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“Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” Toni Morrison, Beloved The year I discovered the works of Toni Morrison and Chinua Achebe is the year I met Bryan Ochieng.
It was the summer of 2005, right in the middle of Delhi University’s annual break.
Racism is insidious, and that summer, I would only discover how much of it is learned behaviour.
The K-word would assail us everywhere we went, whether as a couple or in a group with other students from African countries.
We stuck to neighbourhoods we knew, nightclubs and restaurants that welcomed a predominantly African clientele during the week, and Bryan’s friends’ homes.
On the street with my new Kenyan and Nigerian friends, I watched other people watch them with uncertainty and sometimes, unmasked disgust.
Now, imagine coming to a country where people on the street remember only one tie with your continent, the history of slavery, and they hurl it at you like a stone — “Habshi”.
At home, in the playground, our textbooks, in casual conversations, in film and advertising — everywhere.
I’d say dating is a close second — it has been for me.
The summer before I met Bryan, I briefly dated Ludovic, a White Frenchman who travelled to Delhi for work.
But I did do something unforgivable — I asked him his HIV status. When he asked me to visit him in Kenya, I dithered and said maybe, because I couldn’t imagine what it would look like; it wouldn’t be as pastoral and picturesque as the French countryside, would it?
When my friends enquired about his sexual prowess, I had laughed and replied, “You know they say that once you go black, you never go back”.