Earlier this month, I was at a local grocery store to get beverages. Instinctively, I used my left hand to pay for what I bought. The store attendant, a relatively older woman, refused to collect the money from me. She claimed that as a Yoruba man that I am, I ought to know it’s rude and disrespectful giving money to someone, no matter how young, using my left hand. She wasn’t bothered that I used left hand naturally. Rather, she started preaching to me to drive her point home. According to her, the left hand is the devil’s while the right hand is God’s. Every good thing, she claimed, are associated with the right hand while the bad and not-so-good ones are associated with the left. She even linked the matter to her religious belief about the Judgement Day and how good people whose good deeds outweighed their bad deeds will be on God’s right hand side and bad people whose bad deeds outweighed their good deeds will be on God’s left hand side. And while those on the right would enjoy forever in Paradise, those on the left would be subjected to eternal damnation. She finished by admonishing me to try using my right hand often than I use my left.
That’s not the first time something of that sort would happen to me. But never had it been that severe. The woman made me feel as if using left hand is my fault. It’s true many people in the world are right-handed, but that does not make left-handed persons inferior in anyway to them. To see parents forcing their children to change from left to right hand makes it look as if using left hand is a gross misdemeanour and people using left hands are in some ways outclassed by those using right hands. That the use of either right or left hands have been adorned in religious garb makes the situation sad. And that a large number of people believe the use of left hand is bad makes the Nigerian situation incredulous. Goodness or badness of a person is not in any way based on the hand she or he uses. And that a majority of people in the world are right handed doesn’t make the few left-handed persons who often use their left hand instinctively bad and rude or uncultured and disrespectful.
Being despised for using one hand and not the other is one of the many ways the Nigerian society misjudge people. The Nigerian society has some stereotypes for measuring how good or bad one is. Many of them are largely prejudiced on some premises that often defy logic. But a large section of the society hold them true, the educated and the uneducated ones alike. Sometimes, some of these stereotypical judgement are laced with cultural differences and coloured by religious inclination. People that behave in certain ways that the society doesn’t approve of are often tag as bad and lacking culture. Examples of this stereotypical judgement abound in the society and they’re not surely going away soon.
Many people in the society still believe all smokers are irresponsible and are generally bad people. Smokers are always being played down on morality ranking because the society frowns at it, especially those in the religious circle. But in many cases, smokers have easily upheld moral precepts that non-smokers found very easy to break. Many people that smoke are better citizens than those that are not. They don’t do many of the things that even religious people do such as lying and cheating or even hypocritical attitudes. Many smokers are honest and caring people. But because some smokers have behaved badly in the past, all present smokers are therefore termed bad. Inasmuch as I don’t support smoking because of its effect on the smoker’s health, it should be noted that many of them are like the rest of us that are non-smoker’s. A good number of them are good husbands, wives, children, in-laws, friends, business partners etc. It’s ridiculous to simply pass all smokers as being the same brood of badly behaved persons. And that most religious teachings are tilted towards proscribing it for members doesn’t put smokers’ judgement in the hands of them that are against it.
Also in the Nigeria of today, people with tattoos on their bodies are a class of people that often suffer backlash from the society especially among the people in the religious class. Like the smokers, people with tattoos are believed to be irresponsible and tattooing labelled as sin against God because it is tantamount to desecrating the temple of God that the temple is. Yet, history has shown us that African society has been embracing body marking from time immemorial. In fact, this body marking comes along with body piercing both of which have been African practices as late as 3000 to 3500 years ago. By this, it means drawing of images on the body is not new to African people. It has its roots in old African practices. Like other practices, it too have evolved. It is true that many people have abused the use of tattoo and many at times it is now linked to one cultic group or another, but it doesn’t remove the fact the practice is long established in Africa. Having a marking on the body in those earlier times was a mark of identification to tell a class of people apart from the other. Till today, many people above fifty have markings on their body. This markings and what we now call tattoo doesn’t make the totality of those that have them bad. It doesn’t mean all of them are irresponsible or gangsters. Many of the people with tattoos today have it because they want to show they have control over their bodies. It has nothing to do about how good or bad they are as the society often makes it. They are no less human simply because they have images on their bodies or have their bodies pierced and should not be subject to human or religious degradation of any sort. That we don’t approve of something doesn’t make it bad.
The above examples are some of the numerous ways people are often misjudged, the judgement being coloured by a part being used to judge the whole. This is the same prejudice that has coloured one ethnic group’s relationship with another. Some have often misjudged all Fulanis as being violent and Islamist; many view all Ibis as Biafrans that could not be trusted with the Nigerian nation; and several other see Yorubas as political traitors. Also, this judgement has seen those that have divergent opinions in the society as being rude and disrespectful. Prejudice like this also make some see no good in others that belong to a different class or race, religion or ideological circle.
People should not be judged based on what the society thinks. Everyone should be treated individually and not collectively. That’s when true judgement of people could be achieved. There are exceptions in every cases. Such exceptions means a stereotype judgement is against logic. Because some people behave in one way or another in the past does not mean people behaving as such in the present would be like them. Besides, we should set aside that which is sin and that which is moral issue. That something is not morally acceptable does not necessarily make it bad because morality is subjective. What is good for one is not good for another. And what is good for one is utterly detested by another. Before people are pronounced rude, disrespectful or bad, their character should be tested for it is not everyone that appears good that are indeed good. Appearance is also sometimes not the best way to judge an individual. True judgement of people should be based on what they do when no one is watching. No human is above another. What we take liking to is what differentiates us from another. People should not therefore be wrongly judged based on prejudice or sentiment for some characteristics that are not acceptable to the general public.
Segun Ogunlade writes from Ibadan, Nigeria
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