Disclaimer: This post is generally my opinions and my experiences and may not be the experience of others.
Kenyans born and raised in Kenya rarely think about race. We are a predominantly black country and few of us are exposed to other races or cultures. Do we as Kenyans even know what racism (that isn’t overt) looks like?
In Morocco, I was forced to recognize the colour of my skin. Not that I have never known I was black, I just never paid that much attention to my blackness and even Kenyaness. I felt like a double minority due to the fact that I was the only Kenyan let alone blackperson in the entire AIESEC Volunteer Group whilst there were like 70 Chinese, 40 Tunisians, 20 Egyptians and high numbers of Europeans. (these numbers may be slightly exaggerated for effect)
HOW KENYA IS PERCEIVED
Firstly, I was a bit alarmed when I realized that not many people think Kenyans can speak English. Many Moroccans assumed that I was Senegalese or Congolese and would proceed to speak to me in French. I would then frantically gesture that I only speak English. “Pardon Anglais” were the only French words I knew…other than the basic ‘Bonjour, Au revoir & Omelette du Fromage.’ They would then jump into the conclusion that I am American. I remember the joy one man had when he had asked me if I was American and enthusiastically asked me about Obama. I proceeded to say I am Kenyan though I did have some Obama stories to tell him but he simply walked away. That was interesting.
Even some children I was teaching asked me if I am American and I would politely decline and proudly state that I am Kenyan and they would not understand what that meant. They couldn’t even point it out on a map. They continued insisting that I am American and even wanted me to teach them some American songs. Little did they know that my playlist at the time was only full of Sauti Sol.
Travelling Kenyan is a unique and isolated experience , in a way, because people will treat you slightly differently . If you are Black American, no one would ask if you have lions running in your city or even clean water to drink. The typical stereotypes that are prevalent whenever anyone switches on the television is the mindset that many people still have. I walked around with screenshots of Instagram photos in my phone to shed light on anyone who had any ‘unwoke’ queries.
Some hear that I am Kenyan and immediately assume that I am super rich! The daughter of an oil tycoon (sigh) or a politician. Cause that is the only way I could afford to come to Morocco, right? I do recognize that I have some level of privilege that many do not have, but it is ignorant to jump into conclusions and disregard the pain-staking time and effort it took to save up and acquire money to travel.
Most people did not understand ‘black’ hair. I had some long Afro Kinky hair that I braided weeks before travelling. On arrival, I got compliments on how ‘cool’ my hair was and many people wanted to touch it which I didn’t mind. Hey…this was a grand opportunity to educate the masses on black hair and whatnot. Share my culture. I soon grew tired of explaining my hair to people and a breed of strange people started touching it WITHOUT ASKING ME. I don’t know where your hands have been! Others met me then two minutes later wanted to take pictures with me…i mean with my hair. It was its own entity! I felt like Chewbacca…just ‘walking hair’.
RACISM, IGNORANCE OR OVERTHINKING?
However, the slight racism that I experienced had me baffled and chuckling at the same time. I am not even sure if I should call it racism, ignorance or overthinking because I have no previous experience of it and I had no one to ask. I felt like these situations would have never happened if I wasn’t black. So I will call it ‘Ignorant overthought racism’. I even live tweeted some of these experiences as I could not contain my thoughts on the matter.
I was minding my own Kenyan business enjoying my Turkish food with my new-found Turkish friends when a Moroccan who was seated with us, suddenly belted out that he has many friends like me. I was curious what he meant. Does he have many volunteer friends? Many female friends? Many friends who like Turkish food? I don’t know. Then he proceeded to say that he has many black friends. He then removed his phone and showed me pictures of him and his scantily dressed ‘black friends’ in night clubs. I have never seen anyone more proud to be ‘down’ with the black/African community. I really wanted to stand up and congratulate him for having black friends. You have achieved a new level in life. Beyonce & the ancestors are proud. *slow claps*
Let me not even start on the cereal I saw called ‘Chocolate Negro’ where the box features a black woman’s figure or vendors shouting Chocolat, Mama Africa, Obama, Niggarette as I was walking through the streets of various cities. Even walking on the street with my Tunisian, Egyptian, Russian and Chinese friends would drive stares. What is this diverse group of people doing here? Or even when I happen to be standing in a queue or in the bus next to some black people and many Moroccans generally assumed that I was with them…cause I’m black.
A funny instance I remember was when I was with a group of Chinese volunteers and the word ‘niga’ kept on coming up in their conversation. I remember I was appalled thinking that they might be talking about me in Chinese when I was standing right there. Before making any rush decisions, I googled the word and saw that it meant ‘that’ in Chinese. So ‘overthought racism’ exists people.
The worst instance I remember was when I was in the airport coming home. While going through immigration, I was stopped and searched while every other person was allowed to pass. I thought this was all in my head as I didn’t think that it was a thing. When I looked back and observed, I saw that only black people were stopped and frisked. I was angry.
Do not get me wrong. I enjoyed every bit of my trip in Morocco regardless of the ‘Ignorant racism’. I met some amazing people who were genuinely interested in Kenya and all its glory. Some really didn’t care that much that I was black or Kenyan and were cool people to hung around. As much as it was an opportunity for me to learn about another culture, I saw it as an opportunity to also educate others on being black and being Kenyan. People have been fed one side of the story and it’s the responsibility of us travelers to share our stories and our culture and show them the other side of things.
Have any funny/shocking/interesting experiences of travelling while black/Kenyan/African? Please share in the comments below..lets get a conversation going.