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Humans of New York Is HONY's portrayal of Nigeria, poverty porn or reality?

Nigerians have a tendency to attack foreigners who remind them of how poor the country is.

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The portrayal of Nigerians by Brandon Stanton of Humans o New York highlights how much poverty is entrenched in everyday life in Nigeria play

The portrayal of Nigerians by Brandon Stanton of Humans o New York highlights how much poverty is entrenched in everyday life in Nigeria

(Humans of New York)

Brandon Stanton, the curator of emotional human experiences on Instagram was recently in Lagos as part of his African trip.

The man behind the famous Humans of New York (HONY) Instagram account also visited our neighbours in Accra and the capital city of Cairo.

Stanton’s documentation of everyday life in Nigeria has garnered quite some vocal response from Nigeria’s online community.

View this post on Instagram

#emo#4oCc##I want to live a happy life. I#emo#4oCZ##m tired of living a poor life. I#emo#4oCZ##m trying to save money for school but nothing is working. I#emo#4oCZ##ve left home three different times looking for work. The first time I found a job as a housekeeper. But every morning when I got dressed the man would try to touch me. I was only seventeen. He wouldn#emo#4oCZ##t even stop when I threatened to tell on him. His wife blamed me for his attention. She beat me severely. There were bruises all over my body. She didn#emo#4oCZ##t even allow me to eat. But I tried to stay because I wanted to go to school so badly. Then one morning he tried to rape me in the bath, and I finally ran away. When I found a new housekeeping job, the same thing happened. This time it was a pastor. So a few weeks ago I switched to a cleaning job at an art gallery. But they just fired me for speaking to the visitors. I don#emo#4oCZ##t know why this always happens to me. It makes me so angry. I get mad at my parents for being poor. I get mad at my friends for going to school. When I see their graduation pictures on Facebook, I just start crying. I#emo#4oCZ##m already twenty years old. I should be finishing school, but I haven#emo#4oCZ##t even started yet. But everything has it#emo#4oCZ##s own time. Hopefully my time will come too.#emo#4oCd## (Lagos, Nigeria)

A post shared by Humans of New York (@humansofny) on

 

View this post on Instagram

#emo#4oCc##My uncle was an engineer. He#emo#4oCZ##s the one that exposed me to reading. He#emo#4oCZ##d get a book, finish it, and give it to me. By the time I was twenty I#emo#4oCZ##d read over one thousand books. I learned how to live from the characters I encountered. The first book I ever read was The Passport of Malam Illia, and to this day it#emo#4oCZ##s the reason I never take vengeance. And there#emo#4oCZ##s plenty to be angry about around here. Most of my friends are poor. When we were growing up, police would come to the slum in the evening, pick up my friends, and beat them for no reason. It made me so angry. But books also taught me that we have the power to change things. We can fight for lower fuel prices. We can fight for better medical facilities. I#emo#4oCZ##m actually heading to a protest right now. We haven#emo#4oCZ##t had electricity in this slum for ten days. Why? Because last month we protested and now they#emo#4oCZ##re trying to punish us. But we won#emo#4oCZ##t sit down. Too many poor people don#emo#4oCZ##t realize their own power because they#emo#4oCZ##ve been subjugated for too long. They#emo#4oCZ##re like the chickens I keep in my house. Every time I whistle, the chickens come. Even when I don#emo#4oCZ##t have food in my hand. And that#emo#4oCZ##s how people think. They believe that only government has the power to give. But anything the government has power to give, we have the power to take for ourselves.#emo#4oCd## (Lagos, Nigeria)

A post shared by Humans of New York (@humansofny) on

 

There are those of the opinion that Stanton’s curation of the Nigerian experience is nothing short of poverty porn as a white man from a capitalist nation that paints an African country as a 3rd world nation riddled with poverty.

On the other hand, there are those that believe that Stanton’s work is an accurate and blunt portrayal of life in Nigeria. According to these set of people, HONY just placed a mirror on what it means to live in Nigeria.

 

The truth is that Stanton is not the architect of deep poverty that is embedded in the most populous black nation on earth. He is just an observer. People who are offended by his narrative are not aware of what is going on in the country or simply refuse to deal with stark reality. They are escapists, which has become the favourite past time of Nigerians not wanting to deal with reality.

ALSO READ: Nigeria can't afford to get it wrong in 2019

This is why humour, comedy movies and fast-food Afrobeats music are popular in Nigeria. They help a lot of Nigerians hide from the reality of the situation at hand.

Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world and the reality of this hasn't dawned on the thin middle class in Nigeria. There are more poor people in our country than anywhere in the world. This means it is more likely for an inquisitive foreigner to speak with a poor person than a billionaire who lives in the insanely expensive Banana Island.

 

Apart from this extremely slim chance of bumping into a member of Nigeria's less than 1% elite, documenting the lives of Nigeria’s rich and powerful as the singular Nigerian experience would be inaccurate and a gross distortion of facts.

The facts are these, apart from being the poverty capital of the world, 13.2 million children are out of school, the highest in the world. Nigeria also ranks the lowest in reducing the inequality gap between its rich and poor. These are cold, hard facts that we close our eyes to. And there is an explanation for this.

Our cultural DNA is ambitious, grand, sometimes excessive and opulent. There is no strain reserved for the reality of daily hardship. That’s why some Pentecostal Christians in Nigeria would rather say ‘I’m rich” rather than “I’m broke”. The confession of not having resources is a shock to our DNA of abundance.

HONY woke us up from the matrix of unnecessarily expensive wedding ceremonies and poor financial habits to show us the poverty capital we live in. And trust me the last things Nigerians want to see is poverty at least from a foreigner.

A lot of Nigerians know things are hard but when this statement of fact comes from an individual who is not a citizen our odd patriotic defence mechanism kicks in. We know we are poor but we don’t want the world to see us that way.

ALSO READ: It's time to halt worsening poverty in Nigeria

This episode reminds me of when Rick Ross shot the alternate video for his single ‘Hold Me Back’ in 2012.

The Maybach Music don was slaughtered on Twitter by Nigerians for branding Nigeria as a country rife in poverty. He was criticized for exploiting the reality of poverty in Nigeria.

HONY portrayal of Nigeria, poverty porn or reality play

A scene from Rick Ross' 'Hold Me Back' alternate video

(YouTube/Rick Ross)

 

To me, it was and will always be a senseless accusation. Rick Ross and Brandon Stanton did not place poverty props and curated them. They only showcased the reality of the average man and woman in Nigeria. It’s not poverty porn but poverty reality.

Nigeria is a poor country and we can’t hide this fact with Christian-speak. There are millions of people in this country that can’t afford a plate of rice daily.

The thin middle class who have cocooned themselves in the fallacy of social media and don't want to deal with the reality of things.

Our real DNA is poverty.

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