media through which we rationalize some of these things- and how societies have ebbed some systematic prejudice to how we view things. We are all guilty, to strive beyond it has to be a conscious decision that is by no means easy...

There are different angles to this observation and a quick look at history can help explain why things are currently the way they are. But it is quite jarring how the world we live in and its social structures affects the stereotypes we end up holding of the world around us and most importantly of ourselves. The harmful thing with these inclinations is that it could go unnoticed. An unconscious lens set up inside our minds, through which we now view the world.

It is also harmful when you consider the implication. When you have a situation where a societies' choice of solutions to their problems, when a societies identity etc are all unconsciously measured and framed against a mental yardstick of what we think some people from another society entirely would think of it, then we have an insidious problem at hand.

Where then is self determination. self identity, self realization? Where then is the ability to look inward, tackle your problems squarely and apply relevant and local solutions as needed?

It would be good for my people to stop, take a while and try to be introspective and observe some of our reactions to things around us; how we frame our problems, how we frame our identity, how we consider the solutions we think is cool (appropriate) and see if it does not suffer from this unconscious tainting...

As my friend said. " strive beyond this state, has to be a conscious decision..."

And with that, I end with the words of another conscious musician: Bob Marley...emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.


Unknown said...

Dade, allow me to critique this post. I think you have used your personal experience to judge a whole people. Those were you experiences, it could have been shared with more than one person, but its always more complex than that.

Not every European or American are tree hugging bike pedalling people, and certainly not every Nigerian look down on Cycling. Ojo Madukwe, that minister was one to start with. If Nigerian roads were suitable for Cycling, it would make economic sense for Nigerians to cycle to work.

I started cycling to school in my 3rd year in secondary school, and I still cant drive. When I moved to London and got my Dahon for work commute, my friends in the Nigerian circle would call me an Oyinbo man, meanwhile, my Oyinbo padi would call me a hippie for cycling to work.

My point here is, cultural differences are complex, and often differ by a lot of factors, and so is personal preferences and experiences. And we often interpret culture from our personal lenses.

While the point you raised might be valid, I beseech you to thread carefully when making such conclusions

dade said...

What if the personal experience I sighted is a personal instance of the dynamics raised...

It might not be bicycles for others, but something else... the kind of clothes they wear, or how they choose to speak etc?

See it from that point of view?