A Minority Report: Caucasian in Africa

Trigger warning: The following is a massive oversimplification, but I believe warrants consideration. In this post i wanted to capture an idea to remind me later on, of the idea!

Definition: Mzungu (n) a non derogatory term in Bantu tribal language that means “wanderer”, but in truth means “white guy.” It is used throughout Sub Saharan Africa. Example”there was a mzungu just off the Nyeri Road who was eating a sandwich ”

So with that out of the way…

We as a family have been existing as significant cultural and ethnic minorities for nearly 9 months, everywhere in Asia and on the African Continent. It is really one of the most eye opening aspects of our immersion experience. How are we looked at as Anglo, English speaking, Americans? How are males vs. females viewed in different lands? As “prosperous”? And unmistakably, how are we as viewed as Caucasians.  Specifically, what’s it LIKE to be a 100:1 or more MINORITY in African countries. Let’s just tackle that last bit, shall we?

It is hard to mistake skin color differences. Period. Ok, I said it.

When we went to meet a young Zambian friend and his mom in another part of Lusaka town, I was standing on the side of the road looking for them and everyone who walked by looked up with a surprised glance, thinking, “What the heck is the mzungu doing HERE?” And when I finally met our friends they said they had been across the street for 15 minutes and they hadn’t seen me (!) I said, ” What?  I’m the only Mzungu for 5 kilometres…” THEY HOWLED! In fact, perhaps oddly, I never felt uncomfortable. I often am asked if we feel safe where we travel. Um, yeah. Often safer than in the US. And I suppose there’s some hidden racial undertones embedded in that question from Americans, (along with of course a general concern about our wandering).

But the truth remains that in my mind, as much as one might hope for the ability to not recognize physical differences, one cannot avoid the truth. I see differences in others, and others notice about me. Say otherwise and I call B.S.

Wait what? You mean people are different?!

We are very fortunate. We and the children have spent a ton of time on the African Continent. When we lived in France we came here often on the long French school breaks for business. For starters, Africa is not a country, it is a continent, and it is really gosh darn BIG. In Zambia alone, a country of only 16 million people, there are 73 tribal languages. Now, tell me again how you can categorize a continent of over 1 billion people any more that you can categorize people from Texas and California…(Ooops…)

Here’s my recurring thought. I often wish that every white American, heck every Caucasian all over the world could experience the feeling, comfortable or otherwise, of being an overwhelming minority. And to then really think about that feeling. I similarly wish that every African American could feel what it’s like to be an overwhelming majority, and experience that. I imagine, for once, it must be wonderful. I still remember a Richard Pryor interview from when I was a kid where he spoke of the first time he came here to Africa, and with great gusto he remarked how for once there were just “people”…

We go to many places here in Zambia where you have very mixed environs. Clubs, restos, shopping centers, sports clubs and all daily life.

Make no mistake, even as the minority, the mzungu were and are still given extra credit and eferrnce as a holdover from the times of the ‘educated colonialists’.

More chatter hopefully another time, but I’ll conclude with my over simplified conclusion…

The majority of discord in the world ain’t about race and color. It’s about education and economic status. I have yet to fear for my safety around another human when their family is educated, fed and comfortable. Regardless of race, color or creed.

Skewer me if you like, but that’s my opinion.

And it’s why, in a long list of gifts we’ve been fortunate to offer our children, perhaps this is the most powerful. Embrace cultures, celebrate differences, look down upon no one. As the song goes,

“Don’t judge me…you could be me in another life, in another set of circumstances…”

As an aside, as Stacia and I watched Alexander play soccer in the photo above, two kids about 12 walked by and one says to the other, “You’re Egyptian right?” He replied, “NO…I told you I’m Lebanese…like you”…

To which the first boy responded, “I’m not Lebanese, I’m Syrian dummy…”

We got a good chuckle out of that …and as always…Same same, but different.

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