Jidenna’s controversy – Should Nigerians only tell a single story?
When Jidenna Theodore Mobisson, commonly known as Jidenna sat for an interview with urban news channel VladTV, he couldn’t have imagined the explosive effect. You could tell from how innocent his answers were, the Wisconsin –born rapper didn’t mean any harm; his comments were drawn from personal experiences, and perhaps not necessarily what an irritated Nigerian described as ‘Amerocentric’. The rapper shared his experience of burying his father years prior, “Our family was light. Therefore when we go to our village… and when I actually buried my father, I had to bring a lot of AK47s. Because when you’re light skinned, you’re heavier target for being kidnapped. Because you’re seen as more valuable. For me being light skinned in Nigeria, in my family, it was difficult. It was always challenging. We were hounded. We were robbed.” However, his comments- specifically those related to his skin tone sparked a controversy on Twitter Nigeria, providing a base for momentary national bonding. As a blogger puts it, his comments “FINALLY led to a unified Nigeria for the first time since the election started and ended.”
This past Wednesday, the 15th of July, Jidenna posted an open letter to Nigerians in response to the backlash. In the letter, Jidenna states that he has, and always will be proud of his Nigerian heritage. This is a known fact; rarely does he complete an interview without mentioning his African root. Even in his interview with VladTV, the 30 year old stated that he is Nigerian-American, and specifically ‘Igbo-American’. More so, he often finds a way to incorporate African prints into his classic style of dressing – Ankara ties, shirts, pocket squares, etcetra.
Addressing the main issue, which was the use of the term ‘light skinned’, Jidenna explains in his letter that his comments “were related to the notion of perceived wealth and value, not my personal beliefs. My point was never to imply that biracial or ‘light-skinned’ people are the only ones or the most targeted group of people kidnapped , …”
The letter evoked different emotions and opinions; many warmed up to the rapper …
… But not everyone.
Aside from his comments on skin tone, another bone of contention was the fact that he recounted an unpleasant experience on national media. Like Daminho, a number of Nigerians believe Jidenna is a sell out for not singing Nigeria’s praise, or for ruining a good opportunity to ‘market’ his father land. Is he? Is Jidenna wrong to have told a story about Nigeria? Not a pleasant one, but a true story nonetheless. It is a known fact that Nigeria is one of the unsafest places in the world right now; owing to religious clashes, the Boko Haram insurgency, and incessant kidnapping.
Regarding the ‘light-skinned’ comment, let us be honest, aren’t foreigners are an easy target for kidnappers in Nigeria? This explains the increased use of security agents as escorts by expatriates in Nigeria. Nigerian blogger Okechukwu Ofili, narrated an experience on his blog, where he was asked to switch seats with his Russian colleague, to minimize the chance of danger for them on a trip. And while Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie gives caution on the danger of a single story, it must be the reason why, when her father was kidnapped few months ago, she told the story anyway. No one accused her of not being a good ambassador, or ‘misyarning’ about her father land. Like Jidenna said in his letter, “to not relay my own story, both the good times and the bad, would be a disservice … Rather than focus on my perceived value, let us continue to focus on the value of Nigeria.”
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