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Running with the jackalopes
July 4, 2013 8:15 AM   Subscribe

Abubakar Suleiman, a 15 year-old Boston student whose hobbies apparently include taking condescending local reporters for a ride. When one of the more august organs of the American press, the Boston Globe (founded 1872), came calling this week at his school in Boston’s suburbs in order to tell his story, he was only too happy to provide them with some quite remarkable copy.via
posted by infini (221 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
And the gotcha in detail.

Yep, being a bright 15-year-old boy with a wry sense of humor gave him a leg up on Ms. Abraham. He put her on, dangled the hook and she went for it.

posted by infini at 8:19 AM on July 4, 2013


This kid is going to go far.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:30 AM on July 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Teehee, that is very amusing.
posted by Think_Long at 8:30 AM on July 4, 2013


Is there proof that that's what the kid did? I'd like to believe it, but there are other possibilities. For instance, he could have been lying to his peers since his arrival -- something he might have dont to impress them and fit in faster or better and then telling the lie could have just been the natural thing to do as he'd not been found out in 5 years.

I'd of course prefer to think he was pulling the wool over the reporters eyes but I don't think it's the simplest scenario.
posted by dobbs at 8:35 AM on July 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


No, no, no, you are supposed to pull stunts like that on the internet.
posted by localroger at 8:44 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


To be fair, if he's got an email account, he's probably got a lot of material to work with.
posted by schmod at 8:46 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I do not understand how this is really a funny "gotcha." Generally, human interest stories are not intensively fact-checked and how many among us can honestly say we knew there were no zebras in the wild in Nigeria? If the reporter shows up to interview a nice, polite Nigerian boy who has been a very successful student in an American school, how is she supposed to know he is putting her on? He told her he hunted zebras with spears. I don't think it makes her a fool to report what he said.

This just seems like a not-funny example of a source lying to a reporter for lulz. What makes this so funny to the rest of you?
posted by Unified Theory at 8:55 AM on July 4, 2013 [25 favorites]


“At first, I didn’t want to come to America,” he said. “My parents were strangers.” Boston was another planet.

“It was strange to meet light-skinned people,” he said. “I thought, ‘Who are they? Are they human?’” He had never seen a television: “I tapped on the screen: ‘Why are there people in there?’”

posted by infini at 8:57 AM on July 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


Without the backstory, I'm also a bit confused. Why did the kid do this? Why did the reporter seek him out to begin with? And, I'm not seeing the zebra story in the original article, has it been taken out?
posted by HuronBob at 9:00 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Five years ago, Abubakar Suleiman was hunting zebras with spears and trying to avoid antagonizing cheetahs.

First paragraph of original article.
posted by Unified Theory at 9:03 AM on July 4, 2013


> What makes this so funny to the rest of you?

The ignorance and lack of world education of US journalists. Their knowledge of Africa could mostly come from Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness". Assigned reading, a complete lack of interest in the WORLD, and just showing up for school and getting a degree. Then displaying ignorance on the world stage, writing for the Boston Globe.

It's funny because it's delightful.
posted by surplus at 9:03 AM on July 4, 2013 [34 favorites]


That's why he did this. Because why did the reporter seek him out, out of what must be thousands of immigrants, for the story.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:04 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


So he's really a Nigerian prince whose escape to America was financed by a generous American on the internet? How boring.
posted by klarck at 9:06 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd of course prefer to think he was pulling the wool over the reporters eyes but I don't think it's the simplest scenario.

See, back when I was fifteen, I knew some kids who fibbed to stupid reporters who had showed up at our high school looking for a story about [cue eighties panic]....satanism!!!! Were there local satanists? Oh, of course there were!!! Lots and lots. Worshipping the devil in the abandoned Ovaltine factory down the street. Etc, etc. And the reporter fell for it hook, line and sinker.

I have no reason to doubt that this kid was playing with the reporter, probably based on all the foolishness he'd encountered from people in the US.

As a side note, it has been my experience that citizens/native speakers/white people often fail to recognize playfulness and wit when it is performed by immigrants/non-native speakers/people of color - we tend to assume that what is humor and wit must be naivety and confusion because we are not ready to assign wit, mischief, playfulness or artistic impulses to people we have been socialized to see as outsiders, ignorant or abject.
posted by Frowner at 9:07 AM on July 4, 2013 [55 favorites]


I don't really see that ignorance on display here. What was so implausible about the story he told her? It actually seems laudable that she was writing a story about him, and trying to share that with readers. By interviewing him, isn't she trying to learn about his history?

Would we expect an Nigerian journalist to have a detailed knowledge of what species are found in Boston or the US? Would we laugh at them for believing someone they interviewed?

Journalists are not expected to have encyclopedic knowledge, that's why they interview people.

So I'm still not seeing the delightfulness.
posted by Unified Theory at 9:08 AM on July 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


> What makes this so funny to the rest of you?

Maybe it's just something about how the journalist has a bright future not checking facts and publishing whatever they're told.
posted by surplus at 9:09 AM on July 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


See, back when I was fifteen, I knew some kids who fibbed to stupid reporters who had showed up at our high school looking for a story about [cue eighties panic]....satanism!!!! Were there local satanists? Oh, of course there were!!! Lots and lots. Worshipping the devil in the abandoned Ovaltine factory down the street. Etc, etc. And the reporter fell for it hook, line and sinker.

Now THAT is funny, because the subject matter is preposterous. But a reporter interviewing the kid about his Nigerian background? The kid was just being a jerk.
posted by Unified Theory at 9:11 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I used to do a similar thing back in the early days of BMX where I would explain Canada to American kids in Northern Michigan. Stuff like how we have winter tires for our bikes with nails and that our dad's stood guard while we BMXed to protect against polar bears. The best part was that we all lived much further south than the guys we were talking to.
posted by srboisvert at 9:11 AM on July 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Journalists are not expected to have encyclopedic knowledge, that's why they interview people.

See, I have done some journalism - not at a very high level, it's true - but I virtually always researched my topic in the course of writing my story and expected to go into interviews with some knowledge of both the interview subject and the topic. But I expect that the journalist in this case is poorly paid, under the gun and being pushed to deliver anodyne, stupid "news", given our current model of news production, so this probably isn't super possible for her.

I do feel, though, that this is more a skit on American ignorance about Africa and immigration than on the journalist, per se. All these silly stereotypes had to come from somewhere, probably foolery that the kid encountered from regular people.

Was it absolutely a nice, kind thing to do? Maybe not. But it probably gets a bit frustrating to hear that people think you've never seen a television and so on, and awfully tempting to pull their legs a little bit.
posted by Frowner at 9:12 AM on July 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


THe journalist isn't just ignorant of Nigerian animals. The reporter found him and expected exactly that story, so that's what he gave them

His story is likely the same as any other immigrant. Why show up and ask him about adjusting?

Why not a kid from England. I mean they all have terrible teeth and their food comes out of tins and they only drink tea. Must be hard to adjust to no tea at school unless they make tea available to ease the transition
posted by Ad hominem at 9:14 AM on July 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


antagonizing cheetahs brings to mind a Gary Larson image of sneering pompadoured leather-jacketed spotted felines.
posted by stevil at 9:16 AM on July 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


(I used to do a similar thing back in the early days of BMX where I would explain Canada to American kids in Northern Michigan. Stuff like how we have winter tires for our bikes with nails and that our dad's stood guard while we BMXed to protect against polar bears. The best part was that we all lived much further south than the guys we were talking to.

Actually, I once convinced someone that we had grizzly bears (whose habitat is often described as "west of the Mississippi") here in the Twin Cities on the west bank of the Mississippi (where I live) and no grizzly bears on the east bank (where I work). They did twig to it when I started talking about having to race to get to the bridge and safety, but still.

I also once convinced someone that I was going to become a nun and that they thus should not swear in front of me. )
posted by Frowner at 9:17 AM on July 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Okay, but...the zebra hunting is the only bit he definitely lied about? He threw in some embellishments about spearing wildlife, and the 'tapping the tv' thing?

So it's just a rather badly-written article (the patronizing Hallmark tone drove me nuts) by some journo who didn't think to question whether there are zebras in Nigeria. I guess I'm not that surprised that someone didn't know that they didn't know something. (If that makes any sense.)

At the risk of sounding like a humourless dullard, I don't really get it as a 'gotcha', either.
posted by Salamander at 9:19 AM on July 4, 2013


Why not a kid from England. I mean they all have terrible teeth and their food comes out of tins and they only drink tea. Must be hard to adjust to no tea at school unless they make tea available to ease the transition

Well, because they'd presumably already speak English when they arrived, at least.
posted by Salamander at 9:21 AM on July 4, 2013


The zebra thing is just about forgiveable, but this:

“It was strange to meet light-skinned people,” he said. “I thought, ‘Who are they? Are they human?’” He had never seen a television: “I tapped on the screen: ‘Why are there people in there?’”

I mean, come on. Never having seen a television might be possible in very isolated communities in central Africa (and even then I'd take it with a barrel of salt and triple-check it) but in Nigeria?

This is the equivalent of falling for a story in which France was once behind the Iron Curtain, it's absolutely baffling.
posted by atrazine at 9:21 AM on July 4, 2013 [15 favorites]


Yeah, the tv thing was ludicrous.

Still, though...if some newspaper sends their cadet reporter down to do a fluff piece on the school's latest trophy kid, she's going to feel pretty shitty calling him a liar. I feel a bit sorry for her, or something.
posted by Salamander at 9:25 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, because they'd presumably already speak English when they arrived, at least.

You'll never guess the official language of Nigeria.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:25 AM on July 4, 2013 [79 favorites]


Does Nigeria have a particular culture of preposterous humour? I'm extrapolating from a sample size of about four, but there's this sort of exuberant wit and absurd hilariousness I associate with Nigerians. See also How to Get Foreign Friends, previously on Metafilter.
posted by Nelson at 9:25 AM on July 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Because the reporter is a racist. The reporter thought it was so remarkable a kid from Nigeria managed to graduate 7th grade that they thought it was worth an entire article.

This is like my grandmother thinking it was adorable Asian men manage to become doctors but still spoke super slowly to them as if they we dumb or something.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:27 AM on July 4, 2013 [17 favorites]


There was a comment, I think here, a few years ago that made the point that we always trust the versions of stories that we read in the paper, unless we were there ourselves, at which point we laugh at how wrong the paper got it, and then we go right back to treating it as an authority elsewhere...

Basically, the state of journalism is appallingly bad, human interest stories like this are a waste of the ink and paper, and every reminder to the public that newspapers don't know what the hell they are talking about is a public service.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:28 AM on July 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


> Does Nigeria have a particular culture of preposterous humour?

In college I had a housemate from Nigeria who told everyone he had 9 wives. Almost everyone believed him. Frickin delightful.
posted by surplus at 9:28 AM on July 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


You'll never guess the official language of Nigeria.

To be fair, he came from the North so he might not have spoken more than a certain amount of Nigerian Pidgin, official language or not.
posted by atrazine at 9:28 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd also like to add that the picture of the kid smirking at the camera was perfect.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:29 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


So I'm still not seeing the delightfulness.

I wouldn't describe my feeling as one of delight, although there's a certain dark humor in seeing someone credulous being fed broad stereotypes. I know this is just a fluffy little human interest story, but journalism isn't just stenography and I wish journalists across the board would spend more time critically evaluating what they're being told by the people they interview.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:30 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, its making the rounds as gotcha so I put it up as such but I suspect that the real backstory is that it was 29th June, Obama was in Africa, lets go find an African to do a human interest piece on.

Would you, in today's hyper connected day and age, really really publish this story under your name in the Boston Globe? Including those choice bits about the TV and whether light skinned people were human?

What's funny is the gullibility of the journalist and the eminence of the paper, what's sad is that its "just the zebra bit" that can be cited and the irony that there really is no obvious gotcha...
posted by infini at 9:30 AM on July 4, 2013


Also, they generally don't let you throw the javelin until high school. I checked the MA state athletics track & field results and they all started at 9th grade.
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:31 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The journalist added an update to the bottom of the Boston Globe article:

Update from July 4, 2013

After this column ran, I received several notes from readers saying there are no zebras in the Nigerian wild.

They’re right. I spoke to the Abubakar Suleiman, and he admitted that the hunting escapades he told me about, stories he told friends and teachers since arriving at the age of 10, were tales he’d heard from an uncle, and not his own. But in conversations with his mother and teachers, the rest of his story checks out. His many remarkable accomplishments in Boston stand.

posted by The Girl Who Ate Boston at 9:33 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Clarification: Nope - I guess you can. I looked in the wrong place!
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:36 AM on July 4, 2013


Well, because they'd presumably already speak English when they arrived, at least.

You'll never guess the official language of Nigeria.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:25 AM on July 4 [4 favorites +] [!]

Nah, I knew that. Having actually been there and all.

Clearly, you'd never guess how many rural Nigerians speak not a word of the 'official language'.
posted by Salamander at 9:39 AM on July 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


We need to start writing more about how well Peace Corps folks adapt to pit latrines and mosquito nets, and learn to eat with their hands so quickly.
posted by infini at 9:40 AM on July 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Nope. Not delightful. Lying and dishonesty is a serious problem here, and everywhere.
posted by uraniumwilly at 9:42 AM on July 4, 2013


Because the reporter is a racist. The reporter thought it was so remarkable a kid from Nigeria managed to graduate 7th grade that they thought it was worth an entire article.

posted by Ad hominem at 9:27 AM on July 4 [+] [!]


Oh, c'mon. A racist? That is a grossly unfair simplification, and actually pretty dismissive of the kid.

Sounds like the school nominated the kid as 'most outstanding' or whatever, and the paper focused on him because of that. The entire story wasn't a fabrication.
posted by Salamander at 9:43 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The poor kid is probably going to get grief from his classmates now. Well done Internet.
We have exposed this charlatan.
posted by gnuhavenpier at 9:44 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, c'mon. A racist? That is a grossly unfair simplification, and actually pretty dismissive of the kid.

Nope. Racist.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:45 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter, you are not fun.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:45 AM on July 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


Still, it isn't any harder for a Nigerian to learn English than the countless Russians and Indians I work with , nobody shows up to give them a pat on the back on how well spoken they are.

I'm not taking anything away from the kid, just asking why he was singled out.

I'm not saying the reporter is malicious. Just awfully condescending.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:47 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hausa bout that!
posted by spitbull at 9:48 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, c'mon. A racist? That is a grossly unfair simplification, and actually pretty dismissive of the kid.

Nope. Racist.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:45 AM on July 4 [+] [!]

Right-o. Just...'cos?
posted by Salamander at 9:48 AM on July 4, 2013


Unreal. OK it's delightful because otherwise it's tragic that US journalists and consumers reject modern images of the non-US non-Europe world.

Example Consider how Juan Valdez used to be a connoisseur coffee buyer in coffee ads in the 60's. He traveled from village to village in a car to appraise their crop. Now he is a farmer with a burro.
posted by surplus at 9:49 AM on July 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


I dunno, it just seems rather small-spirited of you all to think it's so funny that a source pulled the wool over a reporter's eyes, you're very much buying into a narrative that you also want to believe based on your own biases. "Racist"? No, the reporter is just showcasing what seems to be the considerable accomplishment of adjusting so fully to American life in the short span of five years.

It would be very easy to criticize many papers for ignoring brown-skinned people and other immigrants, for not being interested in their stories. Here's an attempt to listen to one of those people and bring his experience to readers, and he hoodwinked her for no good reason and to you all she's ignorant and racist? If she approached his story with skepticism and doubt maybe you'd find her racist too? You'd likely be saying, "What, does this reporter think brown-skinned people's words can't be taken at face value? That they are inveterate tricksters incapable of sincerity? How racist!"
posted by Unified Theory at 9:49 AM on July 4, 2013 [25 favorites]


Because she ate up without question a story that the kid was chucking spears at zebras and avoiding cheetahs, wondered whether white people were human, handled a television like a confused animal, and couldn't go to school in his home country because of the Pidgin ENglish spoken there but was magically able to pick up "proper" English thanks to, I dunno, magic once he was here and presumably got over his shock at all things electrical.

The kid fed her a story that was basically The Blind Side amped up to eleven and she didn't question it, because of her racist assumptions.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:52 AM on July 4, 2013 [13 favorites]


The kid fed her a story that was basically The Blind Side amped up to eleven and she didn't question it, because of her racist assumptions.

Or because he's a person telling her something and we generally presume people are telling us the truth?
posted by Unified Theory at 9:54 AM on July 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


My hamburger meter just broke.

it's tragic that US journalists and consumers reject modern images of the non-US non-Europe world.

And unlike previously, the internets (courtesy Googleballoons infact) are bringing this obsolete topdown view to our handheld devices, just like it tells us how third world Presidents are treated by the OECD.
posted by infini at 9:54 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The debunking article is totally off-base. For six months, I was Abubakar Suleiman's javelin instructor. You can ask my close, personal friend, Chinua Achebe.
posted by horsewithnoname at 9:55 AM on July 4, 2013 [22 favorites]


Or because he's a person telling her something and we generally presume people are telling us the truth?

Especially if you're a journalist, apparently.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:55 AM on July 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


the poor kid is probably going to get grief from his classmates now.

Funny, I think he's going to be pretty popular as a result.

The reporter wasn't racist; she was lazy. The story screamed trope to me. Fact checking it is simple due diligence.

because he's a person telling her something and we generally presume people are telling us the truth?

I think you're confusing "journalism" with "stenography". But then, that's pretty much the norm these days.
posted by dry white toast at 9:57 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Unified Theory, you are right. The poor journalist, she meant well, bless her heart. Would you mind very much flagging this FPP for deletion since it was not a gotcha after all and just the upliftment of a deserving child. Who is smirking at you in that photograph whether you like it or not.
posted by infini at 9:59 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


What's really funny about the note she added later is that it calls into question whether he was playing her for a fool because of her racist assumptions (as you so fervently want to believe because it supports you in your biases). It sounds like he lied because he just thought his uncle's old stories were more interesting than saying he grew up with TV and listening to rock music ... not to show the journalist to be a fool, as this post is framed.
posted by Unified Theory at 10:00 AM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


That's very possible, though I read it as the journalist covering her own ass at the end of an article that reads like a parody of bad human interest articles.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:01 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The "heard it from my uncle" line is the sort of admission you make when you want to keep the rest of the lie in play, and seems to have been successful.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:02 AM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well yeah, human interest stories are not really accompanied by the fact checking one would expect from a reporter covering, say, the NSA/Snowden thing. It's light fare. Call it stenography if you want, but it's silly to expect a lot of fact checking of a story like this.
posted by Unified Theory at 10:02 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The whole thing is a trope. Savages being civilized by white people. Never saw a TV and now he's graduating 7th grade.

I dunno guys. Maybe I'm the real racist here because I'm denying him his accomplishments.

I still think its funny though.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:02 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I doubt it - most bright teens love to play adults in my experience and the reporter sure got played. Kindest assumption is that she's lazy and naive but hunting zebras with a javelin? And never seen a tv or pale skinned people??? Strains credulity to say the least.
posted by leslies at 10:03 AM on July 4, 2013


Metafilter: Nope. Racist.
posted by downing street memo at 10:03 AM on July 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


Call it stenography if you want, but it's silly to expect a lot of fact checking of a story like this.

You are correct; and some people have a problem with that.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:03 AM on July 4, 2013


People believe what they want to believe.

I grew up in Montana and went to college there. One of my dorm mates was from New Jersey, and he knew people back there that had never been more than five miles from where they grew up. He told them that we rode horses to school and worried about Indian raids and they bought it.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:04 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Who said anything about "expecting a lot of fact checking." One conversation with a family member, and maybe shouting "hey, does Nigeria have zebras?" in the newsroom would have been sufficient here.
posted by dry white toast at 10:07 AM on July 4, 2013


It's funny that Nigeria has a zebra on its postage stamps but we Western cosmopolitans are all supposed to know offhand that there are no zebras in the wild in Nigeria.
posted by Unified Theory at 10:11 AM on July 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


The range of the plains zebra.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:16 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Umm, yeah. Not questioning that the kid didn't speak English when he arrived was not racist. Because, like many rural Nigerians, he didn't. As verified by the school. (Although, since we're talking about fact-checking, it's intriguing that so many people here seem to believe that 'official language' = 'spoken by everyone'.)

Believing the other stuff was dumb, naive, sloppy journalism...sure. But racist? If the kid had happened to be, say, Icelandic, and had spun her some BS about catching fish with his bare hands and never seeing a house made of bricks before, and she bought it, would you be throwing around accusations of racism?

Never attribute to malice what can be explained away by ignorance, just so you can get your outrage on.
posted by Salamander at 10:16 AM on July 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


the man otat, your link requires me to check where the heck is Nigeria
posted by infini at 10:19 AM on July 4, 2013


I ain't even outraged.

I'm just saying she went and found a Nigerian to write this about, not someone from Iceland. It isn't the fact she didn't know about the native fauna of Nigeria. It is the entire premise that a Nigerian graduating 7th grade is so amazing she just had to tell the world.

You are making me feel bad though. I already laughed at the journalist and I can't unlaugh unfortunately.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:19 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Back in the mid-nineties a colleague of mine from Mumbai was fond of telling stories about being chased by tigers to credulous co-workers. Eventually people got a bit more sophisticated about India but it was fun while it lasted.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:20 AM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: definitely racist.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:23 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, I think it's fine to laugh. The newspaper article was shit.

I'm just not even sure she went and 'found him'. Looks like he's the school's Star Pupil Exhibit A, trotted out for just such occasions (visiting media). But who knows.

I'm off to bed. It's been...interesting. :)
posted by Salamander at 10:24 AM on July 4, 2013


Thing is, if you don't know anything about the most populous country in Africa? You should be embarrassed.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:24 AM on July 4, 2013


Never attribute to malice what can be explained away by ignorance,

yeah, its the continued ignorance itself which can be dumb racist patronizing about the other

there I said it.

I don't wanna fight about it and I usually try not say it but this one here is ridiculous as are the arguments desperately seeking to convince that its just dumb journalism.

the whole fucking english language internet is dumb journalism

anyways, just ranting because its been 60 hours cold turkey off nicotine and on a topic I don't bother to address. my own way of dealing with this daily crap is to figure that people's own blind ignorance will lead them into disasters (karma) and why bother arguing

i need to stop posting this kind of stuff. and on this topic.
posted by infini at 10:26 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I humbly propose that the clue wasn't in whether there are zebras in the wild in Nigeria (I wouldn't even know for sure that there are "wilds" in Nigeria), but how likely it is that they are still hunted. By spear.

The anecdotes, in sum, spell out "this is what ignorant Americans think of when they think of Africa", and it seems sad -- at best -- that neither she, nor others, get the joke.
posted by allthinky at 10:28 AM on July 4, 2013 [13 favorites]


It is the entire premise that a Nigerian graduating 7th grade is so amazing she just had to tell the world.

No, the premise is "kid has an interesting story that could potentially fill some cheap column inches". The kid lied to the journalist, who had no reason to doubt his story.

This thread is seriously the perfect encapsulation of internet progressivism. From the assumption that the kid was trying to subvert the Anglo-paternalistic paradigm (instead of just telling a tall tale), to the accusations of racism, to the well-favorited, credulous assertion that a country's official language is at all representative of the tongues people actually speak, to the haughty laughing at the stupid reporter who had the temerity to believe - when told by an actual African - that an African animal lived in an African country - man. It'd be nice if we could just admit that we don't know fuckall about Africa, either, and stop posturing so much.
posted by downing street memo at 10:28 AM on July 4, 2013 [50 favorites]


If the kid had happened to be, say, Icelandic, and had spun her some BS about catching fish with his bare hands and never seeing a house made of bricks before, and she bought it, would you be throwing around accusations of racism?

...yes?
posted by LogicalDash at 10:30 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ok ok, I will STFU and apologize if anyone can find me a similar story about a kid from Europe.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:34 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is causing me to wonder if I should doubt the stories I was once told by a transfer student from the Shah's Iran.

Is it true that in Iran you can hail a ride with the white camels because they are the taxi cabs?
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:39 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


One of the reasons I've avoided spending much time on the East coast ofthe US is that you encounter a certain attitude with alarming frequency, a combination of condescension, provincialism, and ignorance. Like, "oh you grew up in the Midwest, how do you like our toilets with running water here?" And at first, you're not sure if its because they're trying to be a jerk to you, or if somebody told them a tall tale once and thy believed it, or what. And it takes a while to discover that it's both, or it doesn't really matter, the person doesn't give a shit any which way about your enjoyment of flushing toilets or what the Midwest is like, they only brought it up in an attempt to say that they are sure their cultural upbringing was superior to yours, peon. This is accompanied by an expectation that you are a fool, and not capable of the more subtle emotions, and they think you are a simpleton.

I'm sure this kid has experienced that more than a little bit, as Africa experiences far more prejudicial feelings and intentional ignorance than the mere Midwest. I find the story absolutely hilarious, and the reporter's inability to read a simple emotion and ability to swallow really tall tales is fantastic. Some editor also read this and did not raise any questions. Beautiful. Way to go kid.
posted by Llama-Lime at 10:44 AM on July 4, 2013 [24 favorites]


The hilarious part of this, to me, is that the reporter seemed to have no inkling that a 15-year-old might possibly be messing with her.
posted by corey flood at 10:46 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Be way funny if the reporter and the kid conspired to produce a fake "reporter hoaxed by African kid" meta-story just to troll Metafilter. Cuz that would be some A-grade trolling right there.
posted by spitbull at 11:01 AM on July 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


The hilarious part of this, to me, is that the reporter seemed to have no inkling that a 15-year-old might possibly be messing with her.

Yeah, this. "Make sure to fact-check shit that teenage boys say" should be Rule 1 for local news reporters.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 11:03 AM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


My new assistant lived for 32 years in Nigeria. Now, I'm going to second guess everything she tells me!

When my boss called me to tell me about the job candidates, she said of the person I hired, "
"She lived in Nigeria! That should be helpful with all the tenants you have from Africa." I had to tell my boss: Nigeria isn't anywhere close to the Horn of Africa where most of my tenants came from. I can forgive her not knowing this because it's not her job to know geography, but I do expect more from a journalist.
posted by vespabelle at 11:08 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember taking these tests when I was a kid and there were questions about drug use. Everyone just checked every drug. Then we would see in the news stories about the drug crisis in inner city schools. "50% of NYC students admit to having tried crack"
posted by Ad hominem at 11:09 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not knowing some facts about Nigeria, even in a "benign" clueless way, is still racist. Is the journalist a bigot? No. But if you think its typical for people to ride kangaroos to school in Australia, that's ignorant and insulting. If you think its typical for people in Korea to be eating dog, that's ignorant and racist. If you think the average Native American is a lazy alcoholic, that's ignorant and racist. If you think kids in Africa are chucking spears at zebras on a daily basis, and that its somehow noteworthy that they have the intellectual capacity to attend school in super advanced TV owning AMERICA!, that's ignorant and racist.

I think it's ridiculous to pardon someone's racism by somehow saying its just "ignorance" as if ignorance isn't a core component of racism.
posted by shen1138 at 11:09 AM on July 4, 2013 [13 favorites]


If you think kids in Africa are chucking spears at zebras on a daily basis

Completely ignores - as do all the other posts - that she was told this directly by a person claiming to have done it. How on earth do you know that's what she came into the interview thinking? I certainly don't believe that Africans (outside of a few more isolated tribes) commonly hunt with spears, but if a Nigerian kid told me he'd done it, I'd probably question my priors.
posted by downing street memo at 11:15 AM on July 4, 2013


I think it's ridiculous to pardon someone's racism by somehow saying its just "ignorance" as if ignorance isn't a core component of racism.

And I think it's ridiculous to say that because ignorance is a 'core component' of racism, all ignorance about another race is necessarily racism.
posted by Salamander at 11:17 AM on July 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


I hate to say this, but Metafilter is quickly becoming another place where I really shouldn't read the comments.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 11:18 AM on July 4, 2013 [31 favorites]


Generally, human interest stories are not intensively fact-checked...

And it shows.
posted by DU at 11:18 AM on July 4, 2013


If the reporter questioned everything the kid told her because she thought he might be lying, would that be racist?
posted by rocket88 at 11:19 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


If the kid had happened to be, say, Icelandic, and had spun her some BS about catching fish with his bare hands and never seeing a house made of bricks before, and she bought it, would you be throwing around accusations of racism?

...yes?
posted by LogicalDash at 10:30 AM on July 4 [1 favorite +] [!]

Why? Racism is more than just 'believing dumb stereotypes about people from other countries'.
posted by Salamander at 11:19 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The kid lied to the journalist, who had no reason to doubt his story.

Apart from the story being not only very fantastic but also impossible. If someone from rural Minnesota told her that they have to watch out for Polar bears and hunt for seals for a living, would she believe that as well because she has no reason to doubt it?
posted by Authorized User at 11:25 AM on July 4, 2013


Here's the thing to take into account - this kid is only 15 but has no doubt dealt with countless fawning, condescending white people who are SO IMPRESSED with him. And they talk endlessly about how he is proof that the American Dream is real and works. He's the pet model minority of all the adults around him, and he probably has a Ph.D in post-colonialist attitudes at his young age. The frozen caveman shtick he's pulling - tapping on the TV, astonished that there are white people in there! - is hilarious and is also probably a survival instinct to cope with how people treat him as a shining symbol of the white man's burden or whatever. We don't need to throw around arguments about whether so-and-so is a racist - it's the whole situation that's both hilarious and insightful of a certain attitude this kid's rightfully super annoyed by.
posted by naju at 11:31 AM on July 4, 2013 [29 favorites]


If someone from rural Minnesota told her that they have to watch out for Polar bears and hunt for seals for a living, would she believe that as well because she has no reason to doubt it?

Surely her knowledge of Minnesota has a lot more to do with living in the same country as Minnesota than the racial makeup of the inhabitants. You guys who shout racism when a credulous report believes what a star pupil tells her about his own experiences just make it harder to talk about actual racism. This really seems like a no win situation for her. If she highlights a student other than the star immigrant, she's racist for ignoring his accomplishments. If she interviews him and trusts him, she's racist for not knowing enough about Nigeria to realize he is lying. If she interviews him and accuses him of lying, then she's a racist Westerner who trusts her own judgment over the first hand report of someone who was there. If I were her, that would be the last immigrant kid I ever interviewed. Not worth it.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:32 AM on July 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


If the reporter questioned everything the kid told her because she thought he might be lying, would that be racist?

No, that would be doing her job as a journalist.
posted by neroli at 11:32 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


No, that would be doing her job as a journalist.

Look, this isn't journalism. It's a human interest story. The kid isn't running for Senate. The standards are different. You don't typically run fact checks on the sweet human interest story you were given.

"Okay, Mrs. Anderson, you say that you are 100 years old. Is there a birth certificate? And you said your dear departed husband was the kindest, most generous man anyone could meet. I'll need at east three character references outside the family for that, please. And your apple pie--has it really won awards? I'd like to see those ribbons."
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:36 AM on July 4, 2013 [15 favorites]


Racism is more than just 'believing dumb stereotypes about people from other countries'.

This is probably where the problem is. I don't know what you think racism "is", but it certainly can be merely "believing stereotypes about people from other countries." It can range from being a KKK member saluting Hitler every morning and burning crosses every night, or it can be a really intelligent, progressive, liberal admissions officer at an Ivy League school highly trained to be conscious of bias, who nevertheless unconsciously applies a double standard to different applicants based on their last name.
posted by shen1138 at 11:36 AM on July 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


If she interviews him and accuses him of lying, then she's a racist Westerner who trusts her own judgment over the first hand report of someone who was there.

She had the opportunity to check the fishy details, then contact him again and ask for clarification. If he stuck to the lie, given that this is a fluff piece, she could have simply omitted any "colorful anecdotes" that didn't pass the smell check.
posted by BrashTech at 11:37 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not knowing some facts about Nigeria, even in a "benign" clueless way, is still racist. Is the journalist a bigot? No. But if you think its typical for people to ride kangaroos to school in Australia, that's ignorant and insulting. If you think its typical for people in Korea to be eating dog, that's ignorant and racist. If you think the average Native American is a lazy alcoholic, that's ignorant and racist. If you think kids in Africa are chucking spears at zebras on a daily basis, and that its somehow noteworthy that they have the intellectual capacity to attend school in super advanced TV owning AMERICA!, that's ignorant and racist.

Wait, what?? So...being uneducated is racist now? That is ludicrous.

(And by the way: thinking Australian people ride kangaroos to school is extremely ignorant, because zero of them do, but it's only insulting if you think they do that because they're too backward to use other forms of transport. Thinking all Koreans eat dog is very ignorant, because only some of them do. It's only insulting to think that if you also believe they eat dog because they are barbarians. And so it goes. Until you start throwing in value judgements like 'lazy': surely you can see the difference between 'lazy alcoholics' and 'eating dog'.)
posted by Salamander at 11:40 AM on July 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Why Are White People So Touchy About Being Called Racist?
posted by infini at 11:43 AM on July 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Surely her knowledge of Minnesota has a lot more to do with living in the same country as Minnesota than the racial makeup of the inhabitants.

Yeah I don't live in the US and I know there are no polar bears in Minnesota. I also know there are no pandas in india or tigers in saudi-arabia or jaguars in Canada. This just shows how poorly most people (myself included) know Africa. I'd certainly consider it a personal failing fo fall for such an obvious lie, instead of somehow determining that I have been trapped in an inescapable trap of racism.
posted by Authorized User at 11:47 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


"colorful anecdotes" that didn't pass the smell check.

OMG pale human beings in a glass box....give me a fucking break with all the defending of this moronic reporter at The Boston fucking Globe.

g'wan just say you can't admit out loud that a 15 year old Nigerian took the mickey with his lies and fraud because that is the sitting pile of gotcha he's got going on
posted by infini at 11:48 AM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is probably where the problem is. I don't know what you think racism "is", but it certainly can be merely "believing stereotypes about people from other countries." It can range from being a KKK member saluting Hitler every morning and burning crosses every night, or it can be a really intelligent, progressive, liberal admissions officer at an Ivy League school highly trained to be conscious of bias, who nevertheless unconsciously applies a double standard to different applicants based on their last name.

Oh, I know what racism 'is'. The problem here is that some people don't seem to have a clue what it isn't.

Your examples have everything to do with making judgements about people's worth or value or intelligence based on their race, and nothing to do with not knowing which animals live in a country or whether the villages have tv. Can you not see that one is a value judgement and the other is just being thick?

(I agree that ignorance can help exacerbate racism, and most certainly doesn't help dispel racism, but that's something else.)
posted by Salamander at 11:48 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why Are White People So Touchy About Being Called Racist?

When one word is used for everything from egregious hate-filled bigotry to benign cultural ignorance, most people wouldn't want that label applied to them for the latter because people might assume the former.
posted by rocket88 at 11:50 AM on July 4, 2013 [20 favorites]


But their rabid defense of it ends up coming across as tone deaf insensitivity to the Other/s
posted by infini at 11:53 AM on July 4, 2013


Wait a minute, now I'm repeating stuff in a thread that I used to read in earlier race relations threads among usians....

/outta here
posted by infini at 11:54 AM on July 4, 2013


I hate to say this, but Metafilter is quickly becoming another place where I really shouldn't read the comments.

No way! It's not even noon on a day off and my Racist Gotcha Drinking Game is in full effect!
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 11:56 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Racism 101: don't call people racists. Point out how ideas have racist histories we often *unconsciously* or even *well meaningly* extend through ignorance of these histories.

We are all of us racists to the extent racist attitudes flow through us.

The reporter is not a racist. But she partook of racist narrative tropes in a patronizingly racist journalistic human interest subgenre (immigrant savage is civilized now, works for Native American people too!)

It's amusing because the truth hurts. And schadenfreude is fun, and lets us off the hook with a knowing ironic chuckle. But it sets you free.
posted by spitbull at 11:58 AM on July 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


Racism does not require animus. I have white relatives that love me but still don't understand the idea that me or my family are American because of our Asian ethnic background. They're racist, even if they buy me nice things at Christmas.
posted by shen1138 at 11:58 AM on July 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


...being uneducated is racist now?

Weeeeeeeeellll, if your ignorance both stems from and perpetuates the de-humanization (in one way or another) of a group of people, or "otherization" of non-white (if you will) continents, then yeah, you are a racist.

People use this word differently, of course, and especially white folk (like me) would tend to prefer limiting the number of cases in which it is properly deployed. This is not a helpful tendency, mostly.

If you went to college, if you have access to the Internet, if you have reasonable fact-checking resources available to you, AND you are a writer for the Globe, you could have known better.

At this point, I think it's appropriate to say that white people who can know better should know better, and should be held accountable if they choose not to educate themselves. If the reporter is only getting laughed at, and refuses to acknowledge how obnoxious her continued ignorance is, then she's getting off easy, seems to me.
posted by allthinky at 11:58 AM on July 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


it's not as though "spearchucker" is a value-neutral term in Western culture, is it?
posted by daisystomper at 12:01 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


infini's link basically has it right. Historical American white supremacy was an unbelievable disgrace, and the civil rights movement was finally able to politically succeed by highlighting completely indefensible injustices. Unfortunately meaningful racism continues to exist even after the end of a few hundred years of cartoonish levels of evil, but people don't *feel* like their hearts are full of hatred, so how could they possibly be racist?
posted by leopard at 12:02 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


the man otat, your link requires me to check where the heck is Nigeria

Taking the nearest points between Nigeria and natural zebra habitat, you're looking at a distance on the order of 1200 miles.

It would be a bit like someone claiming to have recently hunted polar bear in Atlanta.
posted by solotoro at 12:04 PM on July 4, 2013


There ARE apparently zebras in Nigeria:

sacred zebras
posted by etherist at 12:06 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember taking these tests when I was a kid and there were questions about drug use. Everyone just checked every drug. Then we would see in the news stories about the drug crisis in inner city schools. "50% of NYC students admit to having tried crack"

Except that's not what those surveys show. They show rates of around 1%— I think it was about 4% at the very peak— and repeated research has shown that self-report is generally pretty accurate about drug use if the interviews are done under the right conditions and the sample is large enough.

The samples for these surveys, Monitoring the Future and National Household Survey, are in the 10s of thousands, so the kids pissing about doesn't add all that much noise.

The media makes up stupid drug stats all the time, but that research is reasonably reliable.
posted by Maias at 12:08 PM on July 4, 2013


This kid is my 15-year-old self's hero. That is the smirking photo of a lifetime.

For those still not seeing why this is funny: the journalist and whomever sent her on the story found it impressive that a kid from Nigeria managed to graduate from a Boston high school five years after arriving in Boston. Implicit in that judgment is the idea that a kid from Nigeria would have to be impressive to perform that feat, because a kid from Nigeria could not possibly have received a good education in Nigeria. The kid picks up on this -- who wouldn't? -- and so decides to embellish his story to conform to their unspoken (and arguably racist) assumptions of Nigeria as a backwards republic of uneducated savages.

In doing so, he took their unspoken assumptions and let them hoist themselves on their own petards. Which is hilarious.
posted by davejay at 12:10 PM on July 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Let me make sure I have this right:

It can be racist to believe something that a person of another race tells you is their personal experience and history?
posted by Unified Theory at 12:11 PM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


arguably racist because, as others have pointed out, a kid coming from France or Brazil five years ago wouldn't have warranted a visit from the paper, because it wouldn't have been impressive
posted by davejay at 12:11 PM on July 4, 2013


Oh. I see. The mere fact of the article, and the interest in him, is racist.
posted by Unified Theory at 12:12 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, UT. It can be racist to assume that someone could not possibly have received a quality education because they grew up in Nigeria.
posted by davejay at 12:12 PM on July 4, 2013


but of course if you're going to have this conversation in bad faith, I'll just go back to working on my bathroom repairs
posted by davejay at 12:15 PM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


OTOH, yes, UT -- if the child had reported eating boiled missionary for dinner on Sundays, and the reporter breathlessly reported it? Racist.

Right?
posted by allthinky at 12:18 PM on July 4, 2013


But there is no assumption. He told her that. An assumption is an unfounded belief. He told her, and she believed him.
posted by Unified Theory at 12:19 PM on July 4, 2013


He told her, and she believed him.

The things you unquestioningly believe are usually the things that conform to ideas you already hold, no?

(Though as stated upthread, I think trying to figure out whether this particular reporter is a racist or not totally misses the point.)
posted by neroli at 12:22 PM on July 4, 2013


No, the journalist did not 'assume he didn't receive a quality education because he grew up in Nigeria'. It is a fact that he barely attended his (rural Nigerian) school up to the age of 10. And then went straight into the 5th grade in Boston, unable to read or write English, and has now totally caught up to (and surpassed most of) his peers.

You guys do realize that the journo didn't make up the whole article, right??
posted by Salamander at 12:22 PM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


the journalist and whomever sent her on the story found it impressive that a kid from Nigeria managed to graduate from a Boston high school five years after arriving in Boston

Oh give me a freaking break. Yes, clearly any story about an immigrant child in the American public school system is intrinsically racist.

I grew up in an area with large numbers of immigrants and these sort of puff pieces were hardly uncommon. Immigration to another country is a big event in the lives of individuals and families. These types of stories lie at the heart of the American dream.

Yeah, the spearchucking and the TVs and the white people anecdotes should have triggered alarms, and that they didn't reveals a great deal of ignorance and yes, racism. But if you're going to complain that this profile was written at all, you may as well complain that Obama's election was incredibly racist. "Oh look at everyone making a big deal about this guy becoming President, all just because his dad was from Kenya." At some point the holier-than-thouism becomes absurd.
posted by leopard at 12:26 PM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


A bunch of people who don’t know shit about Nigeria pointing the finger and trying to pretend like they wouldn’t have done exactly the same thing.

If someone from rural Minnesota told her that they have to watch out for Polar bears and hunt for seals for a living, would she believe that as well because she has no reason to doubt it?

How many people from Nigeria do you think would know? If a reporter in Nigeria believed that story from an American kid living there would you call the reporter stupid? There are stories on here all the time of Europeans who don’t know it takes more than a hour to drive form NYC to LA. Haven’t they ever seen a road movie?

The kid was funny and telling tales to the reporter. I doesn’t seem like he cared much about race, just bullshitting like kids do, telling the same stories he’d told for years according to him. That was funny. But some of the comments here are embarrassing and the other side of the coin of the ignorant racist comments you’d find on YouTube. The pretentious and condescending side.
posted by bongo_x at 12:27 PM on July 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


Worst of all the photo of Abubakar is clearly another example of Photoshopping.
Anyone can see that he's actually Caucasian.
Come on!
I think I know what they're growing in Orchard Gardens!
posted by busillis at 12:29 PM on July 4, 2013


Let's remember, the headmaster and teachers corroborated stuff. He really did grow up in a part of Nigeria where one of the (many) languages other than English were spoken, and he hardly ever went to school, etc? I don't think he actually attended a good school regularly and then arrived in Boston perfectly literate and it's all just a big funny lie.

And yes, if he'd been a white kid from the backwaters of Colombia and had rocked up to school and achieved the same things, I do think the school administration would have been pulling him out of class when the media wanted to do a puff piece. .
posted by Salamander at 12:37 PM on July 4, 2013


If you don't see why articles like these are more than just 'puff pieces' but are part of a pernicious discourse, I'd recommend googling for a few minutes and reading up on African immigrants with respect to the model minority myth. For example
posted by naju at 12:39 PM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Worst of all is that his classmates nicknamed him "Bubbles", because, in fact, Abubakar is not hard to pronounce.

This particular thing is not relevant to the reporter, except that she did not interrogate the thing but blithely reported it as a sign of the students' fondness for their "exotic" classmate.

Blergh.
posted by allthinky at 12:43 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rick Mercer's Talking to Americans was all about telling whopping lies to credulous people. IMO most people will believe most anything, mainly because they don't expect you to tell lies.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:48 PM on July 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


He told her, and she believed him.

The things you unquestioningly believe are usually the things that conform to ideas you already hold, no?


No. Before I read the article I would have guessed that Nigeria - even rural Nigeria - is quite modern and that subsistence hunting of any kind is a thing of the past. But when I read the article I questioned those assumptions and fully believed what the kid claimed.
I also had no idea whether or not the natural range of the zebra included Nigeria... but that's just one of the near-infinite number of things I don't know.
posted by rocket88 at 12:48 PM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you don't see why articles like these are more than just 'puff pieces' but are part of a pernicious discourse, I'd recommend googling for a few minutes and reading up on African immigrants with respect to the model minority myth. For example
posted by naju at 12:39 PM on July 4 [1 favorite +] [!]

I'd recommend not being so damn patronizing. Someone not subscribing to your personal world view doesn't indicate that they need to some googling on 'African immigrants 101'. Cheers muchly, though.
posted by Salamander at 12:49 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


All the Nigerians I know are highly educated. Sounds like that reporter wasn't too familiar with Nigeria. One would have thought she'd at least looked it up on Google or something before the interview.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:50 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd recommend not being so damn patronizing.

Sorry, didn't mean to be patronizing. I did some googling myself, so I was just recommending it for others as well.
posted by naju at 12:50 PM on July 4, 2013


Folks, I got this one. It's not about racism, but about fact checking. Or lack thereof. That's the writer's job, her editor's job, and the Boston Globe's job.
posted by zardoz at 12:50 PM on July 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Murphy spoofed this idea 25 years ago in Coming to America.

Spitbull has it. The subversion of another's power through the use of a narrative that sets up an imbalance is racist (that narrative, that form of expression) and is worthy as a topic of discussion.

Lazily applied labels as shorthand criticism, like "nope, racist", shits the bed of any decent or worthwhile discussion that could take place of that subject. It's really tiring to see people keep pulling that shtick.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 12:51 PM on July 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


His parents left Nigeria when he was a baby.

I'm far more curious about what those two have been and are up to. And to a lesser extent, the siblings mentioned in passing.

As to the Globe, well, what can you expect from the Left Wing Media?
posted by IndigoJones at 12:56 PM on July 4, 2013



I'd recommend not being so damn patronizing.

Sorry, didn't mean to be patronizing. I did some googling myself, so I was just recommending it for others as well.
posted by naju at 12:50 PM on July 4 [+] [!]

I apologise, naju; that was uncalled-for. I really am off to bed now, before I say anything else I regret.
posted by Salamander at 12:56 PM on July 4, 2013


Accusations of racism in mefi are getting silly. It is getting to the point that one can not speak of groups of people in any way. Only talk about specific individuals is allowed.

It is like the old joke, one can only say that there is at least one sheep which, under certain lighting and atmospheric conditions, when observed from a moving train, appears to have one side colored black.

Not all stereotyping is racism, not all generalizations are racism, not all ignorance is racism. These are all necessary but not sufficient characteristics of racism.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 12:59 PM on July 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Oh. I see. The mere fact of the article, and the interest in him, is racist.
posted by Unified Theory


Exactly, you're racist if you are ignorant about Nigerians and Nigeria, but only educate yourself enough not to be racist, any extra because you find it interesting and that's being racist. That's like saying sex for procreation is ok, just don't enjoy it or it's harassment.
posted by 445supermag at 1:14 PM on July 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Worst of all is that his classmates nicknamed him "Bubbles", because, in fact, Abubakar is not hard to pronounce.

you should talk to the admin person at my old high school who used to do the announcements. There are a lot of ways to get it wrong if you're not familiar with it.

Anyways, kids get nicknames sometimes. Ain't necessarily bad or due to kids not being able to pronounce his name.
posted by Hoopo at 1:15 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Uh, when I say "Abubakar" outloud I heard the word "boob" loud and clear. I finished middle school in 1995 but a surefire way to derail any class back then would have been to use the word boob in any way. He is probably well-liked, which is why he got to be nicknamed Bubbles instead of Mr. Boobs or The Boob Guy.

Also it is frighteningly easy to trick people like this. A pal from Michigan moved to Philadelphia and toldeveryone that he was from "Mit-CHIII-gan," theyd just been told the wrong pronunciation their whole lives. And us michigan folks were too kind to correct anyone. About 90% of people bought it. I couldnt believe it.
posted by holyrood at 1:50 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I spoke to the Abubakar Suleiman, and he admitted that the hunting escapades he told me about, stories he told friends and teachers since arriving at the age of 10

So, basically exactly what I said right off the bat. Occam's razor FTW!
posted by dobbs at 1:50 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


A pal from Michigan moved to Philadelphia and toldeveryone that he was from "Mit-CHIII-gan," theyd just been told the wrong pronunciation their whole lives. And us michigan folks were too kind to correct anyone. About 90% of people bought it. I couldnt believe it.

Okay, granted, state level, but I'd still cut them a little slack. How does the average out of stater pronounce the second half of Wilkes-Barre PA? As opposed to Barre VT? Charlotte VT vs Charlotte NC?

Then again - how old were these people? (And what are the chances they were humoring him?)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:18 PM on July 4, 2013


"They gave him the nickname “Bubbles” because Abubakar was too hard to say."

You know, like Quvenzhane!
posted by allthinky at 2:19 PM on July 4, 2013


Nigeria's 150 million people in 250 ethnic groups are more diverse than Europe, the USA, and of course Iowa.


Interesting
posted by TedW at 2:29 PM on July 4, 2013


"It'd be nice if we could just admit that we don't know fuckall about Africa, either, and stop posturing so much."

What the fuck do you mean we white man?
posted by Blasdelb at 2:53 PM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is a video we probably all should have watched immediately before entering this thread:
How To Tell People They Sound Racist by the inestimably brilliant Jay Smooth
posted by Blasdelb at 2:58 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nope. Not delightful. Lying and dishonesty is a serious problem here, and everywhere

On MeFi, people tend to consider it perfectly normal to just make up wild stories, particularly to their children, as a game as though they were true. From my perspective, it seems like an awful lot of effort to no end.

But it also bespeaks a severe ignorance of immigration. Sure, there are some refugees who got settled in the US from extremely remote rural places and many rur peasants who sneak across the border, but most immigrants of whatever country got her because they were employed workers who managed to make a decent living to save up money to come to the US and were literate and savvy enough to manage to do the visa paperwork. That's a standard of living far, far above the threshold of owning a television.
posted by deanc at 3:05 PM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Actually, he was barely literate when he arrived, that wasn't part of the lies he told. They don't specifically mention the television in the correction, so maybe that was a lie, maybe it wasn't.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 3:26 PM on July 4, 2013


One conversation with a teacher or school administrator would have prevented this embarrassing piece of work from ever seeing the light of day.
posted by etaoin at 3:32 PM on July 4, 2013


RTFA, people. The article quotes the principal.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 3:50 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


There aren't wild ebras in Niigeria, there are a terribly small number of the Nigerian sub-species of giraffe.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 3:50 PM on July 4, 2013


Why Are White People So Touchy About Being Called Racist?

did the author try asking any? if he did, he didn't mention it
posted by pyramid termite at 4:05 PM on July 4, 2013


Why not a kid from England. I mean they all have terrible teeth and their food comes out of tins and they only drink tea. Must be hard to adjust to no tea at school unless they make tea available to ease the transition

A friend of mine (British, although well-travellled) went on an exchange trip to the US as a teenager. One of the questions he was asked was "do you have TV in England?".

"Of course," he replied, "although it's nice not to have to fill the hopper with coal for a change."
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:11 PM on July 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Okay, so this kid is an early inductee into the Prankster All-Star Hall of Fame, but how the unfortunate journalist would verify such a story seems to put her in a bit more of a tough spot than, say, someone regurgitating White House talking points. I'd cut her just a little slack.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:58 PM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


So, basically exactly what I said right off the bat. Occam's razor FTW!

I don't really see that as simpler explanation than "just fucking with someone" so I don't know that Occam'a Razor is what you're looking for
posted by Hoopo at 5:08 PM on July 4, 2013


I think the polar bears are the real racists in this thread. What are they, too good to live in Minnesota?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:39 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have a problem with the omg-Africa-is-so-exotic style of reporting. (Antagonizing cheetahs??) But I don't think the fact that she believed his stories is shocking in itself. I lived in rural Uganda 15 years ago, I'm sure it's very different now -- but at that time I definitely knew people who had never seen a television. And it was not at all uncommon for me to go to a remote area and have young kids seeing me for the first time be just absolutely terrified.

(Also if someone had asked me, this morning, whether there were zebras in Nigeria, I would have said yeah, sure. Because a) I have never been to Nigeria and b) I just am not all that interested in zebras.)
posted by gerstle at 6:16 PM on July 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


I agree with gerstle. I lived in rural Mozambique 10 years ago, and frequently ran into people who had never seen a white person before. In fact, for most children I was the first white person (mulungu) they had ever seen. It was rarer, but still not unknown, to find people who had never seen a television.

And, yes, Mozambique is not Nigeria -- in fact is very far from Nigeria -- but it's still a hell of a lot more like Nigeria than the US is in many ways.

I find it ironic that so many people are happy to self-righteously mock this reporter for her ignorant assumptions, while at the same time making tons of ignorant assumptions themselves -- including that of course everyone in Nigeria speaks the official language of Nigeria, or that it's absolutely ludicrous to think that this kid may never have met a white person till he came to the US.

This thread has been a really ugly, depressing read.
posted by forza at 6:28 PM on July 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


I just think it's hilarious that the comment about the 'official language of Nigeria' got 54 favourites. As if it was a really clever zinger.

Am starting to think that sums up a lot about Metafilter.
posted by Salamander at 6:39 PM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I may be ignorant too but I ain't writing articles about people from Nigeria
posted by Ad hominem at 6:50 PM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty chagined you guy caught me out as the flipside of YouTube comments . I don't come on metafilter calling people out ever. I got pressed early in the thread so I told you what I really thought. You disagree, that's fine, fight me IRL, stop with the subliminal shit.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:54 PM on July 4, 2013


I still don't think anyone here is a racist. So I don't know why you guys are going to the mattresses defending someone you don't know.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:57 PM on July 4, 2013


Never attribute to malice what can be explained away by ignorance, just so you can get your outrage on.

So what do you propose we do, shut the entire Internet down?
posted by nowhere man at 8:15 PM on July 4, 2013


This kind of reporting isn't unique to the US, seventh graders, or Africa. It's the spring-graduation "Look at the exotics and their unusual success in school/ university!" story.

Usually it's written about someone who genuinely is a success, and it reduces his or her achievement to some over-exoticised version of his/her background. The subtext is always that "normal" people, those you'd "expect" to do well, succeed by working hard, prepping for the tests, and being smart, whereas the "exotic" in the profile succeeded through a combination of near-superhuman inborn genius and secret knowledge from "back home".

What makes this particular example hilarious is that the kid involved apparently knew exactly what kind of story the reporter wanted to produce, and provided a bunch of fake detail presumably intended to catch the reporter out and make the tropes obvious...but it took only 2 minutes of Googling to find examples where the subjects seemingly were just telling their stories in answer to reporters' questions and got the exact same treatment:

First Indigenous Australian students at Oxford look to rewrite history. ("Since 2010 the university has seen a relative influx of Aboriginal students, a welcome contrast to recent press reports that labelled the university as “institutionally biased” after statistics revealed that white undergraduate applicants were up to twice as likely to get a place on the most competitive courses. " ... “It’s quite hard to fit in, I guess,” she replies. “Just getting used to things like fish knives, those wine decanters. But you do get used to it, to all the funny dinners and the funny sayings. It’s actually a very nice, very sweet tradition.”)

Showman's daughter becomes first traveller to attend Cambridge University... and graduates with a FIRST in History ("The reason I wanted to go to Cambridge University in the first place was because it was the only university I knew,' she said. 'When I went to the open day at Cambridge with my mum I didn't even know what a university would look like.") 'My mum will watch me graduate today’ – the first-class traveller from Cambridge ("Hedges-Stocks says her family were worried when she first went to university that the girl from the caravan in Suffolk might forget where she came from after a few years rubbing shoulders with Britain’s elite. Today, as she walks out, degree in hand, through the classical pillars of Senate House and back towards the common land where her family’s rides would roll up every year – it is clear that there is little chance of that.")
posted by Wylla at 8:23 PM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thank you Wylla. That is what we need , not more " metafilter is reverse racist " stuff. I am more than happy to admit I am wrong.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:29 PM on July 4, 2013


To my mind, what's racist about the whole thing is that we* know very little about African countries, or in fact most places which are not primarily white and English-speaking. At school our history classes taught the history of Europe, the history of New Zealand & Australia (a little bit) and the history of North America. Our social studies classes taught things like how government works in the USA vs in Great Britain (how a bill is passed, how elections work, etc). Languages offered were German and French. We never ever learned anything about any African countries other than South Africa, or anything at all about China, or Japan, or Indonesia or any one of a number of hugely populous countries that have historical and economic links with our own, including large numbers of immigrants into our country, and that play major roles on the world stage. It's not just about the language barrier, either, as we learned much much more about the non-English speaking countries of Europe than we did about any countries that are not predominantly white.

I expect the reporter was also a product of such a system (and also clearly one that did not teach much in the way of critical thinking, because srsly? I know nothing about Nigeria, and the TV-tapping and "were white people human?" set off my fact-checking alarm bells). So her racism is not the result of a personal personality flaw in the same way a KKK member's racism is, but rather the product of a flawed system where we ignore people (and entire countries) who don't look like us.

_________

*by which I mean white people from Australia and New Zealand who went through the public school system - I can't speak for the rest of you, although I have my suspicions that this is probably the same for the majority of Americans
posted by lollusc at 9:12 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


So her racism is not the result of a personal personality flaw in the same way a KKK member's racism is, but rather the product of a flawed system where we ignore people (and entire countries) who don't look like us.

You might want to read the article, lollusc, or at least the rest of this thread. There is no "her racism." She is not racist. I repeat, she is not racist. The subject of her article lied to her about his background and she believed him. There is no conceivable way that is "racist," except for those caught up in some weird circle-jerk of self-righteous racist-gotcha dogmatism.

And if your version of "ignoring people that don't look like us" is interviewing them and writing articles about them, well okay, we are operating under different standards of rationality and logic and I guess there's no point even trying to communicate with each other.
posted by Unified Theory at 9:44 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Even when caught out he still keeps trolling, telling little Miss Credulous, they were "tales he’d heard from an uncle".

The reporter accepts that it was his uncle hunting nonexistant zebras...
posted by quarsan at 10:06 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


This thread is seriously the perfect encapsulation of internet progressivism. From the assumption that the kid was trying to subvert the Anglo-paternalistic paradigm (instead of just telling a tall tale), to the accusations of racism, to the well-favorited, credulous assertion that a country's official language is at all representative of the tongues people actually speak, to the haughty laughing at the stupid reporter who had the temerity to believe - when told by an actual African - that an African animal lived in an African country - man. It'd be nice if we could just admit that we don't know fuckall about Africa, either, and stop posturing so much

Beautiful ^^^

As noted in the piece, the boy has been telling these tales for quite some time. He's not an especially clever and socially aware Nigerian boy railing at racism at his first public opportunity to do so, but just a, "normal" kid with some oft repeated attention-seeking lies, and the colour of his skin is irrelevant to his choice and purpose for lying.
posted by Nibiru at 10:35 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Speaking as a professional sometimes-card-carrying journalist, I don't think it's unreasonable to think that any journalist would know that Nigeria is nowhere near the Serengeti, for the same reason it's reasonable to expect any journalist to know the Mediterranean is not in Scandinavia. I think it's especially reasonable to expect such basic geographic knowledge from a staff reporter on a major urban centre's prestige daily. And it's reasonable to the point of basic professional competence to expect a Boston Globe reporter to at least glance at the Wikipedia page for Nigeria before filing a feature whose entire theme rests on its geography and ecology.

As a journalist, I think it's reasonable to expect that you know what in god's name you're talking about before you report it as fact. Guess I'm old-fashioned that way.
posted by gompa at 10:45 PM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Abubakar is not hard to pronounce."

I just want to add, as a white dude with a fairly simple Italian last name, you'd be fucking SHOCKED at what people can't pronounce.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:05 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


*by which I mean white people from Australia and New Zealand who went through the public school system - I can't speak for the rest of you, although I have my suspicions that this is probably the same for the majority of Americans

I'm a white Australian, and took, "Asian Studies" as an elective subject in a public high school in 1983, but please feel free to retract your statements in regard to *our inherently ignorant and racist educational systems at your leisure.
posted by Nibiru at 11:20 PM on July 4, 2013


I don't really see that ignorance on display here. What was so implausible about the story he told her? It actually seems laudable that she was writing a story about him, and trying to share that with readers. By interviewing him, isn't she trying to learn about his history?
Because we would expect an American teenager, which is what this kid is, to bullshit a reporter.
Does Nigeria have a particular culture of preposterous humour?
The kid's been in the US since what, 2nd grade? Obviously he'd have an American sense of humor.
This thread is seriously the perfect encapsulation of internet progressivism. From the assumption that the kid was trying to subvert the Anglo-paternalistic paradigm (instead of just telling a tall tale), to the accusations of racism, to the well-favorited, credulous assertion that a country's official language is at all representative of the tongues people actually speak, to the haughty laughing at the stupid reporter who had the temerity to believe - when told by an actual African - that an African animal lived in an African country - man. It'd be nice if we could just admit that we don't know fuckall about Africa, either, and stop posturing so much.
Jesus fucking Christ dude, The reporter was an idiot, and as a result the article was funny.

Amazing how much GRAR can be generated by the fact she was made such an obvious fool by a 15 year old.
It can be racist to believe something that a person of another race tells you is their personal experience and history?
I wouldn't call it "racist" but it's certainly indicative of ignorance if the reason they tell you those stories is because they're obviously trolling you for being so incredulous.
posted by delmoi at 1:09 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


oft repeated attention-seeking lies, and the colour of his skin is irrelevant to his choice and purpose for lying.
Not irrelevant to the fact a newspaper article was written about him.
posted by delmoi at 1:36 AM on July 5, 2013


"I'm a white Australian, and took, "Asian Studies" as an elective subject in a public high school in 1983, but please feel free to retract your statements in regard to *our inherently ignorant and racist educational systems at your leisure."

I honestly cannot tell if you are being sarcastic, please advise.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:02 AM on July 5, 2013


You know, it would be quite funny if the reporter happened to be a minority. You did all check first, right?

Amazed this thread is still going strong. And sad.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 3:48 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm firmly in the "ignorance isn't an excuse" camp for accusations of racism. Maybe this reporter is just a gullible person and she did do the research but she has a bad bullshit detector. I can understand that; I believe everything I'm told when I first hear it and have had to consciously train myself to rethink things. I have a half-second moment at the beginning of every commercial targeted at my demographic where I end up thinking I could totally benefit from that product and I have to pull that part of my brain away.

But I surround myself with people with better bullshit detectors than me so I can run stuff that triggers any gut reaction by them. And I also don't do human interest journalism. But if I did, I would hope that one of my editors would get a smell of bullshit off of this story, and the fact that no one did reflects really badly on the Globe as a whole.

Part of racism is believing things about minorities that we want to be true. Stormfront is happy to trade "facts" and "studies" that "prove" that whites are superior to everyone else. But there's an opposite trap that is easy to fall into, and that's the one where you're really happy to show how not racist you are and how accepting you are and how accepting this community is of this kid who bootstrapped himself out of his frozen caveman reactions to technology and was sooooo amazing as an individual and blah blah blah.

And the thing is, that's still racism. That's right, you can be racist even without intending it! And the way you fix that is you think about this shit and question your own reactions and educate yourself. And sometimes you have to say the uncomfortable thing. "Hey, that story on the Nigerian kid-- it seemed off. I mean, it fit a lot of stereotypes way too well. Are there any parts of it we can double-check?" and then they end up googling the habitat of zebras or talking to the parents or whatever.

I see the whole "This is just taking (insert form of social justice activism or discussion or whatever else) too far! All of you are just the other side of the pendulum from (Stormfront/YouTube/Reddit/The KKK)!" a LOT, and I think most of the time it's people who see an individual story in a vacuum. This is a story that illustrates a lot of issues with how Americans view Africa. It is a story about how human interest stories often exacerbate "model minority" problems, as noted upthread. And it fits in a narrative. It's easy to make excuses for the reporter and the Globe as a whole, because we can maybe see ourselves doing something similar, and we don't want to be racists. But doing that is just taking the defensive stance and not listening and absorbing information, and it's something privileged people do CONSTANTLY when they're confronted with anything that might make them (racist/homophobic/sexist/etc).

In a one-on-one conversation sometimes it's possible to make the privileged person stop being defensive by talking to them as someone who knows them personally, but in forum threads everything ends up covered with defensive privileged people who aren't willing to accept the premise of the post or to think about the issues that it might bring up in the context of an overall narrative.

The fact is that most Americans (and, from what I'm seeing here, a lot of Australians too, but I could be wrong on that point) live in a culture where certain cultures get way more coverage in school and media than anything else. And if you have to separate out Asian Studies from World Studies, you're in a place that's like that. I know we barely had any coverage of Africa in our history classes, and the stuff we had focused on Egypt, maybe occasionally Carthage. And it just doesn't come up as much in our popular imagination of world history; we see Africa (with the possible exception of Egypt and rarely Carthage) as a monolithic entity. It's where the poor, starving children in Africa who are supposed to motivate us to finish our dinner come from.

Defensive comments about what is and isn't racism oversimplify the issue and clutter up and derail conversations. They're like the barnacles of social justice threads.

What this kid did is hilarious. Whether or not it was specifically what he had in mind, what Abubakar Suleiman did can dreg up a lot of thought about how we treat "model minority" individuals, our relationship with the bootstrap myth, and the popular conception of monolithic, technologically deprived, zebra and cheetah-laden Africa. That's actually a pretty useful thing to do, and he gets tons of bonus points for managing to pull a pretty hilarious prank on top of it.
posted by NoraReed at 3:53 AM on July 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Not irrelevant to the fact a newspaper article was written about him.

The boy isn't being, "targeted" specifically because of his colour, but because it's a, "feel good" story about a educational program which has benefited a child who would otherwise be disadvantaged - his colour (insofar as being a visual representation of why he would have been disadvantaged [language and cultural barriers]) is very relevant to the story in this context.

I honestly cannot tell if you are being sarcastic, please advise

It was a little tongue-in-cheek, however, the point was genuine and legitimate - some of *us were indeed exposed to (non English speaking [Asian]) cultures during our public education. (As I mentioned, Asian Studies was a subject at the public school I attended in my youth)

*White Australians.
posted by Nibiru at 4:24 AM on July 5, 2013


Back in the mid-nineties a colleague of mine from Mumbai was fond of telling stories about being chased by tigers to credulous co-workers. Eventually people got a bit more sophisticated about India but it was fun while it lasted.

This reminds me of when I had a housemate whose parents were former Oxfam aid workers in Kenya.

"Hey, do you remember watching Rainbow as a kid?"
"Um, no, I think I lived in Africa then."
"Oh yeah, I forgot, sorry."
"But what I do remember is opening my curtains and seeing a lion eating a giraffe in the back garden."

The same kid was obsessed with Japan and was always reading manga library books and saying 'You know what I really want to try? Ramen.'
posted by mippy at 4:26 AM on July 5, 2013



I just want to add, as a white dude with a fairly simple Italian last name, you'd be fucking SHOCKED at what people can't pronounce.


The pronunciation thing had me wondering, but then I remembered a temp job I was in where I was seated next to an Asian guy. Now, the NW of England has a huge Asian population - I went to primary school with kids named Aisha and Mohammed and Ghazala and Uwaish. So I was pretty surprised when the supervisor introduced the other guys - "This is Dave, and this is well-we-call-him Patrick because his name's really long *giggle*" He was a quiet guy who just got on with his work, and the next day I was sat somewhere else, so I never found out his real name, but at the time I thought "Jesus..."
posted by mippy at 4:35 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Having said that, I have a name that's near impossible to pronounce if English isn't your first language, so Christ knows what I'd do if I moved to Spain or Japan. I'd probably go with a nickname as well, just to avoid the awkwardness of constantly correcting people.
posted by mippy at 4:37 AM on July 5, 2013


Oh, and before anyone pipes up with it's soooooo raaaaacist to assume a Nigerian boy could be, "disadvantaged" - consider the implications of a stance such as this: minority groups, immigrants, and refugees (etc.) receive governmental and private industry funding for numerous programs which assist countless individuals on the basis of this assumption. My point is, you can't have it both ways.
posted by Nibiru at 4:43 AM on July 5, 2013


Suppose I or this reporter were racist and wanted to use this as an example to work on improving. My problem is I don't see what general principle to take from this. It looks to me like a classic case of "damned if you do, damned if you don't."

Should she have questioned this kid more closely? That seems to go against the (very good, I thought) point -- often made here on metafilter in threads about privilege -- that a privileged person shouldn't question a less-privileged person when they tell their own story. In particular, the privileged person shouldn't say "this doesn't make sense to me" or "this doesn't jibe with my experience." Because, by definition, the privileged person's experience is not relevant, the less-privileged person has had different experiences which are often ignored, and it's not about the privileged person.

Should she have not written the article in the first place? But then, if that's a general principle, no articles about high-achieving immigrants from other countries get written, and we know even less about where they came from and what they have overcome in adapting to a new country.

Perhaps she shouldn't have written an article about this kid specifically because he is from Africa - we should focus on European kids who come over and achieve? Well, hmm, that seems kind of racist to me too.

Perhaps she should have written an article that didn't talk at all about where he came from? Yet that seems to remove a lot of the point of the article, which is about how in just a few years he adapted to a very different culture, learned a completely different language, and excelled at school (having had very little schooling to begin with).

Perhaps she shouldn't have framed it as him being from an exotic and different background? But the thing is, his background is exotic and different to many Americans. That's precisely why she was unable to recognise which parts of it were bullshit or not!

Perhaps the problem is simply that his background is exotic and different, and we should all be as familiar with the lifestyle of a rural Nigerian child as we are with the lifestyle of a kid growing up in the American midwest? This seems to me the most sympathetic and appealing interpretation of what people are saying, but if so, then surely mockery of the reporter is neither nice nor justified; she is just doing what anyone would have done. Plus, I can't imagine how in any realistic world people would know as much about each of the thousands and thousands of different possible subcultures and lifestyles around the world as they would need in order to be able to pick out which precise details of stories like these are bullshit or not. (Not just the zebras - how about the amount of TV coverage? the odds of a rural child seeing a white person? What the local languages are of every region of every country? etc).

Perhaps she should make a practice of just researching every little detail of every little human interest story she does, just in case? Again, not just the zebras… all of the other things, too. We're only focusing on the zebras because that is what was found after the fact to be false. What if they are things that aren't easily found via Google, like the odds of a rural child in that part of Nigeria having ever seen a white person? What if whatever source she finds via google is wrong? Should she ask all of the friends and family? What if they are lying too, or she is misreading cultural cues? When does it end? Keep in mind she was probably on a deadline, had 16 million other things to do as well, a family to feed, etc.

It seems to me that the takeaway message of so many of these comments is that she should have been omniscient. She should have somehow known that the zebra story was bullshit and managed to exactly capture Abubakar's lived experience despite the fact that his lived experience was so different to her own.

I'm truly not trying to be an apologist for racism. I wrote this whole thing because I am trying to interrogate my own privilege where I can, and improve when I'm unconsciously acting badly. But I just don't see -- if omniscience is not possible -- what is or was the right thing to do here?
posted by forza at 4:47 AM on July 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


The subtext is always that "normal" people, those you'd "expect" to do well, succeed by working hard, prepping for the tests, and being smart, whereas the "exotic" in the profile succeeded through a combination of near-superhuman inborn genius and secret knowledge from "back home".

Hm. I always thought the underlying subtext was, "this person was dropped into the school system with nothing and is so much more accomplished than the rest of you all, thus showing that "anyone can do it.'" At the same time, the story is unusual since, if it were usual, it wouldn't be a story.
posted by deanc at 5:04 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ignorance can be racist and ignorance can just be ignorance. If ignorance of other cultures ( even main stream issues/objects let alone details ) is racism then as far as I am concerned almost all members of every cultures/society/ethnic group/etc is inherently racist. And I believe the word is ethnocentric which is just part of the human condition. I have lived in several different cultures (all European ) and as far as I can tell even the most enlightened members of a culture do not have nearly the understanding of other cultures as most of those who are indigenous to that culture. As far as this thread goes I do believe the use of the words racist/racism has become meaningless.
posted by rmhsinc at 5:18 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Comment deleted; metacommentary about how racist you think the site is might be something to take up in Metatalk.]
posted by taz at 5:21 AM on July 5, 2013


(That feels like a MetaTalk issue, Ad hominem - I think it's a discussion worth having, but probably not here...)

"This is Dave, and this is well-we-call-him Patrick because his name's really long *giggle*" He was a quiet guy who just got on with his work, and the next day I was sat somewhere else, so I never found out his real name, but at the time I thought "Jesus..."

This reminds me of an interview with the Nigerian-born but British-raised soccer player Foluwashola (Shola) Ameobi, who was being interviewed after the arrival at his club of a new manager, the beloved but verbally inadroit Bobby Robson. The interviewer read out his full name, then asked him if his teammates had a nickname for him, the clear inference being that Foluwashola was hur-hur a ridiculously complex name.

"Not really."

"What do they call you?"

"Shola."

Getting a little desperate, the interviewer asked what Bobby Robson, a man who had so much trouble with names that he once famously greeted the England midfielder Bryan Robson as "Bobby", called him.

"He calls me Carl Cort."

(Carl Cort being the player Ameobi had replaced due to injury in the starting line-up of the team.)

When people talk of the greatest zingers ever delivered, they talk of Dorothy Parker. They talk of W C Fields. But that. That was amazing. I've never seen an interviewer left with so little room to manoeuver. All he could do, I think, was end the interview, throw his stick mic into a lake and travel to the Grey Havens, there to pass into the West and out of the world of men forever.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:23 AM on July 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


They gave him the nickname “Bubbles” because Abubakar was too hard to say

Those of us who have Anglicized names we go by on a day-to-day basis use them because, in fact, Americans DO have a hard time pronouncing most names outside their immediate comfort zone. Even our president went by "Barry" for the better part of his childhood and teen years. In fact, adopting an Anglicized name pre-emptively is typically done PRECISELY because left to their own devices, people will come up with dumb nicknames like "Bubbles" or do something like, "well, we are going to call you John." This is so common and so entrenched in the immigrant experience, that I think it only shocks well-meaning earnest people who never encountered people from another country until they got to college.
posted by deanc at 5:30 AM on July 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


In fact, adopting an Anglicized name pre-emptively is typically done PRECISELY because left to their own devices, people will come up with dumb nicknames like

Goodluck Jonathan?

For the general election in 2011, Jonathan and vice-president Sambo attended political events and travelled the country to campaign office.

Have fun, you knit-pickers of race and creed.
posted by clavdivs at 7:19 AM on July 5, 2013


Before the internet, they could have gotten away with this. It would have been a complicated effort for someone in the US to go to a local library, find a good encyclopedia, and figure out that zebras were not in a part of a country far away.

The Globe, like 100% of American newspapers, often forgets that we're now living in an internet world.
posted by Melismata at 7:33 AM on July 5, 2013


(On the other hand, before the internet, the Globe also would have employed a fact-checker. And copyeditors, and...)
posted by Melismata at 7:35 AM on July 5, 2013


This is so ridiculous. It's not a law of journalism to fact-check every fucking anecdote someone tells you. That's why they have quotes, as in, "I am telling you what this person told me."

I can see the articles now: "Then," he said, "I met Stevie Wonder." [Stevie Wonder could not be reached for comment.]
posted by girlmightlive at 8:10 AM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


previously: The New York Times Public Editor asks "Should the Times Be a Truth Vigilante?"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:16 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even when caught out he still keeps trolling, telling little Miss Credulous, they were "tales he’d heard from an uncle".

The reporter accepts that it was his uncle hunting nonexistant zebras...


It reads to me like the most diplomatic solution for the both of them: the reporter gets to issue the correction, while at the same time not directly calling the kid a liar.

We don't know enough to know the motives behind this kid telling these stories. I'd like to believe that there was a mocking, satirical angle. That seems very plausible. It's also possible that he just tells tall tales, which he might do for a variety of reasons.

I wouldn't compare "hunting zebras with javelins" with "riding kangaroos to school." Anyone who has seen a kangaroo knows that that's impossible, let alone something one could do regularly. It's more like claiming that one bow-hunts for badgers in New York. It's a goofy claim, but how many people knew for a fact that there were no badgers native to New York State, let alone that no one (AFAIK) bow-hunts for them?
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:50 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


The TV thing was hilarious, though.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:52 AM on July 5, 2013


I don't think it's unreasonable to think that any journalist would know that Nigeria is nowhere near the Serengeti

What's the Serengeti got to do with it? Is it common knowledge that zebras are only found in the Serengeti? I didn't know that. And just doing a bit of research online on wildlife in Nigeria seems to indicate they have cheetahs, elephants, chimpanzees, even a few lions...it's not like we're talking about a place completely devoid of wildlife where the mere mention of a cheetah is ridiculous and should set off your bullshit detector.
posted by Hoopo at 8:53 AM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Have fun, you knit-pickers of race and creed.

Goodluck Jonathan comes from Bayelsa state, in the south of Nigeria. Bayelsa is hugely rich in natural resources, and so has always been a focus for exploitation, first by British colonial rule and subsequently by big hydrocarbon companies.

Also, Izon, the largest language group of the Ijaw people, is not an official Nigerian language, so somebody seeking to be successful in a cross-Nigerian role will need to learn one other language, at least. English functions as a lingua franca for many Nigerians, since even the largest native languages, Yoruba and Igbo, are native only to about 20% of the population each. And, of course, because for a long time you had to learn English to have a chance of dealing either with the colonial bureaucracy or with the British, American and Dutch hydrocarbon company executives.

So, yes, Goodluck Jonathan has an English-sounding name. That's not particularly surprising, from a historical or cultural perspective.

Abubakar Suleiman, on the other hand, is from the north of the country - at a guess, he would speak some variation of Hausa as a first language, and quite possibly English would be a third language for him and his teachers. Northern Nigeria was never as closely governed by Britain as southern Nigeria - it was managed by indirect rule, and was a protectorate rather than a colony until the creation of Nigeria in 1914.

So, yeah. That, basically.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:55 AM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


(Official Nigerian language here meaning "language recongised as official by the nation of Nigeria". Obviously, it is officially a language spoken by people in Nigeria.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:06 AM on July 5, 2013


It's quite possible the kid's a sociopath. Which, come to think of it, would make for a decent horror/thriller movie premise. You could pitch it as The Blind Side meets The Bad Seed.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:16 AM on July 5, 2013


It's quite possible the kid's a sociopath.

"The police are calling him Buffalo Bill."

"Really? Why?"

"Well. They were calling him Zebra Abubakar, but then someone pointed out that there aren't any zebras in Nigeria. And Abubakar was really hard to say. So, yeah. Buffalo Bill."

(Seriously, though, "this person is a sociopath" is the "DTMFA" of MetaFilter...)
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:22 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Have fun, you knit-pickers of race and creed.

It's "nit pickers."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:23 AM on July 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


Not if one has neddles
posted by clavdivs at 12:09 PM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


What is interesting is that pres. Johnathan uses this name...well the media does...but unoffically he goes by this name not his full name or a variant which is not english.
posted by clavdivs at 12:13 PM on July 5, 2013


What is interesting is that pres. Johnathan uses this name...well the media does...but unoffically he goes by this name not his full name or a variant which is not english.

Well, he uses this name because it's his name. His name is Goodluck Jonathan.

He hasn't adopted the name "Goodluck" so visiting dignitaries don't have to wrestle with his "real" name - it is his real name. Jonathan was probably the name an ancestor of his took when he was christened, which then became a familial identifier. Goodluck is the first name he was given by his parents. The western press calls him Goodluck Jonathan because western names tend to go firstname surname. The African press in English, AFAIK, calls him that or Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.

Abubakar Suleiman likewise is called Abubakar Suleiman - which is pretty clearly a form of Abu Bakr Suleiman. Abu Bakr for Mohammed's father-in-law, Suleiman for Solomon the Wise. I doubt he has felt compelled to find an "not Arabic" version of that name just because he is not from Arabia...
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:41 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Seriously, though, "this person is a sociopath" is the "DTMFA" of MetaFilter...)

Yeah, I should have probably written "It's not beyond the realm of possibility..." as I wasn't really trying to diagnose the kid or anything. Just thought it would make for an interesting fictional scenario.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:31 PM on July 5, 2013


It is weird to me how many people in this thread, people whom I know to be generally smart and cool people (at least based on their other MeFi contributions) are passionately defending ignorance of Africa, rather than saying something like "Wow, you're right, it IS weird how we assume that anything we see on the Discovery Channel must apply to everywhere on a continent three times the size of the USA (almost four if you don't count Alaska!), maybe we should work on that, or at the very least hold our media to a higher standard." But I guess I'm not in a position to be entirely dispassionate about it.

For what it's worth, as someone who has lived in Burkina Faso for five years, which has some similarities to northern Nigeria (though, I'm happy to say, with a distinct absence of folks like Boko Haram), the part about not having seen a TV before moving to the states at 10 years old is not so unreasonable. A LOT of villages have them. But not all. And a 10 year old village kid wouldn't generally be traveling much, so if he were living in one that doesn't he wouldn't be likely to have traveled to one that does.
posted by solotoro at 4:10 PM on July 5, 2013


It is weird to me how many people in this thread, people whom I know to be generally smart and cool people (at least based on their other MeFi contributions) are passionately defending ignorance of Africa, rather than saying something like "Wow, you're right, it IS weird how we assume that anything we see on the Discovery Channel must apply to everywhere on a continent three times the size of the USA (almost four if you don't count Alaska!)

I’m not sure that’s what’s happening. What I see is a bunch of people here making assumptions about other people’s motives, kind of like you did there. I don’t assume those things about Africa (and I don’t know who your "we assume" is talking about), but I don’t have a vast knowledge either, and I’m usually the one pointing out to people that it’s a big continent. People from one part of the world often don’t have a vast and specific knowledge about other parts of the world. But that’s not racism. That’s lack of geographical and cultural knowledge. It’s a big world.

I’d bet good money that a majority of a random sampling of Americans on this site couldn’t name the countries of Europe on a blank map, not just Africa. Most Americans don’t even know much about The United States. It’s freakin ridiculous to claim racism or any other fault behind the fact that someone doesn’t know which part of Africa Zebras live in when only a small minority could tell you that all those movies that show Saguaros in Texas are completely wrong.

I think the finger pointing and calls of racism say a lot more about the accusers. A kid was telling tales. That’s what kids do. But because of his race people tried to read all kinds of meaning into it that they wouldn’t have if a kid of a different race had said similar things.
posted by bongo_x at 5:53 PM on July 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


It is weird to me how many people in this thread, people whom I know to be generally smart and cool people

... are calling a reporter racist because she quoted what the subject of her article told her.
posted by Unified Theory at 6:19 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, he uses this name because it's his name. His name is Goodluck Jonathan.

He hasn't adopted the name "Goodluck" so visiting dignitaries don't have to wrestle with his "real" name


The usual first name of Goodluck is a more interesting story. Nigerians have a rich tradition having names that convey the circumstances of the births or the characteristics of the newborns. (Contrastingly, the Western world uses mostly uses standard, historic names.)

In the interview, she had asked Jonathan how much his first name had brought to Nigeria.

He said, “Traditional societies attach some values to names. That is why people select good names for their children.

“In the scriptures, sometimes, when God sends you on some special assignment, he could even direct, ‘change the name of this child from this to that.’

“But the name in itself does not make much difference because even from my village, there is one of my peers that also answers Goodluck. Another one that is a little older than me answers Lucky from my small village and I didn’t see the good luck and lucky in them.


I knew some circles addressed him as President Goodluck Ebele.

In a nationwide address on Tuesday 14th May 2013 by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, oa State of Emergency was declared in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States in order to restore public order, public safety and security in affected states of the Federation.


Abubakar Suleiman likewise is called Abubakar Suleiman - which is pretty clearly a form of Abu Bakr Suleiman. Abu Bakr for Mohammed's father-in-law, Suleiman for Solomon the Wise. I doubt he has felt compelled to find an "not Arabic" version of that name just because he is not from Arabia...

Never mentioned Suleiman but it is interesting info.
posted by clavdivs at 7:13 AM on July 6, 2013


You guys, when I got back from the UK, I was asked whether it was easy to get online there. This was around 7-8 years ago.

In the United States, people have an extremely limited view of the rest of the world, a view that is largely shaped by the media that we have here.

At the same time, people have caricatured visions of Americans too. You could probably convince someone in Africa without much elaboration that you personally know one or more famous celebrities, or that you own 10 cars.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:30 AM on July 8, 2013


When I visited the US for the first time in '76, one of the first questions I heard was whether we had washing machines over there (in Germany).
I have some sympathies for this kid...
posted by Namlit at 1:23 AM on July 10, 2013


This reminded me of the concepts behind We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative by Kameron Hurley (on MetaFilter):
It’s easier to tell the same stories everyone else does. There’s no particular shame in it.

It’s just that it’s lazy, which is just about the worst possible thing a spec fic writer can be.

Oh, and it’s not true.
Replace "spec fic writer" with "journalist," and the quote fits here.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:22 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for linking to that, filthy light thief. I've been away for a bit and totally missed it.
posted by nangar at 8:23 PM on July 17, 2013


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