Opinion Post: Stereotypes, Labels and Tags

Labels. Tags. Stereotypes.

One day, I went shopping with an adult in my family. Let’s call her my auntie. We didn’t have any cash, so we stopped by the ATM to withdraw. We parked right in front of the gallery. I waited in the car while my auntie went to make the withdrawal.

While waiting, I saw a lady wearing an anklet. I thought the anklet was very pretty and worked well with her outfit. When my auntie came back into the car, I showed her the lady and said “Ṣé ẹ rì pé anklet lady yẹn dẹ fine? I want something like that.”
She replied, “Ṣé oo mọ̀ pé àwọn aṣẹ́wó ló máa n wọ anklet ni?”

Her reply isn’t very different from what an average Nigerian adult would have said, especially an adult in our parent’s generation. That’s just one example of the numerous stereotypes that exist in the Nigerian society.

As human beings, we tend to think in binaries more than we care to admit. If it’s not yes, it’s no. If she’s not a good girl, then she has to be a bad girl. All boys who grow out their hair are bad boys. Girls who wear short things are immoral. All boys who own laptops are yahoo boys. All Yoruba men are demons. Stereotypes. Reflexively, we don’t make space for nuance or grey areas.

And it’s understandable. It’s easier to label everything. It makes it easier for our brains to compute and organise information. It makes the world a bit easier for us to navigate. But human beings are far more complex than that. We’re far too layered and complex for any label or box to do justice to us.

The MBTI personality test gained popularity some years ago. One of the reasons it became so popular was that it tried to be more multidimensional than most traditional personality tests. It takes more factors into consideration when categorising and describing people.

Even with all those variables, it still fails to capture a complete picture of personality. It falls short in a number of ways. We come in so many hues and forms and it’s impossible to find a “one size fits all” description for human beings.

Human beings are layered in so many different ways and there are several factors that dictate our personality, the way we express things and our reactions to what life throws at us. Our brain chemistry is one of those factors and it’s one we have very little control on. Another factor is the environment. We didn’t grow up in the same families or with the same opportunities or exposure. Even if we grew up in the same families (like with our siblings), we’re just all very different people.

What we often fail to realise is that many things can coexist together and we can’t define people by one trait or factor. I can like to wear short things and coloured braids and be interested in government. A man can like makeup and fashion and pop culture and still want to be an engineer. There isn’t a limit to what people can be or enjoy. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

We have created these boxes for what people can or cannot be. And many times, these boxes are too small to allow for a wide spectrum of all the things a person can be.

To make an assumption or conjure stereotypes about a person based on one thing is doing such person a great disservice. I wish people would release themselves from these caps on what they can be or what others should be. I think it would make the world a more fun place to be. After all, we only live once. Or so they say.

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