I was in the kitchen one evening preparing dinner when two of our sons; 14 and 20 year olds walked to the kitchen and said “Mom we are going for a 20 minutes run in the neighborhood.” I looked at them and almost not sure how to respond. I said to them, “Sons, it is getting dark.” Our 14 year old quickly said: “Mom, we will be fine.” I said to them, “It is not safe for you two black kids to walk in this neighborhood. You haven’t seen any black family around here except us.” They stood there looking at me and not believing what they heard. At that moment, I decided that it was time to have this crucial conversation with them. Think for a moment, if you were in Kenya and these kids wanted to take a walk and you said “we are the only Kisiis’ in this neighborhood”, it will sound out of context, very disturbing or outright crazy. In this case however, it’s reality.
Racism in America is alive and well. Should we as Kenyans in the diaspora be concerned about the safety of our kids and grandkids growing up in this country regardless of which neighborhoods you live in? Our children are going to drive on the highways; they are going to be in schools and work places that will expose them to racial discrimination. To ensure their success, we must prepare our children by openly talking with them about race, ethnicity, religion and bigotry. Such preparation will help them respond diligently when confronted with racial issues. Many years ago I heard people say “THIS NYEUTHIS” are crazy, referring to African Americans. In my mind, I didn’t think it was a big deal and there are many other things we used to brush under the mat, all the while thinking that it’s not us, it happens to the African Americans. As it has turned out, we are not considered different but seen as African Americans or black people of African descent. With this label, you will be treated the same, because of the color of your skin.
We have witnessed our own people discriminated at the work place and when they have raised discrimination concerns, human resources in cahoots with managers turns these issues into performance instead. So they are put on performance plans and the next thing you know they are without a job. So we need to familiarize ourselves more on how to identify racial discrimination at work and how to handle it before it gets out of control. What about our kids? What should they know as they grow up? Who do our kids say they are; Black/African Americans or Kenyans Americans? In my own experience, I have told our children that they are Kenyans American. My argument is simple, I flew here from Jomo Kenyatta airport to the USA voluntarily. The circumstances in which you arrived in the USA may not be the same as mine but our history is different compared with the history of African Americans in this country. I will let you judge on what you tell your kids. We should be teaching our sons and daughters and grandchildren that bigotry is a real issue and prepare them to respond appropriately when confronted with this reality.
If we let our children live in fear by what they see on TV, they will be discouraged from working hard and pursuing their dreams in this great Nation. Our prayers over our children should be accompanied by our wisdom. Our children need to know that the color of their skin cannot be a hindrance to achieving their dreams. Give them the assurance they need and provide examples of great people who have faced discrimination in life but have overcame through resilience and purpose. Equipping these kids involves total parental guidance at every stage of their lives. Parents never retire being parents. So our responsibility is to be there for our children, spend time with them, call them and get involved in their lives.
When our son was 6 years old, I took him to play soccer. I had carried a book to read while I watched him play. I took my eyes off the field occasionally and read my book. During time out he walked right to where I was seating and said “Mom do you realize you are the only Mom reading a book while all other parents are watching and cheering the team? I apologized, put my book in my purse and learned that it’s important to be present, especially when you have your child playing in the field. Being present is a habit I have since learned to practice and still learning. Spending time with our kids does not mean having company over with other kids but really taking time to take them out for dinner, seating down for a good movie or go to the movies together. We can win our children over if we try to understand their generational approach and way of reasoning. Church should not be the only place we are found with our children or grandchildren.
We can catch a lot of bad habits, fear or troubling tendencies if we become friends with our children. Let our children be free with us, it’s easy to be free with other people’s kids and know whose children are in trouble while we blindly ignore what is going on in our children’s lives. Let us pray for all diaspora children with sincere concern and love. In this life what really matters is how we love other. Let us pray for all our children and believe God that our children will be the heads and not the tails for God’s glory.