Warning: This is a word heavy and photo scarce post!
We never grew up talking politics or sports in my parents home. It just wasn’t done. My dad worked too hard to have a social life and my mother, well sports was never an interest there. On politics there was an unspoken rule that it was crass to discuss that over dinner. In Kenya, politics is not simply a linear relationship of parties and causes. At the heart of it is ethnicity, tribal biases and clashes. You can’t talk politics without bringing up ‘the Luo’s’ and ‘the Kikuyu’s’ so my parents simply didn’t talk politics.
Race though is a whole other matter. My parents were brought up when there was still the euphoria of being an independent nation state with a government voted in by and run by Kenyans. At the same time, there was still the question of who were the whites to them now? What was the proper address for a man who was once master and now de facto had no right to their obedience? Did independence mean they could now go to the same school as master’s children?
We grew up under this shadow uncertainty of how the race roles had changed, if at all they had. We instinctively knew that there were some places you didn’t bother going to because you would be looked at ‘funny’. As the only black girl in my boarding house I was keenly aware of my colour, my culture, my past, the significance of it. Yet I struggled to find my place, feel comfortable in my own skin. I apologised for my accent, the fact that I pronounced words “wrong”. I tried to fade into the walls whenever the white Kenyans discussed black kenyans disparagingly. It’s not the easiest thing fading into a white wall when your skin is the colour of chocolate.
In 2013, a lot of events, pieces of entertainment, music and movies inspired rhetoric on black empowerment, cultural appropriation and dilution, reverse racism and so on. It’s got me thinking a lot more than ever about what it means to be black. What racism means? Is there any such thing as reverse racism? Or is it an oversimplification of the true meaning of racism to say a bad experience on a 2 week holiday in Africa can equate to a lifetime of feeling less of a person because my colour wasn’t was associated with poverty, backwardness, lawlessness, unattractiveness (except for passing trends as if race can be a trend)?
This is more of a stream of consciousness than an argument for or against anything. It’s me trying to understand, placing my knowledge in the context of what has happened and what is happening.
What do you have to say on race? What’s your experience? Did you grow up with the same racial tensions my parents and consequently we grew up with? Was race a non-issue in your upbringing?