How Easy it is to Ridicule Me (Spoken Word Piece)

 

A Spoken Word Piece by Yours Truly Kimathi Kaumbutho.

 

Being a Kenyan living in the United States has been a wondrous and magnificent challenge. One aspect that continues to perplex me is learning to understand prejudice in all of its forms; particularly prejudicial stereotypes.

Every race is subject to stereotypes both positive and negative; Mexicans are ‘supposed’ to be hard workers, Asians are ‘supposed’ to be good at math… sound familiar?

Naturally, the stereotypes and prejudice attached to some races outweigh those of others—I found this especially true for Africans in the United States. We have been ridiculed and belittled by many of the baseless and demeaning beliefs that people have about Africa and its people.

‘How Easy It Is To Ridicule Me’ is my way of enlightening people to some of the subliminal prejudice that Africans experience in America, whilst advocating for all Africans living in foreign countries. The piece should enable its listeners to empathize with me, calling them to revise the ways in which they treat Africans, as well as other minorities, worldwide.

The Day I Quit Football

Since childhood, my dream was to play professional football. Growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, I would spend most of my weekend afternoons watching the premier league, and the likes of Didier Drogba and Thierry Henry on television — they were my idols and I would do anything to play like them. But in truth, most days my dream to reach such heights as a footballer felt like just that; a dream, a far cry from too far away. Nevertheless, I chased my dream persistently, diligently and sometimes even ignorantly.

At age 23, I have played in places like Uganda, Sweden, Kenya and all over the United States. I’ve played with players from all over the world and all different walks of life, at the amateur, semi-professional and professional levels of the game. I’ve spent the last four years in the United states playing semi-professionally and at the NCAA Division 1 and NAIA levels.

Most recently I played with the University of Rio Grande in Ohio winning a NAIA National Championship at the end of 2015. I spent the summer of 2016 in Florida playing in the USL Premier Development League (PDL) — the US third Division — where I was selected to the 2016 All-Southern conference team (an award given to the best players in the region).

Unfortunately, once the PDL season had ended in Florida, my career suddenly became stagnant. I had no college team to return to because I had graduated in May of that year. So, I moved to Kansas City, Missouri where I sought any pro team that would have me. From August to November, despite my persistent efforts, I had nothing in the way of professional opportunities and it felt like everything and everyone around me was telling me to stop playing.

But I couldn’t, I knew what that would mean; football is a sport with a brief window of professional opportunities and quitting would mean that I would live the rest of my life asking ‘what if?’. ‘What if I had played a little longer?’, ‘what if I had kept trying?’… I could not live with a shadow of regret looming over me. I knew I had to keep chasing the dream. So, I played anywhere and everywhere I could; pick-up games, men’s leagues, indoor, etc. (I know Kansas City Soccer like the back of my hand). To some, including my aunt and uncle who I stayed with at the time, I must have looked delusional or even crazy, but to me, I know I would rather be estranged for a moment than harbor regret for a lifetime.

I was playing up to five times a week and working out four times a week at the gym. In truth, I hated almost every minute of it, though I knew it was what I had to do. At the end of November, I finally got a breakthrough; I had two trials (tryouts). One with Swope Park Rangers (Sporting KC’s reserve team) in the USL pro and the other with a recruitment agency I will not name.

I told myself that these two trials were my last shot at playing professional football. I prepared diligently and I had nothing to lose — perhaps that is why I played extremely well. In fact, on the final day of the second trial, I was approached by the head coach of a team in the Veikkausliiga (Finnish First division). He commended my performance and invited me to preseason with his team in Finland. It was like one of those ‘picture-book’ type moments that you can’t explain and never seem real. I had made it.

Two months later, as I was preparing to leave to Finland, the agent assigned to me delivered the news that the club could not take me. The coach contacted me personally to say he had tried all that he could but the higher management of the club could not take another international player.

I felt a barrage of emotions when I got the news; heartbreak, anger, and sadness were the bulk of them… but in truth, after some long introspection — for some reason — I felt happy and relieved. My true goal was to prove to myself that I could play at the professional level and now that I had, football didn’t have the same place in my heart anymore. I took several days to be by myself and asked some difficult questions. For, seemingly, the first time in my life I searched for the reasons why I played football, why I loved it, and why I thought I couldn’t live without it. It’s funny how one can be so focused on their dreams that they forget the reason that they’re chasing them.

I realized I was no longer playing football because I enjoyed it, in fact, most days I had to divorce my feelings and push myself to train. Admittedly, sometimes I was partially fueled by all the people who doubted that could make it at the professional level and I had to prove them wrong. I wasn’t even playing for some extrinsic reward like money, and playing in places like Finland doesn’t grant you the type fame as playing for Real Madrid, so it wasn’t that either.

Instead, I found that I was playing for something higher than myself.

I was playing for my family and my friends who believed in me because I knew the hand they played in making my dream a reality and I couldn’t let them down. I was playing for the children I played with in Kenya, Kids that were better than me but were never given the opportunities that I was.

I played for my future children as well; because I couldn’t fathom telling them to chase their dreams when I hadn’t chased mine. I want them to realize their dreams knowing that their father realized his. I wanted to inspire people, I wanted them to look up to me. That is why I played football.

My talent was always a gift, a stewardship; a way to give back to the world. I truly believe that I have used it to the best of my ability for its truest purpose. I have reached the precipice of my dream and it is time to close this chapter in my book of life.

Many have said I should keep playing, in fact, I think most people will not understand my decision to stop. But any athlete knows how much you sacrifice for the game you love. I left my family in Nairobi at 15 years old, I lost friendships and killed relationships… it’s not like I was just going into the backyard and playing for a few minutes. But honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing. Football has taught me everything. It has taught me how to navigate the world and molded me into the person I am today. More than anything, Football taught me that any dream is attainable for those who are willing to try.

“I was taught to be a Ni**a”

As an immigrant living in the United States, I developed quite a unique perspective in viewing American culture — specifically African-American culture — from the outside in. Since migrating to the US from my native Kenya about five years ago, I have been dealing with an internal conflict in adapting and conforming to African American culture. Although I am entirely from a different side of the globe, in America, I classify as ‘black’, and though I appear ‘the same’ in appearance to the African American, my outlook and perspective tend to be drastically different.

That said, I have seen Africans come to the United States and completely conform to black culture; adopting their fashion, language, manners, and demeanor. Though truly, who can blame them? African American culture is often broadcasted as fashionable and ‘cool’ throughout world media whilst African culture tends to have many tainted and negative connotations (i.e. we are often portrayed as primitive and poor). I have seen some Africans go as far as hiding the truth of their birthplace, identifying as African American before they admit to being Africans. For many of them, assimilating in this fashion numbs the fear of being outcast as ‘African’, or ‘poor’, or ‘primitive’ (and all other stereotypes that victimize African culture) — they are simply trying to ‘fit in’.

Unsurprisingly, with the conformity to African American culture, comes the adoption of the norms, habits and thought practices of black Americans. And this transition has proved difficult in my experience. During my early years in America, as I began to be around more African Americans, I noticed the aspects of their culture that made them so attractive, aspects such as music (hip-hop and rap culture) or fashion (Jordan shoes and basketball sneakers) and dance (like the ‘whip’ and the ‘Nae Nae’ and all other dances that were created by black Americans and went globally viral). These aspects seem like hallmarks of black culture in America and they have greatly influenced me to this day. But at the same time, I also found aspects of African American culture that were greatly displeasing and unattractive; manners and tendencies that estranged me.

One such trait that I have found common to African Americans is their tendency to actualize racism; to see themselves as ‘black’ and therefore adopt a paradigm of being oppressed. I will not pretend that blacks in America are not victims of racism, I have experienced it first-hand. Blacks are oppressed institutionally and socially and have every right to advocate for changes in the way they are treated in this country. I am also aware of America’s dark past relative to the pillaging and destruction of black lives.

However, in seeing African Americans from an outside perspective, I notice how the oppression of their people has greatly affected their outlook and mentality. It seems that, through the struggle for equality, they have been indoctrinated with a subconscious perception of their race’s inferiority and inadequacy.

The other day I bought a laptop from a store I will not name. The salesman who sold me the computer did an exceptional job, one that warranted good feedback. I jokingly told the salesman that I would give his manager such great feedback that he would be due for a promotion. To this he chuckled briefly and said that he was unlikely to be promoted; when I questioned why, he bluntly told me “Nah, they don’t wanna promote niggas here…”

Another similar instance I recall more recently was when a group of friends and I visited a rather upscale restaurant in the city. As we walked in one of my friends half-jokingly said, “I don’t think they like having niggas in here…”

I’m left to think how… how does one live with such a tainted and jaded perspective that continually reflects racism? Imagine how detrimental this kind of thinking can be.

There’s sour taste in my mouth every time I recall these incidents and many others like them — times when black Americans have seemingly victimized themselves in perceiving that their circumstance is solely a result of racism. When I recall these moments, I ponder how the African-American struggle against oppression seems to have caused a subsequent adoption of an “oppressed” mindset; a development of habits and thought-patterns that are reflective of a pillaged past and the continual struggle for equality in America. It is a mindset that I have learned and been a victim too as a black immigrant in the United States.

It is this mindset that changed my perceptions of Race since coming to the US. It is this mindset that has taught me, more than ever, that color lines exist and that black is different from white. Through this mindset I have learnt to notice when I am the only black person in the room; I have learnt to justify my shortcomings with the excuse that “it’s probably because I’m black”; and I have been constrained by beliefs that tell me “Niggaz don’t read” and “Niggaz ain’t smart”. It is this mindset that continues to damage my perception of myself and my perceptions of the black race. It is this mindset that I have tried most vigilantly to free myself from.

Expectedly, it has been very difficult to detach myself from these habitual thoughts of oppression, but I have started by taking responsibility for my perceptions of racism, and proactively departing from seeing my color as an excuse. I no longer use the phrase “it’s probably because I’m black…” nor do I slander myself and other blacks with phrases like “…we’re black, they don’t care about us”.

In consciously making this paradigm shift, I have noticed that if we, as black America, intend to make ‘Black Lives Matter’ (as the campaign states), then black lives must first matter most to us; we must first change our perceptions of ‘black people’. Though we may continue to be oppressed we cannot continue to oppress ourselves with self-limiting beliefs that the world is infinitely racist towards us. We must consciously refuse the common tendency to point fingers and blame the ‘white man’. Truly, we, as blacks of America, will continue to be subjects of racism and prejudice in our lifetimes, that is out of our control, but what we can control is our perceptions of each other and our responses to our circumstance — no matter how oppressive.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “no one can hurt me without my consent…”

No one can oppress me, nor afflict me with thoughts of my own inferiority unless I allow them to.

Gandhi, a man who lived in the most trying times of prejudice against his race, also said “They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them. It is our willing permission, our consent to what happens to us, that hurts us far more than what happens to us in the first place.”

This was very difficult to accept emotionally, especially because I, as a black person in America, have grown so accustomed to the habitual practice of blame and victimism; I have learnt to see myself as black and therefore a victim of racism; learnt to explain my misery as a result of circumstance and someone else’s (white people’s) behavior.

However, in changing my mentality and outlook, I’ve come to realize that instead of being at the mercy of my environment and at the mercy of my own perceptions of racism and oppression, I can take initiative to reform my paradigm of thought and choose to no longer be a victim; I can liberate myself. Once I take responsibility for my own paradigms of oppression and perceptions of black inferiority, only then can I consciously choose to see myself, not as a victim, not as ‘black’, not as a ‘nigga’, but rather as a person of this earth, equal and deserving of thoughts free from subjugation and racism. It is only then that I will have the mental freedom to fully experience and appreciate the world I live in.

Why I stopped Drinking

“How come you don’t drink?” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked this question, I’d be on the Forbes list. I usually just give some generic response like “I don’t need it and I don’t like the taste…” But truly there is a multitude of reasons I don’t drink alcohol, too many for me to spiel on a trivial conversation at a typical party.
In 2012, I made a decision to stop drinking alcohol. At the time, I made the choice purely on impulse; I had gotten in trouble for underage drinking and shame, layered with the subsequent distrust of people close to me, heavily influenced my decision. But the following few months after my self-imposed prohibition, I started to notice several things that strengthened my convictions against alcohol. My abstinence had actually enlightened me to a whole host of virtues that I would have otherwise been oblivious to.

Will-Power and Discipline

In continually abstaining from alcohol, which is so much a facet of our society, I was able to practice not only a resistance against temptation but also a disregard for other people’s judgment and ridicule. In doing this, I cultivated a deep sense of discipline and will-power. I took pride in the fact that I stood by my decision when it would have been easier and ‘normal’ to conform.
I believe there is something to be said for someone with the strength of mind to abstain and defend their convictions in an atmosphere that encourages the opposite.
This newly found sense of self-discipline and will-power has poured into other aspects of my life and I truly believe that anyone who can abstain from alcohol, through their own conviction, can cultivate the strength of mind and discipline to do anything they set their mind to.

Trust

My abstinence from alcohol also allowed me to unconsciously gain the trust of people around me. I first noticed this with my parents who would no longer worry when I spent nights out at clubs and bars. My sobriety had somehow given them the reassurance that I could take care of myself—I’m sure they weren’t complaining.
People began to view me in a totally different light when they learned of my abstinence; they saw it as an attribute that warranted their trust and I unconsciously built this aura of dependability and maturity. In this way, I began to grow in my relationships because people felt they could trust me extensively, and trust, in any relationship, is pivotal.

Respect

Most people think that if they stopped drinking, they would be outcast and rejected by their friends who do—I thought the same. But my experience was quite the contrary. People actually respected my decision and commended me for it. In fact, on nights out, people saw my abstinence as a manner of sophistication and were drawn towards me. I actually formed a lot of relationships from conversations that began “… wait you’re serious, you don’t drink??”
I suppose my abstinence gave me a stronger sense of identity, a more distinct personality—perhaps that’s what drew people toward me. My non-conformance to drinking alcohol made me ‘different’… and I found pride in this difference. I wasn’t just ‘following the crowd’, or submitting to the norms of society, I wasn’t just another follower… I was ‘Someone’.

Money

After nights out I commonly hear my friends wake up in the morning and complain about their tabs reaching $60-70 and I do not envy them.
To think my entire four years of college I never spent a single cent on alcohol…

I don’t think I saved enough to make the Forbes list but according to statistics, the average college student spends up to $900 a year on booze… just hearing that is motivation enough to stay sober.
Of course, there are more benefits of my abstinence (like health and safety) but these are the few that I discovered that aren’t apparent to most people.
To this day I remain sober since 2012—and I continue to take pride in my abstinence. My sobriety has become a large part of who I am and it has instilled within me a wealth of virtues that I was otherwise oblivious to. I don’t regret that I stopped drinking and I would encourage other people to do the same. Know that there is power in non-conformance to the patterns of this world, and with it, you can develop the strength of mind to do anything you desire.

Why I Love America (as an African)

When I was a child I was often asked, as many children are, what I wanted to be when I was older. I remember wanting to be an Astronaut at one point. But like most children, I was naïve and oblivious to the limits of my circumstance; my boundless imagination allowed me to believe that even a child living in Nairobi, Kenya could one day walk on the moon.
The one thing that most clearly differentiates America from Kenya, or other less developed countries, is the abundance of opportunity. The children of America are allowed to believe that they can become astronauts, athletes, artists, presidents, singers, dancers, etc. because the infrastructure and development of their country have afforded them that possibility. The dreams of American children are backed by the necessary institutions and organizations which are imperative to bringing those dreams to fruition. On the contrary, 3rd world countries like Kenya (where I grew up) quite frankly do not have the same systems or infrastructure necessary to facilitate such opportunities for their people.

A few months ago, my parents came from Kenya to visit me for my college graduation ceremony. Around that time, I had performed a spoken poetry piece for my University which went on to be their biggest media project ever, reaching roughly 150,000 people and getting up to 40,000 views.

When my mum watched the video she was undoubtedly impressed and proud as ever. However, I distinctly remember her response, because it changed my outlook entirely. After she gave it some thought, she regrettably told me “it was great Kim, I loved it… but in Kenya, you will never make any money doing this… perhaps you should focus your talents elsewhere”. Her words hurt, not because I felt belittled or unappreciated but because I knew she was right. The likelihood that I could make a living as an artist, poet, or writer in Kenya is extremely slim. It hurts to know that the talents and skills that I’m revered for in the United States are unlikely to yield the same fruit at home in Kenya.

Not only is Kenya lacking in infrastructure and development, but also the necessary culture of mind and freedom of thought to consider being an artist, writer or poet as credible professions.

To explain this one must understand that Kenya’s society is heavily layered with traditional beliefs that are rooted in a lack of opportunity, which is a cultural trait that is difficult to break away from.

For many Kenyans, there is a high impetus placed on education. Education is the ‘key’, our ‘way out’,‘our road to success’. We are supposed to study, do well, and become the likes of doctors, lawyers, politicians, and entrepreneurs—as my parents would say “…that is how you make money”. The people that veer too far from this tradition are often vilified by society. Rarely do Kenyans aspire to untraditional professions—like artists, actors or writers—because our circumstance has simply not afforded us the freedom of thought to make such dreams fathomable possibilities.

On the other hand, the United States is drastically different, and I love it!

Here a man can be whoever he pleases because the culture, infrastructure, and development of the country have afforded him that right.

This is the Land of the Free where no one is bound by a lack of opportunity.

I don’t love America because it is more beautiful than Kenya, or because the people are nicer, or because the weather is better—In fact, Kenya would win that contest hands down. I love America because here I can become an Astronaut.