As an African child I grew up romanticising America, and now I am in mourning

Nini Mappo
Posted July 9, 2020 from Kenya
Photo credit: Economic times. India times
The Green Card now no-longer feels like the sure promise of a life of plenty in safety. Photo credit: Economic times

The green card. That was everyone’s dream and scoring one was like winning the lottery, but better. Growing up in rural Kenya 2 ½ hours drive outside Nairobi, we spoke of America in reverent tones. America was generous. She was kind. She sent plenty of USAID in corn oil and dried yellow corn to keep our bellies full during times of drought and famine.

America also sent missionaries to look after the orphaned and the destitute, some doing God’s work, some using the trust that goes with the territory as a cover for more sinister motives. And when the AIDS epidemic hit crisis levels in early 2000's, America stepped in through PEPFAR with ARVs, nutrition and health education. As a result, AIDS ceased to be as scary and a HIV diagnosis was no longer viewed as a death sentence. America was great. We all wanted a green card to go to wonderful America where corn and corn oil would be on tap, and we'd never go hungry again.

Why am I here? My husband rightly observed that I have not blogged for a long time, to which I replied that I have been in mourning and lacking in inspiration. You see, after publishing a post about the immense anger gliding the globe, I set out to educate myself about why people were this angry. Because it seemed to me that the anger had been simmering for a long, long time. As soon as there was a catalyst, it rained anger, and poured anger, and as it thundered, its reverberations were felt in every continent.

"Revenue from traffic misdemeanour fines on the black population alone was funding 25% of the police department's operating costs. 25%!" Dr. Carol Anderson, 'White rage'

I therefore decided to come here to process my mourning. You see, writing is what I do to declutter my mind, a mind currently clouded by an overwhelming sadness over the America I have discovered in the last two weeks. It is an America that got me wondering about the politics of power and diplomacy that drives a country to solve other country's problems while working hard to consciously (it seems) create greater problems in their own home-base. I want to think of America as the benevolent, all knowing ultimately good god-father of my growing up years. An imagery that now, like Humpty Dumpty, lies scattered in pieces, with no prospect of being glued together again.

I speak of America's systematic injustices to her Afro-Americans. These are deeply embedded in her difficult history bolstered by human capital and therefore too complex for me to explain. But the 13 year old village girl inside keeps asking me; "Why did America cross oceans to 'save' Africa while grinding the Africans in America to the ground? And where is the moral integrity in traversing the seas in search of poor Africans in need of help, while systematically impoverishing the ones at their front door?"

I thought it sensible to hear what both black and white Americans have to say about race at home, and how glorious America found herself in her present social disarray. So I listened to Dr. Carol Anderson, a Charles Howard Chandler professor of African American Studies at Emory University who researches public policy on race, justice and equality. I thought to myself, 'She is an academic and not a newsman piecing this and that story together. Besides, since race, justice and equality are her areas of expertise, what she says must have some credibility.' I can only say that the sprinklings of humour in her talk makes the shocking statistics and stories she tables out easier to absorb.

"in the space of 17 years, employment among Afro-Americans had dropped from 70% to 28%." Paul Vischer, 'Race in America'

I also listened to Paul Vischer, a writer and animator who has raised many American children through his Veggie Tales franchise. His info-graphics brought Dr. Anderson's stories and other statistics to life in a way that makes one simultaneously mad and sad. I had never heard of these two people prior, but they are resolute about fighting racial inequalities and injustices in America. They also thrust me into mourning the America of my childhood and brought me here, with you. What a pity that it is presently against the law to give hugs, almost across the world!

At the height of the George Floyd protests, I remarked to some friends how whenever police brutally occurs in America, people protest but nothing ever changes. I wondered whether all that was needed was another Martin Luther King, another human rights movement to address current challenges.

But as I engaged with the information in these videos, the American problem intensified. Because if these statistics, backed by the policies of the very government that passed the human rights bills into laws are anything to go by, then a 21st century human rights movement of the 1960’s magnitude might not accomplish much.

The situation is almost comparable to the infamous British colonial rule. In Kenya for instance, the crown left when it was good and ready, though we Kenyans like to believe that it was because of the fight for independence. Similarly, when British India was no longer a viable colony, the Brits left in haste. Such was their haste that their exit triggered social chaos and bloodshed of unparalleled magnitude during peace times, dividing British India into the present day nations of India and Pakistan, along religious lines.

"The policy is designed to destroy African-Americans' access to the ballot box." Dr. Carol Anderson, 'White Rage'

My proposition therefore is that, in the same way that the British relinquished their colonies by choice, and not so much because their colonies resisted colonial rule, the U.S government of the ‘60s were forced to pass human rights laws they were not prepared to uphold. They therefore immediately made new policies to frustrate those human rights gains and crush the Afro-American fighting spirit.

If that be so, then what is needed is not another human rights movement. It is for the American government to honour what the '60s accomplished. It is for this government to begin valuing the lives and livelihoods of its African population and reflect that into its policies on education, housing, employment and the rule of law. It is for the same government to care when black schools rank at 10 out of 140 points in infrastructure, resources, and curriculum delivery and invest into these schools programs that can bring learning to par with most of the white schools. Because if education is power, then this power has been systematically taken away from Afro-Americans by the very government that purports to protect them.

"We treated the drug problem not as a health issue, but one of criminality and therefore militarised our response." Paul Vischer; 'Race in America'

And the US federal investment into the brutal war on drugs and the problems created by that? Inside, it plays out like the most strategic conniving by any government against her own citizens. It exemplifies an American-made social problem, created by them that have power and sustained by that power. I'm sorry if I've lost you, but one must engage with the content by Vischer and Dr. Anderson above to understand what Americans believe is the problem with 'the war on drugs'. I did not make it up.

Understandably, there is a direct correlation between the war on drugs and police brutality towards Afro-Americans. And Although there are public demands to demilitarise the American police that is in my view, hardly the complete solution. True, it might bring a semblance of safety to Afro-Americans in the streets, but it will do little to keep them economically empowered and therefore psycho-emotionally safe in America. This is an enormous problem! And hence I am mourning.

"the outstanding lawman of the year claimed to have recorded each drug transaction on his leg, but to have washed away the evidence when he showered." Dr. Carol Anderson, 'White rage'

And what exactly am I mourning? I mourn all those Afro-American hopes that have been dashed to pieces, crushed into pulp by 'the system'. I mourn all those loves that could have thrived in safety and plenty, the healthy thriving families that might have been had things been different. I mourn for all those hearts beating arrhythmically, in both fear and despair. I mourn the loss of lives, both physical death and psycho-emotional death.

I mourn the concept of American freedom on three levels: a freedom to subjugate others and a freedom built on the subjugation of her own citizens. I mourn this faux freedom that seems a mockery of the very people that ought to feel liberated by it. And that in the land of the brave and home of the free!

And I mourn the realisation of this metaphor; that the white policeman's pressure on George Floyd's neck that deprived him of air and eventually led to his death, that pressure has been, metaphorically speaking, applied to Afro-Americans on all aspects of life, suffocating their dreams, their purpose, their ambitions and their contributions to society in full view of everyone. And even so, the world might still finds ways to blame them for having had the nerve to suffocate.

"I do not wish the world to be colourblind, for colour enriches and beautifies! But for the world to see each colour in its beauty and brilliance on the mosaic of life. Because if the world were a mosaic with the racial inequalities as they stand, it would be a pale, unfinished monochrome." Something2give.com

While in Brooklyn, New York, in 2009, a Caucasian American came to say hello but really talk about my braided hair. I had landed in JFK airport that morning on my way to Colorado. And if you are in America for the first time and in New York with an 8 hour lay over, you get out of the airport and see New York. So I did.

The admirer of my braids deduced from my accent that I was not an American and said; "You know, they'll respect you more if they realise that you are not an African American". I am only now beginning to understand what he meant then, and it makes me extremely sad and ashamed to think that at the time, I thought of his comment as a compliment.

".... the cache of respectability that racism enjoys in America, in order to thrive." Dr Carol Anderson

Will the Africans in America ever have a fair chance to feel sufficient? Will they ever have a fair chance to feel significant? Will they ever have a fair chance to feel secure? Will they ever have a fair chance to aim for satisfaction? These people who built America, will they ever have a fair chance to belong? When I listen to Vischer and Dr. Anderson and then ask myself these questions, I mourn.

We have neared the end, where one might feel compelled to remind me of all the merits of America. Thank you, but I am all too painfully aware of them and that is why I mourn the perfect America I so romanticised in my childhood. For the America unfolding in my adulthood causes me grief.

Let us therefore save America's merits for a time when we can think of them untainted by this mourning. Because grief, as you know, is linear. That is to say, if life was a circle, then grief would be the thin line of diameter. American merits would be the circumference; momentarily connected to the diameter and their chief purpose would be to define this grief, to set its dimensions in place.

With the 4th of July celebrations still fresh in our memories, I hope that you toasted the America that the world awaits with baited breath; America that is brave enough to make herself, for the first time in four centuries, the land of the free.

Nini.M tells stories at something2give.com, where this story initially appeared. 

This story was submitted in response to Black Lives Matter.

Comments 38

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Queen Sheba D Cisse
Jul 09
Jul 09

Dear Nini,
good to hear your take on USA, and how you have experienced many different aspects of the land of "golden pot diversity'!
We all, no matter where we were born should educate ourselves about the country we desire to visit, it's people, culture, politics, etc and so on before we decide to reside there and definitely visit.
I reside in Senegal and also work on both continents to nourish my nonprofit in Senegal and America.
May we not give up on America because millions of our African ancestors contributed too much on this soil fundamentally and more to be experiencing "hell on earth"!
Thank you writing and sharing your story with us and may I say Congratulationsto you!

Mama Queen

Nini Mappo
Jul 09
Jul 09

Thank you Mama Queen for your comment, encouragement and insights. And good on you for what you are doing with your 'not for profit' to build up the lives of others.
Indeed we cannot give up on each other whether as individuals or countries because of particular failings, but instead see what good can be harnessed out of every situation in order to change and grow.

Thank you again and all the best in your venture!

Queen Sheba D Cisse
Jul 10
Jul 10

Thank you very much Nini. M. and keep writing and sharing. Stories inspire others.
More blessings to you,
Mama Queen.

Nini Mappo
Jul 11
Jul 11

You are welcome, and thank you!

Leonida Odongo
Jul 09
Jul 09

Thank you for sharing Nini, it's is quite sad what is happening in America .I concur that prior to the demonstrations and demands for justice happening recently, many the world over knew America to be the land of milk and honey.Of course perspectives have changed especially on what is happening to Black people.

Keep writing sister!

Nini Mappo
Jul 09
Jul 09

Thank you for the encouragement Leonida:) And yes, while people are not as blindsided about the US as before, I believe that there is still a lot of good in America that can be harnessed for the betterment of her African Americans. Because they are not going anywhere, and thinking of things continuing as they are is unconscionable. So we hope:)

Millynairi
Jul 10
Jul 10

Dear Nini,
Thanks for writing about America. Indeed so much has changed in America but I pray that America rises to its feet again.

Nini Mappo
Jul 10
Jul 10

Thank you Milly. And yes, it would be refreshing to see America rising to its feet again, not just for Americans, but also because positive change in America would impact the whole world. So I join you in that prayer!

Hello, Nini,

Welcome to World Pulse! What a joy that new voice from Kenya is rising up!

What well-written piece. I may not be an African, but that coveted green card is true to us Filipinos, too. Your post resonates with me, how America was a hero to our nation in so many ways, but also in shock to know that racism still exists in the land of the free and home of the brave.

I love how you use the George Floyd incident into a metaphor on the reality of Black Americans. You've raised valid questions, especially this, "Why did America cross oceans to 'save' Africa while grinding the Africans in America to the ground? And where is the moral integrity in traversing the seas in search of poor Africans in need of help, while systematically impoverishing the ones at their front door?"

You're such a gifted writer. Please continue writing. We love to know more about you.

Welcome again to our growing sisterhood!

Nini Mappo
Jul 11
Jul 11

Than you Karen for the encouragement and the warm welcome to this platform:)
And it warmed my heart to hear that a Filipino's and a Kenyan's experiences regarding America can converge in one story! It's like an example of how interconnected we are in the world. So thank you for entering my story.

I'm sorry I did not mean to be mysterious. I initially came here to read a story that a friend shared. While looking around the page, the words "share your story, show your solidarity" so captivated me that I created an account on impulse and posted the story without even thinking about a profile. So thank you for that reminder.

I will honour the invitation to be known soon and create a profile. It can be a difficult thing to write about oneself:)
Thank you again for your comment!

Tamarack Verrall
Jul 11
Jul 11

Hello Nini,
You have a great analysis of what is happening in the US. Racism has once again created a giant boiling point and many of us are hopeful that the critical and long overdue changes will be in place through these actions. I live in a much smaller country just north, with both a different and similar history and culture. People here are in the streets demanding an end to racism, too, despite Canada's relatively good reputation globally. What is being discussed now in both countries is the difference between eradicating the police force, and de-funding it, meaning taking millions of dollars to put into mental health services and other solutions to community problems, and leaving funds to do the real police work needed, like supporting women escape violent husbands and stopping other real crimes. Many of us are optimistic that the demonstrations happening now will bring the sea of change we have been wanting and working toward, at the same time fearful for the safety of everyone in the streets. Thank you for such a wise and full perspective on what is going on. There are so many wonderful people in the US and the global spotlight I believe helps a lot.

Nini Mappo
Jul 11
Jul 11

Hello Tamarack,
It's lovely to hear an insider's account of what is happening in the North Americas, thank you for sharing. The fact that there are talks towards change already gives opportunity for optimism, and hopefully these talks will bear fruit that will lead to a ripple effect of community reforms, not only in the US and Canada, but also around the world where racial and gender inequalities persist.

I would also like to thank you because your comment in a way validates my having written this story. Because I thought "why am I writing about America's problems while there are as many problems in Kenya which I have not written about?"
But what you said made me see that if one cares, one can understand. And if one understands, then that caring and understanding powers their voice, regardless of their geographical location. So thank you for taking the time to comment as you did.

Tamarack Verrall
Jul 11
Jul 11

Hi Nini,
I am so glad for your message back. Many of us here are working for an honest and fair global economy. There is no reason for there to be billionaires and people with no means to live comfortably and safely. Both the USA and Canada are complicit. I am so glad we have World Pulse to share news and work together.
Deep sisterhood,
Tam

Nini Mappo
Jul 12
Jul 12

Thank you Tamarack.
I look forward to learning more about this sisterhood, its vision and it's journey so far.

Chidimma
Jul 11
Jul 11

Hello Nini. A big welcome to Worldpulse. Thanks for sharing your perspective on Racism in America. We pray things we changed for the better in future.
Stay bless.

Chidimma
Jul 11
Jul 11

Hello Nini. A big welcome to Worldpulse. Thanks for sharing your perspective on Racism in America. We pray things we changed for the better in future.
Stay bless.
Chidimma

Chidimma
Jul 11
Jul 11

Hello Nini. A big welcome to Worldpulse. Thanks for sharing your perspective on Racism in America. We pray things we changed for the better in future.
Stay bless.
Chidimma

Nini Mappo
Jul 12
Jul 12

Thank you Chidimma for reading my story and for the warm welcome. Blessings to you too.

Elizabeth Ziro
Jul 12
Jul 12

Breathtaking, thank you for sharing Nini. Hopefully you are keeping safe

MUKABA ZAWADI
Jul 13
Jul 13

Thanks for sharing the story

Nini Mappo
Jul 13
Jul 13

Thank you for reading Mukaba.

Jul 13
Jul 13
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
Hawwah
Jul 13
Jul 13

Dear Nini,

Your article is not only articulate but dissectional, detailed and mind blowing.
Thank you very much for sharing with us these intriguing details that we do not know of.
It is a shame that these issues are still lingering decades after they are supposed to have been in history.
But we must not look the other way or relent in speaking out.
Our voices are our greatest weapons.
I will be sending you a message inbox.

In love and sisterhood,
Hawwah.

Nini Mappo
Jul 16
Jul 16

Thank you for reading my story and engaging with the issues tabled out in it.
It came as a shock to me as well just how bad racial inequalities are in the US. But at least we now know what battles need to be fought and what is at stake.
So you're right, we keep raising our voices until we can raise them in celebration.

esther atosha
Jul 14
Jul 14

hello dear !
what your journey is amzing .thank you for sharing this story .welcome to the house

Nini Mappo
Jul 14
Jul 14

Hello Esther,
Thank you for the warm welcome, and for reading my story.

jordsing
Jul 14
Jul 14

Nini,

Thank you for sharing your story! I live in Brooklyn and am all too aware of some of the challenges we face as a country and a people around racism. My hope is that things will continue to change, which will only happen if we continue to shed light on experiences as you have.

Thank you for sharing.

- JS

Nini Mappo
Jul 16
Jul 16

Thank you for reading Jordsing. Yes, let's continue in hope...

Pam A
Jul 15
Jul 15

Nini, you write so beautifully. Thank you for being vulnerable enough to share your thoughts with us. Please keep sharing!!

Nini Mappo
Jul 16
Jul 16

Thank you Pam. Writing this was cathartic, and I am glad that I can share it with others who may find some value in it:)

Esther olulode
Jul 16
Jul 16

Wow! Amazing thanks for sharing and worm welcome to you ma

Nini Mappo
Jul 17
Jul 17

Thank you for reading Esther, and for the warm welcome into this sisterhood!

Ana Isabel Paraguay
Jul 17
Jul 17

Beautifully crafted words that appeal to the reader.
Serious food for thought.
Besides, you are a talented writer. Keep polishing your vision!
Many thanks.
Best.

Nini Mappo
Jul 18
Jul 18

Thank you for your kind words and encouragement Ana.

louise.isaac
Jul 21
Jul 21

Nini, thank you for that powerful blog. I am a white Irish woman and I am only learning now, educating myself by listening and reading stories like yours.

Nini Mappo
Jul 23
Jul 23

Thank you Louise. And thank you for sharing that my story served as a resource for you. That is encouraging.

Tmakovskaya
Jul 21
Jul 21

Thank you so much for sharing your story and your perspectives.
Your writing is beautiful, eloquent, and very engaging and I am looking forward to reading more stories by you!

Nini Mappo
Jul 23
Jul 23

Thank you Tmakovskaya for reading and for the compliments. I will definitely be writing so stay tuned ;)
On a side note, your name is so cool