I am black. I am African. I am not African American. I have not lived in America for long enough to understand her.
All throughout highschool, when issues of social justice were coming to the forefront of
conversations (both in classrooms and outside them), it was extremely easy and almost fun to
talk about America’s “original sin”, the effects of slavery and what we all imagined meaningful change could hypothetically look like.
I came to the U.S.A for the first time in 2019, eager to begin my studies at Bennington. I
recognize my privilege in that my mother was able to travel with me and we were even able to make a vacation out of it. Her younger brother has lived in South Bay, Los Angeles for the last 20 years so our plan was to spend a week with him and his family, a day with her kid-brother in Austin-Texas, then finally make the big trip to campus for the first time.
Rap culture filled a hole that began to form as I entered my teenage years. In highschool (a
boarding school), my friends and I would wake up at 3AM to listen to Kendrick Lamar’s
album,“Damn”, the minute it was released. Rap music was referenced by many of my classmates in English and Philosophy classes and outside of classes it was played at parties, sports events, in showers and the library. Kendrick Lamar was my favorite artist; consequently, you can imagine my excitement that my initial experience of this Great Land, to be in his city.
Day one in Los Angeles. I took a walk around my Uncle’s neighborhood and did not see a black person living there. On my second day, I decided to go to the barber shop and for the most part it was typical until I opened my mouth. “Oh! you from Africa?” the bald black man replied to me saying I was from Kenya. “Wow, the motherland huh”, I did not know how to react. This for me marked a stark difference between my identity and his. To many the untrained eye, that man and I are extremely alike. After that interaction I realized he was an alien to me the same way I was an alien to him. I drink hot masala tea every morning, religiously and he likely drinks “sweet tea” on hot afternoons to cool down; my grandparents teach me about traditional rites and their up-country homes whereas his grandparents may tell him intimate stories of civil unrest and protest. I am a hardcore Manchester City Football Club fan while he is a “Die-hard Oakland Raider”.
We are not the same.
This gulf is something I struggle with. Is it possible for me to immerse myself in African
American culture—which I enjoy so deeply—as a foreigner? When our only commonalities are skin colour, hair textures and the day-to-day perceptions by paler hued people, it is easy to feel like you do not belong when you are supposed to. Without other African diaspora one can relate with, my dear culture began to exist in a restricted bubble, only shared over the phone with old-friends and when teaching windows of culture to those interested enough to prod.
Now more than ever black solidarity has proven its strength against monolithic and oppressive forces across the globe; the fire of racism has been fought with water—not fire—in reprisal. In our pain and tussle, we are united. Enduring the Black Lives Matter protests from my home across the Atlantic helped bridge this gulf for me. Not fully, however.
My name is Gregory Wahome, I am a third term student concentrating on Political Economy. I love food and stand up comedy, ergo I will leave you with a joke:
I was running in a Marathon but about halfway through the race all the other runners were cut off by falling rocks. I guess you could say I won by a landslide.