Thursday, 24 July 2014

Preconceptions can be Shocking

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I listen to a lot of radio and find that I form a completely unjustified mental picture of what my favorite voices look like in the flesh.  I have to say that on more than one occasion I have been shocked to find that these people bear not the faintest resemblance to my imaginings when I finally see them in other media.  I have even been wrong as to race.  Witness in another dimension a big mistake I made when reading "Half of a Yellow Sun",  that marvelous novel by a young Nigerian writer about middle class Igbo people, academics, teachers and businessmen and how they survive the violent birth of their new nation, Biafra in the 1960s.   For the first 100 pages, I imagined that the beautiful, young, black heroine was shacked up with an erudite English professor, who, (the book says), spent his spare time at the club or playing tennis or having dinner parties with colleagues. An older, gray-haired man, I imagined. Slightly odd, I thought, that his name was Odenigbo, but I regarded this as pure British snobby affectation. I was further backed up in my impression of him when in the first chapter, a young boy is brought from a neighboring village by his mother, to be his houseboy.  The professor's imperious attitude to the mother and son and their anxious and fearful attitudes to him cemented my thoughts. Only much later, did the professor's mother visit from the next village and berate our heroine for being a witch and stealing away her son,  did I finally click that the professor was actually a black man.  Amazed, I looked back at chapter one for clues: he was described as having a "dark' skin.  Suntanned, I had thought.  What does all this say about me? Perhaps the best that can be said is that I was totally ignorant about the Nigeria of the 60s.  By the way, it's a very good book.

2 comments:

  1. I am not sure that your preconceptions say anything about you. It may say a lot about the culture that one is accustomed to. We are all heirs and victims to the culture in which we reside. Most of it is harmless but often we can make some very foolish mistakes based on cultural ass umptions.

    You are hardly alone in that category.

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