I hate racism

It occurred to me today, that perhaps the reason why people struggle with the existence of racism or dare I say its prevalence, it’s because no one wants to think that their opportunities or how far they’ve achieved certain goals have nothing to do with their abilities. They want to believe that their music is just that much better, their intellect is just that much higher, their “whatever” is just a notch above everyone else. Accepting the existence of racism= accepting a “lesser than” view of themselves for their lived experiences and most people can’t do that in good conscience.

What breaks my heart is that those that live under the shadow of racism have to question everything about themselves all-the-time!. It could be mundane things such as “did I really not arrange my shopping for the cashier to reach without straining their arm” or more consequential ones like ‘is my level of education just not suitable enough for the entry level position”. I’ve grown accustomed to pre-checking myself, ensuring that I leave my bad day at home or deal with it by crying in the bathroom for fear of making everyone around me uncomfortable. I rationalize for my kids, whenever they face this ugly reality and inadvertently keep pushing them to an excellence for which the greater society will never willingly accept of them. Yet, on the rare occasions that some non-racialized people, especially the deniers amongst us, face a rejection that doesn’t sit with their expectations, they raise the kinds of holly hell that causes policy changes. I admire the LGBTQI movement (or organizations depending on the settings) for their quest for “allies” as they figured out earlier on that real change can only come when straight people, who are not seen as having any personal motivation stand up for their rights- Bob Marley (RIP) should have asked us to get up, stand up for other people’s rights- not our own I suppose.

LGBTQI are people’s children, siblings, and extended family members etc so finding allies is easier- one wishes to ease the pain of their blood relatives. Racialized people tend to be related to other racialized people and where we attempt to form alliances via intermarriage (I see you Harry and Meghan!), people lose their collective minds and drive such attempts out of town- 50 years after Loving v.Virginia no less!!

At the same time, some would-be allies are putt off by fear of being seen as “culturally misappropriating’, which is really a disserve we do ourselves because imitation is the best form of flattery and by mainstreaming our “cultural’ experiences, perhaps we will appear less threatening (food for thought)

I do not enjoy talking about racism- I really wish I’d never have to utter that word in my current or future life. I am tired of thinking that somehow something that I have no control over- the tone of my melanin-determines my price of admission pretty much everywhere I go. Apparently my youngest daughter (11 years today :)) missed being born into generation Alpha (2010-2025) which is projected to be the first post-racial generation. I hope she and her siblings can reap some of the benefits of such an existence, just like I’ve enjoyed being millennial adjacent.

Until then- I will borrow Ellen’s simple but just so thoughtful phrase and ask that we be kind to each other

Peace!

Neighbours- just a friendly word each morning :)

I live in a gated community of condominium townhomes in the greater Toronto area (GTA). I have to lead with that because it makes everything else I say sound important and classy 😊.

We have one entrance/exit for use by vehicles and pedestrians and a second one that can only be used by pedestrians. We pay a monthly maintenance fee to ensure that the gardens are tended to, snow is plowed, and occasional exterior repairs and upgrades are done sans cost to us. Some owners rent their units out; and since am not sure what percentage of owners primarily live here, I won’t hazard a guess. This all to say we are for all intents and purposes a physically tightly knit community.

And in almost four years of proud ownership, I hardly know any of my neighbours. There are those that wave mechanically at me when I walk by from work (what is it with North Americans and looking down on people that use transit…neigh choose to use transit- this will be a topic for another blog for sure). I met one of those wavers right outside the front wall of our development and when I tried to smile and say hello, he appeared to pick up his pace and walk faster away from me. I was a stranger to him despite the daily wave at me from the safety of his driveway-and a shared water bill.

This is in total contrast to how I grew up. We lived on a 25 hectare property back in the home country (again please be thoroughly impressed then promptly dismiss this for the fluff that it is😉). On it was our house right by the main thoroughfare, my dad’s brother and his family lived halfway through the tract of land and my grandmother and my aunt lived on the very back side. We had three squatter families that my grandfather had allowed to build and live rent free and there was also a stretch of rental units, which supposedly one of my great uncles had been given free reign by my same grandfather to build and collect rent from. The occupants of these units were engaged in all sorts of debauchery (such as alcohol consumption and late into the night dancing-the horror! ) and we were forbidden to go there on threat of death! I was saddened when that entire property burnt down in a fire, when I was perhaps 11 years old because I’d been preparing to channel my teenage angst in that forbidden zone 😊.

The properties in the entire village were similarly occupied, albeit with less squatters and larger nuclear and extended families. We identified each area by the patriarch family names and eventually public transit stops came to be identified the same way. Most pieces of land were occupied by owners, with very few cases of tenants so we “knew” most of the residents. The air quotes are deliberate because while I couldn’t tell the name of everyone that belonged to family X, there was always an identifying marker that aligned individuals with their families. Random things like darker skin tones, big round eyes, tall lanky sons, loud arrogant uncles (yes that was very family specific) and for the most part, anomalies only arose as they married outsiders and by then I was too old to care about every little child born in the neighbourhood.

Around Christmas time, there was always a rise in crimes in the form of home break-ins. I dreaded hearing the siren call of a mother or grandmother screaming for help and announcing “uuuwwwiiii….we have been found” (this doesn’t translate well into English)

My dad would grab his sword from its sheath (and no, I am not making this up) and run out, sometimes sans shirt to rescue those that had the misfortune of being discovered in their hiding places [aka homes] by the thieves that year. We would huddle in the living room, waiting for our gallant father to return with a noble announcement that said thief was caught and punished promptly (justice was meted out swiftly and I hate to say it sometimes with more brutality than warranted chicken thievery but again, I digress).

Everyone knew everyone else, down to the sound of their screams. I later learnt that the wailers had an unspoken rule to spread the word and operated a relay system of sorts. These secondary wailers were often more dramatic, perhaps on account of not being in any imminent danger themselves and a bit short on, ergo liberal with specifics. My original cry above would translate to “uuwwwiii family X has lost the chicken and goat they’d bought to entertain their relatives who’ve travelled all the way from province X. and as you are aware the father of the house was fired last month. Please come and help!!”.

 As dramatic as this was, it was also quite effective; one such time the scene of the crime was a good 10 kilometers from our house! I imagine the thieves probably hated this system. There were several cases of the stolen items found abandoned a distance from the scene of the crime, perhaps upon realization that the secondary screamer’s details were too close to the truth.

Yes, my upbringing does sound like the wild west, and yes it was as scary as it reads. Perhaps all my neigbhours here have similar stories in their upbringing but can’t bring themselves to decide if we’d be the thieves, the criers or the victims in the above scenario so choose to avoid us all together. Heck, I can’t place most of them either and have taken to wearing super dark glasses as I walk, which I find to be a good deterrent to forced eye contact.

If only there was a way to build these bridges because in the end, no matter how earnestly my dad and eventually my grown-up brothers ran out in the middle of the night, it was always the next door neighbour to the victim that really made a difference.

Election time….aaaarrrggh

You wouldn’t know it if you didn’t live here but Canada has a Federal election on October, 21st 2019 (even I googled the specific date). The lower level of noise belies the importance of this year’s election; because as the US sneezes, Canada catches a cold. We have five major parties today: The Liberals (currently in power), Progressive Conservatives (official opposition) and New Democratic Party or NDP,  the Green party and Bloc Québécois. There are numerous fringe and not so fringe parties such as Marijuana party, Rhinoceros party (their platform is a literal joke), Communist party etc.

This post is not a civics lesson-although I do enjoy the subject perhaps more than I should- it actually is still my views and observations.

I am an issues voter with a strong party affiliation. What that means is that I am open to hearing out candidates from parties that I’d never vote for, if the issues they address are close to my heart. To that end, I disagreed with some of the late Mayor Rob Ford’s politics and shenanigans but I was all for building more subways as a longer term solution to Toronto’s gridlock [yeah yeah yeah,  flying hovercraft may also be part of our future transportation means but my old fashioned brain can not think that far].

What I am opposed to is the parties that grab onto one issue and hammer it down their minions of followers, who are thrown into a frenzy of panic or fear about said issue and vote in for a party who’s overall views are against their own interest . That one issue lately seems to be immigration; perhaps we caught the cold from our southern neighour’s sneeze after all☹

Not just immigration in a general sense but that of “other” skinned individuals. The recently held mayoral races in Toronto and Mississauga, two very multicultural cities, in the very multicultural province of Ontario in Canada saw their 3rd and 2nd place respectively held by out and proud white supremacists who among other issues are very keen to reduce immigration and make Canada European again.

First of all, that’s a tall order because I don’t know how they intend to get rid of all the existing non-European Canadian Citizens [insert shudder here].

More importantly, I have never understood how one wakes up one day, and decides to push an agenda based purely on race. I noticed they are not even using the “old stock Canadian” line anymore because among the agitators are first or second generation Canadians, whose parents or grandparents came from somewhere else. It’s the said somewhere else that is now being used to pander to their racist views.

Civic lesson alert!

Immigration is not a free-standing issue; it is as a direct result of Economic upheavals in home countries. Some of this is caused by Environmental degradation which directly affects the sources of food and income such as tourism. Some of it is as a result of corrupt Governments, some that were “installed” by Global players [aka foreign Governments] who wanted puppets that they could control in their quest to have free reign access to natural resources.

Some are escaping wars and conflicts, that can be directly traced to Environmental, Economic, tribal/race, religious issues etc.

There is Economic immigration, where one’s skills and expertise is more valuable in a foreign country than in one’s homeland. Some immigrate for better or further education and are lured to apply their newly acquired skills in their host countries.

End of alert!

None of these and other myriad of reasons or causes produce better or worse immigrants but they individually and collectively explain the rise in immigration levels. Instead of having intelligent conversations about logical solutions, some buffoons with bullhorns shout, “invaders are coming!!!”, “diseases are coming!!!’ and whatever other craziness will electrify their audience to vote for the party that promises to reign in immigration.

In a country as multicultural as Canada, having negative feelings towards immigrants directly translates to holders of these views treating their Canadian neighbours and coworkers and our children as less than. You see, as long as they view good immigrants on the basis of skin colour or nation of origin, it doesn’t matter if you immigrated 10 days or 10 years ago; your skin colour is your only (dis)qualifier.

The recent shooter in El Paso, targeted Mexicans who invaded that part of Texas [completely ignoring the history of who invaded whom, but I digress]. He “very objectively” decided who the invaders were based on how they looked. In very real terms, pushing these kinds of narratives places those of us who don’t “look Canadian” at risk from such lunatics.

So as election time looms, I would love to believe that those who can draw the dots between the need for holistic policy views outnumber the single-issue voters. I would hope that we all open our minds to hear the other side, which would perhaps open opportunities for real, meaningful dialogue and perhaps changed minds. Most importantly, let’s not sit at home because every-single-vote-counts.

Check out all the parties and their platforms below and educate/align yourself [however, please don’t note for the Rhinoceros party though- or the joke may end up on you]

https://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=pol&dir=par&document=index&lang=e#neorhino

 

Today I met an angry black woman

The line at the first food wasn’t particularly long and she and her family were next in line to order. Engrossed in a deep conversation with her teenage son, she didn’t hear the “next customer” shouted by the pleasantly polite cashier/ order taker.

The lady behind her asked if they were in line to order; a pretty routine question albeit worded in a conclusive manner: as if they stood in fast food lines to converse with no intentions of ordering food. She said yes she was and continued speaking to her son. At this point, the lady behind her made a move to go to the now yelling employee and it was then that the black woman noticed what was going on and moved ahead to place her order. The “about to take your place while you yap” lady took it upon herself to comment to black lady that the server had been calling the next customer in line, by this time having abandoned her quest to be said next customer. The black lady, with as much malice as she could muster in her voice, told her she hadn’t heard the beckon and would be placing her order now thank you very much. Almost took your spot lady then proceeded to tell black lady that she’d been advising her about the open ordering counter all along. Please insert the all knowing “mmmhhhhh” emoji here and roll some eyes for good measure.

You see,  black lady was me and the random lady is somewhere living her life- probably having completed forgotten the exchange or full of venom for others like me.

I wouldn’t have thought much of it either if my son had not told me later that he’d thought I over reacted; that was heavy coming from my teenage son who’s always found me the voice of reason. I justified my reaction by stating that a) she could just have told me the server was calling me instead of asking if I was in line to order b) the move to bypass me and then change her story once caught in action justified my snark.

However, because I am said reasonable Libra, who always weighs everything one too many times, I did start questioning if perhaps I’d over reacted somewhat. On the one hand, the two points above are true and surely deserving of a snarky attitude. On the other hand, I had just walked about an hour in 30 degrees Celsius in my quest to reach the almighty 10K daily steps (don’t even get me started!) and my head was literally boiling.

The more likely reason though was that I had simply acquiesced to my membership in the angry black woman race.  It is not a club I was glad to join but one that I now realize is perhaps a survival mechanism more so than just bad manners. It brought to mind an article I’d read in the blog Psychology today suggesting that black women are the most invisible members of society (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-social-thinker/201012/are-black-women-invisible) and must work twice as hard to be seen, let alone respected. Across the pond, black women are dealing with similar if not identical issues as we are (https://metro.co.uk/2017/08/03/black-women-are-the-least-valued-people-in-society-6808199/). The point about black women being the least desirable group of people to date is especially worrying to me as a mother to two beautifully black females who may not allow me to get rich renting their rooms to weary travelers if they can’t couple and move out at some point.

So, did I overact somewhat? of course I did. It wasn’t premeditated but at some point, one deserves some R-E-S-P-E-C-T; heck we were both standing in line to buy heart attacks in a package so I didn’t appreciate the better than thou attitude. Perhaps the angry black woman exterior is just an attempt to matter; to be visible. I daresay though that it’s all in perception because society not only ignores us but expects us to silently and obediently tow the line and anything but is met with judgement. That my loving son has already joined “the man” was perhaps the most heartbreaking part of today but now that I am card carrying member of this subclass, I will find ways to show him my point of view and perhaps some brown skin girl out there will thank me for it one day 🙂

Backstory

My grandmother was born in 1929 or 1930- the details are vague because in her time, years of birth were remembered by association with a catastrophic event or proximity to one: like a great flood, foreign invasion etc. I don’t quite recall why she chose either of those years but we stuck with them.

What is very certain was that she was born into a British colony and would remain so for the first 34 years of her life. Her birth family was fairly influential and she was dotted on by her protective father. She got married at 20 years to the wayward son of a very wealthy family. He spent most of his time drinking and cavorting with the ladies, leaving my grandmother to take care of their young family. He wasn’t a good provider (on account of his drinking) but she made do with provisions from his parents and hers. All that changed when a state of emergency was declared in 1952 (to 1960).

All the troublesome locals were rounded into settlements, comprising of huts built in straight rows, for easier monitoring and with strict curfews. Unable to feed themselves off the land, many, like my grandmother, were forced to work for the colonizers in some domestic help capacity. My grandmother worked in residence to raise British children and only came home on the weekends to see her three young children. Grandfather was still missing in action so her mother surrogated (sic) for her to raise my dad, uncle and aunt.

I give this story to explain why otherwise well meaning people can harbour prejudices against groups of people. Understandably, my grandmother spent most of her life quite suspicious and borderline hateful towards the “English” which was transferred to most white people. I say most of her life because when my sister got married to a white man, he was embraced with great love by her.

However, if she’d run a bed and breakfast and for business or legal reasons was forced to welcome the English into her house, it would probably not have been a very pleasant experience for that guest. I’d imagine she may have wanted to exert revenge on those years she was forced to raise their children for pennies on the dollar. The domesticity of a bed and breakfast would probably have triggered even more bad memories of servitude and she’d have denied the guests a chance at enjoying their stay.

My point is- I don’t judge; everyone is entitled to their opinions and heck even prejudices. I am fully for the laws protecting employment, education and other public institutions from these prejudice inclinations. However, small business owners who choose to have people over in their homes should be allowed the courtesy of welcome people they “want” in their homes. Don’t get me wrong, I am not looking out for them; on the contrary, I am thinking of the “other” guest who has spent their hard earned money and taken vacation time off to patronize the vacation establishment, only to be treated as a second class citizen. Yes, that may be the best chalet with the best view of the hills but if the one behind the ridiculously large bolder will have a better ambiance, I say skip the view and rest your tired bones.

I don’t want to hear about the bad experiences; I have enough of my own thank you very much! But, how sweet it would be to have a collection of good news stories of vacation stays, preferably in mom and pop types of establishments by diverse guests. Obviously, diversity means different things to different people and an Englishman in my home country would qualify as a diverse candidate (although I’d be hard pressed to find a mzungu that was maltreated in the land of safaris). However, I’d especially love to hear of black, latino, natives and whatever “others” one identifies as, who’ve been treated like the royalty they are in North American and European bed and breakfasts or vacation rentals.

Let’s keep it classy but give as much details in your shout outs as you can.

I am off to rest my tired bones

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

I created this blog intending to address an issue that’s close to home but as life often does, I found myself swayed in a different direction (I am still going to chat about that and other issues on my other blog ThePhoenix)…for now, let’s talk business.

I recently signed a contract to be the North American rep for Faida Investments Inc: https://fib.co.ke/. As a Kenyan who’s been gone from home for way to long (trying not to age myself here), I jumped at the opportunity to not only invest directly but take my fellow diasporans (sic) with me on that journey.

In grad school, I had a very enthusiastic professor, Zoltan Acs, who needless to say is now a management Prof. at LSE – (bragging sufficiently done and out of the way:)) He spoke about how the great philanthropists of yester-years provided the US economy with strong foundation in the form of endowments for higher education such as Harvard and Princeton endowments, cultural endowments such as museums and even medical research such as the Howard Hughes Medical foundation. These grants have taken over the role of Government in providing research funds and allowing for faster growth which has propelled the US further ahead than if it had relied on Government coffers only.

Hang with me for a second while I sell you on why trading in the Nairobi Stock Exchange (NSE) could be the way for those of us in the diaspora to contribute to the Kenyan Economic development. By listing on the market, companies open themselves up to scrutiny. As potential investors, we are able to decide where to place our money and can be activists investors who push for better management, perhaps for organizations that give back to their communities or are keen on saving the environment. Some of the companies employ large portions of the local population and by investing in them, we inadvertently ensure that our families and friends stay employed. Strong financials would free the companies to pursue growth and investments opportunities that would serve to build the economy.

I would love to start an endowment fund that would rival the Mayo Clinic Foundation because heaven knows our fellow citizens need it but I know that your money is tight and there are only so many harrambees (yeah- the original GoFund Me- don’t get me started on my thoughts on that) you can contribute to. However, by investing in the bourse, it gives you a chance to get some money for something (please tell me you got the rock reference there)

Call me an idealist- yes please do because that’s who I am. I am not motivated by money but more by being a small part of making a great change for the future of our children and theirs.

I am as new at this as you may be but together, tutaweza!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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