When I was young, adults taught me to believe that white people were next to God in the hierarchy of beings while we black ones were way below. White people were the stars and heroes! If you saw a movie, it was Rambo, Chuck Norris or Cynthia Rothrock who saved the day.
If you saw a black person most often he/she was a house help, a malnourished child or such like vulnerable characters. In school, we when we laughed out loud we were berated and told to laugh like white people. White people didn’t laugh with voices loud and mouths wide open like us. They laughed “ha-ha” and that was it – brief and subtle!
The white beings were little gods who rescued people and gave sweets to African children. Some even visited the posh hotel next to my school, and gave sweets to a pal of my brother’s after which, he was heard speaking and acting all weird and incoherent. People said that the sweets might have been drugged or something. It didn’t matter to me. I didn’t know a thing about drugs, and it’s not like he had died right? I wanted my encounter too. I wanted to have these little gods look at me and give me manna from heaven in the form of sweets, like they did to the other African kids on TV.
You can guess my delight when I learnt that there used to pass a white woman who jogged in the mornings and evenings past the road which passed through our neighborhood. The first
time I encountered her, I was playing with my pals when someone sounded the alarm, and called out “MZUNGU!” (A white person)
And it elicited the suitable response. Kids with big curious eyes, me included, lined up along the sides of the road to view the object of reverence. When she passed by jogging, she had these very
short shorts. I remember they were black in color and her thighs were all out for everyone to see.
I was mortified and amazed at the same time. She must be daring to pull off something like that! I thought. A black girl would have been jeered at and maybe stripped naked. But her; she just acted like it was all normal. The beauty of a white person! They could do anything they wanted and they got away with it.
Anyway, after some of us got out of our stupors, one brave kid shouted “Give me shilling!” My ears perked, alert and I moved closer when she decided to give us all sweets. We were many,
but then, she was white! Surely she had enough money didn’t she? I knew she lived in a nice wooden cottage that looked really cozy even from afar. If we were lucky, she might even carry us, like Jesus did! Much to my disappointment, she waved a finger at the kid and said in faltering Swahili “Tabia mbaya” (bad manners). Then just like that, she jogged away.
I was astounded and insulted! How could she be such a meanie! I mean, I myself shared a piece of candy with my pals even if it was small yet she wouldn’t even give us a shilling?! I stopped liking her instantly.
Later on in class six, after years of being berated to write like white people, I got a rude shock when our class got pen pals from America and half our class had better handwriting than them! This imperfect side , I came to know more of as I watched more realistic movies where the whites laughed like “us”, fell in mud, got hurt, and even begged in the streets of New York. (That was real a shocker! I couldn’t believe that white cities had street urchins and beggars like ours).
In Mombasa I also came to encounter others who lived just like I did, sometimes even in poorly maintained
I came to learn that not all of them were rich or heroes like the movies made me believe.
The gods are not white in color and neither are white people gods. And no, white people were not perfect or better than us just because they were white and we were black. Color is just skin deep and deep down, they are human as human can get.
They have hopes that atimes crush down, they laugh out loud, and they sometimes walk barefoot and eat with their hands just like us.
I later came to respect the ‘mean’ white woman who would not give us any money.
I am glad she made us hold our dignity by discouraging us from begging.