Jidenna Addresses Nigerian Community After Controversial “Light Skin” Comments
Last week, artist Jidenna made headlines when he spoke about how being light skinned in Nigeria affected his upbringing.
In case you missed it, Jidenna said:
“Our family was light. When you’re light-skinned you’re a heavier target for being kidnapped. Because you’re seen as more valuable. You’re seen as white. You have more money. We were robbed. Our family has been assaulted. It’s different. For us, we’ve always been a target. When you come to America, it’s different.”
He then spoke about the violence his family experienced because they were perceived as White and wealthy, saying that the family had been robbed and assaulted. After that incident, when Jidenna returned to Nigeria for his father’s funeral, his family, remembering their other experiences, came armed to protect themselves from any potential danger.
Well, the comments were not well received, particularly by those in the Nigerian community. While, some understood that he was referencing his unique set of experiences, others felt he painted the country in a negative light.
There was no way Jidenna could have avoided the criticism and backlash. So in response, on his personal website, the artist penned this open letter to the Nigerian community.
July 15, 2015
To all my Nigerian brothers and sisters…
I am, always have been, and always will be proud of my Nigerian heritage. I understand the pain and anger caused by some of the comments I made in a recent interview, and I wanted to address you directly. Contrary to popular belief, this interview was not the first in which I mentioned Nigeria. In fact, I’m frequently bragging about how Nigerians attend the world’s most prestigious institutions, and how we are known to produce world class doctors, entrepreneurs, innovators, lawyers, engineers, professors, athletes and artists. Unfortunately, people tend to leave these moments out, and, in this case, highlight stereotypes. I would never do or say anything to intentionally disgrace the legacy of my father nor my fatherland. But to not relay my own story, both the good times and the bad, would be a disservice.
My name is Jidenna, which means “to hold or embrace the father” in Igbo. It was my father who gave me this name and who taught me countless parables, proverbs, and principles that made me the man I am today. These same principles helped me to write the record “Classic Man.” When I brought home a 98 percent on a test, my father would say, “ah ah, where are the other two points? Go and get them, then bring them back.” My father and Nigerian culture has always stood for excellence. While the majority of my childhood memories are beautiful, I also have experienced the challenges that Nigeria has faced since Independence.
When I was 5 years old, my family was robbed at gunpoint, my mother was beaten, family members were kidnapped, and I was shot in my foot. As is the case with all kidnapping, targeting those who are perceived to be wealthy is the objective. In this instance, my father was the target because of his prominence in the community. This was a traumatic experience for my family that would shape our entire lives and our experiences in both Nigeria and America. As a little boy, I swore that I would never let that happen to my family again. As my father often said, “Once you’re bitten by a snake, you‘ll be ready to shoot a lizard!” At the time of my father’s burial 5 years ago, my family in the village was concerned about increased targeting for kidnapping since the rate of abductions had increased dramatically in the area we are from. We were traveling from America, which along with our biracial appearance, had the potential to attract attention and pose a threat to our security. In light of what happened in the past and the tense climate at the time, my family took precautions to ensure our safety. This was not an uncommon protocol at the time. I recognize incidents such as these are not unique to Nigeria or the African continent, and there have been significant improvements in the region since this period.
In the recent interview to which I’ve been referring, I shared my family’s experience traveling from the States back home for the burial. In this interview, I used the term “light-skinned.” When using this term, I was actually referring to my immediate family’s mixed or biracial appearance. See, no matter what language I use to describe my heritage, I’m certain that someone will feel some kind of way. This is a larger discussion not meant for this statement, but certainly derives from our colonial past and postcolonial present, and in the States, from the days of slavery to the present times. My comments about skin tone 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, or that I myself was wealthy at the time. Rather than focus on my perceived value, let us continue to focus on the value of Nigeria.
There is no question that Africa is playing a pivotal role in the future of our planet and that Nigeria, with it’s booming economy and burgeoning middle class, is a driving force. I will continue to play my role in the Renaissance taking place in Nigeria and Africa at large. We may not agree on everything, but know my heart is your heart, and my experience is part of our collective experience.
I’m not Nigerian, but I do come from a Jamaican immigrant background. So, I understand the pride people take in their homelands and their desire to protect it, even at the expense of telling half-truths. I get it, especially in America where negative stereotypes about Africa and African people are accepted as truth. Still, if those experiences really are his, they are his to share with the world as he sees fit.
I didn’t interpret his comments as a stain on the whole country. Instead, he was speaking on his racial identity, the mindset and behavior of a select few. And as someone who’s listened to his other interviews, I know this was not the first time he’s spoken about Nigeria. And when I heard him speak of his Nigerian father and the country, he did so favorably. But you might not have seen or heard about those interviews because controversy sells. Either way, I don’t need to defend him. The brotha did quite the job in his own letter.
What do you think? Did he paint the country in a negative light or was he just telling the truth about his experiences? Should negative experiences in African countries be kept secret in light of the negative stereotypes?