How African Media could help address racism in the Western World – Interview with Tunde Alabi Hundeyin II

How African Media could help address racism in the Western World  – Interview with Tunde Alabi Hundeyin II

Tunde Alabi Hundeyin II, a Nigerian documentary photographer, is an alumnus of the Department of Communication & Language Arts, University of Ibadan,Nigeria. He is currently studying for a PhD in the UK at the University of Sussex. As a researcher interested in contesting a normalized stereotypical representation of African children in international media, he shared his experiences living, studying and raising a family in the UK in this chat with Rasheed Adebiyi,  Here are the excerpts.

Tekedia: Could you tell us about yourself?

Tunde Alabi Hundeyin II :  My name is Tunde Alabi-Hundeyin II. I had my first degree at the University of Ibadan where I  studied Communication and Language Arts. I graduated in 2004 and after then I worked in Globacom for nine years before I resigned in 2015 to move to the UK for my Masters Degree in Media Practice for Development and Social Change. So, within the time that I was in Nigeria working at GLO by the side I was working as a freelance filmmaker and documentary photographer.

Tekedia: What is the story behind your transiting to the UK?

Tunde Alabi Hundeyin II: So basically, the reason why I resigned from GLO was to transit to another career in media for development and that was why I resigned and moved to the UK to study. So, the plan was to finish studying after a year and then return to Nigeria to start a new career path, but then afterwards things changed. I got to the UK. I started studying Media Practice for Development and Social Change and  I realized that the University of Sussex is the best in the whole world for Development Studies  which is my wife’s area of expertise.  She has been working in the development sector in Nigeria  for several years. So,  I  just invited her to come to the UK to come  study at Sussex as well for her Masters in Development Studies at IDS (Institute of Development Studies). It’s the best place in the whole world for Development Studies while Harvard ranks second.

Tekedia: You earned your first degree in Nigeria. Now, you are doing a PhD in the UK. What are those things that are different between the two educational systems?

Tunde Alabi Hundeyin II: The differences between the educational systems in Nigeria and the UK are like the difference between the top of the mountain and the valley. So, first, the UK education focuses so much on reading for each module. When I say module what we call module here is what you call a course in Nigeria.  For each module or  elective that you do, you are required to read up to 15 or 20 articles. If you don’t read, you will be lost during intellectual discussions in class. So, the UK education system focuses a lot on personal study.  The scholarly articles are uploaded on student portal. Now, in each classroom, you would have people of varying degrees of experience. For instance, when I was studying for my master’s, it was a class of 30 and we had people from 15  countries. I had in class people of varying degrees of experience from Mexico, India, Britain, Germany, Sudan, South Africa, Kenya, Philippines, etc. From that class, you have people sharing their experience from different corners of the world. So, in the end you have a kind of robust and round education where you are not just taught theoretical principles but you also share experience and practical scenarios with your class mates. You share your own experience from Nigeria, they share their own experiences from Germany, America etcetera. So, it is a lot of different experiences, knowledge, situations and scenarios that are shared. Also, my course was a practice-based, we had a lot to do with cameras. We were always taking out camera working on documentaries, photography and film, photo and sound editing. We have adequate editing workshop studios and facilities you would not see even in commercial studios in Nigeria.

The library is also open 24/7 all year round. WIFI is all over the campus compared to Nigeria where you need to have your own mobile internet connectivity and all that. One other major thing I realized as difference between the UK and Nigeria education is the fact that in Nigeria you learn for reward.  You learn to earn a certificate. You learn to pass exams so the education is for the ultimate purpose of earning a certificate. It is for the purpose of moving to the next level and graduating and being a graduate but here in the UK, it’s a kind of transformational learning where you get theoretical and factual knowledge that creates real change.  You get information.  You get theoretical and practical knowledge that you can actually put to use. They also encourage reflective learning which is like a process that involves you asking yourself questions about the process that you have undertaken to learn a new thing. For instance, for my master’s dissertation,  I did a practice-based dissertation project with UNICEF in Nigeria. It was a photography project on one of the campaigns they were working on which was called Ending Violence Against Children. I had to take photographs of child victims of physical, emotional and sexual assault  to publicise their  campaign on social and print media. So, basically one of the things I did from that project was that by the time I got back to the UK, I submitted the pictures as my dissertation and I also wrote a 3500 word reflective essay which talked about the process by which I created that project for UNICEF. I captured the things that I did correctly and the things I did wrongly and what I did and how I helped myself to correct the process of the things that I did wrongly.

Another difference between these two systems of education is that lecturers are involved in your learning process. When you are given an assignment or essays (we do a lot of essays unlike in Nigeria where you are just asked to cough back what the lecturers taught you in class) the lecturers expect you to not just reflect on what you have read but to also bring your own positionality and position to what you are arguing about they just don’t want you to tell them 3+2 is 5 they want you to tell them why 3+2 is 5 and whether you agree or you don’t agree . so if you don’t agree present your own position let us know why you don’t agree and support it with some other sources that say not only 3+2 is 5 but 3+1+1 is also 5. They accept different perspectives. So like I was saying previously, lecturers are involved in that process of you doing your essays. While you are given an assignment, they expect you to book a session with your lecturer to discuss how far you have done that essay, what your arguments are what your methodology is , and your supervisor or your lecturer can still make some input while you are doing that assignment. So, they are involved in the process of you doing your assignment. It is not just a punitive style of education where you do an exam or a test or an essay and then the lecturer punishes you for getting something wrong. But here they get involved in your process of carrying out that work. Another thing is we address our lecturers by name, whether they are professors anything etc. that helps to relate with them on a very good level without fear or intimidation and a lot of African students struggle with this in the first few months.

Tekedia: You are a photographer who is trying to capture the stories of the downtrodden and displaced people. Tell us more about the motive behind this?

Tunde Alabi Hundeyin II: My PhD is in Creative and Critical Practice  in the School of Media Arts and Humanities, University of Sussex. So, it’s a practice-based research which contests the normalized stereotypes in the media representation of children from the Global South. How African children are presented as victims of poverty, how the black body is regarded as a toxic sight by the international media. So, my research challenges that visual culture where African children are presented in bad light. So for my research, what I’m doing is working with children who are displaced by Boko Haram in Nigeria. For my work, I have taken trips to displacement camps in northern Nigeria where I captured the children ethically. I have been doing participatory photography with these children aged between 10-15 teaching them how to capture photographs that tell narratives about their realities  which I have been presenting at exhibitions in Nigeria, in the UK and in America. so that’s what that project is all about. That project is actually a component part of my PhD methodology.

Tekedia: Recently, there was a wave of protests globally against racial discrimination in some countries like the US and parts of Europe. What is your experience like studying and raising a family in a predominantly white setting?

Tunde Alabi Hundeyin II: It has not been easy raising children in a racialized environment because like I said earlier black bodies in the western world are seen to be toxic and problematic. So, usually a lot of people, well not all white people, see black people in a negative light so it has not been easy because quite a number of times we’ve experienced racism.  A nurse at the University Health Centre once asked me  infront of my children if we had chocolate in Nigeria! I was just so taken aback by that question because I wouldn’t have imagined that someone would think that chocolates were such a luxury that we wouldn’t have them in Nigeria. Sometimes, some white people will ask you how you got to the UK probably imagining that you probably came in dingy boats across the Atlantic Ocean.  Or some would even ask you if it was true that you have lions as pets in Africa and things like that. So, some of them still have some perspectives that are questionable and it’s not really fair at all.  Last year, my son wanted to play basketball with some boys on the school playground during the break time. One of them told him he couldn’t join them to play and he was like why can’t I join you? The boy replied him that because you are Black you can’t join us. So, the school had to punish that boy for a week or so.  Every now and again, you get to hear some racist remarks from people.

But, one of the things we do as parents is that we speak a lot to our children about being black. We intellectually and emotionally empower them. There are some books that we’ve gotten-  Books on black excellence that talk about black heroes who have lived in America, Britain and all over the western world. They have another book on black inventors. We try to empower them with these books. We  read these books together every night before bed. Right now, my kids are 10 and 7 and they already know about Mandela, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou and Beyonce. They know about many of these black heroes that have done positive things. So, they are so empowered about their blackness in a world that constantly questions their identities.  We try to just build their character and to let them know that anytime someone questions their identity, they should never respond negatively. I mean the day my son, Korede, was assaulted because of his colour, I was curious to know how he responded to the racist boy and the teacher told me that he didn’t retaliate or abuse the boy. He just remained silent and that was so encouraging for me. I felt so proud as a father.

Tekedia: How could the African media address these toxic narratives?

Tunde Alabi Hundeyin II: The African media should decolonise itself in its ideological thinking, content creation, and narratives. It’s quite disappointing when local media ape and regurgitate Western styles of representation. They should project the African culture, African excellence and promote untold narratives of Black resilience, ingenuity, and opportunities in the digital, agriculture, enterprise and entertainment industries. We need super-power media organisations to wrest the power of storytelling from the West.

Tekedia: Is there anything you miss about Nigeria? What is it?

Tunde Alabi Hundeyin II: Oh I miss a lot of things. Ever since I got here 5 years ago, I have always travelled to Nigeria every year, in fact, sometimes twice a year until last year when I didn’t travel at all. I have been feeling home sick for some time now. And this year too, I have not travelled to Nigeria so this will make it like the second year I have not travelled. So I miss quite a number of things. I miss Mama Put. Sometimes, when I see all those Mama Put pictures online, I always feel sad. I miss Gala and Fan Yoghurt that we used to eat and drink in traffic coming from work. I miss Lagos traffic. I miss the Lagos tension. You know the screams and the shouts across the streets. I miss that Lagos spirit. I just miss that environment.

Tekedia: As a Nigerian in Diaspora, is there a plan for some projects to help the Fatherland?

Tunde Alabi Hundeyin II: So earlier I mentioned the project I have been doing with children displaced by Boko Haram at the displacement camp. That’s one project I have been doing and I hope to continue to do even after my studies. The children have been empowered to take pictures of themselves, to know how to tell their own stories, create their own narratives rather than other people speaking for them. One of them said she would like to become a fashion photographer in future. So, I guess I have sown a positive seed in them. I have been able to attract some donations to that camp. A couple of friends have donated money and materials to them at the camp. I have also been able to draw the attention of some NGOs to that camp. I took UNICEF, Mercy Corp and Save the Children to that camp. Before then, the camp had no international NGO presence. Then, there was a Nigerian couple I met here in the UK at the  Canterbury  Arts Festival, one of those exhibitions that I held. They were so drawn to the story and they have pledged to work with the children regarding their trauma. They are psychologists and have pledged to work with the children to help them overcome the trauma that they have experienced through terrorism and displacement.  So, hopefully after the pandemic, we should set the ball rolling. I hope to do more and more for them and as I exhibit their pictures all over the world by getting more and more attention for them.

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