Learning the American Language of Racism

Originally from Kenya, Cornell English professor Mukoma Wa Ngugi, in a piece for Ebony.com, reflects on experiencing and discussing racial prejudice in the United States. 

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Originally from Kenya, Cornell English professor Mukoma Wa Ngugi, in a piece for
Ebony.com, reflects on experiencing and discussing racial prejudice in the United States.

... Having recently (at that point) come to the US from Kenya, where the majority is Black African, understanding racism was at first an intellectual exercise. Yes, I knew being called "n*gger" was a fighting insult, in the same way I knew then that racists don't stop to distinguish being the various shades of black, and that the fight against racism was my fight too. But racism had no power over me. It could not yet dent my identity enough to make me do something outside my character that I wouldn't have ordinarily done.

To be sure, there is racism in Kenya, mostly against Kenyan Indians, and a lot of ethnic tension and discrimination. They both take the same road of stereotyping and vilifying the other. So the idea of judging and hating someone based on their skin color or ethnic background was not new to me. But still, American racism was like a new language that would take time to acquire. I had to learn the meaning of phrases like "bell curve," "welfare queen," "not trustworthy," "lack of ambition," "take back our country" and others that in sum would allow me to hear what I previously couldn't.

At the same time, this language was accompanied by violent acts against Black people, Black men in particular, to fast-track my learning to understand and speak racism. In the 1990s, there was the Rodney King police beating, the O. J. Simpson trial that ran and played out along the fault lines of race, and the police murder of Amadou Diallo.

Read Mukoma Wa Ngugi's entire piece at Ebony.com.

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