Being native

There is a thing about being so close to something that one does not see it anymore. Anthropologists normally refer to it as going native. You have gone native when you no longer see the obvious things anymore, when the things that an outsider notices stares you in the face but you are no longer able to see them. This is usually because you have developed a blind spot for them, and they have become normal, almost natural.

There is also the other kind of blind spot, the kind that comes from being native. Anthropologists know about that too very well. Since we study people, we know that studying people of ones kind comes with the added requirement of being able to stand back and look critically in order to see things that would be obvious to foreigners, but that are not obvious to the native.

That is Olumide Abimbola, a Nigerian anthropology PhD, writing his weekly column. What has blinded him?

We have become blind to a lot of these things because we are used to them, because they have become part of us. We have become used to our commuter bus drivers handing out that note to the policeman at the roadblock, to reading in the newspaper about a number of extra-judicial killings by the police, to hearing about ‘accidental discharge’. We are also used to the sound of a certain kind of hoot in heavy traffic, a hoot that signifies that an important dignitary is being ferried across in an important car, escorted by a van-full of MOPOL. Of course, the main reason the person is important is because they are a foreigner. We are so used to these things that we have become numb to them.

His excellent blog is here.