Wailing with My Brothers in Garissa and Eastleigh in Kenya
The latest mayhem and destruction of the Somali community in Kenya speaks to deeper issues than meets the eye. It speaks to the pathologies of oppression and subjugation of a society that once enjoyed honor and respect among its equals. The condition in which Somalis found themselves since the end of colonialism is explained better by Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” and Paul Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” The Somali person is an oppressed “nigger.”
The word nigger (with small “n”) is not supposed to refer to one’s skin color. It does not either refer to how dark one’s complexion is. Nor does it denote the texture of one’s hair; it does not even speak to one’s culture or way of life; rather, the concept of “nigger” in its postmodern world speaks to the position one occupies in the social ladder of global citizenship.
Is the Somali person the new “nigger” of the Horn of Africa as much as the narrator in Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” was the “nigger” of America (Harlem) prior to the 1960s civil rights struggle of that country? No doubt the daily grinding and experiences of contemporary Somali in the Horn of Africa and a Negro in Harlem in the 1960s are similar, if one can only conveniently ignore the time difference and historical context in which these two groups exist.
A “nigger” in America in the 1960s was invisible in the same token a Somali “nigger” is invisible today in the Horn of Africa, the latter being invisible even to a gun touting dark skinned Kenyan soldier or Ethiopian peasant. To make his/her presence relevant, a ”nigger” works hard and follows orders as if those attributes matter.
But successive stories coming from Eastleigh or elsewhere (in South Africa, South Sudan, London, Columbus, Minneapolis, Toronto, and elsewhere) didn’t help the Somali “nigger” get respect and recognition. Branding shops with local names, to augment ones pride, such as “Khatumo” in South Africa or Little Mogadishu in Minneapolis did not help a Somali “nigger” escape the rage of those who want to brand him/her.
In “Invisible Man,” Ralph Ellison intimates us with how the “nigger” keeps moving from one bad condition to another, from the fire to the frying pan, ultimately never finding the nurturing environment s/he searches. Ellison writes:
“Arriving in New York City, the narrator is amazed by what he perceives to be unlimited freedom for blacks. He is especially intrigued by a black West Indian man (later identified as Ras the Exhorter) whom he first encounters addressing a group of men and women on the streets of Harlem, urging them to work together to unite their black community. But the narrator's excitement soon turns to disillusionment.”
Likewise, many attempts to bring an end to the Somali condition also failed so far with their collective condition perhaps worsening with the specter of a return to clans wars much higher now than in the last 22 years.
To those Somalis who escaped the civil war of Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia have soon discovered that neither Nairobi’s Estleigh nor South Africa’s ghettoes to be any better. Some even searched dignity as far as London, Toronto, Minneapolis, Washington, or South Africa. But they faced death and mayhem. According to South African Police records, for example, one Somali “nigger” is killed each day.
To be a “nigger” is more than a geographic condition. It is a pitiful and abject condition where one faces certain unique experiences that come as systemic abuse of the helpless in the form starvation, mayhem, torture or lynching, burning and looting of the powerless’ hard earned wealth.
Because of his/her social and historical conditions, people are nauseated about a “nigger’s” existence. Even the recently liberated South Africans are hostile to the once proud son of Somali.
A “nigger” by nature is being given or assigned to goals that are not attainable or...
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