Health & Fitness

Racism and human mind

Contrary to what we had been told to expect, the European boys were just like us.
Contrary to what we had been told to expect, the European boys were just like us. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Q “What exactly goes on in the mind of a racist? Is it some sort of a hereditary condition?”


In the early 50s, my grandfather often took me on a bus ride in the city of Nairobi. The central bus station at the time was called Hardinge Street, and was located where the Hilton Hotel stands today. Kimathi street is the old Hardinge Street.

Other than the fact that the buses ran on a clearly stated time table, a number of things are remarkable about the old City of Nairobi. The bus number seven took us to King George Hospital VI, now Kenyatta National Hospital. The same bus goes to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH). Bus numbers have hardly changed! The thing that has changed is that the buses no longer have a time table, are bashed in all parts of the body and paint is peeling off.

The seating arrangement has also changed and passengers sit where they like. In my days with my grandfather, white people sat at the front near the driver, and their seats had red cushions. Indians and Arabs sat in the middle of the bus, and we the Africans sat on wooden seats at the rear. Entry into the bus was orderly. White people went through the front, black people through the back. There was in other words, segregation of the people based only on their race.


We, as the natives of Kenya, were treated as an inferior group of people. White people were treated as a superior group only because they were white. Our forefathers fought and won independence to stop this segregation.

In 1964, the year after independence, a number of boys (and girls) were, by order of the new independence government, allowed into “European” schools. I was admitted to the Delamare School, now the Upper Hill School.

Contrary to what we had been told to expect, the European boys were just like us. Some were clever, and many did not seem to understand what the teacher was teaching. Within a few weeks of joining “their school”, we easily beat them in maths and science.

By the second and third term of Form One, we beat them in their own language — English! This was a revolution in the country. Black boys were beating white boys in their own language. The sports arena was even worse. Our boys excelled in football, athletics and even rugby. Our world was on its head. Race did not seem to confer any superiority (or inferiority) on the boys we made contact with in school.

Our fathers had, during the second World War made similar discoveries. In the trenches of the war, white men felt cold (or hot) just like black people. When injured, their blood was red just like ours, and when in pain, they cried. Our fathers had not come across white men who died like us, or who had the need to use the toilet. The white man had lived on a pedestal. During the war he became a man. The myth of the white man being similar to God died in the trenches of Burma and Abyssinia (Ethiopia).

Although the independence movement had started in the 20s in the hands of men like Jomo Kenyatta, it went into full throttle when Africans came back from the war to tell the tales of the weakness of white men in the battlefield. Kenyans knew they could defeat the white man.

On August 28, 1963, a few months before our independence, Martin Luther King Jnr. delivered his famous speech titled “I have a dream”. For the American people, that dream became a reality in 2008, when a young man with Kenyan roots became the President of the US.

Barack Obama represented the end of racist practices in the US, and perhaps the rest of the world. That was hope. The reality is different in the US, and other parts of the “free” world.

The number of people in prison in America reflects this reality. More blacks are in prison than one would expect from their population. Access to healthcare, education and employment is skewed against the same people. A similar story can be told in South Africa, many years after Nelson Mandela was set free.

So, what drives this racist type of behaviour?

We could have asked Adolf Hitler who killed six million Jewish people. Is it fear, need to dominate, paranoia or simply human greed? The jury is still out. Time and distance don’t seem to give us any easy answers.