Racism: Save your tears, Vanessa!

  • I rarely write about such topics on my blog nowadays. Not because am afraid of being labeled an angry black woman ( don’t give a hoot, call me whatever) but because the anger just drains my energy.
  • What you are about to read is based on my experience in Europe as a black woman and a former journalist (in Europe) whose work has in the past been used to push an agenda without my knowledge!

If you keep up with international news, I’m sure by now you have heard or read about the Ugandan climate activist who has accused a news agency of racism and “erasing a continent”.

This was after she was cropped out of a picture featuring leading young climate change campaigners. 23-year-old Vanessa Nakate had attended a press conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland alongside several other climate activists, including Greta Thunberg.

When I started typing out this article, I contacted former colleague, Stephen Derwent Partington (we never really met but read each other’s articles. I assume he read my scandalous tiny gossip articles). This is because I remembered that a week before this whole debacle, he had started a very interesting debate on this climate change agenda. His greatest worry is that climate change activism might be the next white-led, racist ‘conservationism’. He wondered how we, as Africans, could grow such awareness and action without it being exclusively sanctioned and owned by others.

It was through this conversation that I heard of Vanessa for the first time. Open Institutes founder, Al Kags questioned Greta’s sudden interest in Africa. Was to fill up her bank account? Writer Kingwa Kamenchu laughed it off as a ‘free trip and Ted Talk’ opportunity.

Greta, has been criticized here in Europe as a brained washed child pushing adults agenda. And what is the adult’s agenda? To hike fuel prices allegedly! I really don’t know where I stand with this as most of these allegations are made by right-wing populists.

Which now brings me back to Kingwa Kamenchu’s point. I know Vanessa is the ‘victim’ here but are her intentions really pure? Does she really have the interests of those poor people, she claims lost their homes back in Uganda due to climate change, at heart? Or is she the Greta Thunberg of Africa chasing the coin and fame? Do I sound bitter and jealous at this point?

As an African, living in Europe, this issue reminded me of a few relatable examples I have been through. Most of them I could have avoided by researching and listening to black people who had been in Europe before me.

For instance, did she, the people around her or even her guardian’s research before ‘allowing’ her to travel. Did they at least prepare her for this or any similar experiences that may arise when you are abroad as a black person? Or did they just coach her on the right words to say when she got to the conference? Before you talk about a 23-year-old being an adult, please think about the decisions you made when you were that age. Climate change is a very touchy subject. I have seen people end friendships over this. I totally appreciate her efforts given that 6 out of 10 Ugandans, according to the Afro barometer survey; understood the term. That means that she indeed has contributed towards something. However, does she really understand how we are viewed out here? After watching the short video, I got the impression of an innocent girl who didn’t anticipate racism. No one does and even when they do, it takes a while before you finally accept the painful reality.

We live in a world where Black history in shamelessly erased, our heroes like Martin Luther King demonised and painted as violent. A world where runway models of colour have been treated differently and only had their stories highlighted only when they are involved in scandals like Naomi Campbell. Surely, we have all seen what has happened to big names like Serena Williams and even Meghan Markle getting more coverage over shady stories. Closer home, you forget that even Mt Kenya is credited to a German man as if Kenyans who lived there before he arrived in 1949 did not see it.

I was talking to another former colleague based in Sweden and he poured out his experiences. He is a lecturer in one of the main universities in Sweden and he complained about not being recognised the same way his colleagues are when there is a major achievement. This has also been my reality for the last three years. I have not been cropped out of any photos yet but learned how to sit back and allow others to take credit for my achievements. It doesn’t reduce my oxygen and this is not my home!

I have also found myself in a situation where I was ignored while standing between two white people. We went to a spa and the owner only shook hands with the white people yet I was about to give them business. I kept my money. Another instance I entered a makeup shop and they refused to serve me. I later contacted the manager who asked me whether I wanted money in order to stop ‘harassing them’. You can’t pay for dignity, I told them. Or when I attended a conference where the white women talked about getting into an initiative to ‘save Africa’. When I questioned that, they offered me a position on the board of their upcoming initiative. There are many cases of White Savior Industrial Complex in general which don’t accommodate the idea of Africans having a voice too. For instance, having photos of starving African children on chewing packets being more ideal than posting Vanessa’s photo. I think this should be a great example both to her, her parents and Africans in general. We are not welcome to the table. And when we are, we should only have leftovers!

One thought on “Racism: Save your tears, Vanessa!

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