Brown Privilege and Rockets

Narissa Allibhai Backpacker Diaries, Politics & Society 2 Comments

Time for some honest racial realizations from yours truly.

Brown Privilege

We all know about White Privilege. I am a person of colour, specifically of descent from the exoticised Indian peoples. Doesn’t sound too privileged does it? However, my skin colour lends a fair amount privilege to my life in Kenya. A simple example of “My Dress My Choice” – I can wear mini shorts around town; most of my black female friends are afraid to. Often, upon making new acquaintances, I am treated with much more respect and interest than my darker-skinned counterparts.

During my month of travel in India, I had some interesting realizations about psychological Brown Privilege.

India Diary extract

I identify more with beggars here in India because we share the same skin colour. My racial privilege in Kenya does not exist here. The only difference between me and the garbage collector is that she is holding the big bin. If she handed it over to me, we would seamlessly switch roles. If I nap on the street or train station floor, I will be mistaken for a homeless person. If I did that in Nairobi, my brown skin would raise questions. If a white person did that in Nairobi or Mumbai, they could be assumed to be a backpacker.

Most of the Kenyan Indian population lives above the average wealth line of the country. The few who don’t usually have a supportive community to lean on (whether Hindu, Ismaili, Sikh, etc). More often than not, this leads to an inadvertent psychological separation of the brown-skinned from the black-skinned. Because there are very few poor brown people in Kenya, there is an unintentional assumption of deserving more, of setting different standards for people’s needs, that most of our brown population are guilty of. Yes, I am making an explicit accusation of racism. More on this in my next post – it’s time to say it like it is.

 

Indians are Cooler than You

Kenyan Indians who believe that you are better than Indian Indians – why?!

Illustration by Mdogo

Illustration by Mdogo

India Diary extract

I finally accept, appreciate, and admire Indian people, cultures, languages, ACCENT, CLOTHES, etc. – along with my Indian roots.

This is a huge contrast to the attitude of much of the Kenyan Indian community I’ve been brought up in who often shun their roots, mock anyone who is “too Indian” (accent, clothing, mannerisms – the Indian head bob/nod/shake), insultingly calling them FoBs (“fresh-off-the boat”) or “rockets.” Why is FoB an insult anyway? Migrants really ought to be admired for their bold, brave move leaving behind everything they know for a new, unknown life – it’s very risky!

Why are some Kenyan Indians so proud to be westernized and so eager to shun and insult our roots and culture? Can we not modernize while being proud of our culture and origins?

 

A Whiff of Romance

Travel really does open your mind and make you iron out some of your acquired prejudices…

India Diary extract

I stopped finding brown men attractive some years ago, and I realise now that this was because most that I knew were elitist & ignorant and/or racist. Here in India though, I’ve met some lovely men including sweet Hussein in Kerala who melted my heart as he giggled upon spotting his favourite fruit in the tree. Then there was the sexy biker Pradhuman with whom I had a Bollywood moment on the train carriage. He stood staring at the beautiful countryside whizzing past the open train door, while I also dreamily stared out of the door opposite. Music was playing, of course – he had earphones on, and I was singing out of the carriage door. Meanwhile wind was blowing through our hair . . . We ended up becoming friends and almost travelling together :)

 

My admissions in summary: I have Brown Privilege here in Kenya, and in several other African countries. I grew up influenced by prejudice against Indian Indians. I have been racist against my own race.

It’s a journey getting to realize your prejudices based on your experiences and interactions. The journey continues in eradication of these prejudices..

Comments 2

  1. Max

    “Why is FoB an insult anyway? Migrants really ought to be admired for their bold, brave move leaving behind everything they know for a new, unknown life – it’s very risky!”

    Thanks for you sharing your thoughts, Narissa. I wish more people would be as reflective as you are!

  2. Zee

    Really important topic! And glad to see these observations being made by a brown Kenyan, finally! I wonder though how we can dissect and understand intersections between class and race in Kenya. As you say, there aren’t that many poor brown Kenyans, but there are a few, and those who are seen as less elitist, western educated, and “FOB” are looked down upon by other brown Kenyans with class privilege. Which is why, as much as you might identify with the colour of the brown person on the streets in India, you can never “seamlessly switch roles.” And in fact, many brown Kenyans, who are indeed very privileged, have far more in common with Western educated black Kenyans than with poorer brown Indians or poorer black Kenyans.

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