When the idea for this article came up, the initial title was “cultural inferiority and the theory of best practice,” however, while doing my research I realised a term relating to the same idea already existed.
The term cultural cringe was developed by A.A. Philips, in his controversial 1950 essay of the same name. Cultural cringe is an internalized inferiority complex that causes people in a country to dismiss their own culture as inferior to the culture of other countries. It is defined by the Collins dictionary as “the perception that one’s own culture is inferior to that of another group or country.” In his essay, A.A. Philips described the ingrained feelings of inferiority that local intellectuals struggled against, and which were most clearly pronounced in the Australian theatre, music, art and letters. The term cultural cringe can also be traced to other environments and it has been associated many times with colonial mentality.
Best practice is a method or technique that has been generally accepted as superior to any alternatives because it produces results that are superior to those achieved by other means or because it has become a standard of doing things e.g a standard way of complying with legal or ethical requirements. It is a working method or set of working methods that is officially accepted as being the best to use in a particular business or industry. Best practices exist in various industries such as health, agriculture, business and it has also been used by authorities in defining public policy or making decisions.
Best practice is an efficient way of taking actions in many situations, however, in many other situations it is prone to flaws due to the ambiguity of the term which stems from the word “best.” Questions arise such as “is what is best in this situation/environment what is best in this other situation/environment?”
In Nigeria, cultural cringe has gradually become synonymous with best practice. There is a general belief held by many Nigerians that whatever is Nigerian is naturally inferior to its western counterpart and in some cases, any foreign culture or that whatever is not Nigerian is best practice.
And so, in many situations, we hear public officials and ordinary Nigerians recommend a certain thing for no reason than its foreignness. Very commonly, we hear phrases like “in America” or “according to how it is done in” these recommendations are in many situations made without proper evaluation of the two environments, and in most cases have dire effects.
In a lecture delivered by Femi Falana, a senior advocate of Nigeria and human rights lawyer at Oduduwa hall in Obafemi Awolowo University, an example of cultural cringe was discussed. While speaking on the role of traditional rulers in traditional Yoruba setting (the occasion was the birthday of the Ooni of Ife), the lecturer spoke about the recent rise in alternative dispute resolution in the Nigerian legal system and then decried how this system had always been in existence in traditional Yoruba culture as the Ooni’s court had always been the ultimate venue for resolving dispute amicably and that the adversatorial system of litigation was an introduction of western culture. Today, ADR is being regarded as a foreign concept and recommended as a best practice, and the Ooni of Ife must look on in amusement.
Cultural cringe in Nigeria is also evident in many other areas, from parents who scold their children for speaking indegenous language to the preference of foreign writers and writing over home grown writers.
The reason behind cultural cringe in Nigeria is not far fetched. The effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism are to blame. Our traditions and cultures were conciously replaced with foreign ones by the colonialists, our values were decried and our way of life regarded as second rate. This instilled a feeling of inferiority which has been passed down from generation to genration either conciously or unconciously.
Cultural cringe has affected Nigeria in a lot of ways which are to be seen in many aspects of Nigerian life but I’ll focus on one; political culture. A typical example is the decadence in leadership and governance which is found in Nigerian political spheres. The reason behind the poor service of public officials lies majorly in the fact that our system of governance is not home grown. There is a huge disconnection between our system of government and the cultural make up of the people in it. Politicians and political leaders are raised from birth with traditional values among which include socio-political values and ethos. When they go into politics, they still hold these values which in many situations do not match with the western socio-political values and system.
In many traditional political structures for example, leadership is hereditory and leadership reign is perpetual. The western system however favours a periodical reign of leadership. When these two system meet, it creates a clash which is bound to ensure unproductivity. This clash causes a negative result. For example, the perpetuity of tenure of leaders in traditional societies which is supposed to ensure continuity and consistency in the leadership of rulers or a ruling family who are literally raised for the leadership is reflected as the greed of politicians who are selected by popular demand, when placed in a western system. It is pretty simple, the Nigerian political culture and mindset is sharply different from the western political system and mindset. When the two come together, it creates confusion. Some may argue that there are certain people who exude such political values that fit in the western system, but the questions to be asked are? Are these values present in the general populace? Can these people survive in an environment structured in a different way?
When these questions are answered, it would be obvious that the correct answer to this is that a political system structured to accomodate the pecularities of Nigerians and not a direct prototype of western socio-political culture should be adopted, since the only reason why the current political system or structure exists is because this system is regarded as a “best practice.” Moreover, don’t our traditional political systems still exist. Should’nt a reform of these systems be a more practical approach since they were formed by us for us? These are the questions.