So I’ve been quiet about this issue because I’ve lived out of the States for nearly three years now, and I felt a bit removed from everything that has been going on, but after sitting back and watching all the mayhem unfold, I do have something to say.
Black culture, my culture
Living in Kenya, a predominantly Black nation, I’ve learned a few things about myself and my culture. I’ve shared this before, but there are pretty much two cultures here in Kitale: Kenyan culture and white missionary culture. I don’t really fit into either.
As much as I love Kenya, live in Kenya, have a Kenyan husband, and will someday have partially Kenyan kids, I am not Kenyan. Even when I finally become fluent in Swahili, that won’t change the fact that Kenyan culture is not my own. Likewise, as much as I love making friendships with the white missionaries because we have the commonality of coming from the same country, their culture is totally different from my own.
Because there is not a single Black American living in this city apart from myself (that I know of), I often come to the realization that though I am surrounded by Black faces, I am alone. There is no one that understands or engages in the culture I grew up with, and try as I may, whenever I spend time with people from other cultures, I feel like I’m pretending.
Why do I mention this?
Because I feel the need to make it clear that Black culture is not only very specific, but it is an indelible part of who I am. The same goes for other Black Americans. That’s why KevOnStage will always have material for his stand-up routines (I can’t even begin to tell you how much watching his videos has helped my soul cope with not having any Black Americans to associate with here. It’s good medicine for me.). But basically, we are all knitted together with the bonds of culture. If you prick one of us, we all bleed. If you poison one of us, we all die.
White Americans have their own culture as well. Some families have traced their ancestry back to discover which country they originate from, and some of them actually celebrate their ancestral traditions. There are also those whose culture is based on what region of the States they live in (i.e. the South, the Midwest, etc). But for the most part, White culture is accepted as American culture.
Black culture, on the other hand, is considered “other”. It’s the reason why products for Caucasian hair fill the shelves with the simple label “hair care” and black hair products get a small section with the label “specialty hair care”. That’s just one example, but I fear if I continue going on and on about the others, I’ll lose some people along the way. I want you to get my point.
The souls of black folk
As W.E.B. DuBois described in one of my favorite pieces of work “In the Souls of Black Folk”, black people typically view the world through what he terms a “double consciousness”. It’s like having separate identities: one that allows us to see ourselves through what we understand White Americans know/expect of us and one of our own Black culture.
He also describes a veil that essentially keeps White Americans from being able to see the reality and depth of what happens in the Black community and from even seeing us as real Americans. I believe this veil is what has laid the groundwork for what is going on today.
All of the violence that has been occurring against Black people lately is nothing new. It’s just now that the veil is being lifted for others to see. As a Black community, we see what others don’t see because it’s our lives. Men in the Black community have always known that they’re targets for police, because it’s what they’ve lived. I’ve seen it happen with my brothers and friends many times before it started making the news. Long before all of the live recorded videos began circulating, Black men have lived with this reality.
Personally, I’ve found it very interesting to see the reactions of people of all cultures, regarding the initial deaths of the Black men and the subsequent deaths of the officers. People’s reactions have established a very clear demarcation in my mind of who sees beyond the veil and who doesn’t. I’m not going to comment on that any further though, except to say that I do not condone the if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? position that some of my culture have taken. Shylocks we are not.
So I wrote all of this in the hopes that I could explain a bit of why the Black Lives Matter movement matters to so many Black people. I do recognize that BLM can represent a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but this is what it means to me, and though I’m 8,000 miles away from home, I stand with my brothers and sisters across the ocean.
I get it. And I hope what I’ve shared has helped a few others to get it too.