As a Kenyan, America is a very dicey place when it comes to culture! American cultural existence is founded on cultural parallelism that can never merge into one. Black Americans are different from African Americans. Calling them African Americans muddles the water for true African Americans like Nigerian Americans, Ugandan Americans, Kenyan Americans, Ethiopian Americans, etc. This also removes them from their historical rights as Americans! As long as black Americans call themselves African Americans, their identity shifts from being true Americans to immigrants whose loyalty is seen as African than American.
White Americans have their own history. They are descendants of generations of peoples who bought and sold slaves, but to make the matters worse, though they argued that biblical narrative has slaves, they treated black slaves as livestock and not human beings. However, though Abraham Lincoln led the civil war battle in the 1600 to liberate the slave and eliminate the Ideal from American culture, white Americans who supported slavery were never convinced of the moral principle, and the black people never appreciated the work of Abraham Lincoln and the thousands of white Americans who laid their lives down for their emancipation.
This is the war that will never end. It is the same problem, though religious, between the Palestinians and the Israelis! Even if the Israeli government gives the Palestinians the whole land mass, and Israelis move to Turkana, the Palestinians and Arabs would still find a reason to hate the Jews! It is also important to note that this is the other side of the coin in Kenya. Raila Odinga has a following that believes that Kikuyu’s and Kalenjins are not the only people who can govern Kenya. They believer that their monopoly is inconsistent with their definition of democracy. To Raila Odinga, democracy, civil rights, freedom and all good things must be defined, not by their legitimate meaning, but by whether they satisfy his definition, which is that he becomes president. There is nothing Uhuru Kenyatta’s government can do to quench that desire.
However, for a Kenyan, these differences in Kenya happen within the comforts of their homes. The problem with being in America is the crisis of trying to fit in in a society that is racially divided. At my former college in Deerfield, when I entered the cafeteria for the first time, I realized that white students were eating alone and the 3 black American students were eating by themselves. I sat with my suite mates who were white. However, I kept looking over the black Americans and decided to join them also now and then. Why, because I was not part of the civil rights movements that have divided this country. I am a foreigner with roots in a country which experienced colonialism. I therefore understand the issue of colonial discrimination than my American history class that taught me about the American civil war.
My father went with Kijabe missionaries in the 1950s to evangelize. On the way back, the missionaries stopped at a colonial farmer’s house for tea. The colonial husband insisted that his wife serves my father outside at the Veranda. After the visit, the missionaries apologized and suggested that they should not have taken my father along for tea. My father argued that the tea was very good and his visit gave him a chance to tell the colonial man’s wife what a good ministry they had that day and how important it is to become a Christian.
Americans pretend to love each other, but they do not! The racial divide is so ingrained in the society that nothing an immigrant can do will change that. The danger for the immigrant is to take sides. Many Kenyans are not only sympathetic to the racial divide especially black American experience, but are also empathetic to the point where they pretend to be products of the Civil rights movement! They join the Black American culture, especially when it comes to their desire for them to support their legalization of their illegality in America, yet they call them ‘akataa’ behind their back because they disagree with their work ethic and their culture.
Personally, I believe there is racism in America. And given my not being a child of a slave heritage, I chose not to take the black American side. I also refuse to take the white American side. These issues are not my issues. I am on record declaring that I have never faced racism in America. This does not mean that there is no racism, rather, it has not been an issue for me in my many years in America and leaving in all white neighborhoods. Have had great black American friends, and have done great good in Kenya with great white American believers!
The wise immigrant, especially the believer lives under the guidance of St. Paul, “For all of you were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. Galatians 3:27ff
Teddy Njoroge Kamau (PhD)
Diaspora messenger Senior Columnist