Ifemelu in Americanah is the one person I wanted to meet once I landed at JFK. It would have been great to meet her because there is a nonchalance to her that is quite endearing. We would talk about our first racist encounter. We would chat about being broke in a foreign country. It’s a different kind of broke. Or the first time you get sick in a land other than yours
IT’S THE ABSOLUTE GHERRROOOOOOOOO!
Excuse my manners.
It is the absolute bottom of the problems barrel. That you cannot walk downstairs that you caretaker refuses to clean because water is scarce in this part of Umoja but mainly because he is lazy. As you skip the water paddle, a skill that is highly underrated, you notice Masai’s maize is already roasting you make a mental note to buy a piece. When did roasted maize get to 40bob? The music from Umoinners cutting through the hustle heavy air to wring your ear drums and remind you why you left the house on a cold evening Sunday.
Kyallo is at the chemist. He always is. There are rumors that he sells more than paracetamol. He is the kind of pharmacist who also sells cars and tomatoes occasionally. Every prescription he gives works magic. It is the power of the brain over concoctions. Look it up. Some of us do not need medicine, just a change of mindset. On this day I need medicine because I have a fever and a tight chest reminiscent of the changing seasons.
The kind of change that you wish to share with Ifemelu. You are not in Umoja anymore. There is no roasted maize. No Umoinners. No Demakufu. No Kyallo and his tomatoes. The water paddles now chunks of snow. Ifemelu would understand because she loves roadside fried plantains in Accra. These would make for great conversations if Ifemelu was a real person and not a character made up by the great Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi.
This past week I was so sick that I desired to be someone’s problem. Listen to me. Forget everything you have heard about being attached to someone. Have you ever tried to get on a bus to go to Walmart to get medicine? Walk praying that you don’t collapse because your hands were too weak to make a cup of anything? Letting the snow hit you in the face because your hands are trembling too much because of the pain your body is going through? That is why you get with someone. And buy a car too.
After downing medicine, life flows to my frozen toes. As I stare at my borrowed laptop (aki it’s not as bad as it sounds haha!), T.D Jakes is interviewing Charlamagne Tha God whose real name is Lenard Larry McKelvey. Larry? Wow!
I never thought I would see the day when T.D Jakes would interview Larry about his book. I also never thought Christiane Amanpour will do a Love and Sex series exploring the kinks of Berlin. Life has a way of surprising you. I no longer put anything pas anyone. Especially racism.
You would love my small town if you are into community and if you are white. My small town is 81.51% white and the rest is split among all the other races. I do not need numbers to remind me of this reality. It’s everywhere that I am. Before coming here, I read on the county and looked the history of the area.
You can read every book on earth and watch all the documentaries Netflix can make but nothing prepares you for racism.
The first time it happens you almost miss it.
It’s a great summer Tuesday morning. You jog past Henry. He looks like a Henry. Henry walks his dog on the wrong side of the path and looks like he is deliberately ruining the grass. Once you get to the main road you wonder why Henry would destroy the grass. Does he think about the person whose job is to manicure the park?
Sylvia interferes with your train of thought. She walks with her goat size dog that looks like it gives good snuggles. Why is she walking on the road though when there is a whole curb to share? She has those ridiculous air pods and I doubt she can hear anything through Shania Twain’s I Feel Like a Woman.
The kids are waiting for their yellow bus that is obviously late. Reminds of Matiangi’s overnight directive. I am tempted to share this story with the kid from my street. I have never quite known his name but I know those blue eyes against his hazel skin. I am now a few inches from him when he is suddenly yanked away by a lady who must be his mom.I have never quite looked at her face. She never looks at me.
I start volunteering at the school station today. A student run platform under the tutelage of the great Alison Hunter. She is an experienced Executive Producer, smart and a straight shooter. I secretly want her height and experience. The latter I can earn, the height, not by a long shot. I walk into to a room and tension pushes through me to fill up the room.
Here we go with the, ‘Who is the black girl looks?’ First comes shock, a squint, head tilt, tight shoulders just before an overly loud,
‘ Hi! How are ya?’
Tired. It’s been a long day and all your expressions are making it worse.
‘ I’m great.’
I do not reciprocate with a check in because I am guarded and my ass is tight when I get into rooms with new people. I am still working on that.
‘Where are you from?’
Is he asking…
‘Are you talking to me?’
‘Yes. Where are you from?’
The audacity of this young man.
‘Where is that?’
‘Down the street’.
‘Where are you REALLY from?’
Is any American in a position to ask this question? Have you read your history? Unless you are a native American you grandparents pretty much rowed their way here.
‘That’s not from around here.’
‘Dude everyone knows Kenya is in Africa’
At least this other white person knows that.
‘Have you done this before? Don’t worry if I could do it, anyone could’.
Someone please stop him. If you think that you are the standard of my capabilities then you really do not know me.
“Even a monkey could do it’.
Jesus Christ of nazareth. Giver of life and peace. He who was born of the virgin Mary and carpenter Joseph. The prince of peace and Lord of lords. Did this man just say even a MONKEY could do it? So now, it is not your capabilities that I should aspire to, it is of those of a monkey that should comfort me.
I handle the situation the next day.
Naomi Campbell posted on social media a photo of her with legends Nelson Mandela and Quincy Jones, accompanying it with a call for all black people globally to be celebrated this Black History month. This has called to the conversation on the difference in the black experience globally.
While black people all over the world face discrimination, the perpetrators and intensity differ. In Kenya, it is a Chinese boss whipping a grown ass man, much to the entertainment of his colleagues, as the Sino Africa relations remain complicated. In South Africa, it is a Nigerian store owner living on a prayer because any time might be his last day to pack up his business or entire life. In America it is a black man navigating this world blacknoid (black and paranoid) as presented by Larry in his book Shook One.
Racists do not act on intelligence. They are an equal offender to brown and black people. Racism is layered. Racism is tiered. There is black people racism, black African racism, black and African light skinned racism,darker skinned black and African racism and every other nuanced kind of racism.
It helps that I am self assured and studying the political global systems. Where I am come from, you are required to be work towards excellence. I understand the box that bigots put me in before they know my name. However, I am not scared. I am aware of my space in this world.
It did not take coming to America to have this realization. I have always known that. It is only now that I have to apply it. If my beautiful black skin threatens your bigoted existence, I cannot help you. Globalization is here and race comes in different colors and shades.
Pick a struggle.