Nobody was born 'nice'. It is learned behaviour.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The first (and hopefully, the last) time I was "Amy-Coopered" was last December.

[Yes. Amy-Cooper has made it to being a whole verb. That's what you get, for trying to get someone in trouble unnecessarily, with the power of your tears]

(*insert petty snort)

I was travelling through the United States to be with my Godmother for the Christmas holidays. I had bought one of those black Friday deals, which end up birthing a nightmare for your journey.

(Please remind me NEVER again to participate in black Friday ‘deals’. Most turn out to be penny wise pound foolish. But that is story for another post)

I has a second connecting flight from Atlanta, which had been delayed for hours, and the boarding gates changed a million times.

I was very exhausted. And hungry. I had been lugging my school bag on my back across the airport, with my laptop and sundry other precious items for more than five hours.

I know... each person is required to hold their bag at all times. But at this point, I was near fainting. I dropped my bag briefly on my seat, and went across the hallway to grab a burger. At all times, my sight was on my bag, and I was gone for two minutes at the most.

As I returned to my bag, this Caucasian princess (all sarcasm intended) walked up to me, and started nagging about how I left my bag on the seat.

The Canadian in me reflexively kicked in, so I smiled and explained that yes, I know my bag should be with me at all times. But I'd been just a few metres away, was gone for a very short time, and my eyes were on the bag at all times.

But she was not having it. This Aunty had made herself the bag police, and dived into a diatribe of how I should be arrested for leaving my bag.

Hian?? The Nigerian in me took over.

I looked her up and down (in that way we teach ourselves in primary school), responded with an 'ok', took my seat, and brought out my novel.

(In Nigeria, “Ok” is an entire sentence, a whole paragraph even. Summarised to mean “I won’t waste my time engaging with you”)

My coolness seemed to throw her into a frenzy. Hei! At this point, she was almost taking off her clothes and tearing her hair.

"I will call the police and the security on you, and they will arrest you. I'm not sure how things are done where you are from. But over here, you will be arrested. Just wait and see".


My accent and the cornrows probably misled her to think I had just crawled my way through the Atlantic, from Africa, and climbed the invisible wall they were building in America, into the Atlanta airport.

In her mind, I probably did not have papers, and would be afraid of being deported. Surely, I would quake in fear, throw myself at her feet and grovel for mercy? Yes??


There was a black sister sitting right next to me. She instinctively reached out her hand and put it on my arm, as if to say "Let it go", without saying a word.

With the naive arrogance of one who is not daily subject to the brutality of security personnel, the type which breathes in the United States, I shrugged my shoulders and retorted "I'm not sure exactly what's in the water y’all drink down south here that makes you think it's that easy to get EVERY black person arrested".

That seemed to be the final straw for her. With that, she stomped off, and I saw her speaking with uniformed personnel.

(With the benefit of hindsight, and only now fully understanding the utter craziness of police brutality against black people in the United States, I now comprehend why she was getting her high off calling the po-po on me)

She came back without the security personnel, and kept muttering to herself. Shortly after, our flight was called.

When I was boarding, a smiling-faced security personnel – who turned out to be Igbo-American actually – approached me, and asked what the mini-ruckus was about, and I explained to him. He apologised for the woman’s irrational behaviour, and wished me a safe flight.

Why am I sharing??

In the wake of recent events, a lot of other countries (and people) are quick to distance themselves from the madness in the United States, and say “thank God, that’s not who we are”.

For Canadians, we are used to hearing “Canadians are nice”. And quite true to this perception, the unnecessary drama I experienced is less likely to happen at a Canadian airport.

Over here, we would probably just smile at you, that smile that speaks volumes and holds a strong reprimand of "do not ever leave your bag again". If you will be Amy-Coopered, it'll be done quietly, without you knowing, and no needless confrontation with a co-passenger. Security would just appear to chat with you.

Yes… we are far more (what's the word?? Ah, yes..) 'civil'.

But the concept of equating “natural niceness” to a people, doesn’t sit well with me. It seems like a cop-out for others to keep brandishing unkindness.

Amy Cooper is Canadian. Yes, THE Amy Cooper. The one who tried to get an African-American male killed arrested in the most Karen-filled Oscar-worthy 911 call.

Amy Cooper is proof that no one is “born nice”. If the same scene had played itself somewhere in Toronto or Ottawa, same Amy Cooper would not have wielded the power of the cops over her target as she did in New York. Because while we battle with our version of systemic racism and oppression in Canada, gun-wielding, trigger-happy policemen are not commonly roaming our streets as they are on the South of the border.

What this points to is that one’s (social and cultural) environment goes a long way in influencing their actions. What is thus perceived as ingrained “niceness” is the result of long-term social conditioning as to civility and human interaction.

Our “niceness” is actually learned behaviour, and as Amy Cooper proves, can be equally unlearned when desired. In its place, nastiness can be learned too.

“This is who I am” should never be a cop-out or an excuse for bad behaviour. If we can learn to be nasty, surely, we can learn to be nice?


There is so much craziness going on in the world right now. We may not be able to change the world as a whole. But we can consciously work on our own individual actions and interactions with others.

Take the time to learn niceness, and be a little nice to folks around you. Lord know we all need it. 😊



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  1. Ah! I need to learn, unlearn and relearn. I would not have been "nice" at all had I been in your shoes.