Episode 1: From Racism to...?
America is known for a lot of things, like big lively cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. It is known for a brutal history and nosing around in the politics of other countries. It is also known for its racism. As an African American, the racist history and climate of America was one of the biggest factors I took into consideration when I decided to move. I wanted to go somewhere where the majority of the population was Black, the weather was warm, and the food was good. My boyfriend at the time was a Ugandan and we agreed that when we got married we would make our life in Uganda.
I visited this country on 3 different occasions for about 1 month each time and fell in love. It was a tropical paradise. The weather was perfect, the people were friendly and welcoming, parties and festivities were numerous, and the food was natural, tasty, and nutritious. But above all, I would not be a minority anymore- almost everyone everywhere was Black.
I moved to Kampala about 7 months ago, so I am still new here. I am slowly learning words and phrases in Luganda. When I move around independently I fit in for the most part. My skin is brown, I dress somewhat conservatively, and I am mild mannered. But when some Ugandans in the service industry, most likely with less formal education, look at me or speak to me, they notice that something is a bit off, yet they cannot quite put their finger on it.
Maybe she’s from the west, maybe she’s a “sama”, maybe she thinks she’s better than us. She doesn’t kneel to a muganda man so she is probably not a muganda, her clothes are a bit too casual- lacking the British influence. Her skin is light. I’ve spoken to her in Luganda and she has replied as if she hasn’t understood a word I’ve said.
Many just ask.
“What language do you speak?”
“I can only speak English”
“Where are you from?”
“America. The United States”
That is not a sufficient answer.
“Where are your people from?”
“I’m African American”
Responses differ wildly at this point.
“Oh,” they might think they understand. “So your parents are Ugandan.” They say with confidence.
“No, I’m African American. My parents were born in St. Louis, my grandparents were born in America. My great grandparents were born in America. My ancestors were born in America for the last 400 years. Before that they were kidnapped during the transatlantic slave trade- mostly from different west African countries- and the families were all mixed up and separated.”
“Oh. So where were those ones from?”
Upon hearing that I am African American a variety of conversations have ensued. Ones where people chastise me for my peoples bad, lazy, or ungrateful behavior. Ones where people express ardent admiration for how much swag my people have. Ones where people empathize with the difficult history we’ve had in the last 400 years. Ones where people simply happily exclaim “Barack Obama!”
But more often than not, they don’t ask. They assume. They assume that I am Uganda from some light skinned tribe that they find off putting for some historical reason that I am ignorant of. Or they assume I am Uganda and went to America for a few months and came back thinking I am better than everyone now and I refuse to speak any other language than English. I guess it’s one pitfall of the overall privilege of fitting in. It was a hard and ironic lesson, but I realized I’d be treated better here, in Uganda, if I were White.