Celebrating East African Writing!

Where is the racist? By Tabitha Mwangi

‘Akienda, njo utanipata hapa!’ a young man shouts at me as I drive past Mtwapa. My husband, Pete, is fast asleep on the passenger’s seat. I don’t bother to respond to that seemingly innocent request which is highly loaded for an African woman with a white man on the Kenyan coast. When we stop for a drink on a veranda of one of the hotels, traders dangle all manner of awkward things that mzungus should like at me. ‘Ni promote, wacha kuwa mgumu!’ the sellers say, agitated eyes fixed on me, lower lip pointing in Pete’s direction. The message being, if I am going to get money from that mzungu, I should spread it out to fellow citizens. The items on sale are often things I would never, even in a drunken state of magnanimity, buy. I am forced to have an even closer look as the items are thrust in my face. I shake my head and the traders’ stomp of cursing me.

The taunts have toned a notch lower now that I have a slightly more ‘mathe’ look, the effect of uncontrolled breeding. When we started dating ten years ago, the comments made were more caustic. ‘Mlete hapa, si wewe umekula yako!’ the hawkers would say if we dared walk the streets of Mombasa together. Si I had already been paid for my sexual services, so why was I still holding on to that white walking ATM? Eyes would glare at me as exorbitant prices were quoted for Pete and venom lashed out if I dared protest. I decided that if Pete did not mind being shafted, I would stay well out of the way and so we stopped shopping together.

In certain hotels, we are relegated to dark sections of the room that we soon worked out, were hived off for prostitutes and their clients. The sleaze had to be kept away from the regular respectable clientele. The waiters would never address me directly assuming that I would eat what was ordered for me. The bill would be placed as far from me as was possible. Perhaps they feared I would pocket the tip.

Despite my annoyance, its obvious where this attitude comes from. The coast is a popular haunt for sex tourists and it is highly likely that a black woman with a white man will be a commercial sex worker. It is such a lucrative deal that it is common to find retired commercial sex workers living entirely of a monthly stipend from their geriatric European lovers. Although I will not condemn prostitutes for what they do, (after all where would they be if all our brothers, fathers, uncles and granddads kept their goods in their pants?), I still hate to be thought of as one. It’s not exactly the career I dreamt of being associated with.

This attitude was easier to stomach from strangers and I found it hard to bear at work. When a good friend of mine started to work in the research institution I had been working in for a year, she was advised to stay away from a certain ‘malaya’ who masqueraded as a scientist. I was then studying for my PhD, the only African female PhD student at the time. There was only one way, she was told, I could have done it. I had slept with the white boss. There have since been close to twenty African female PhD students at the institute. The white boss must be very busy indeed…. the orgies!

My peers said I belonged to a group of African women who believe black men are not good enough. After watching all those soap opera’s on TV, I had swallowed from a tender age the stupid belief that white men are more romantic than ‘our’ men. Did I not know that all men are the same? Apparently I did not. More so, black women, I was told, never fall in love with a white man but with his pocket or perhaps the hope of a passport to a distant land. People I had thought were friends would tease me with stupid questions about the life I supposedly aspired to. ‘Do you go skinny dipping now? Do you kiss the dogs? When I bought my first car from my hard-earned savings, a simple Fiat-UNO, I was thought to have done well. At least I got something from the mzungu. In certain company, it was weird being with Pete. He was the white imperialist, come to steal not only our land but our women to. He represented something in our history that grated on some who strained to stamp their intellectual superiority at my bemused man. What a palaver!

My husband is accustomed to children shouting ‘Mzungu nipe peremende’, or when we are upcountry, a cheery chorus of ‘Haro mzungu, haro mzungu’. The children happily cheer when he waves back. However, when my son, who is five, is followed by shouts of ‘Mzungu Mzungu!’, he will often stop and say to the offending child, ‘My name is not mzungu, I am Tim!’. I think to myself ‘Good for you!’ Imagine walking with your children in a street in Europe and children start to shout ‘African, African!’ and the parents turn to see and add a few words here and there? You would probably want to say ‘Aiii yawa, there is more to my children than coming from Africa.’ And inwardly think ‘what racist brats!’ Well, what do you think mixed children in Kenya feel? Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Racially harassed perhaps? That they don’t belong here, in a country that endlessly reminds anyone who would listen that ‘Obama, ni wetu’?

WaKenya, wa pwani hasa, not all Kenyan women marry mzungu’s for their money or a dislike of their kind. Hard as it may be to believe, when it comes to love, as some man we all belatedly love sung, ‘it don’t matter if they’re black or white’.

© Tabitha Mwangi 2009

If you would like this piece to be the Story of the Week, please vote below on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak, and 10 being excellent. The numbers will be tallied on Tuesday 28th July and the story with the highest figure shall be Crowned Story of the Week. Be sure to fill in your name and verifiable email. You can include your critique/comment after the vote.


11 comments on “Where is the racist? By Tabitha Mwangi

  1. Neema
    July 24, 2009

    It’s not only the message in the story but the way you told it that sealed the deal. I don’t know how you and your family cope with such peoples prejudices. I give it a 10.


  2. Alexander
    July 24, 2009

    Nicely written. Magis cum ira, quam studio.

    You may or may not be aware that a comparable topic was addressed here in the Website some time ago in a story by Muthoni Garland:

    It is nice and very fruitful to compare your two approaches.


  3. Chiira
    July 24, 2009

    @ Alex, I also thought the same after i had started reading the article. Muthoni’s tries to relate the same story through a single incident while Tabitha gives numerous accounts of the same incidence and she even goes ahead and gives another opinion.

    Overall, i give it a 10.


  4. Alexander
    July 24, 2009

    The two stories have – IMO – a differing level of depth and differentiation. Muthoni’s splendour lies in her iridescent empathy.


  5. Peter Bull
    July 28, 2009

    I loved it. 10/10


  6. Osas
    July 28, 2009

    10/10 all the time?! Folks, is it because Tabitha is such an outstanding writer and language artist (beyond her scientific malaria-researching), or is it because you simply agree with her main message?
    You know, that is quite a difference…


  7. Waswa
    July 30, 2009

    Gives you a lot of rational inference.



  8. kyt
    August 6, 2009

    Good read, actually, come to think of it…..why don’t the white scream of racism when they are shouted at “white”. shouting on the opposite direction of the race would elicit harsh words…unprintable words!!! Just a thought…… 8


  9. Lisa
    August 11, 2009

    I am thrilled by this article.I wonder why many kenyans still cant think in a civilized way when it comes to racial relationshps.My heart goes out for you and my advice is dont let people change your princiles and views about life.Be yourself always.


  10. consolata m'mayi
    May 17, 2010


    i did not know you can write this well. Whst happened to the scientist?

    Do give me a shout


  11. patricia
    May 31, 2010

    nice one. very true and we should all be more sensitive. loved it


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