Oyinbo: Are Nigerians racists or racially insensitive?
The word “oyinbo” is now more of a mocking and condescending word than anything else.
I was recently sent a link to a story written by a Dutch woman who lives in Surulere.
Written by Femke van Zeijl, the article opened my eyes to how most Nigerians are racists or at least race insensitive. Femke van Zeijl wrote about her experience living in Lagos and how Nigerians yell “oyinbo” at her in public.
This got me thinking about how we Nigerians use the word ‘oyinbo’. Originally a Yoruba term to describe white people, the word itself is as Nigerian as eating rice on Sundays. On the literal level, the oyibo has no bad meaning but contextually it could come off as racist.
The word most times is used to make fun of white people who we see as odd, funny and weak in these parts. It could be deemed as a racial slur these days. You might raise your eyebrows at this claim but picture this, a white policeman yells at an African-American and calls him a “negro” six times before slamming his body on the pavement.
The word “negro” here is used as a racial slur. This applies to the word oyibo too. 9 out of 10 times it is used to mock white people here who we think are physically superior to. It doesn’t just stop with this word.
Oyinbo is not the only word that grates my ears these days. We have different terms. The most annoying term has to be half-caste. This term is what Nigerians use to describe a person who has a bi-racial background. For example, media personality Eku Edewor is bi-racial because her father is British while her mum is Nigerian. In these parts, we call people like Edewor.
The problem with the term half-caste is that it is insensitive and derogatory in some parts of the world. No one is half of anything because he or she has a bi-racial background. The same goes with mulatto which some of us use to describe bi-racial people. Mulatto originates from the world mula (mule) used for the offspring of a donkey or horse.
Other racially insensitive words that we Nigerians love to throw around are chinko and akata. Chinko is meant to describe anyone from Asia while akata is for African-Americans.
While both have innocent origins the words have morphed into mostly derogatory words. These words are outdated, politically incorrect and racially insensitive.
There was a time when the word coloured was acceptable but today it is not. The world is moving towards a racially sensitive future, Nigerians should follow the trend.