Weighing in on the BLM movement

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.

Black Americans and Africa

Disclaimer: this is a bit of a departure from what I normally write, but I wasn’t sure what other platform to use to pose this question, so here you go.

When most Kenyans find out I’m a mzungu, which typically refers to a white person but in my case means an American, a lot of whispering and pointing usually ensues. Why? Because it’s very rare for them to encounter what they call Black Americans. In fact, we’ve been places where people have never personally met a Black American before. I find it funny when I hear missionaries say that they’re going places where the people have never seen a white face before, because it’s actually even more rare that they would see a face like mine, that of a Black American.

I’ve only been in three African countries so far, but in my experience, the African people are exceedingly willing to embrace us. In Kenya, once people get over their amusement at having met a Black person they thought was Kenyan but speaks like a mzungu, they generally welcome me to Kenya, claim it is my new home, invite me into their home, and call me their sister.

Kenyans love Black culture and they know loads more about it than I do. Take any matatu (bus) in Nairobi and the last sound you’ll hear before you go deaf from the loudspeakers will be that of some Black American rap, hip hop, gospel, or R&B artist. Even the decor in the bus, if not football (soccer) themed, will include images of Tupac, Biggie, and Bob Marley (I know he’s Jamaican, but they love them some island folk too). They like to copy the language they hear in our music and movies, and they love playing with my hair (I’m a 4a and that’s not as common here as 4c).

My question is, why as a Black culture don’t we embrace our African counterparts as readily? Why don’t we know very much about their cultures? Why don’t Black people vacation here? I know that as a people we’re not known for traveling overseas with our families for vacation and whatnot, but still, I don’t see traveling to Africa on any Black Americans’ bucket lists.

Why is it when people sign up for mission trips to African countries the majority of the people are any shade of color but brown? I went to South Africa in 2006 with a large team of nearly 50, and there were only about five people of color excluding myself. That’s it. I love being able to partner with all people of every race and serve the Lord, but I’m confounded as to why my people aren’t more involved in missions.

To me, especially when it concerns missions, it would seem like we are an ideal people group to connect with Africans. The simple fact that they generally have a keen interest in our culture, we share a skin color with them and could possibly have common ancestors (a number of people I meet joke that I could possibly be from their tribe, though the consensus is that I’m pretty much a Luhya – that’s Ray’s tribe – because I have the calves and the bone structure of a Luhya 😉 ). I know that part of my family history on my dad’s side goes back to Madagascar, but there could be a number of connections anywhere! That’s incredibly exciting to me.

Now, some Kenyans and even white missionaries who have been here for many years have also asked me “Why don’t more of you guys come over here?” Some have suggested that Black people might be embarrassed to associate with Africans because of the stereotypically well advertised poverty situation that plagues the continent. They feel that Black Americans have established their lives elsewhere, so they don’t want to be reminded of where they come from. Maybe they just want to move on and forget the continent that birthed their ancestors, but they fail to see the beauty the lies in the people, landscape, food, and culture of this place. Africa is so much more than media portrays. So much more.

Personally I believe the socioeconomic status of the Black population in America has a lot to do with it and that, as I mentioned before, we’re not a traveling race because we can’t usually afford to travel. Even so, savings accounts are great when it comes to saving up for vacations and most mission trips involve fund raising opportunities, so the financial burden isn’t as great as it may seem. If you eliminate the financial factor, I believe a great number of Black Americans would be more willing to come, but there is still a large sub-population that could care less. I just want to know why.

Let me just put one more thing out there. Black Americans have a really great advantage when it comes to engaging in cultural activities and the like around here. People don’t know you’re not Kenyan unless you speak. Game reserves, hotels, and most businesses like to charge “special” prices for wazungus (the plural form of mzungu). They see the skin color, and the price can automatically be raised to double or even quadruple the actual cost. Because my husband’s Kenyan, I usually just walk alongside him, speak the little Swahili I know, and people naturally assume I’m Kenyan and charge me the Kenyan price. It’s pretty nice.

I think I could go on and on with reasons why I believe Black people should come to Africa, but maybe you can save me some time and help me out.

What do you think?