05 October 2011
23 July 2011
why don't more black americans travel to africa?
[caution: may be offensive to some viewers; moderate to strong racial views included.]
that's an interesting question. i actually have a whole lot of my own theories on this, many of which i've described in the comments on this particular topic posed by greg gross. Or rather, i *thought* i might have left comments there, but apparently, i can't find them. hmph.
anyway, what i normally say is that, well, black americans generally don't have the kind of jobs that can pay for the ridiculous airfare that it normally takes to get to most places in africa, and even if they do, they normally don't have the type of vacation time which would involve being able to make a two-day flight to various parts of africa.
that said, i'm acquainted with a few people online who disprove those particular theories, to a degree. [i've actually met fly-brother, most recently when i was on my way back to south africa from brazil.]
now the reason i'm writing this post is because of an encounter i had with a mutual fan of both myself and fly-brother. he's a fan of fly-brother because he's really into travel, and a fan of mine because he reads a lot of my political commentary on various websites, most notably thought leader.
i ran into this guy in a club last nite. it was strange -- he came up to me and says "did you ever have red hair?" i currently shave my head clean, since i sport the sherman helmsley look when i don't. i say to the guy, "yes, i did, a long time ago." so then this guy goes, "so you write a blog called kwerekwere is barbaros, not xenos?"
me: guilty as charged.
him: has anyone ever called you a nerd? you really split hairs on your etymology in your blog title. that's what's attracted me to your writing.
me: lots of times. [chuckle] thanks.
him: can i ask you a serious question?
him: how many african countries have you visited or lived in?
me: [thinks]... somewhere between 15 and 20. i'd have to sit down and think about it. [actual answer: 17, so i was in the ballpark.]
him: do you think it's because you look more african than most american black people? i can tell from your page that you have an american passport.
me: [not sure where he was going with this. also not sure if i should throw my drink on him or just ask for clarification. ultimately, i decide on the latter.] pardon?
him: i mean, you're dark. i've lived in and traveled in almost as many places as you have, and i have noticed that most of the black americans who are traveling are lighter-skinned, as if they would be called mixed-race in europe.
me: that's deep.
him: there's this one black american guy who i think follows fly-brother's page that is a facebook friend of a personal friend of mine. when i am with my friend, i read the guy's updates and i often think, "he spends so much time in europe, south america, and asia -- why does he never go to africa?"
a chill goes through my spine at this point. he can't be talking about who i think he's talking about.
me: what's this guy's name?
him: [exactly the person who i could not possibly believe he could be referencing]
i dropped my drink. damn this world is small. small in that i actually knew of the person he was discussing, and small in that i wasn't the only one to have this exact same thought. after i bought another drink, he goes on --
him: maybe he mainly is seeking validation from europeans or other lighter-skinned peoples than africans?
i start to grumble. i'm having a serious deja vu moment from the book our kind of people where lawrence graham, upon arriving in washington to do an internship, is told about the colorist bullshit that goes on in washington dc... by someone white.
me: if you read my writings, you know you're going to have to start explaining yourself very quickly before i get upset and curse you out.
him: yes, of course. what i am meaning is that maybe there is a subconscious in black people in america where while they might not particularly like the fact that they have white ancestors in there, given the chance, they will spend a lot of time with white people while abroad.
me: maybe i'll let you slide, just this once. anything else?
him: i mean, i know it's expensive to travel to africa, but iberia is always having a sale to many african countries. and at the very least, some airlines are flying from the usa to dakar, which is closer to most american cities than, say, berlin, athens or rome.
i swear this guy has hacked into my computer. i was pointing this out to fly-brother just last week.
me: oh, man. not iberia. it's a crap airline, and you know it.
him: yes, it is, but it's not too different than flying domestically on most US carriers, so it should not be a problem for them.
me: you might be right on that one. i've never really flown domestically in the US. when i have, it's mainly been on crop dusters. and i flew on southwest once when my brother got married.
him: i know. and you're not missing anything.
at this point, his friend rocks up.
him: look, we have here mundundu from thought leader.
friend: i've always wanted to meet you. i see what you write on thought leader. you're very well travelled. were your parents diplomats?
friend: were you adopted by germans as a small child maybe, and this is why sometimes you say the things about white people that you do?
me: [nearly dropping another drink] no -- and that's a new one. why do you ask that?
friend: well, you are always saying that you are in these out of the way places and there are always germans there.
me: well, there are.
friend: yes. this is why i am asking. maybe you are raised by german people to travel like this.
me: wow, i think i might have to blog about this tomorrow. this is too much.
i felt the booze starting to really hit me, so i left. fortunately i live in the city centre, 800m from said club, so it was no big deal to get home. [even tho i did happen to, um, party on the way home. but that's for another blog. :) ]
i stupidly did not get either of these guys' names. and yet, if the one follows people i know on facebook, they know mine, which i try to keep off of here for the time being. maybe they'll drop me a message.
but this did actually get me back to a post that i had been writing before, but had mothballed because the opinions contained therein were some pretty hot shit. basically, it's far easier to be a light-skinned black american travelling through europe or latin america [ie to look like the americans i referenced in this post] than to look like me. you can identify as black all you want, but the societal treatment is where it's at [vos no lo sos o no pareces]. i've had enough racist bullshit happen to me in europe, north america and south america for it to be a major reason for me to be living in south africa right now. the "being followed around the store because people think i'm nigerian" is so much easier to deal with than the very real shit that i've had to deal with on those other three continents.
many people would look at this one guy i know and basically be, "well, one parent is from somewhere else, but the other one is probably local" and he'd get much better treatment than i would. there is still a sense of "he is one of us, despite being mixed with foreigner" that works out to his advantage. i've mentioned having to go nuclear in the uk, and don't get me started about france. i purposely no longer speak french in france, because every time i do, i'm an african who must be deported [or at the very least, whose papers must be closely examined] as opposed to everybody's black friend when i'm speaking english. the thing is, i don't particularly like to speak english, which is one of the reasons i can get by in ten or so other languages.
but i know that i'm different. maybe not unique-snowflake different [who am i kidding, unique snowflake would indeed be appropriate here], but eish, man. i really hate having to give off "american" in order to avoid drama. when i'm in my most comfortable accent, people think that i'm a west african who lived in the states for a while, and i do nothing to discourage this. when i was living in senegal, a few people thought i was from togo or benin or cameroon -- my french was too good for me to be nigerian or american -- and those people who did know i was american often asked me if i was peace corps because of a) the level of my french and b) the facility with which i was picking up wolof. my boyfriend's family and i had a sham going that i was from bissau because a) i spoke portuguese and b) my wolof was nowhere near good enough to be senegalese or gambian. but never, ever american.
the reason? it can be found, among other places, on pages 40-41 of black gold of the sun: searching for home in england and africa by ekow eshun. the black americans that *do* go to africa, and anglophone africa in particular, have a really bad rap. i've heard basically the same opinion from ghanaians who i've met here in cape town. and many of the black americans that i've met here in cape town are almost, to a person, that bad. i purposely try to avoid them at all costs, to be honest. local south africans who i know that have attended the black american church in johannesburg have given me the same, "you're not like them" stick that i've gotten from white people about black people in the usa.
in eshun's book, he tries to defend black america by telling the tour guide that not all black americans are like that. i can further that a bit in saying that it's a social class assaholic thing rather than a race thing. but if that's all you encounter, it tends to form an opinion and stereotypes.
in that vein, i often tell black americans who are making plans to come to africa to start with west africa first. or, to be honest, any sub-saharan country other than namibia or south africa. the social engineering of the 1950s and 60s makes it harder to perceptualize that one is in africa instead of latin america. it's not that the "real africa" [whatever that means] doesn't exist; one of south africa's tourism mottoes is "a world in one country" -- it's that since mass transit pretty much stops at nightfall, it can be problematic if you take mass transit to various parts of town and get stuck. and hiring a metered cab comes with its own set of difficulties: many cab drivers won't even go to the townships under any circumstance. many cab drivers aren't south african, and collectively speaking, south africans, at all races and socioeconomic levels, don't like foreigners very much -- things that led to the very title of this blog.
wow. this has been a lot. i could write a lot more, and probably will during the week. but it's midnite and a few bars are calling my name, not to mention my phone has been ringing all night from brothers who want to hang.
14 July 2011
so, i was waiting for fly-brother to get back with the last installment of the "black in latin america" series, and he's never gotten around to it. i guess this is where i put in my two cents about it, until he does. [ernest, when you do post about it, don't forget to actually leave the comments open.]
so skippy went to mexico and peru and talked about how two of the founding fathers of mexico, morelos and guerrero -- if those names sound familiar, it's because there are states named after both of them -- were both mulato. he also talked about how veracruz was an important slave port. again, this is not a shock -- any place sugar was cultivated in the new world, there were african slaves. people tend not to think about mexico in this regard, but they were there, but not that many of them. but people in veracruz speak spanish like other caribbeans [ie, with the african influences] instead of like other mexicans.
gates also talked about the town founded by escaped slaves. basically, a bunch of slaves escaped from from veracruz and gave the spanish so much grief that the spanish just said, "okay, fuck it, you can have this bit of land, just leave us alone. deal?" so deep in south eastern mexico, you rock up and there's this statue of the black guy who founded the town.
black guy. mexico. i know, right? sounds... incongruous. everyone knows there are no black mexicans. [okay, there are like 5 or 6 -- which is the problem; it's a major reason that no one knows about them.]
[but shit... he totally butchered tenochtitlán. if i can learn how to say it in pennsylvania in eighth grade from a history teacher who had just gotten off the plane from ireland, he can fucking say it. jeebus.]
so then skippy pops over to peru. i know a lot of black peruvians, so i was especially interested in how he would do this bit. and to my surprise, he actually nailed it. for much of its history, lima was a black city -- this was something i knew, and this was something that was covered. something *else* that was covered, and i was looking for [i actually had a list of things that he *better* cover, and ticked them off as he went through them] was the fact that prominent people tend to have a bunch a big black guys as pallbearers when they die.
but my favorite part of this: skippy was picking cotton. that's right. he went to a cotton plantation -- yup, they still exist -- and skippy was out in the filed picking cotton. given that i know a few people whose academic careers skip personally ruined, i was tempted to teleport myself into this scene and whip him for picking it too slowly, but it was ... something else to see skippy's house slave self out in the field picking cotton.
that said, he was really annoying with his "oh my god, like totally, i've never been so close to cotton before" comments. bitch, please. quit it with your allegedly superior self.
but overall, this episode... very good, despite his purposefully bad spanish [he had to have done this on purpose, unless he was definitely channeling his not-so-inner cracker through this whole series].
29 May 2011
don't you hate it when people are stupid and just don't realise it?
so, pbs did this somewhat unwatchable [i'll explain why in a minute] series on black in latin america. my friend fly-brother critiqued the first two episodes here and here [mijo, nos debes dos criticas más...]. in the first post, a "person" [i use this term in quotes because this guy can't be real] rants on some really bizarre tangents. he also talks, at length, about why hispanics are a separate race.
now, anyone who knows me personally would by now see where i just might have a teeny problem with that last bit. but then this "person" comes on my page and gets butthurt that i won't debate him [because i've been too busy raising children, but anyway], but today i've finally had some free time to look up his points.
and boy are they some doozies.
now, the easiest way to completely shut him down is summed up by the next few paragraphs:
i did the majority of my formal education in central pennsylvania, known to much of the rest of the states as "amish country" -- many schools that teach german in school don't teach the high german pronunciations taught in germany and german government-sponsored schools worldwide, but the swiss-german forms from which the misnamed "pennsylvania dutch" [pennsilfaanisch deitsch translates as "pennsylvania german"] is descended.
the amish, for those who don't know, are an anabaptist sect mainly known for still dressing and living as if it's the 18th century. an interesting about the amish is their viewpoint about people who are not-amish: everyone not-amish is "english". i bring this up because in central pennsylvania, and especially in places which could be called the "amish american homeland", most people are of the same swiss-german stock as the amish. and yet, they are still called "english".
this is, of course, a bit daft on the face of it. there are a few people in those parts who are not of swiss-german ancestry, and there are some black and "hispanic" people. but, at the 2000 census, pennsylvania had more non-hispanic white people than any state except california, new york, texas, and florida -- all states with substantially more people in general. if you look at the 2000 census, you will see that in the year i graduated high school, 1990, pennsylvania was 88.5 percent white. even at 2000, it's 85.4 percent white. maybe 2010 will have it go below 80% for the first time ever, but i doubt it.
but it doesn't matter. the amish call all of them "english" -- without taking differences into croatian or polish catholics, russian, serb or ukrainian orthodox, or any other group. they're just "english" and that is that. they don't take into consideration someone who is half-black, half-greek, or the guy in front of them in line at the weis markets in the town where i attended undergrad that originally is from west bengal. not-amish = english, that is that.
now, if this guy wants to continue to argue the point that he has the mindset of someone stuck in the early 18th century, more power to him. but, you know, many people with actual brains would be like, "nah, that's too big of a mental jump to make". don't get me wrong, there are a LOT of people in latin america who would wish they were white -- the whole concept of "mejorar la raza" is all about lightening the line to get rid of any obvious black or indian features.
in short, "hispanic" is as much of a "race" as "north american" is -- fly-brother is right in saying "um, no, hispanic is not a race" but is a bit wrong in his retort, as he is [incorrectly] more specific by comparing it to "african-american". the best comparison is "american" and leaving it at that, but i do understand the point he was trying to move by being more specific.
oddly enough, my brazilian visa obtained in cape town actually has "north-american" as my nationality. [fly-brother, does yours?] i vaguely remember my last brazilian visa stating my nationality as "americano". maybe the next one will say, "estadunidense" -- i guess we'll find out in about ten years' time.
now i found much of the pbs series largely unwatchable largely because of skip gates. sometimes i think he's either just stuck on stupid, naive, or both -- and, to me, it was on clear display throughout the whole series. there were some nuances that i'm sure he didn't pick up, not having grown up in such environments -- my favorite of those was when he's in brazil and he's got his hand out with a bunch of other men and he's like "we're all a different colors" and the guy who's approximately the same shade has him goes "moreno" in a tone of voice that totally indicated "why the fuck are you trying to call yourself, and by definition me, black?" this particular scene is in the preview to the series, so you can peep it here without going through the whole brazilian episode. a photo of that very scene that i've just described is next to the teaser for "brazil, a racial paradise?" -- the answer to which, by the way, is "no" for reasons that i touched on here.
i'm going to try, again, to watch the last two "black in latin america" shows this evening. i know i'm going to have a tough time with the brazilian one; maybe i should start with the mexico/peru one instead.
if i'm able to watch them, i'll post my opinions of them later on. on verra.
so, almost two weeks ago, there were local government elections here in south africa. there was overall voter turnout of nearly 60%, which was very high for almost anywhere outside of continental europe or various dictatorships, and apparently, much of the additional votes went to new political party the national freedom party -- which doesn't have a website, but does have a few facebook groups.
some more of those votes also went to cementing control of cape town by the official opposition, the democratic alliance (da). the da, since 2006, had run cape town via a seven-party coalition, but this time around they received an outright majority -- and a much stronger majority than many of the other metropoles. they had port elizabeth in their sights, and almost got it on the ward councillor level, but proportional representation is what did them in. you can see the full results of the local government elections here.
i was sort of hoping that the african national congress (anc) would have taken back cape town, so i could see how long i could go without paying the rates on my properties before getting a warning letter. [i already know how long it takes in a da-ruled municipality.] but it would seem that i'm not going to get that chance.
some south african readers might think that this post would be an ode to the da, but i would disagree. i'm not a big fan of most of the south african political parties in general, but i will say that i am quite glad that the da ran an overall positive campaign this time around in focusing on service delivery instead of scare tactics like "if you don't vote for the anc, mandela will die" [i'm not making this up.]
another thing i liked about the da's campaign is this poster. it shows the leader of the party, helen zille [who is the premier of the western cape], patricia de lille [the mayor-elect of cape town] and lindiwe mazibuko [the national spokesperson]. this article is a fairly good cover of ms mazibuko. my only fault with her, to be honest, is that she should have taken on blade nzimande on the floor of the national assembly when she had a chance [and, more importantly, done it in isizulu or siswati]. blade might harp on her about not being from the townships, but she definitely has izinwele kwakasi. [an annoying thing about south africans in general, regardless of race, is they don't seem to be big on hair care.]
but anyway, back to the poster. it shows the three women at the forefront of the party, and pretty much that, barring some bizarre collapse, mazibuko will get to run it, after aunty pat gets a few minutes. [zille and de lille are the same age tho -- zille is three-ish weeks younger than de lille] also unspoken is the fact that south african women do most of the heavy lifting among south africans who work, in the face of some of the most ridiculous sexism on the planet.
the sexism here is pretty bad. i'm glad to be male, but after having moved here, i've found myself extra grateful for that y-chromosome sperm reaching the egg first. it's really ridic.
the sexism is also a factor in the breakaway national freedom party, headed by zanele kamagwaza-msibi. it would appear that the wikipedia article about her was written by someone still loyal to the inkatha freedom party (ifp), as there is zero mention of her leaving the party. in any case, she was the national chairperson of the ifp, and when it was time to have leadership elections in the party, for some reason they were cancelled. many people both inside and outside the party considered her popular enough to unseat the party leader, mangosuthu buthelezi, who has led the party since its inception. interestingly enough, buthelezi is second cousin to the current zulu king, and there's been a lot of chatter in the media that the heads of the royal zulu families are not really interested in a woman leading the official zulu political party. given that women in kwazulu natal are often beaten and stripped naked for the "crime" of wearing trousers, this would not be particularly surprising.
another thing that particularly annoyed me was the shoddy television reporting by both the south african broadcasting corporation [sabc] -- it's so pro-government that i often call it "pravda" -- and its commercial rival e.tv. it was just overall bad -- american coverage of the 2000 presidential election bad. really effing dreadful. after a while, i had become nauseated by the sabc's eusebius mckaiser and tsepiso makwetla and etv's jeremy maggs and iman rappetti in particular. [while i'm on the subject of e-news, macfarlane moleli has become quite the mavis lately, innit? it's not a good look.]
the coverage was just bad. both channels had cute ongoing graphs for the 48 hours of vote-counting, but the analysts they brought on, not to mention the reporters' own personal prejudices, completely turned me off. that said, the analysts brought on e at least tried to hide their prejudices, but the ones on pravda? no way. one of even said, "unfortunately, it looks like the anc will not win cape town." it was really gross.
it reminded me of why i've been dragging my feet in getting permanent residence here -- if i do, then i'll have to pay income taxes to this place. i'm okay with only paying VAT.
so, it's been almost two months since i've posted. the problem when you have a very socially active teenager is that you have to give up a few things in chasing them around.
[for those who follow on and off; my ex's almost-18 year old son lives with me, and it's very likely that i'm going to be named guardian for two of his friends over the next few months. so, unlike a lot of other people who blog about obsessive amounts of travel and politics... i've got very real real-world responsibilities which tend to take precedence over blogging.]
again the inspiration for today's first post of the day is something written over at i'm black and i travel -- he recaps something that i'd heard was coming, but apparently is finally happening: the netherlands is making its coffee shops in the same way as its gay marriage: for locals only. which, of course, is completely stupid and counterproductive, but anyhow.
so they're going to ban foreigners from the coffee shops. reading the article, geert wilders et cie are basically about to put a lot of people into the small-scale drug dealing business, because a good chunk of the american and british tourists are going to want it, regardless.
it's been decriminalised in much of europe, and also in much of canada as well, so i really don't get the willingness of the dutch government to starve itself of revenue from the stupid. it's easy money.
[it's always fun to watch tourists smoking up the last of their stuff in the smoking areas of the train station at schiphol -- and the reaction of the middle american tourists who are there with their kids. not that i've ever done that to taunt such tourists, oh no. nope. never. nooit. geen idee.]
back to the american and british tourists. god, they really act ridiculous with a little booze and weed in them. [young british tourists are, by most accounts, the worst lot in europe. they are tolerated because they tend to have the most money, but still.]
on more than one occasion i would bring my own weed to the bulldog* and mix it with stuff i got there and sit in a back corner and smoke -- not only to hide away from the idiotic anglophones, but because i've bought food at the burger king next door. [there i go on about burger king again.] the staff at the bulldog -- itself a full-service restaurant and bar -- tend to frown on your bringing in your own food. but i look more menacing than most of their bouncers, and plus, i generally order in dutch, so i'm left alone. sometimes it helps to know how to make the "big black man" thing work for you.
*if you must buy weed at the bulldog [while you still can], buy it loose and roll it yourself. their prepared joints are far more tobacco than cannabis entirely because of the aforementioned anglophone tourists getting too high on smoking it pure. europeans tend to smoke their joints mixed with tobacco, which is NASTY to me, since i don't smoke cigarettes.
[wow, i'd made a lengthy edit to this, and blogger ate it. fuck. very unhappy about that.]
06 April 2011
i've been very bad at making posts lately. i don't know why; it's not like i have a job or anything. i just sit around commenting on other people's blogs, and also managing my properties. that's it.
but today i read a post that hit me so much that at first i had written a very long response to it in the "comments" section over there, and then realised that you know, it should be a post here.
this is the post that inspired me; below is my response.
i'm that very rare person who has lived everywhere on my lists.
but first, i'll talk about yours.
i lived in london and paris during times where it was somewhat difficult to be a young black male; the late 80s/early 90s. [i was 17 when i moved to paris to live, basically unsupervised, even tho i was nominally with an aunt, and 22 when i rocked up in london all on my lonesome for the first time.]
i've been back for visits on a fairly regular basis after having moved away, and i'm glad i'd lived there when i was young rather than when i was older.
the thing i liked most about new york is that i didn't have to speak english if i didn't want to; i was perfectly fine, getting everywhere i needed to be, speaking only spanish. but i couldn't live in new york these days because while i can *afford* to live in a 1,000 square foot apartment all by myself in new york if i wanted to, it's really effing expensive to do so. the expense of the life to which i've become accustomed outweighs the potential awesomeness of living there. to put it another way -- i live in a 1,000 sf apartment on a main artery in central cape town for USD1000 a month. i fast talked my way into such a great deal on this place that don't see myself giving it up anytime soon.
i think i've just fibbed. i haven't lived everywhere on my lists -- i haven't lived in salvador da bahia, but i've been there so much that it practically seems that i have. and the main reason that i haven't lived there is because i'm not a very big fan of hills. at some point i will make it to fortaleza and get a house there, but i'm fairly sour on brazil as a whole.
it's a socioeconomic thing -- as a black person raised with a lot of upper middle class sensibilities, it can get trying when being in places with large black populations where black people are near the bottom of almost every social indicator. [this is another reason why i can barely tolerate the city where my mother lived at her death.] hearing "but *you're* not like that" by well-meaning non-black friends is just as nerve-wrangling at 40 as it is at 20, but at 40 you're even more aware of what happens if you were to pop them in the mouth for saying it. so you avoid the situation. it would also, of course, be easier if i only spoke english. but i've been reasonably fluent in at least one local language in every place i've lived at the very moment i got off the plane, so this adds a dimension that many "americans" who move abroad don't have.
other than that... i've lived in santo domingo, which is salvador-lite.
i've lived in dakar as well. i actually liked living in dakar. i lived in a part of town where the foreign population is from guinea and mali, not from the eu or the usa. it's a big difference. first of all, it meant that my 1000sf apartment cost USD500 a month instead of USD3000 a month; if i wanted to pay european prices for accommodation, i would live in europe. [this is also a reason i currently don't live in the parts of cape town known to house lots of first-worlders.]
interestingly enough, i also liked living in .... wait for it ... birmingham. [that's burr-ming-um and not bir-ming-hayum, even tho i have family living in the latter.] there was a vibe there that was just unexpected. now if only they could have a decent football team: villa and city are barely out of the drop zone, and if you go into the wider west midlands conurbation, it's very likely that both wolves and west brom are going back down.
a city that disappoints me greatly these days is abidjan. that was the party place of africa while south africa was under apartheid. after the rise of johannesburg, abidjan could have kept its party-spot status at least on a regional level, but the political situation there has sent everyone fleeing. the IADB moved to tunis [oops], many of the cool party places [and partiers] moved to paris, and those that wanted to stay in africa moved to dakar. i think the dakarois social scene was the only place that actually gained status out of the collapse of cote d'ivoire in general and abidjan in particular.
well, i think that's it for now. i need to get some things ready for my upcoming UK/US trip. i leave on wednesday. i pick up my son's report card at school and then i head straight to the airport. imagine that.
03 February 2011
and lookie... today is six years since i rocked up in this largely mosquito-free city. i moved here because i am just not up to living in fear of skeeters, and after what just happened in brazil, i'll be staying on. yuppers.