Book: Travelling Whereas Black | ICN
Travel while black from Nanjala Nyabola. Publishing house Hurst & Co.
“Guidebooks are written by white men for white men and they create fear,” writes Kenyan human rights lawyer Nanjala Nyabola. Despite the title, this book isn’t primarily about how black tourists are discriminated against.
The author focuses on a broader definition of racism and examines the difficulties faced by migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. how white charity saviorism (4WD syndrome) withholds power from blacks; and how “white is the norm” and everything else is “other”.
Your book is more of a plea for empathy than for pity. “People don’t suffer so that we, the relatively privileged, can grow as spectators of other people’s pain.” She blames the news editors for how the media portrays migrants as anonymous masses while identifying white victims in disasters. However, she is also concerned about our desensitization from exposure to images of suffering.
According to Nyabola, women everywhere “must learn to deal with the violence and excesses of men, to make themselves almost invisible and to walk safely through their neighborhoods”. She writes: “Even before women can stop being girls, they must develop a whole range of skills that have no other function than protecting themselves from men.” But certainly young men who grow up in difficult areas also have to be vigilant and adopt certain behavior in order to survive.
One essay looks at exploitation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where entire villages are enslaved to mine the raw materials that make our phones work. She is also forensic in her approach to the way European governments deter migrants. We finance wars through our taxes, she writes, and then we are unhappy with the human displacement that these wars cause. “Why not stop supporting dictators? Or sell weapons?”
However, she is naive about the extent of the persecution of black Africans in Sudan, Libya and the occasional racism blacks suffer in Egypt and the Middle East. She mistakenly translates the Arabic word “abeed” as black: significantly, it actually means slave, and it is a common form of address when some Arabs meet black Africans. It comes from the Koranic justification for slavery and provides information about the current racism against black Africans.
In a fascinating chapter on politics in Kenya, she analyzes white concepts of tribalism or ethnic groups and blames xenophobia in South Africa for the competitiveness promoted by capitalism. Speaking of the current spate of attacks on Zimbabweans, she said white colonialists had presented black South Africans with a stereotype of the rest of Africa as frightening. But surely the villages fought against each other before the arrival of the white man. Isn’t the suspicion of strangers our most primitive defense mechanism as a human being?
Some whites can’t go to the trouble of getting to know individual blacks, so they rely on stereotypes, she argues. However, it ignores the way some black Africans view white visitors as little more than current bank accounts. She condemns the misery in refugee camps and migrant reception centers. However, it fails to see African traffickers exploiting other Africans and Libyans enslaving and selling black African migrants trying to reach the Mediterranean Sea.
A fascinating book, to be sure, but its willingness to blame capitalism and neo-colonialism gets a little boring.
Tags: Rebecca Tinsley, Traveling in Black, Nanjala Nyabola, Hurst & Co.
We need your support
The ICN strives to provide Catholics and the entire Christian community with quick and accurate coverage of all topics of interest to them. As our audience grows, so do our costs. We need your help to continue this work.
Please support our journalism by donating to ICN today.
Donate to ICN