The Real Truth about ‘Wakanda’

What is ‘Black Panther’ Really?

 My family and I went to watch ‘Black Panther’ this past weekend; the ‘marvelous superhero drama’ that the world’s been raving about. The one that “depicts Africans and African culture in a positive light, for once,” or so they say. I think I had mixed feelings about it.

The truth is I couldn’t help but feel pride when I watched ‘my people’ (or at least people that looked like me) appear so powerful and breathtakingly admirable. It was so refreshing to see our Africa depicted as rich and beautiful for once — such a stark contrast to the impoverished and poverty-stricken image of our continent we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in Hollywood films. As my family and I sat in our cinema chairs spewing over the credits at the end of the film, we had this tangible aura of positivity radiating off us. The fantasy world of Wakanda had inspired us.

But that feeling didn’t last though. As we exited the cinema, walked out into the foyer and looked through the tall glass windows of Prestige Plaza, I came to the realization; we are not in ‘Wakanda’. We are in Nairobi. And on that day, my city looked much like it did the day before. Tall buildings, walking ‘wananchi’ amongst the rich people’s cars that float above the pockets of poverty we’ve learned to live with.

I want to feel inspired by Black Panther, I truly do. I hope that children watch that film and carry that sense of pride with them wherever they go — God knows we need it. But at the same time, I have removed my rosy sunglasses and seen that movie for what it actually is.

A marketing power play.

“Why would the same people of the west — the ‘wazungus’ who continue to pillage and impoverish our countries — want to tell our story all of a sudden?”

“Why should they care about us at all when they haven’t in the past?”

This isn’t the western world trying to empower Africans, this is them profiting from the appropriation of our culture. Making Millions of dollars that don’t go into the betterment of African people, but rather into the pockets of the same countries that steal from our nations.

Its quite clever on their part — I’ll credit them for that. They’ve managed to take a people who have been bitterly misrepresented in the past and generate a story that those same people want to believe in (despite how far-fetched it seems from our current reality). And now the world has turned out in droves to see something ‘new’. A new narrative about a ‘new Africa’. And whilst the Africans see a picture of inspiration and empowerment, the west gets the profit and all the credit.

Oh, how it reminds me of a time when we closed our eyes to pray to Jesus, whilst the white man stole all our land from us. It begs the question, who’s really benefiting from this story of Wakanda?

I must admit though; most Africans are loving all this new attention. Even us who live in the cities of this continent are smiling at this “new narrative”. But let’s take off our blinder for a bit. Is this really a new narrative?

We make films in Nairobi. There are films in Uganda, in Tanzania, there is Nollywood in Nigeria — we tell our own stories all the time. So the question we should be asking is why — why is it that only when Marvel brands a story that is not our own, that the world turns out in droves to watch ‘us’Why does it seem that our culture is now in fashion but only cool when someone else ‘wears it’? Why is the African story only selling when someone else tells it? Why did we need the West to tell us a fake story about a magical land named Wakanda, for us to feel empowered and inspired when we have filmmakers of our own telling us real stories?What’s really going on here?

I noticed a few weeks ago that Kendrick Lamar made on of the soundtracks for Black Panther and it plays through the credits. The video is on YouTube and its got over 60 MIllion Views. Watch it and maybe you’ll have the same reaction I did. Like… “wait… Isn’t this guy from Compton, California? How has he suddenly become African? Why’d the pick him to do the soundtrack, we have artists here in Africa too?”

But I suppose when you really think critically about this film, it all makes sense. If I could make 100 million Dollars from pretending to be African, I would do it too (and I wouldn’t be pretending). But we don’t get the same publicity, nor profit that these artists get from being African.

I feel like I need to affirm that I’m not mad. I just want my people to see this film for what it actually is. Go ahead, feel inspired, feel empowered, feel that African is cool now, but at the same time, realize that we always had the ability to empower ourselvesWe don’t need the west to represent us. We can tell our own stories. Being an African isn’t suddenly cool, it’s always been cool, it’s just a shame we needed the west to prove that to us.

What if love isn’t everything we compare it to?

Just a poem about love

They say you can’t force love,
You’ll most likely find it
when you’re not looking,
I would believe that;
If you couldn’t say the same
for tinder matches and syphilis,

We compare love to anything.
Roses, Rivers, Oceans,
Boxes of chocolate, and everything in between.
Why do we make ‘Falling in love’ look so easy?
When most of us are
too afraid to jump,
too cautious to trip,
too busy putting our lives in balance
to fall for someone else,

It’s like,
It’s all pretentious,
…we’re all searching for the same thing…

You want the type of love where
you get lost in someone else,
Where she’ll call you at 2 am, and
you can’t hang up the phone,
Because at that moment she’s with you and
you’re too afraid
to fall asleep by yourself.

The type of love where
there are no awkward silences.
Your conversations make for music
that makes safe your insecurities.
Love,
that makes you melt
in each other’s eyes,
sleep in each other’s arms.
And
every kiss feels like a dream,
And
every nightmare
is worth the fright
if you wake up to him.

The type of love that
makes you blush when you’re alone,
That has you cheesing in the mirror
watching movies of your memories
like a Netflix account.

That’s love right?
“Real love”

The type that honestly,
I’m not sure even exists,

We paint it so beautifully in our minds
Because the fear of being alone
is something we can’t admit to.
But what if:

What if
‘Love’ isn’t everything we compare it to?
What if it isn’t roses or rivers, and oceans,
And we’re just swimming
in seas of shallow metaphors we don’t want to drown in
I know,
That Love is deeper,
But most of us like the surface.

Most of us like the dates,
Most of us like the rings
Most of us like the sex,
Most us like the weddings,
But Love,

Love is everything we look for
but we don’t really see,
like an Instagram of smiles covering up its scars,
with pictures captioned in a language
that we don’t understand.

A canvas colored with emotions,
that we’ve never learned to notice.

Love
Is standing on the top of your faith,
jumping to fall into a relationship with a man,
who you don’t know will catch you.

Love
Is how you’ve fallen for her already
but you’re never going to say it,
Cuz the fear of being alone,
is worse than being in the friend-zone.

Love,
Is losing your temper,
And wanting to say I hate you,
But you’re two in the same person
and the other half of you
is holding your tongue.

Love,
Is my parents’ marriage,
I never hear them say I love you,
but I guess 27 years of being together,
makes you know that already.

Love,
Is knowing that the sunsets,
Appreciating the light
but still expecting the darkness
Maybe.

Maybe that’s why we’re all struggling to find it?

Who is this ‘Jesus’?

Long ago in my country, a prophecy from a ‘Gikuyu Seer’ stated; “there shall come a people with eyes like the sky and clothes like the butterflies…”

At that time, ‘Gikuyu’ would have represented my tribe; as a Kenyan born near the Mountain formerly known as ‘Mt. Kirinyaga’.

The people the seer spoke of were the ‘white men’. The ‘missionaries’; the ‘evangelists’, or the ‘colonialists’. Though those terms may not be too different. I know even theft can be disguised as charity sometimes.

It turns out the prophecy was true. The white men did eventually come. They came in the name of a black book — a black book which, though foreign to us then, is now all too familiar. Their mission was to redeem us; to ‘show us the light’. And it didn’t take long for them to ‘save’ us.

“They said “Let us pray.” We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land.” — Desmond Tutu

The white man had the technology; forms of power that were all too marvelous for our ‘primitive’ existence. And with the “power of the canon”, the white man would fire the bullets that would carry the contradictions of his teachings. They would defame our ‘God’ and preach only of their own. A ‘White God’ one who was all-loving and peaceful…

I still do not know what happened to the God of my past. I did not grow up with him. Perhaps it would suffice to say that he was forced out of his dwelling place on Mt Kirinyaga, the same way my ancestors were. Maybe he never even existed.

Instead, I have grown up with the ‘white’ God. I visit his house on Sundays and listen to his teachings. I see him nailed to a cross, ravaged and plundered, much like my ancestors were, but he does not look like me. He has, long ‘Wazungu’ hair, lighter skin, and a crown of thorns placed upon his head… his name is ‘Jesus’. And though the situation of my people is marginally better since we freed ourselves from the white man, how is it that the white man’s God is still our vision of hope?

*

A few Sunday’s ago, I sat in Church, my mind probably lost somewhere between boredom and indifference. I was staring off into the distance. “If you do not believe in Jesus, YOU WILL DIE!” is what the pastor screamed alarmingly through the microphone. I look up, evidently distracted. Immediately, the congregation moans in agreement, nodding their heads like they’re shaking off the past of their ancestors. “Amen,” they say.

Am I the only one who sees this? I ask myself. How has our faith been stolen so easily?

In the space of 100 years, the Kenyan people have gone from primitive and crude, to ‘Christian’ and saved. Perhaps I want to believe that’s a good thing, but I also wonder, what was wrong with our God before? I mean, didn’t we have miracles. Didn’t we pray? Weren’t our prays answered?

Yet we find ourselves worshipping a God that was once so alien to us.

When I think of the past, and consider where we as a Kenyan people are now, I must give credit to the “people with eyes like the sky”. I mean, what better way to indoctrinate, oppress and control a people than religion? Isn’t the best way to get someone to do what you want them to do, to get them to believe what you believe?

I am no anthropologist, nor am a sociologist, but I have learned how to control, indoctrinate and dominate an entire people sheerly by my own first-hand experience. Here’s how it goes;

First, you must make them believe that they are ‘lost’, or victimized in some way. They may not be, but get them to believe that. Call them ‘sinners’ if you have to. Try to show them that their culture is archaic and crude, and get them to see that.

Next, present them with a solution. Your solution. A way to save themselves from the peril that their current state will bring them.

The important thing here is to present your solution as the only one. The right one. The ‘only way they’ll save themselves’.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life, no-one comes to the father except through me. (John 4:6)”

Once they have marveled at your greatness and grounded their faith in your ‘God’, tell them to “go and make disciples of all nations… (Matthew 28:19)”.

Yes, task them with indoctrinating everyone around them. They will do it. Irrationally presenting a case for your God everywhere they go.

At that point, sit back and watch. Watch as your work is done for you. Watch as the African forgets his own God and puts his faith, and that of his fellow countrymen, in your God; preaching on pulpits across his land and threatening all those who do not believe with death.

For once the African believes what you believe, he will do as you do.

–Yours Truly (Kimathi Kaumbutho) is a Spoken Word/Poetry writer/performer, and a Hip-Hop artist from Nairobi, Kenya.

Escaping the ‘Fences’ of Africa

“Some people build fences to keep people out, other’s build them to keep people in.”

‘Fences’ is a Hollywood film I recently watched for the second time. Partly because I was forced to, but also because I love Denzel Washington.

For me, any movie with Will Smith or Denzel Washington in a lead-role is a “must-watch”… and that’s not just because they’re both Black — though that is a major factor. But also because of how relatable their roles tend to be to me as an African man. The truth is, the Hollywood movies aren’t particularly good at telling the African narrative. So I, like many other Africans have had to ‘see myself’ in Black American stories. And though they are not always relatable, they are often close enough to spark my interest. I suppose that’s where my love for Will Smith and Denzel Washington stems from.

Anyway, Denzel’s Character in Fences portrays a black family man in 1950’s America. At face value, the movie could be considered completely foreign to me. Honestly, what does 1950’s America have to do with me as a Kenyan living in Nairobi?

My answer is; “Everything”.

There is a very strong metaphor in the film which I didn’t catch the first time. A metaphor that brings the movie closer to home. Denzel, though he is a black man in the 1950’s, reminds me of the many African fathers (or even mothers) I have come to know in my lifetime. The one trait that I have seen in many African parents, which is so reflective in Denzel Washington’s character in the movie, is this innate belief that they are being victimized.

Africans, just like black Americans, especially the older generations tend to believe that someone or something is always against them. They will blame the government, the environment, the past, anything and everything when things don’t happen the way they should. They will complain solely for the sake of complaining because to not complain is to have nothing to say at all. They will tell you stories of all they’ve have overcome, all the struggles they went through, just to prove to you how hard it has been for them, and how hard it continues to be.

Truth is I don’t blame them.

When Denzel spoke of how the ‘white man’ took everything from him, how he couldn’t play baseball because of the ‘white man’ or how he’s been paying back a loan to the ‘white man’ for 15 years, it reminded me so fervently of my own family. Though we are thousands of miles away on a different continent altogether, our complaints and our grievances echo back and forth so much so that Denzel’s character could easily have been my father.

Let me back-track a little.

My parents and grandparents grew up in a world that wasn’t about options or possibilities. “Go to school, excel, get a job, work hard, get money and provide for your family,” that was it. They grew up in survival mode. I suppose when you’ve lived through the colonization of your people and the pillaging of your “possibilities”, it’s hard to see life through any other lens.

Whereas white families, or Euro-American kids may have grown up believing in mass opportunity, plush possibilities, and parents throwing around phrases like “you can be whoever you want to be”, for us Africans, it has been very different.

I, like many other Kenyan kids, grew up in a ‘survival mentality household’. Study hard, finish school so you can make money — that was ‘life’. Now I give credit to my parents for somehow escaping from that mentality a few years back, but today I see many African people, households, families, kids, still stuck in that same mentality. And I’m not talking about ‘poor’ people: poor people have to survive before they can dream big or see opportunities. It’s a different life when you’re are solely worried about where your next meal will come from. I have no bone to pick with the poor.

Instead, I’m talking about those of us who grew up like I did. The Africans who went to school; who had food on the table when they came home, and a fresh pair of socks to wear in the morning. The Africans who were afforded the possibility to “dream big” and “be whoever they wanted to be” — even though it was never explicitly said. It hurts me to see Africans who are oblivious to the opportunities that not only they have but their sons and daughters too. I want today’s Africans to strive for something greater than ‘survival’ even if we are used to a culture, society, or environment that dictates a different narrative to us.

My fear is that we, as Africans, though being “freed”, still struggle to see the possibilities that our ‘new world’ is giving us — the possibilities granted by the sacrifices of our ancestors.

The movie Fences spoke to me so deeply because Africans — be it parents, kids, culture, or communities — are much like Denzel Washington’s character.

We are building fences around ourselves. Not the types that keep others out, but the types that keep us and our people in. It is about time that we emancipated ourselves and grasped that we do not need to feel victimized. Opportunities and possibilities exist. The colonialists and the white men left a long time ago, we cannot take off the shackles on our ankles and strap them voluntarily on our minds.

There are no fences anymore. Only the ones we have built ourselves.

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.