And We Deserve to Twinkle

Twinkling stars
Twinkling stars

Every time someone asks me whether I would like to move back home when I finish school, I say, "I don't know." But I say it in the way I say things that my heart knows but my brain is opposing.

I know. I always have -- that it scares me which tragedy humanity would bestow my sons if I raised them in the U.S, and which tragedy my daughters if I raised them in Kenya. This month, those two fears have been sewn together into two unfolding stories in two different places that I care about. On one side of the Atlantic, in the U.S., I see in the Michael Brown case the story of my son, who will be black as long as he comes from me. On the other side, I see in the video recordings of the two Kenyan women being stripped of their clothes for being "indecent" the story of my daughter.

Although I have not been here long enough to experience it, I understand the uniqueness of the pain of black women in the U.S. who complain that their voices are silenced. This trivialization of the experiences of women was mirrored back home in Kenya when many people argued that instead of protesting this violence towards women, we should be focusing on condemning a massacre in Kapedo. In my mind I know that as soon as I land at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, the weight of blackness is lifted, but the weight of womanhood persists.

I think about the romance between silence and oppression. As I participate in protests at Yale condemning police brutality, I feel a little distanced. It is a fight I have been newly introduced to -- a fight my tongue still battles to describe. When an African American Yale student is stopped at gunpoint on the school campus, it becomes even more real, less distant. I think about my friends, male and female, who have told me that they have felt picked on by the police in the past. I think about the time someone called Yale security on my black friends who were using the college kitchen because they assumed they were not Yale students. I think about the time someone asked that my friends' IDs be checked as they waited for a shuttle at the Yale Medical School. I think about their silence, and how their tongues yet know how to describe this injustice. I am glad that the victim Tahj Blow had through his father, a New York Times columnist, a microphone to describe his ordeal. I am glad that this was not a fight we fought in a suite among friends and shook our heads and moved on with classes and extra-curricular activities. Like tattoos that we are hiding from our parents, these scars can be hidden, under layers of winter clothes, and smiles big enough to chirp, "I'm doing great".

As I line up the news tabs on these stories, lying on my bed in my room, I become too sad sometimes, and keep them for later. I need to prepare myself before I can read these articles upon articles that are describing why black people in the U.S. and why women in Kenya are as human as other people. That we need demonstrations to prove the humanity of human beings in our society drains me. It is a sad realization that our inhumanity, like our humanity, is shared.

In an old navy-blue journal I left back home, is a Marilyn Monroe quote, "We are all of us stars, and we deserve to twinkle." But as I grow older, and return to this three or four year old journal, I see these words as naïve. Only a young Ivy could believe in this. I become less and less sure, not that we all deserve to twinkle, but that all of us will get the opportunity to twinkle. Yet, maybe the revolution is still an opportunity to twinkle.

This past month, I have been gushing about the work of a Kenyan activist, Boniface Mwangi, whose protest art, though controversial, has been inspiring to me and to all of my friends who have had to hear me talk about it. When women in Nairobi arranged a peaceful #MyDressMyChoice demonstration, Boniface showed up in a short skirt to taunt this "indecency" that is floored as an excuse for stripping women. Boniface's work, and the work of many other people during these protests, is proof that even in the midst of these inhumane actions, our humanity is shared. Boniface says, in his interview, that he is doing this for his children. And at first I don't get it. I argue that it should be for everyone. But in the heat of the Michael Brown decision, I see a freshman, a black girl from Ghana, posting the words, "Maybe I am too young to know what the world is supposed to be... but it's not supposed to be this... it can't be this."

And I understand Boniface. I can fight for this equality, but I would not want for anyone younger than I, let alone my children, to have the lights in their eyes dulled, as I see many people's eyes dulled as we grow older. Through the work of activists, I am able to believe again that "our humanity is shared," a phrase I first heard from Taiye Selasi, a novelist whose parents are of African origin.

When I was home every new year I would go through my old journals, and I would be amazed by how much even within the year, the things I believed in had changed. I considered bringing them to Connecticut with me the last time I left, but I feared my luggage would be too much (it was). But if I could even now, I would write down, "Our humanity is shared." It is going to be a new year where we hope more and more people believe this, and where our systems begin to reflect this. But it is worth it, so our children's work can be beautiful even when it is not protest art.

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