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  Pops broke two rules I had come to accept about voting patterns in America, first that black people

were not members of the Republican Party and second that they always voted for the Democratic Party.




Out of America or How I Became a Marxist

By Betty Wamalwa Muragori


I went to study in the USA in the 1980s in the time of what was to me the inexplicable presidency of Ronald Reagan. It was an enigmatic presidency for me for two reasons.  First, at my university and amongst the mostly left leaning circle that I was to hang out with it, I never found anybody who had voted for him.  The second reason was that for me Reagan was clearly challenged on the intellectual front. I could not believe that a nation with all that maedeleo or development, we in Africa so covet, would tolerate some folksy guy who could have come from a darker and more ignorant century.  Certainly the cool left leaning students at C University had no time for Reagan.

In my two years in the US the only person I found who would publicly admit to voting for Reagan was a 65 year old black man, in Albany, Georgia, the father-in-law of my cousin.  Pops, as he was called by his children, in that quintessential African American manner, would routinely proclaim his love for President Reagan, loudly to people, in the presence of his children.  He showed me his Republican Party membership card, much to the mortification of all his children, who murmured about how the old man was finally going senile.  When he whipped out the letter from Reagan his children teased him saying that he only received a letter because he was special, for being the only black Republican on the planet.  

Pops broke two rules I had come to accept about voting patterns in America, first that black people were not members of the Republican Party and second that they always voted for the Democratic Party.  To this day I am still left with the question, “So how did President Ronald Reagan win with such landslide victories twice, if only one black man in the South voted for him?”

America’s Presidents and War

Eight months into America, I had imbibed the paranoid conspiracy theories of my Marxist circle and lost my African ease.  Late one night I turned on the television to find the President of the United States of America, Ronald Reagan ranting and raving in the most alarming manner about the “evil empire”.  He was referring to the former Soviet Union, America’s then mortal enemy country of Cold War days.  And you thought “Axis of Evil” was original? Do you see a pattern here?  This is clearly the language of America’s dumb dumb presidents. 

There is a moment in the deep night when reality becomes suspended and we become susceptible to our original lurking primeval selves.  In this night moment, assorted distorted demons and night creatures with names like Linani, banshees, ghosts, and ghouls rule as reality twists and turns changing shape and resonance.  The howl of a dog becomes a were-wolf.  On the Kenyan coast, that night moment brings with it all manner of djins and mermaids, prowling in their woman shape to steal the souls of victim men. Mating cats evoke the screams of damned souls burning in a Christian hell.  It is easy to believe the bizarre. (I am setting up my excuse for what happened next.)

It was at such a moment in the night that I found Reagan’s ranting so aggressive that as I listened I became convinced that I had only missed the first part of his speech, in which he had finally gone over the edge and declared war on the Soviet Union.  I went to bed that night terrified, in the grip of my imaginary world war.  Before I fell into erratic sleep I obsessed about how I would not be able to get out of the US before the actual war started and that I would die alone in a foreign land.  The next morning I was relieved and abashed to find that all was normal and there was no sign of impending war.   

Twenty years later as I watched the elections that brought another dumb, dumb unfathomable US president into power, George Bush Jr., I realized that my vantage point with its emphasis on linear “development” or maedeleo had warped my thinking.  Until that instant, I had thought development also brings highly enlightened people who would not lie about the presence of weapons of mass destruction to bring pain and destruction to innocent women and children many miles away in another country.  For what, for oil, (I can’t believe that), to get revenge for daddy, (that’s too weird) to get their way (what way, the American way in Baghdad?) To be right about a perspective? (Probably the only right answer outrageous as it may seem.)

For us in this part of the world, things like technological advancement, elimination of hunger, industrial development, foreign vacations, microwaves, one doctor per 100 people, four lane highways, per capita income of US$ 30,000, a new car every two years, pensions, social security, (pick your top ten) all of which come with development also lead to progress, to maendeleo.  And ultimately to enlightenment, the cherry on top of the development cake.  We think, surely in America or Europe there must be such enlightenment that people, ordinary people everywhere must have become immune from the dictates of the baser human urgings like fear, malice, jealousy, racism, intolerance, corruption, violence, the need to declare war for dubious reasons, religious fanaticism, (again pick your top ten).  

It is easy to believe that if we were to invent a machine that would test our level of enlightenment we would find that those with more development have more enlightenment.  This would render them immune from making decisions on lowly unenlightened aspects of being a human being such as uncertainty and fear of tomorrow, fear of the other, dictates of their religion, what the bible says, what the Koran says, what the mullahs say, what the priest says. And finally I understand that this is not the case just because you have more stuff doesn’t mean you are more enlightened.

I now realize of course that human beings may have made huge technological advances such that they can send men to the moon or invent the internet and they will still rely on some form of magic, juju or alchemy for managing their lives.  The advances have not created certainty.  In fact they create even more uncertainty and the threat of a backlash which can take people deeper into the bosom of their juju side.   

From Nairobi to America

Before I went to America I was a student of the biological sciences at the University of Nairobi.  Some one had put the University of Nairobi on the then outskirts of town. But it had not been far enough.  By the 1970s, the outskirts were already part of the central business district and students could make their grievances felt by literally pelting the central business district with sticks and stones.  It was a rioting student’s paradise. During my time, there were numerous riots, demonstrations and campaigns many with echoes of Marxism or some left leaning ideology with slogans like “Down with the Bourgeoisie the proletariat rule!!!” shouted by students as they battled the police in the streets. 

Somehow throughout these riots I was able to remain largely innocent of any ideological infection.  Which is incredibly surprising because we were sent home on at least four occasions over the three years for some issue with ideological overtones.  In total we spent about seven months at home, the male students had to report to their local chief every week but the women were not taken as a threat so we did not have to report. 

The only time I was absolutely certain about what we were striking for was the time we went on strike over food.  We were all tired of the strange cuisine.  The final provocation came when even the minced meat had weevils in it, I kid you not!  For those of you who do not know what weevils are, these creatures are a type of beetle.  And for those of you who may not know this never having been exposed to the wonderful world of entomology here are some facts to fascinate.  Beetles the family of Coleoptera had over 300,000 species in 1980.  Weevils Curculionidae had 65,000 species in the same year.  I am sure many more have been discovered since I studied entomology.  The thing is they are all vegetarian, they will infest beans, legumes, rice, maize, but none feeds on meat.  So I could never get it, how did the weevils get into the minced meat?  Wry uncertain humour, we half joked that they must have used them to season the minced meat. 

Rioting Students

It was always those unserious art students at main campus who started the riots.  We science students with our 36 hour-a-week schedule which was not much reduced from our secondary school schedules, had no time for such frivolous pursuits.  Also we had no ideology to spur us to action and were so out of touch with current issues that we had no idea that our politicians were up to no good and that we should care.  No science lecturer was ever caught in the political crosshairs at least during my time.

The arts students had plenty of time with their 8 hr a week lecture schedule which we sneered at, ideologies such as Marxism, political issues that they cared about and lecturers with a death wish to egg them on. So what would happen is that the arts students had to use threat and force to get us to join their strike.  When a strike started we would be the first target and rather than face the wrath of our fellow students we joined in.  Soon we were caught up in the excitement of the moment and forgot our original reluctance.  We were to be seen wearing jeans and sneakers, running around town being chased by police, stoning unsuspecting motorists in an orgy of anarchy that was surprisingly heady even when the threatened dire consequences were that we would be beaten or raped by the police and the paramilitary, (at this time they still did not use live ammunition) and expelled wherever you had reached in your education.  Were you in your first year or were just about to graduate?  I took part in the running around town part.  I didn’t want to take part in the stoning of motorist in case one of those motorists was my mother or father or one of their friends. 

Twenty years later the reality of becoming a nameless stoned motorist, the ones we used to talk about so casually, the one who lost her eye, “Oh how sad”, “…the one who died” …… uncomfortable silence, the one whose car was burnt and had her leg broken when she tried to jump over a six foot fence hotly pursued by angry students shouting “down with the bourgeoisie, workers unite!” … loud laughter at the image of the heavy set woman trying to jump a six foot fence.  That scene of long ago came to me as I faced a young man holding a stone and about to unleash it on my windscreen. Time stood still. I had driven into a riot of university students.  Have you ever had one of those moments of danger when your life hangs in balance under the specter of deadly violence?  I live in Africa so I have had several.  For me these moments always come with a loud metallic screeching/whistling sound.  A sound that crystallizes danger itself.

From nowhere the moment was interrupted, a student stepped out, and stopped the young man at the last possible moment, for no reason that I can fathom, except that it was not my day yet.  “Drive away!” he shouted urgently at me. I reversed and drove like the devil escaping my moment.  To that nameless student who saved my life and to all those nameless students who have saved other people’s lives just because, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Being Cold in America

I arrived in America in the dead of winter never having experienced winter in my life.  I also went to a Marxist university only having been vaguely aware of this ideology or the concept of ideologies for that matter, so I was green on many fronts.  If my father had known and then been able to believe that he was sending me to America to a Marxist university would he have so happily walked me to the door of the airport with such pride giving me one of his gems to take with me?  I repeated it later to my new boyfriend, starry eyed, in “behold the wisdom of my father, I want to share it with you” moment, only to find that it was Confucius who originated it?  You can guess the one “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”.  I remember laughing and not being embarrassed by the busting of my father’s “original” gem.  You must understand that I had once believed that my father could speak Russian.

It was the cold that almost got me first.  It was February, the dead of winter.  The sixth day I was there, I looked out of the window and the sun was shining off of pristine snow.  I felt joyful at the prospect of warm sunshine on my skin.  I dressed and walked the one km to the university campus.  Only, my calculations did not make sense as I got colder and colder.  Sunshine did not equal warmth here.  The light coat and sweater I had worn were no defense against the bitter winter cold.  20 minutes later I was sitting in the reception room of the University admission block, feeling sorry for myself, trying not to cry as my extremities defrosted painfully, my ears, toes and fingers.  I could have gone home that second if my ticket was not one way.

A Party in America 

Eventually I settled in and made some friends.  I was soon invited to my first party.  When you hear the word “party” it should mean the same thing wherever you are right?  For me at that time it meant dressing up in something sexy and provocative, make-up, jewelry (I still believe secretly that it was I who introduced the whole bling concept to the USA), high heels and looking forward to dancing and meeting gorgeous and dateable guys.  I marvel today at how many eligible men there were to choose from back then at any party, I was always spoilt for choice.

So of course I arrive at the party Kenyan style, dressed to the nines and fashionably late, to make my entrance and to envelope myself with the “whose that girl” factor.  The cache in being remembered translated directly into attentions of at least three of the hottest guys at the party.  And then the routine.  Open the door of the crowded room, stop, framed by the door, hold pose as if looking for someone.  But what you were actually doing is allowing them to look at you, and then step into the room sure of the impression you had created.

I went into routine mode and nearly gagged as I realized just what an overdressed spectacle I was.  One woman was still in the droopy old t-shirt that she had used when we jogged that morning.  The only difference now was that the widening sweat marks under her armpits were not because of the jogging but because of the heat in the room.  I couldn’t believe it! The other students were similarly dressed in old jeans, t-shirts, sweats and ill fitting sweaters.  I was now embarrassed as all eyes turned to me just as I had intended.  By now retreat would only have made me more conspicuous and for longer. Days rather than hours.  I held my head up and deciding to brazen it, walked into the room.  This was only the beginning of my introduction to party etiquette in America. 

Did I mention that I was a geek from University of Nairobi?  I soon learned a new definition of geek because a Nairobi University geek took time out to party and one of our rules was that you never talked about anything remotely related to the courses we were taking during party time.  The two were exclusive.  I don’t remember what we talked about but what we did at parties was dance like mad, and tune and be tuned.  And here in the university in the US life was one continuous seminar without end. 

I joined a group of friends and my face lit up in a smile anticipating delicious banter with that cute guy I had the hots for.  At last the party was the perfect place to advance my intentions with him.  As I stood there awhile I realized that I needed to quickly disappear the smile, it was clearly inappropriate during a discussion about historical materialism, Hegel, Marx, Gramscii.  After 15 minutes looking for an opportunity to make my impression I gave up.  I knew the language. English.  But if you held a gun to my head and asked “Tell me what they are talking about or I shoot” I would have had to let you shoot my brains out.  I had no idea.  I moved to another group of my friends and found them similarly engaged in what can only be referred to as deep intellectual discourse and again I could not understand them. 

My frustration was growing, you must understand what this was like for a loud and voluble person.  This is my only point in mitigation for what happened next.  The third group at last held some promise.  There was a word I found familiar, and as I write what I said, not only do my toes still curl up in embarrassment, twenty years on, but those of my husband as well.  The word was “reactionary”.  I had to seize the moment and make my intellectual mark.  “Oh” I said President Moi is a reactionary, he always reacts to everything” I looked around at the upturned faces with pride at this insight. 

And then I launched into a story about President Moi and his reactions, by way of illustration you understand.  “One time when we were at the university President Moi had gone to India on a State Visit.  By the time he returned it was a week before JM day which is the day a populist member of parliament called J.M. Karuiki had been assassinated 10 years before.  The students always marked this day by demonstrating which would soon deteriorate into riots and running battles with the police.  The university was always closed after the fracas.  This year though we students had gone against the grain and decided that we would mark the day by doing good in the community.  We had decided to establish a J.M. Karuiki Foundation and to clean up slum areas and donate to poor people. So when we heard the president’s declaration even before he set his feet on Kenyan soil that the whole current three years of university would be expelled and “the nation would feel nothing”,  “if we dared riot on this years’ JM Karuiki Day”, we were so outraged that we were simply provoked into action.  We rioted.  And funnily enough for the first time he did not react for the first week.  We then decided that we would riot until he sent us all home.  So we did.”

Many years down the road I am still grateful that they did not burst out laughing.  Instead someone politely said one word “yes, that’s an interesting perspective to the word reactionary, you are quite right President Moi is a reactionary” and the conversation continued seamlessly undisturbed.

Going Home a Feminist

I soon got used to this version of a party American style so much that when I came back home I had a hard time adjusting to the Kenyan approach. More so because I had come back with a head full of ideologies that did not mix well with the ogle fest that are Kenyan parties.   This time I took years to get back on track spending time at parties skulking in corners with the one or two other like-minded people and with a drink in one had and a cigarette in the other, both habits picked up in America and now used to camouflage my despair at the lack of opportunity for rigorous intellectual discourse at these Kenyan affairs.  

Of all the ideologies I picked up the most incompatible with my country was my hard core feminism.  It was not just any ordinary feminism, but one that looked for converts with the fanaticism of a born again Christian from the American Bible-belt out to capture souls in Africa.  And I never missed a chance to advance my mission.  I was a one woman missionary determined to be martyred at the altar of feminism.

Red bull statements that would spur me into action were endless.  “Oh you know women are like that” or “Oh you know women are their own worst enemy”.  My country back then was still so innocent that it did not know that it should hide its chauvinism from view, at least in public.  There were many sexist and misogynist statements said in my hearing by men and women on a daily basis. 

Just so that there would be no room for speculation, I would declare my feminism openly on introduction.  It wasn’t quite, “Hi my name is Sitawa and I am a rabid feminist who is vigilant and looking for opportunities to spring into action in defense of women everywhere by lecturing you into submission for any anti-woman statement that I may detect”.  But it might as well have been.  How I actually introduced myself was “Hello my name is Sitawa and I am a feminist” I said, looking them straight in the eye, daring them to make a joke of my declaration. 

Just in case you might be misled into thinking that there was any irony here and maybe laugh out loud because you found the introduction funny, the clothing and demeanor completed the picture.  I wore  a uniform of black jeans, shapeless t-shirts and sneakers, in the drab universal uniform of feminists at least in the US.  “Appreciate my mind not my behind” is what I meant to say with my whole presentation to protect myself from another little habit I had picked up from the US, an aversion for unsolicited male attention. 

All my friends were innocent.  After I had lectured three or four of them for half an hour each on separate occasions I soon found myself alone.  I wore my aloneness like a badge of honour, seeing it as the inevitable the price paid by any champion of a cause who sticks their neck out.  Nelson Mandela who was still in on Robben Island, Ghandi.  Thank goodness I had seen the film The Loneliness of  a Long Distance Runner I could use the image conjured by the title to console myself when I felt like giving up. 

In an act of rebellion against my society, I smoked openly even in front of my father.  This particular statement was especially effective in establishing my rebel credentials to no one in particular.  When my friends gasped and questioned this particular act as going too far, I had another lecture prepared for them.  “My aunts” I would say from my imaginary soap box, “Up country, in the rural areas smoke and drink so why shouldn’t I?” Some of my aunts do.  In the western part of Kenya women can smoke cigarettes.   Some of my aunts smoke cigarettes but with the fire in their mouths.  I have never seen a man smoke like this and I don’t know why.  I have one particular aunt who is hard smoking and hard drinking, who has always gone drinking with her husband so I just don’t understand the sanctions levied against the so called modern African woman, “read” a woman in the city. Ok so I concede that now that my aunt is eighty she can’t sleep because my father says she sees long lines of women carrying baskets on their heads marching all the time before her eyes day and night.  If it's not long lines of women then it is long lines of insects. 

I have long since quit all those habits I picked up from America.  I gave up picking on every body around me because I realized that I had mistaken being constantly angry and fighting with people who did not agree with my opinion with championing a cause.   Besides it was alienating and exhausting and no one wanted to hang out with me because I was so intense and boring.  When my friends could talk to me again they told me that they had run away from me because I was just plain boring. 

The American South

I went to visit my cousin’s in-laws in the American South in Albany, Georgia for a week and discovered I could not hear so I took to endless grinning and nodding my head.  I left those people thinking I was simple in the head.  But I couldn’t understand them and I soon got tired of asking them to repeat themselves so I withdrew into an African grin of protection and lost my reputation in the process.  They speak English in the South so it wasn’t the language and there was still a language barrier.  The long dragged words that go on seemingly forever lost my short attention span. I found that my mind had wondered before the end so I never heard the finish.  Caaaahhhn aaaaah speeeek to Eyyyyd Coooook is what I thought I overheard a woman in a bank asking.  It was shocking to hear, like somebody caricaturing an American.  I tried not to laugh and asked my cousin-in-law what the woman was saying.  And she translated, “Can I speak to Ed Cook?”

I visited my first flea market on the same visit in the South.  A large African like market selling what we call mitumba in Kenya, in all forms, old clothes and shoes, kitchenware, furniture, as well as more specialized things like vintage clothing (read very old mitumba,) and stuff that was ordinary people’s artistic expression of themselves.  My cousin-in-law introduced me to a little old black woman at a stall selling miscellaneous mitumba as her cousin from Africa. 

“What!” proclaimed the little old black woman,  “But you real pretty, I thought Africans were dark black with kinky hair and big fat noses and mouths but you real fine.” She declared in amazement. 

I was equally astonished at her casual black on black racist stereotype that she spewed, blithely unaware that she should hide it or at least not say it straight to my face. But she was simply the first to air such views.  During my two-week Southern sojourn I soon grew accustomed to hearing similar guileless declarations about some African stereotype that I didn’t fit, from black people.  From questions about where I learnt to dance like that, (I can dance!) to where I had learnt to speak so proper, to my dress sense on and on.

Virtual Segregation in the American South

The other big thing that I experienced for the first time in the US was hard wired virtual segregation.  There were no signs designating white and black zones any where in Albany, Georgia that I saw.  Indeed on the surface all seemed well in race terms.  But even my Republican cousin’s father-in-law made sure he hid his de-segregated business to keep up appearances.  He was in business with a white person because it was a good business cover that allowed him to get white business.  The trick was he had to keep his partnership hidden so that he could get and keep that lucrative white business. He passed himself off as a worker in the business.  I know the logic is challenging.

The two groups occupied the same physical spaces, they ate at the same restaurants, entered all buildings and transport from the same entrance, sat anywhere on buses.  And yet my stranger’s eyes quickly saw through this façade and identified the fault lines of virtual segregation.  The new apartheid still did not allow the twain to commune freely even as they congregated. As soon as I stepped into those spaces I could feel the barriers.  There was a sense of forced togetherness.  If the gap between the two races could speak it would say, “OK we have to share this same physical space but we are not giving up our right to be separate. They can take away our right to segregation but they can’t take segregation out of our hearts.”  It was in what was missing in the interaction between black and white.  There was no ease, peacefulness, insignificance, silence, freedom, love. 

What existed in that gap was tension, a hateful watchfulness and worst of all an embryonic violence that was always ready to grow into fully-fledged adulthood. You could feel it.  This violence ebbed and flowed and hung around like a dark threat. When I was amongst black people everyone was relaxed, very laid back as a people, but in the presence of a group of white people in the segregated spaces there was an all round tensing a watchfulness, an expectation of something unpleasant. 

Black and white people occupied those common public spaces differently too. White people seemed to strut and begrudge black people’s presence.  It was white people who still seemed to be the bona-fide owners of the space.  Black people were the interlopers, but they had no choice, they had to occupy the spaces, otherwise they risked recreating segregation by their absence.  But the sense of threat in those spaces implied that Black people occupied those spaces under peril.  Desegregation had been about pulling down the limits placed on the existence of black people. It was not white people who were fighting to sit in the seats reserved for black people on buses or to use the back only entrances.  Desegregation demands that white people cede space and privileges that define their place in society. 

Race in the North

My experience of race in the American North was not one of absence rather the North was racially clandestine, a state I much preferred.  It gave me freedom to spend many more hours in a day being just another human being.  The colour of my skin was not a constant conscious presence foisted on me by open racial hostility.  Thank you but I am not black, I really am just a person.  I am an African living in Africa so although I have many identities being black is not my premier identity. That is the advantage of growing up black in Africa.

When I brought this to the attention of my Southern black relatives-in-law they made that claim that always bemuses me.  “I like the South they said, the boundaries are clear; people here are not hypocrites like in the North.  I know where I stand here with them.”

“I know where I stand?” What the hell is that?  What I understand from that telling statement is an admission on the part of black people that it’s OK for there to be limits on a black person’s existence.  I never heard a white person say things like that, only black people.  For a person simply because of the hue of their skin to know where he or she could go and what he or she could expect from their world?  In other words there was a limit of possibility which means that there was no possibility at all.  And it was fine for white people to have veto powers over the dreams, scope of existence of black people.  You can dream so much and no more.  You can aspire so far and no further, these are the limits on your movement.  And black people accepted this proscribed world and were happy that they knew their place in this controlled world.  That world was a banned dream which they passed onto their children and this was done with the active connivance of black people.  To know my place? 

I understand how dangerous the world in which black people live in the South.  I imbibed a small part of that fear many thousands of miles away from movies and media reports of the Ku Klux Klan.  So much so that I arrived in America terrified.  For four days I refused to leave my sister’s apartment because I was sure the Ku Klux Klan were going to gun me down.  Living with that dreadful history can skew any one and the wonder is that black people have lived to step out of the shadow of such terrors and nightmares.  The journey has had its negative impact that sometimes their ability to see beyond the boundaries of their terror has been compromised.  This is where Africans can lend their sight when the dreams have been extinguished.  We have the same racial reality because our existence in the world gives us the same reference points.  Yet we live in our own homes largely amongst our own people.  We are not vested in only a racial reality.  Our human reality predominates.  We can fly above “black person negatives” and separate fact from damaging fiction.  A person exposed to these negatives on a daily basis for most of their livee will lose their perspective.  Such an environment can beat down the most-thick skinned, sanguine, optimist man and woman and create an oversensitive “defensive human” who can no longer see the forest for the trees and perceives racism under every bush.  Such an environment can leave people severely embattled and debilitated.  Centuries of actual and virtual lynching that black people are subjected to in the USA will do that.

Psychologically I am rather sensitive. I found the race issue to be intrusive enough in the North where it was not so in your face.  It had me in impact.  I found myself engaged from time to time in what manifested as flash-back-filled fits of mother-less-child weeping sessions.  The kind of crying that was inconsolable, with heaving and copious tears.  The kind that is only done in hiding.  The first time it happened I did not understand what was going on.  From nowhere floods of tears came.  At first they were quite frequent every three months or so.  Soon the stretches between one bout and another grew in months and at the end they stopped.  I had stopped expecting more out of this country.

What were they, they were, silent tears of rage and despair at the seemingly unseen-with-the-naked-eye accumulation of incidences of racism that encountered me on a daily basis.  My mother has always told me that I am too thin-skinned, I let things get too easily under my skin.  And it’s true.  I just let the incidences seep into my subconscious.  I never could speak out at them.  I had no skills to deal with them in the moment.  The moment of action would be long past before I recognised what had just happened.  And some were subtle only discernable in the pattern my subconscious registered as I remained occupied in the hunt for that cut price designer shoe that I desired and could afford on my student stipend.  It wasn’t until it had long happened again and again from store to store in a single day that I recognized what was happening.  The only black person in the group of friends being singled out for kindly help again and again. 

posted 1 July 2007

Betty Wamalwa Muragori is especially interested in how Africans are constructing new identities as they redefine their place in the world.  She believes in the power of words.  She has a BSc degree from the University of Nairobi and MA in Environment from Clark University in Worcester Mass. USA.  Currently Betty works for an international conservation organization in Nairobi, Kenya.

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Betty, thanks ever so much for your wonderful creative essay "Out of America or How I Became a Marxist." I was laughing throughout. You are a wonderful storyteller. I hope I learn much from your skills. I too hate to be a bore. I learned certainly about my America through your fresh African eyes, which sees the humorous idiocy of many aspects of our lives. I do hope many others will read you as well and be refreshed. That is, step back from their present consciousness and see their worlds again, as you did when you returned to Kenya, and finally threw off your American training. Do stay in touch. I will always welcome your writings -- Rudy

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Dear Rudy,

Thank you so much for your kind words.  You are my inspiration!  I adore your writing as well and I am learning so much interestingly that I too have a unique voice that I can share with people.  The pieces you write about your life are awesome.  It is like I can reach out and touch you  and your family many miles away. Thank you for sharing. --Betty

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#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Exporting American Dreams

 Thurgood Marshall's African Journey

By Mary L. Dudziak

Thurgood Marshall became a living icon of civil rights when he argued Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court in 1954. Six years later, he was at a crossroads. A rising generation of activists were making sit-ins and demonstrations rather than lawsuits the hallmark of the civil rights movement. What role, he wondered, could he now play? When in 1960 Kenyan independence leaders asked him to help write their constitution, Marshall threw himself into their cause. Here was a new arena in which law might serve as the tool with which to forge a just society. In Exporting American Dreams: Thurgood Marshall's African Journey (2008) Mary Dudziak recounts with poignancy and power the untold story of Marshall's journey to Africa

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice.

"Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."Lisa Adkins, University of London

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Laying Down the Sword

Why We Can't Ignore the Bible's Violent Verses

By Philip Jenkins

Commands to kill, to commit ethnic cleansing, to institutionalize segregation, to hate and fear other races and religions—all are in the Bible, and all occur with a far greater frequency than in the Qur’an. But fanaticism is no more hard-wired in Christianity than it is in Islam. In Laying Down the Sword, “one of America’s best scholars of religion” (The Economist) explores how religions grow past their bloody origins, and delivers a fearless examination of the most violent verses of the Bible and an urgent call to read them anew in pursuit of a richer, more genuine faith. Christians cannot engage with neighbors and critics of other traditions—nor enjoy the deepest, most mature embodiment of their own faith—until they confront the texts of terror in their heritage. Philip Jenkins identifies the “holy amnesia” that, while allowing scriptural religions to grow and adapt, has demanded a nearly wholesale suppression of the Bible’s most aggressive passages, leaving them dangerously dormant for extremists to revive in times of conflict.

Jenkins lays bare the whole Bible, without compromise or apology, and equips us with tools for reading even the most unsettling texts, from the slaughter of the Canaanites to the alarming rhetoric of the book of Revelation. Teaching Genocide

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

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update 19 June 2012




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Related files:   Queen Africa (and other poems)  Dangerous Abroad   Blue Eyed Dolls in Africa   How I became a Marxist  An African Out in the World