When Sadia asked about the first time my skin color became an issue, I immediately remembered my experiences with racism in Germany and the poem that I wrote to process them. When I left Kenya for Germany in the mid 90s, I thought racism was only a feature of post-apartheid South Africa. Because so many people from all over the world had fought for Mandela’s release from prison, I had no reason to expect that anyone outside South Africa would judge me solely on the basis of my skin color.
Sometimes, like today, I find it hard to write about racism. What concerns me most is that it still persists after decades of people speaking out against it. Wole Soyinka, one of my favorite authors, wrote the poem Telephone Conversation about a racist experience he had in Leeds, England in 1962. I find his poem quite humorous, whereas mine is indignant. I stumbled across his poem after I’d published mine, Color of Skin. My racist experiences in Germany began 2 weeks after I arrived and continued intermittently until the day before I left Germany a few years later.
The experience that broke the proverbial camel’s back was when a German student I’d just met voiced her deeply flawed assumption that because I was black, there was no way I could make the grade required to get into a certain major. What she didn’t know was that I had already been accepted to the major. In her mind, black=dumb. Most of my African friends in German universities had similar experiences, some even with their professors!
Color of Skin
What do I here?
Why came I here?
To this unbearably unfriendly land?
In a mere year
The issue has been raised
About my color of skin.
When never before
In two decades of life
Had I ever cause to think of it.
What is the skin
But a mere encasing
Of the person that lives within?
What does color of skin
Have to do with intelligence
Must my character be dark
Because my skin is black?
You who take pride in being
The cradle of empirical evidence
Show us now the superiority
Of white skinned ones.
Justify your claim
Empirically, of course,
That dark skin and intelligence
Are inversely proportional.
You look down your nose at me
Yet you know me not.
And despite your lofty thoughts
I scored highest on the exam.
It wasn’t even in my native tongue!
Did your color of skin fail you
This late in the game?
“Color of Skin” by Minda Magero, The Book of Mysteries, copyright 2008, Novum Press LLC.
Because racism in Germany was so obvious and in-your-face, I have been less aware of racism in the U.S., where it tends to be more subtle and behind-your-back. The subtle kind is probably worse in some ways because it is insidious. All the same, I have observed that the darker one’s skin color, the more one is relegated to the dung heap of humanity.
What can you do to eradicate racism? What can we do? I wonder why this isn’t one of the lofty Millenium Goals set forth by the United Nations.