Tag Archives: stereotypes

A brief summary of African Ideology: the pub version


Yesterday, I had a very strange exchange with a fellow on the Twitter, who posted an article by that loony scientist Dr Richard Lynn (of the black women are ugly because of too much testosterone fame) claiming that atheists are more intelligent than the average Bible thumping, Jesus loving uneducated cretins running loose in our streets.

I told him that  using this man’s research to prove a point is a slippery slope that leads to weird Nazi like arguments about race, intelligence and the value of human beings. Stuff that you really don’t want to get into.

Somehow, the argument descended into a flurry of links with information about the colonized African mind and misinformation about the great black race, with lots of references to the Egyptian civilization thrown in for good measure.

These things reminded me a lot of myself when I was in my late teens- obsessed with Bob Marley, slavery and finally discovering the truth about Africa. With the obligatory shaggy ‘fro, questionable sources of information and lots of beaded jewelry. (We all deal with teen angst in different ways, okay?)

This got me thinking of the debate about Africa, the different forms it has taken over the years, and my changing opinions about African identity, nationhood and other ways we try to make sense of a world so hell bent on proving that we are doomed for eternity.

And since I love lists so much, here is my list of  philosophies that you are bound to come across in bars around the continent:

1. The ones living in the Past before the Past

I’m talking about the past before the past here. Before pre-colonial times to that space where information is scant and fantasy rules. These are the people who like to argue about whether or not Ancient Egypt was ruled by black Pharaohs, and in that way, shielding themselves against anyone who thinks  that Africa was a bush-land populated by people a few degrees smarter than monkeys.

The fact is, there are no known written languages originating in Sub-Saharan Africa, so we will never really know what went on before international trade began (8th Century?) All our information therefore comes from traders, missionaries and slavers, so yes, the objectivity of their reports can be questioned.

The past before the past philosophers use this lack of information to lay fantastic claims like ‘Africans discovered science but rejected it because they realized it was evil’.

But why this obsession with Egypt, when there are plenty of other examples across the continent? Is it just a way to hide an inferiority complex by clinging on to an example that fits the  ideal of a classical empire considered to be powerful and civilized?

This is dangerous territory because it makes you look like a nut and eventually people will avoid you.

2. The Pan- Africans

I blame this one squarely on those books we were forced to study in high school. As much as I respect our post-colonial writers, I don’t think we should be feeding this narrative to impressionable young people 50 years after the end of foreign rule.

I’m talking about the people who think that colonialism in to blame for absolutely everything. That, before the 1800s, we lived in a utopia where men and women were equal, everyone lived in harmony and died peacefully in their sleep after a life well lived.

This is often followed by an idolization of leaders such as good old Bob in Zim and the late, flamboyant Gaddaffi because they are supposedly finally kicking out the evil colonialists and freeing their people from oppression.

Once again, it is difficult to tell fact from fantasy and colonial propaganda because we were not doing any recording of information ourselves.

Sadly, whether or not the Pan Africans are right, it is virtually impossible to go back to this kind of life. I suspect that the damage done to our cultures and values by the violence, humiliation and subjugation that came with colonialism means that what we have today is a mangled culture that is doing more damage for us than good.

And of course, playing the blame game means that taking responsibility is conveniently avoided.

3. The Afro-politans

The source of this term is an article about life in the diaspora for young, educated and well off Africans. Despite it’s playful and entertaining tone, it provoked some measure of outrage from the kind of people who concern themselves with these debates.

I’m not sure I can be objective about this one, because I do check many of the boxes here. However, as some people have pointed out, ‘Afro-politanism’ looks more like cultural commodification (think chic leather bags and handmade jewelry), rather than an actual identity.

It is also useful for people navigating different cultures,  and suits the ‘Africa is rising’  crew because it makes us look a little bit more glamorous and cool and civilized.

4. The ones who just don’t care

Thank God for pragmatic people. Thank God for people who are more interested in working and living and not endless naval gazing. Thank God for people who don’t live in their heads but face life for what it is without making excuses.

These people probably never even finished reading a single book by Ngugi. They aren’t interested in the dusty past and whether or not Egypt was ruled by black people.

They want things to work, but they don’t really care how.

They have a point though,  I mean, is this kind of debate even useful anymore?

Objectively digging into the past is useful in order to understand the present. But doing it in order to find excuses and avoid responsibility? Not so much.

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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.

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.