Category Archives: racism

How to answer annoying questions and end conversations quickly


When travelling and meeting new people, you get used to responding to a standard set of questions that come up with exhausting frequency. It usually goes something like this:

Oh so you are from Kenya? (searches brain to think of something that they know about the country.)

Nairobi, right? (blank smile on my part. I don’t help this knowledge exchange because I believe in the power of Wikipedia)

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I want to visit someday. (Great, should I call my travel agent and book you a ticket?)

Then safari, animals, language, (establishing if we speak English down there) and possibly food.

Awkward silence as I ponder on whether or not it would be appropriate to break out into a native dance.

Then I politely ask the same even though I really could not give two shits about where they come from because that’s what civilised people to to carry on the meaningless small talk and waste some time.

I’ve talked about this before, but the more I think about it, the more I realize what a terrible ambassador I am for my country. I mean, when people tell me that they want to visit, I tell them to go to the parks and to the coast.

Why?

Because tourism is an important part of our economy. So skip all the crap about wanting to know the real Kenya and just go burn some cash so that we can build ourselves some super high ways and/or buy some phantom passport making machines. Your government made this video expressly to attract people with lots of money to burn. Count how many times actual people (except for the ruggedly handsome dancing Maasais of course) feature in there:

Seriously.

When people ask me about food, I end the discussion by saying that Kenyan food places emphasis on fresh, natural ingredients cooked in an unpretentious way. And like the British, we generally eat to live and not the other way around.

Admit it, it’s true.

How about language?

Please download a copy of the Lion King. Memorize the words ‘hakuna matata‘.

Voila, you speak Swahili.

Some of the more masochistic ones will keep probing. How is the situation there? (this means, are you one of those countries busy hacking each other to death?)

Yeah, we lost our minds in 2008, I’m not sure if we will go in for round two next year.

I also generalize a lot. I say, ‘in Africa, we do this…In Africa….’ Why? It’s true that Africa is not a country. But it’s also true that we have a lot more in common than we would like to admit. Our problems are almost uniform in nature: pick a little old lady living in a village in the Gambia. Chances are, she has plenty in common with my grandmother living in Nyeri. It’s not an insult. It’s a fact.

That is what it means to belong to a race of people. Y’all have shit in common.

(And besides, were we not in love with Gaddaffi because he wanted a united Africa? Just saying…)

And please don’t talk about North Africa- they only become Africans when they are unemployed, roaming the streets causing trouble and feeling rejected by society.

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Why do I do this? Because it is very, very rare to meet someone with a genuine interest in my continent. Blame it on the media if you want to. Blame it on us for being woefully unprepared to join a global community with incomprehensible and incompatible structures with our own.

Blame it on our predecessors who do not remember enough about our culture and passed down to us a crippled understanding of ourselves, poisoned with self loathing. Blame them for unwittingly sharing their inferiority complex.

I do not encourage these kinds of meaningless conversations because, like anyone with a decent bullshit radar, I can tell when someone is making an attempt at ‘talking to the African’ and possibly going through the confusing process of trying to -sift through stereotypes and not putting their foot in their mouth while trying to find common ground maybe with this person but not really sure if it is worth it talking to them oh God what to do this is really weird-

It’s not too much to ask to be seen as an individual you know. And those that do are often well rewarded.

By the way, this video by His Awesomeness Hugh Masekela is what put me in this dark mood. Watch it if you have 15 minutes to spare.

Kony 2012: have I become an Uncle Tom?


The first time I learnt about Kony was through a special feature in the daily Nation sometime in 2008. The journalist went to town on the nutjob, calling him a megalomaniac that needs to be stopped in his tracks before he goes further in creating his demonic little empire.

Fast foward to 2012 and the internet pseudo-intellectuals are practically foaming at the mouth to criticize that video released by the slick well-meaning folk over at Invisible Children, who decided that the world will certainly end for Kony and his insane, drug fuelled, machete wielding ‘rebel group’ this year.

I have to be honest, I found most of the video rather uncomfortable to watch. The whole narrative of his son’s birth had a great message: we don’t choose where we are born, but we have the same rights as human beings was spot on. But, did it have to take so long? And the little montage at the end of all their awesome rallies and protests across the country set to rock music.? I was glancing behind my shoulder to make sure no-one was watching me….

Tasteful as ever

But I think that maybe the residents of the internet have become trigger happy. It’s cool to shoot down anything that becomes too popular, and ironically, shut down new solutions and propose old ones like they are something new.

After watching the video, I looked around to see what the naysayers had to say. And that is when I started feeling like an Uncle Tom. On the surface, they all sound like intelligent, well thought out arguments. But I call bullshit.  Here is why:

  • where are the voices of the Ugandans?: Why can’t we have more African voices in the international media? Mmmhmm… Bono, Angelina, Maddona..what horrible, horrible human beings, exploiting African misery to look good. Look, the world is an unfair place. Some kids are more popular than others. We know that Africans are not helpless. The Ugandans know that they have their own heroes: I tried Google to find some names I could use as an example, but of course nothing came up. Same thing with when we had the famine situation. No way in hell did anyone cover ‘Kenyans for Kenyans’ and those farmers who sent their surplus supplies to NEP. So…maybe some smart lobbyist somewhere could harness the power of these disaster loving bleeding heart celebrities instead of moaning about misrepresentation?
  • The war is complex: In fact, taking Kony down won’t change anything because others will replace him: Well…well…well…so since the war is so complex, should we then sit back, throw our hands up in the air and wait for salvation from our Lord Jesus and saviour?
  • No….what we need is governance and a way to end corruption: Hey Africans, you hear that? Your have problems because you are corrupt. We have found the magic bullet to all our problems! Thank you, well meaning internet trolls!
  • Why is he spending so much money looking like the Great White Hope coming to save the little savages? Why can’t they use more money to build stuff in Uganda?: They never really claimed to be an aid organisation (and we know what a GREAT success story that was!). The guy is a lobbyist. Lobbyists get their work done by irritating as many policy makers as possible in order to get the changes they want seen. Lobbyists don’t build toilets. They make noise.
  • LOLZ, anyone?

  • OIL!! It’s a conspiracy to invade Uganda and take all the OIL!!!: this is the most tempting one of all. But, do they really? If we want to rely on rumours, we can look no further than the fact that ‘closed’ deals are already being made…and everyone is holding their breath, hoping that things don’t go batshit crazy as soon as the pumps start working.

As a marketing campaign, this one set the new standards. I fear what will come next. I hope that his intentions are good. And I’m sorry that for years to come, Ugandans will be asked what it was like being a child soldier.

But the film also got people talking and researching on the truth and discussing solutions. Hopefully an indication that global citizenship is a possibility. And that  you can get your voice heard by the people in power.

I truly hope that we stop parroting the same tired nonsense, imagining ourselves as some cynical, intelligent warrior race responsible for truth and enlightenment on the internet. Where, obviously, your opinion counts for absolutely nothing.

Here is one other person who sort of agrees with me.

 

Chuckle chuckle

Chuckle chuckle

Let’s talk about race for a minute, shall we?


I have this one friend. I’m not really saying who he is, but we can call him ‘Jeremy’ and assume that he is living and working in Pakistan at the moment.

The reason I’m talking about ‘Jeremy’ is because he has this thing where he cuts me off with a sarcastic ‘yawn‘ every time I start heading towards a great big rant/philosophizing/update on anything race related.

And so I am dedicating this post to him. (‘Jeremy’, as it turns out, is also working through his racial angst and you can read all about that here)

Obviously, living in Europe has exposed me to racial issues that I never even dreamed of.  For example, I haven’t adjusted to the fact that people look at me and see a black girl. And this produces a range of reactions that I’m going to broadly stereotype and make assumptions that may or not be correct. (See what I’m doing here?)

And so here is my list of racists:

The Awkward ones

TAO: So where do you come from?

Me: Kenya

TAO: OOOOOOHHH, K-E-N-I-A?? (In that really slow, loud voice most people use when talking to deaf people.)

Me: Uuuum…yeah

TAO: Well, I’ve never been to Africa. Followed by awkward silence/vague references to safaris and the joys and simplicities of the warm African spirit.

Well good for you.

The Openly Hostile

There is once I was waiting by the bus stop for one very very unreliable friend. Since I rarely make any attempt to look feminine, I was casually leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette and wearing my most badass-dont-mess-with-me face. Then this little f*ck gets off the bus and starts shooting me dirty looks while furiously going through his pockets looking for his phone. He breaks into a half jog, all the while throwing glances back at me and fumbling with his phone/potentially deadly weapon/army knife/I don’t know. I got irritated and asked him, ‘What? What are you looking at?’, followed by ‘keep walking, the hell?’. He crossed the road in his frantic state and disappeared into the night.

I was baffled. I mean, how scary can one 1.65 female really be? My naive mind still has no explanation for that little sh*t’s actions.

Thankfully, the hostile ones are mostly limited to feeble geriatrics eyeballing you on the train as they wish for the good old days when darkies knew their place and Europe was the center of the world. Well…sorry grandma, shit happens. And by shit I mean your neighbourhood will continue to be overun by good for nothing immigrants, k?

The Clueless

These ones are almost always exclusively socially awkward Asians, and for some strange reason, the Turkish. I guess because they have no embarassing history with Africa and since negroes rarely head out that far, they have a child like curiosity about black people. So I can be sitting with a group of people and suddenly feel a hand tentatively touching  my hair.

Or deal with conversational nuclear bombs such as:

I think black people have good eyesight because instead of reading, they go hunting.

Leaving everyone slightly uncomfortable.

The ones who don’t quite know what to do

Apparently we stereotype because our minds simply can’t pause to analyze every single thing in great detail else we would be unable to function.

Add on to the fact that everyone wants to appear politically correct and liberal, and sometimes the two just don’t go together. This was especially clear when I was looking for a place to stay. So I’d make a call in my rudimentary French and set up an appointment to view the flat.

And then…

A black girl shows up. Landlord tries desperately hard to be polite and beat his prejudices.  But the pauses are too long and the atmosphere too strained.

Needless to say, a polite rejection comes in a couple of days later. Oh, how civilized.

Jungle Fever

This is my best and worst category. The worst is when I meet drunk old women in bars where their granddaughters hang out, and get cornered into a spitfest about how she ‘prefers black people’ and ‘is/was married to a black guy’ and how much her wobbly wrinkly ass loves Mandingo…or the nastly little old men who think they can grab my ass.

The best is when the boys from behind the iron curtain drool all over the sisters. Or as my Greek friend put it

I have never been with a coloured girl, but I want to try. It’s like the french say, taste a little bit of everything.

Well, my brother, keep the drinks coming and be honest about your motivations and you are good with me!

The ones who think they are funny

And, of course, fielding comments and ‘jokes’ from friends. For example, I was chatting with a gentleman working in our building. Banter, teasing, that sort of thing. When…

Your accent is terrible. I can’t understand what you are saying!

Now, this coming from a former Eastern bloc brother who can’t tell the difference between v and w and missing half of the English vocabulary…..

I would be expected to get angry.

What? Me? I have an accent? I speak perfect English! YOU have an accent.

And then storm off in a huff.

But Trevor says it best:

Instead, a nice, back handed sarcastic comment earned me not so cheap 3d tickets to Tintin.

Lemons into lemonade, boys and girls.

No need trippin’ over fools.