Moses Okoth is quite comfortable in his deep mahogany skin. But he still has questions about how society views race.
The cradle of humanity is said to be right here in Kenya, represented by the 1.6 million year old ‘Turkana Boy’ discovered twenty years ago by Richard Leakey and his team of anthropologists. In the intervening years since Turkana Boy walked the earth, humanity has dispersed and due to various reasons, both known and unknown, have developed into a diverse looking group. I looked up the meaning of the anthropological terms Caucasian, negroid, mongoloid, and a new one, austroloid; phrases coined by scientists in the 17th and 18th centuries. Apparently, they cannot now be defined without disclaimers added to let you know that many disagree with these classifications. Since they are essential to my cololiquoy, you will excuse me for using them.
I am an African, whose pigmentation is dark and in terms of racist hierarchy, I am at the bottom of the food chain, or should be. I am no stranger to discrimination, having attended a kindergarten predominantly peopled by Asians and Caucasians (oops, there I go). The Caucasians tended to ignore me, and the Asians, bully me. I harbour no bitterness toward them. I could distract them or outwit them; they taught me how to be smarter than the average. When I left there, I went to a primary school run by nuns with a bunch of privileged kids. Post-colonial mentality being what it is, light skinned was good; dark skinned was bad. No one was mean to me because of it though, but it was frowned upon to call me ‘black’ because they figured I would be insulted.
I have always been a literal person, and I am black; or rather a cross between deep mahogany and red that is really quite beautiful. In case you think I am being conceited, I have to tell you, it is a compliment I have heard often. A few for instances; once I met this Rwandese dude who gave me such a once over I thought he was going to say something semi-sleazy about some body part of mine. Instead, looks me in the eye and tells me that I have the most beautiful skin he has ever seen. It still remains the best compliment I have ever received–all the more for being unexpected. Another time, while travelling to Uganda by bus, (they love to bleach their skin over there), the customs chap on the Ugandan side after checking my passport, looks at me earnestly and says, “never bleach your skin!” I was slightly taken aback but assured him I would not.
What has this to do with racism you ask? Well, it is simple, really. If someone called me a name they thought was derogatory to me by virtue of reference to my race, skin or general characteristics associated with my so-called race; the most that they could get for it was a blank stare– or, more probably, frank laughter. Self-hatred is the backbone of racism and it is not a condition I suffer from. When I think of The N-Word, I think about its origins. 17th century scientists labelled individuals of African origin as negroid. When settlers in the New World began to buy these individuals to work on their tobacco farms, they referred to them as Negros. Most of these settlers who retained the tradition of slavery the longest were from the south and the word Negro spoken in that southern accent would probably sound like…I know I am black so I can say it, but its offensive to some so I will not.
Now this word has been invested with the power to hurt and degrade any person of dark skinned hue (and by dark skinned I mean anyone who might have some black blood in their veins be it only one drop–or even someone who just looked like they did). It also bestows upon the speaker, only if they are of Caucasian origin mind; the character of an erstwhile slaver or Nazi. However, for one black person to say it to another is fine. I am confused; is this a derogatory word or not? If it is, why is it okay to denigrate yourself but not for others to denigrate you? What is this weird self-hatred that is being perpetuated, nurtured and valued so that the black man can continue to think of himself as the eternal victim and the white man wallow in eternal guilt? Slavery was abolished two hundred years ago; get over it already. My ancestors were never slaves, in fact, my grandfather was a chief under British rule so in all honesty for me to get offended by the word is ridiculous. Recently, there has been a spate of suspensions in football, and a Dutch newspaper being condemned for using derogatory language toward people of Negroid origin. While I am not condoning what they did, whatever happened to looking at context?
I have a friend who is an African and in a long term relationship with an Indian. They love each other dearly and have children as well. Yet the Indian cannot take what is essentially his family home to meet his parents. If she was Asian or Caucasian, it would be fine, but no negroids please! They don’t even know that they are grandparents. Now that, is racism.
Moses is hoping to attend the Men at Work program as part of Men Stopping Violence this summer.