As always, many readers had plenty of thoughtful insights to share with me in response to last week’s column. I am taking the liberty, as is my wont, to share these with other readers. Enjoy:
Your write-up on the above subject matter is quite revealing about the disconnect between formal education and knowledge. It is quite ironic that African Americans, most of whose not-so-distant ancestors were victims of the largest forced migration in human history, would care to know so little about their roots. I had a very similar experience in 2000/2001 when I was a Fulbright Graduate Visiting Researcher at NC State University, Raleigh. In an article about Africa in an edition of "The Technician", a daily campus newspaper published by the Students Union of that university, the author made several references to 'the country of Africa'. I thought it was an error when I read the first sentence describing Africa as a country but, reading through it, I saw several other references and painfully concluded that it was indeed based on crass ignorance. To say the least, I was intellectually shocked. "Culture Shock" can indeed manifest in a multiplicity of ways! Immediately, I sent an elaborate email to the editor, educating the readers that 'Africa is not a country'.
As soon as it was published, a female Professor of Anthropology whose office was very close to mine in the 1911 Faculty Building explained apologetically to me, exhibiting visible signs of embarrassment, that the students just won't heed to her counsel to strive to expand their horizon of knowledge. But as your recent encounter shows, it is not just the problem of some academically lazy students. America is the home of books, the home of universities and indeed the cradle of the Internet. Yet, unfortunately, it is evident that an information-dominated society doesn't necessarily lead to an informed citizenry. It is an enduring lesson for all those who are truly committed caravans in quest of knowledge.
Dr. Abba Gana Shettima, Department of Sociology, University of Maiduguri
Let me strongly corroborate your experience, for I know it might sound far-fetched to some Nigerian readers who have never had such mystifying encounters. Where I live, Jalandhar, though a remotely urban area in the state of Punjab (India), meeting people who do not have an inkling of a country called Nigeria is the order of the day. Not only that, many more do not know of a continent named Africa. However, some others know, or rather take, every Black person to have originated from South Africa, a country which Mahatma Gandhi, the foremost Indian nationalist, lived at, and, again, the country which their most favourite national cricket team has had matches with. Only a pocket of them know other black countries—maybe in Africa—like Kenya, Zimbabwe and probably a few others due to, still, the same game (cricket) alone. The percentage of those who know Nigeria as a country is extremely minimal, I tell you. Thus, I can’t agree more with this week’s column.
Muhsin Ibrahim, Jalandhar, India
Let me tell you a similar story I heard in the early 1990s. My colleague was in the US and, in the course of a discussion with some Americans, one of them asked him if Nigeria was an area in Nairobi! For months on end we cracked jokes over this. I did not bother to ask if the person was white or African-American, because both are basically Americans, born and bred in a closed society where, I heard, no radio with a short wave band is ever found, let alone be used by anyone. The Western propaganda of yore spread all over the world was that the people of Communist countries like China and Russia were ignorant of other parts of the world because they were closed societies. Now we know better.
A. Mohammed (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This reminds me of Mark Twain's famous quote: "Don't Let Your Schooling Get In the Way of Your Education." I am shaking my damned head at the shocking bathos of an obviously very learned woman. After reading your forensic piece of exposition, I am ready to forgive rapper Ross; he is not in the business of instructing the world, like the woman journalism professor. I wonder what sort of knowledge she imparts in her students. How did she obtain her degrees?
I hope you were kind enough to send her a link or a copy of your article. It is an unforgivable faux pas for a professional in her position to expose such a shocking dearth of knowledge, especially in a circuit of highly learned colleagues in academia.
I know you're being kind, but that woman should not remain nameless. She is spreading her brand of naiveté amongst the unfortunate students who're drinking from her "font of knowledge" - which in light of the current revelations seems like a blight of ignorance, for she's clearly out of her depth in academia. She may be literate, but she is clearly half-baked. What a pity. I hope her university is aware they have an impostor professor in their midst.
Duchess Samira Edi, London
That is how it is here in America. It happened to me, too. In 2006, at the height of the Niger Delta criminality, a professor of International Business asked me: "Does Nigeria share a border with Bangladesh?" I just shook my head and answered him in the affirmative. Why? Because I know that every professor in Nigeria knows that Chicago, Miami, Houston, etc. are cities in America. Why, for God’s sake, can’t an American professor of International Business know where Nigeria is located? At that time Nigeria was the 6th largest supplier of crude oil to the US).
Itte Itte (email@example.com)
I feel relieved that my "…depth of incuriousness…,” which has continued to infuriate me, is completely dwarfed by this incredible event! While most of us are guilty, at various levels, I salute her courage for asking. Most of us might not at such fora, thereby continuing with the ignorant facade of being educated. Better late than never, right?
Abdullahi Bello Umar (MD/CEO, Kaduna Industrial and Finance Company Ltd.)