Self Made: An Illusion

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Growing up, I was a huge rap fan. I still am but not like I used to. I got to a point where personal glorification and self-aggrandisement of rappers almost left me gasping for air. As American rapper Jadakiss rhetorically asked in his 2004 hit-track Why, “why do rappers lie in 85% of their rhymes?”

To be fair to these artistes, their sounds and images are often being pressed on them by their record labels. Thence, creating a certain persona – an individual who grew up in the ghetto and had to delve into/overcome a life of crime, women and drugs to get away from poverty – a sensational story that gets the attention of the public. The music industry is all about business after all and money has to be made.

As a result, rap artistes end up projecting an image of a self-made successful individual who started from humble beginnings to get to where s/he is today. The self-made man is the ideal of the American success story; the core of American ethos.

This explains why Jeb Bush, a former two-term Governor of Florida State, son and brother to former Presidents of the United States and grandson of a (long-term) United States senator, played the self-made success card when he unsuccessfully campaigned for the Republic Party Presidential candidate nomination early this year. I found it ridiculous and funny; a classic case of delusions of grandeur.

This is someone whose first job after University graduation was with Texas Commerce Bank, partly owned by his father’s friend, James Baker. He may fail to acknowledge it but his background played a huge part in his success.

Last year, Alex Leary, the Washington bureau chief for the Tampa Bay Times, wrote in his column, “…but family pedigree played a clear role, allowing Bush to immediately land a lucrative job with an ambitious real-estate developer. It also gave Bush an advantage in local politics, irritating more established figures.”

It got me thinking about the world’s fixation on producing self-made men and women. The world is awash with stories of self-made millionaires. But is it really possible for one to get ahead in life without external help from others? I sincerely don’t think so because we live in a world that is inter-connected and inter-dependent. Rather, I think the theory of self-made man is an ego-fuelled illusion coated with falsehood.

Certain factors, outlined by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, play both positive and negative roles in one’s success journey. These factors include environment (when and where you were born and raised), parental upbringing (what your parents did for a living and circumstances surrounding your upbringing) as well as culture (inherited traditions and attitudes).

Warren Buffet, one of the world’s richest men and the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, echoes this view: “I personally think that society is responsible for a very significant percentage of what I’ve earned. If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru or someplace, you’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil. I will be struggling 30 years later.”

I am not trying to playdown the essence of hardwork, effort, talent, determination, or mental strength in our success pursuit. These are all core ingredients of success but the aforementioned factors afford us an opportunity which only the prepared ones like Buffet (who possess the core success ingredients) take.

Take for example, parents, family members, communities, guardians, Government, Scholarship boards and philanthropists pay the school fees of many students but the onus still lies on the students to put in the hardwork and effort to graduate. Those who pay the school fees create the opportunity for good education whilst the prepared student takes it with both hands, studies and graduates.

Another classic example (for football lovers) is the story of Marcus Rashford. The then 18-year-old was given an opportunity by erstwhile Manchester United manager, Louis van Gaal, to make a name for himself in a crucial Europa League encounter. The prepared youngster took the opportunity with both hands, scoring a brace in the match as his team ran out 5-1 winners against Midtjylland on the night.

It is evident that we all need someone to give us that big break, which we all yearn for. This may come from friends, family, teachers, mentors, coaches, antagonists, well-wishers, acquaintances, students…the list goes on and on. It is only pride, arrogance, ignorance, delusion or insecurity that can impede one from recognising the invaluable contributions and investments of others. As Fredrick Douglas aptly said, “opportunity is important but exertion is indispensable.”

What are your thoughts about the idea of being self-made?

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Sexism: Men are Victims Too

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Feminism is a delicate topic in Nigeria. The movement has been bastardized but one is yet to fully grasp the agenda of Nigerian feminists.

There appears to be a conflict of interest in defining the essence of their feminist movement. It could be that many of them are either confused or ignorant of the core values of the feminism ideology. As my friend Moji once said, ignorance is a silent, parasitic affliction that twists and bends the lenses of one’s eyes to produce a distorted view of reality.

Today, they are pushing for gender equality; for men and women to be recognized as equal. Tomorrow, they are advocating for gender favouritism; fighting for causes that favour only women – a battle of sexes per se.

For instance, there’s always a special prize for the last woman standing at TV shows like the Gulder Ultimate Search and I have never seen any feminist stand up in its disaproval. This makes me wonder if we inadvertently propagate gender inequality and sexism.

To be fair, sexism is not anyone’s fault. It has become imbibed in our society. As a result, both men and women, directly or indirectly, make sexist comments on a daily basis.

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Nice guys are often ridiculed by both men and women for their niceness and lack of masculine energy to take the bull by the horn. ‘He is not man enough’ is often the derogatory comment used to describe these guys. And that is also sexism.

Recently, I read an article about an emotional man who often sheds tears for women whenever he is heart-broken. As expected, the comment section was rife with sexist remarks. Both men and women were quick to judge the man and say things like:

“How can a man be heartbroken?”

“Do you listen to RnB songs? Gangstas don’t play that shit. They listen to rap.”

“Real men aren’t emotional.”

“Only weak men cry over a lady.”

I had to ask, why can’t a man be emotional and cry over a woman? Is there any law out there that forbids anyone with the male genitalia from crying? I mean, if it is therapeutic for him, he should go ahead and do the needful – there’s no shame in that.

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According to Wikipedia, sexism can affect any gender but it is particularly documented as affecting only women and girls. And this is evident in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign to rescue the 219 Chibok girls that were abducted by Boko Haram. There’s no mention of the young boys that are also victims of such abduction or sex trafficking.

Women, not only men, also perpetrate domestic and intimate partner violence, falsely accuse men of rape and other devious acts, molest/sexually harass young boys and commit paternity fraud. Even cancers affecting women get more attention than those affecting men.

Despite all these risks men face, support services for men are almost non existent compared to services for women. There are also ministries for women affairs, but none for men, in the UN and virtually all Nigerian Governments both at Federal and State Level.

Like I aforementioned, our society upholds sexist attitude, directly or indirectly, through the media, culture and/or education. Despite the patriarchal nature of our society, every child, whether male or female, is instilled with a woman’s point of view. The boys are taught to protect and give the ladies special treatment as the head of the family whilst the girls, in total submission to men, are taught to expect preferential treatment from men.

If there’s any justice in the world, no individual will be judged based on appearance and/or masculinity/femininity. Unfortunately, there is none.