Racism is still alive and well

Do you consider yourself a person of colour (POC)? Or black, even? It’s very rarely that we have to define our ethnicity in everyday conversation. I’ve always found it odd that colleges require bio-data from applicants that includes race and colour…how does ticking the ‘Black African’ box decrease your chances of being discriminated against? Seems to me that putting an X in that box is like putting a mark on your forehead.

I’ve always identified as Kenyan first, and if the context demands it, then yes, African too. But always Kenyan. For me and others in my generation that were born post-independence, we really don’t have a memory of colonialism.

We haven’t faced white-on-black discrimination, in that nasty, pre-civil-rights-movement format. Not in our own land. Everything we know about that kind of institutionalised racism has been learned, not experienced.

Of course, when you travel, you meet people who treat you as if you know less, do less and are less than the average white person, purely on the basis that you are a several shades darker.

On Saturday, I went for a housewarming party. My sister and I were the first to arrive and for about three hours after that, we were the only POCs. So as guests – all of them white – would come in, the host would introduce us. At one point I was standing next to the buffet table when a white woman started asking me about the food. She was particularly interested in an egg dish, which I explained was a traditional Spanish omelette. “Oh,” she says, “I see. Did you help prepare it?”

I was speechless for a second there. Why would I have helped prepare anything, seeing as I had been introduced as a guest? Besides, she didn’t know me from Eve, so why would she assume I had been in the kitchen? There a was third black woman – the actual house help – who had been in and out replenishing drinks and clearing tables, so perhaps this white woman’s amazing powers of deduction led her to believe that all the black people present were on the pay roll.

A pithy response should have rolled off my tongue, but to be honest with you, I was stunned. So I just said, “No, I didn’t” and walked away. And that was the beginning of a night filled with politically incorrect remarks and innuendo ranging from how “stupid” Kenya’s real estate developers are (building houses that Kenyans cannot afford) to how women in the developed world raise their own children, whereas Kenyan mums leave that responsibility to their nannies.

Valid assessments you might argue, but coming from foreign aid workers, who gain much more than they give from their so-called missions, it was unpalatable. This was a gathering of some of the most privileged, ignorant, inward-looking, self-entitled folks I have ever encountered.

They were firmly ensconced within that United Nation bubble that turns highly educated people into blithering idiots.

To be fair, not all of them were disagreeable. Some the guests were pleasant and welcoming, like any normal human being would be at a party. And I did enjoy talking to them about their travels around the globe. It was also quite fascinating to hear people speaking a whole bunch of different languages. Many of the guests were multi-lingual. Were it not for the motley crew of characters who were stuck in the pre-Martin Luther King era, it would have been a perfect meeting of cultures. Still, I left wondering why we tolerate such blatant bigotry on our own soil.