Tag Archives: children

“I hate my hair.” She said.

My beautiful niece, you are already the rainbow’s source of light. You are certainly the bloody battle. You don’t like your hair and that worries me. It worries me that already at six years tender, you are so conscious of a standard of beauty that I fear was never meant to favor you. A standard you will find accommodates very few people of our color.

When I was younger, your grandmother had a rule that I could not get my hair chemically relaxed until I was at least twelve/thirteen, so until then it was in its natural state. Coarse, tangled and wildly disobedient. I found comfort in braids, much the same as you do now, but my mother also had a rule that we had to occasionally let our hair breathe. This meant after a month of three-strand braids or twists, I would have at least a week’s cooling-off period in which she would do protective styles at night before I went to sleep, and leave me to decide what I wanted to do with it during the day. I loathed the combing sessions. I remember wincing and squirming in my seat. Letting out the occasional Ouch mommy! followed by my fingers rubbing fiercely against my scalp; a look of frustration coming over me as I began to regret living. It felt like torture, and it was only after many, many years that I realized how tormented my mom must have felt as well. She had no choice but to learn how to braid hair and do cornrows because going to hair salons to your mom, your auntie Nyiha and me, was like marathon running to fish- it just wasn’t meant to be. So I can only imagine what it took for your cucu (grandmother) to psych herself up for the intense and arduous task of doing her children’s hair. A mountain of resistance exhausting every ounce of patience she had on reserve. But you know what, she did. And each Ouch mommy! that escaped my mouth was met with a sorry baby and a little pause, and somehow we got through it.

When I was in the sixth grade I moved to a new school. I did not know anyone yet and during one of my very first break times, I remember dragging my feet and trying to waste what time I could in the classroom so I would not have to sit alone outside. My hair happened to be breathing, so that day I’d decided to go to school with my hair in a ponytail. Naturally, it did not lay flat and smooth like the Caucasian girls’ hair in my class, spilling effortlessly over their shoulders and down their backs. It was spongy and the resisting coils fought for height. The puffy tufts shot through the other side of the hair tie, sticking up in defiance. As I stood in the classroom, fishing through my bag for my snacks, I noticed two white boys standing a few desks down, studying my features.

“Look at her hair. What’s wrong with it?” Boy A spoke with such disgust.

“It looks so ugly.” Boy B opined.

“Mmm, she’s not pretty.” Boy A concurred.

I was devastated. I knew then that lonely would have been better than the alternative I’d unwittingly chosen. In that moment I lamented my ethnicity, my culture and my difference. I took their words to be definition of my appeal as a young girl. I was ugly, my hair- abominable. That was that! I decided from that point forward, never again would I let them see me with my hair out. Braids City, population: Me.

Your mother told me a couple months ago that you cried and begged to stay home from school because your hair was undone. You did not even want to get out of the car at the grocery store because you feared the harsh, anticipated words of strangers offended by your afro. As you know now, I know just what that feels like. Many other black girls and women do too. But, my baby, it is not yours to own that another being should pass judgment on your value in the world, substantiated by archaic dogma. You stem from a line of people who were denigrated and demoralised so severely for our features, it has taken decades if not centuries to learn how to appreciate our own reflections. That is why I say you are the bloody battle. Because wars were fought for you, sweet child. Men and women shed blood so you could celebrate who you are without regard for someone else’s subjective opinion. So you could walk proudly into any grocery store, or sit in your classroom confident that you own the standard of beauty by which you choose to live. That the criteria are set by you and for you to celebrate YOU!

You remark on the growth of my dreadlocks every time you see them: “Auntie Gendo, they’ve grown. They’re growing!”

I laugh because I’m excited that you’re excited to see something different that our texture of hair is capable of. You see, baby, it took me standing in front of the mirror, straightener in hand, watching strands of my relaxed hair fall out with each stroke to realize I was honoring the wrong person. I was trying to emulate someone who would never be a representative of my heritage, my community or my struggle. So I cut my hair. I started over and I blocked out any person who dared tell me I was not in my element. But I still hated the combing and protective styling. So I decided to let my hair do what it had been trying to do since I was a kid- I let it lock. I embraced the coarseness, the coils and the beauty of its rebellion.

Zela, love of my life, perhaps it will help you someday to see your hair the way I see mine. It is multilayered not one-dimensional. Your hair is not just an accessory for your face; it is the story of your people. A living narrative that you should wear with pride because it is written in the blood of those you owe your dreams. Those people who were locked up for believing you deserve civil rights. The ones who chose your life over their own. Those people who I’m certain- if they could be resurrected- would say it was worth it. We cannot afford to hate a part of ourselves that is so indicative of a resilience more powerful than bullets and laws.

Sometimes I genuinely wish I could clone you for a day if only to give you the chance to see how incredible you are. So you could study your features and fall in love with the versatility of your hair. I hope that when you watch this video in your later years and read this post, you save yourself a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

Our conversations will change as you get older. But one thing will always be consistent:

That I love you more than you will ever be able to handle,

Auntie Gendo.

 

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“I don’t like you because you’re black.” He said to my niece.

Yesterday was the day I have been dreading since my niece’s birth. The day she became the target of overt racial discrimination for the first time. Our vivacious, sweet and innocent babe- only 5-years-old, attended a birthday party, where the white birthday boy said:

“I don’t like you because you’re black.”

My sister (her mother) pulled her aside and asked her to repeat what the little boy said.

“He wants to be my friend?” My niece responded confused, proceeding to play with her other friends from day care.

My sister and niece were the only two people of colour present at the party. Friends of the parents of the birthday boy laughed the statement off, trying to make light of the situation, while the mother employed damage control devices like trying to divert my sister’s attention to the food and drinks. The father of the boy did not say anything, choosing to avoid my sister and my niece for the rest of the day. Noticing my niece did not seem to have understood what had actually happened, my sister decided not to leave the birthday party, as she did not want to have to explain to my niece what had been said to her, and why she could not play with the rest of her actual friends for the rest of the afternoon. Why they had been invited to a party at all by racists is well and truly beyond all of us.

I have experienced racism countless times in Australia, having lived on both the east and west coast. It is something I have accepted will always be part of human existence. As long as history cannot be altered, there will always be those who substantiate the transgressions of the wicked and still preach human rights and civility with blood dripping from their hands. All while simultaneously condemning the ostensible weaknesses of oppressed marginalized groups denied the right to repercussions of slavery, colonization, apartheid, genocide or segregation. Even still, I have maintained that neither white, nor black or anything in between, are inherently good or evil. We choose who we become. Sometimes we are a product of experience, or live our lives around fears or preconceived notions. We hate what has hurt us and we love only that which gives us a dose of euphoria. This is more apparent as we grow and form our own opinions or subscribe to other peoples.

However, ultimately, when we are adults, we make conscious decisions to live our lives in a manner that is indicative of our beliefs and values. We are expected in the eyes of the law to be accountable for our actions and words, because we are old enough and presumably wise enough to discern what is right from what is wrong. Children do not have the luxury of accountability. They repeat what they hear from those who influence them most. What tragedy is this that a child has to learn hate from one they love? Is it not children that have the capacity to love without caution? Is it not through the eyes of a child that one sees angels at the sight of ogres? They will hold the hand of a beast and not know the danger of its jaws, only the warmth of its fur.

“Kisses and Cuddles” by Kagendo Limiri (My sister and my niece)

So my gorgeous, baby niece:

I am so sorry, that all the knowledge I have of race relations, all the rants I have written on the subject, all the times I have cried over a valuation of the black community in our societies eyes, could not render you exempt from such an abhorrent incident. You will have many more, baby, and sadly none of us will be able to shield you from all of them. But know this, I promise to educate you on your constitutional rights, your equal worth as a human being, and remind you that your skin is only ever beautiful. I will do my best to teach you how to love diversity, and celebrate difference, because it makes the world exciting and gives you a bigger canvas to paint on. When your hair is tangled and knotted and you lament the pain and hassle of taming it, I will tell you of the many black women that have struggled with the same problems and much worse, yet still they rise. You will be a black woman in an Australian society that will likely place you on the lowest rung of the ladder, but you are born of a resilient people and your steps upward will not be easy… but they will be- I promise.

Baby, I could never love a world that refuses to learn what it is to love you; to hear the sincerity of your laugh; to know the innocence of your curiosity; to celebrate the splendour of your skin. You are exactly what God intended, and no man with organs that work as yours do, mortal as you are, will ever determine the weight of your worth. Shine, little lady. You are the star we hope will live higher than the skies, the winged beacon we pray a brighter future.

I love you and your mother and I will absolutely, never, ever stop.

Auntie Gendo

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Lies we told in 2014

There is a story I was told as a child that made me believe the world is good; that most people are kind; that all love is pure. It was a story of freedom and justice, where all actions are aptly met with punishment or praise. Where colour is representation of heritage and not an indication of worth. Where opportunity is owed every being and not bought at a detriment to those who sleep hungry. It was a story that promised healing and security to the sick and vulnerable; one that swore the compassion and integrity of those we call leaders. But I was lied to. Greedy men bought the world through carnage and deception. This so-called ‘humanity’ found a way to own and package our liberties as well as limit and cripple our progress. This world is not very good; most of us are not so kind; and not all our love has proven pure. 2014 marks another year that we continued to lie to our children. On to the next one.

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Kenya: 50 Years on and not a whole lot to be proud of.

“The law helps the vigilant before those who sleep on their rights.”

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As we mark the 50th year of Kenya’s independence, let us take stock of how we celebrated our “supposed” freedom this year. 50 years hence, have we justified our forefathers fight for liberty? Have we made them proud?

With regard to Children
In June it was reported that a teacher in Thika punished a student by making him drink a cocktail of his classmates saliva. Traditionally in Africa, cultural norms have been the underlying reason for the unquestioned respect of adults and authoritative figures alike, but how can we not see this incident as anything but an asinine, abuse of power. Is it not reason enough to revise these norms, which in the case of the above mentioned student, could serve to be detrimental to his health? Is it not contradictory that a learning institution responsible for the nurturing of young minds, is instead breaching the rights of the vulnerable? If this teacher goes unpunished, is it safe to assume that children are totally void of constitutional rights because they must remain obedient?

With regard to Women
On the 26th of June, it was reported that a 16 year-old girl was brutally gang-raped by six men, on her way home from her grandfather’s funeral. Following the attack the men discarded her in a deep pit-latrine which she managed to climb out of and call for help. After reporting the incident to the local authorities and even identifying her attackers, the officers proceeded to arrest the men, who suffered a once-off punishment of manual labour; this involved cutting grass in the police compound after which they were released. As a young woman, I find it incomprehensible that there could be a worse insult than to know an issue as serious as rape could be addressed with such mockery, as to equate the weight of court ordered justice to that of a callous officer/s poor judgement. If we discount the fact that the young lady already had a reason to grieve, and if we ignore the traumatic experience she miraculously survived; can we really pretend not to see the tragic weakness on the part of our legal system where a woman’s worth is ostensibly equal to that of a gardeners basic chores? Months later, justice has not been done but over a million signatures from people all over the world have called for the law to intervene. However, we must ask ourselves, why does it take international media coverage for something to be done about a problem in our backyard? Are we not our sister’s keeper?

With regard to Leadership
On the 6th of September it is alleged that Nairobi Governor, Dr Evans Kidero, slapped Nairobi Women Representative, Rachael Shebesh. Several videos showing the incident regarding this claim appear on YouTube, in which dialogue can be heard in accordance with what Shebesh has stated took place- though the Governor has denied the allegations. Having watched the encounter on YouTube, I do support the claim that Shebesh was assaulted and for whatever reason this event took place, it is my belief that we cannot afford to condone violence in any capacity. When the people who are supposed to represent our views fail to do so adequately, it is questionable whether we can count on them to uphold what we as a nation should be unwilling to compromise. If we do not protect our societal values and ethics, how can we prove their existence? I am not dismissing the fact the Kidero may have been provoked, I simply ask what qualifies as leadership in a country where a government official would respond in such a primitive and unprofessional manner? What is the role of leadership in Kenya if not the example we should live by?

With regard to Security
On the 21st of September, a group of unidentified gunmen attacked Westgate Shopping Mall, killing approximately 72 people and injuring many more. The attack lasted four days and is allegedly the doing of Al Shabaab terrorists, displeased with Kenya’s military presence in Somalia. While the heartbreak and trauma that these terrorists have caused is unspeakable, perhaps what is most disheartening is watching a video of our own police officers looting where civilian blood has been spilled, and bodies lay sprawled out on the ground. As they looked and witnessed the loss of life, what possessed them to think it was okay to pick and chose their moments of heroism, disassociating themselves from their vows to protect and serve, ignoring the temptations of greed and undue advantage? If the ones we trust to protect us only do so when they think they are being watched, can we trust them to come to our aid in a time of helplessness? Can we preach security when we have reason to doubt our own?

With regard to the Election
Perhaps the most important of reflections must be that of our presidential election which took place in March. This year the international community, as well as Kenya, waited with bated breath for the results of the presidential election. The constant reminders of the devastating 2007 post election violence promoted a welcomed effort at tolerance among neighbors and members of different ethnic groups. Now, months after the nation has chosen a head of state, the imminent ICC trial is looming over our heads, stalking our movements, crippling our ability to address the growing challenges we face in this country. The law stipulates that one is innocent until proven guilty and given the importance of the law, allow me to quote a well known officer of the court. Nelson Mandela stated the following at the Rivonia Trial: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” I have introduced this quote in order to pose a question. Is not the foundation of a great leader the selflessness in which he acts? While I respect the choice that Kenyans made in electing our current leaders, I cannot help but wonder whether true admiration would come from one who waits to clear his name before throwing his hat in the ring; knowing full well the plausible implications that one’s absence could have on their beloved country if said person is found guilty of a crime?

Kenya, 50 years later we have a lot to atone for. What is written above has not begun to touch on the vast amount of problems that currently plague us. I have not addressed the torturous scenes of mob justice that make it okay for a desperate pick-pocket to be beaten mercilessly without the luxury of legal representation in a fair trial. I have failed to detail the greed that has potential to rob the people of Turkana of an opportunity to benefit from the newly discovered oil, in what has been a region previously and unfairly ignored. Where does one search for the reasoning behind the stealing of babies for sale on the black market, or the armed robbery of hard working citizens on unsafe, unreliable forms of transportation? How do we begin to outline the blatant disregard for the law that leads to fatal accidents and a growing culture of bribery?

My point is, Kenya is broken. We seem to have lost our sense of humanity. We seem to be oblivious to the need for accountability. Have we become so complacent or so desperate to fit into this corrupt system, that to a foreigner, we might appear mere savages masked as men? If you disagree with what I have said, I respect that it is your prerogative to do so. But this Kenya is not one I am interested in inheriting and it is one, which as it stands, I am embarrassed to call home. I refuse to find comfortability in its brokeness, and if destiny has it that our sole claim to fame be our great runners, then I should only wish my Nike’s could carry me far enough to a time in the future when Kenya is as it should be. I don’t believe the reality we are living is the dream our heroes died to fulfill. Our Kenya is our responsibility and if we do not progress the work that was done 50 years ago to set us free, we will regress into something regrettable.
We will become the monster we saw in the colonialist.

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