I first knew that I was black when I moved to America.
Before then, I was simply Kenyan or female or ALAian. I identified as being from a region or as being the-daughter-of or a-student-at, rather than as being of a certain race. I soon realized that the latter identity marker would come to colour, quite literally, my experience away from my home soil.
Within three months of my time in the US, a hate crime was committed at my University that threatened the lives of all black students on campus. I'll admit that I was ambivalent at first. I thought that the Black Students Union was over-reacting - they held a march, a series of peaceful protests and an all-campus sit-in. I thought to myself, "maybe the person who wrote the slur was joking? They couldn't get rid of all black students!" This notion seemed ludicrous to me.
I soon realized, that I was wrong. Race in America is more than divisive - it is a silent war. Wo.Man against Wo.Man at odds because of the amount of melanin in their skin - the ramifications of which are felt when you walk into a store and you are (or aren't) followed by a store assistant. Or when your black friend says that they've "had enough of whiteness for a year."
I know that for many of us who come from non- or less- racially charged countries, the transition to the unspoken rules of racial relations can be difficult and confusing. I've often heard it said by many an international student that Americans should just get over it already! "It" being racial animosities. But "it" has a life of its own. One thousand lives if anything. "It" functions to demarcate those whose lives matter, and those who must fight for the human right to life as the shootings of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin have recently illustrated.
Race is a sticky topic and quite frankly my heart aches at having to feel that in America, I must always address "it". The leviathan "it" is. To speak frankly, I'm not too sure if I'm even Black (enough) - in the sense of its use as a politically and socially defined category. But my journey of discovery and self-actualization continues, having, admittedly been shaped in numerous ways by Blackness, particularly in my hair journey.
In this self-portraiture piece, I am inspired my Richard Dyer's essay "The Matter of Whiteness". Dyer unpacks how racial imagery functions in the modern world. In his words, race determines "...whose voices are listened to an international gatherings, who bombs and who is bombed...". Dyer argues that "race is never not a factor, it is never not at play." One of the racial markers of Whiteness that he identifies is Snow.
Snow is white (colour). Snow is cold. Snow takes over the ground. Snow colonizes. Snow chills. Snow sparkles like diamonds - like the gold and wealth of the Global North. Snow is clean. Snow is powerful. Snow is White (politik). In this piece, I ask if the world may have been rather different if snow was Black. Or would it have been at all?
*All pictures were taken by my classmate Mmas on her iphone*
How has it been for you as an African woman in the diaspora? What adjustments have you made in accommodating racial politics in your personal politik?
As always, thanks for stopping by!