Craving Yellow: What if snow was Black?
I first knew that I was Black when I moved to America. Before then, I was simply Kenyan or at most African?
I identified as being from a region or as being the-daughter-of or a-student-at, rather than as being of a certain race.
I soon realised that the latter identity marker would come to colour, quite literally, my experience away from my home soil.
Within three months of my time in the US, a hate crime was committed at my University that threatened the lives of all black students on campus. I’ll admit that I was ambivalent at first.
I thought that the Black Students Union was over-reacting – they held a march, a series of peaceful protests and an all-campus sit-in. I thought to myself, “maybe the person who wrote the slur was joking? They couldn’t possibly get rid of all black students!” This notion seemed ludicrous to me. I soon realised, that I was wrong.
Race in America is more than divisive – it is a silent war.
Wo.Man against Wo.Man at odds because of the amount of melanin in their skin – the ramifications of which are felt when you walk into a store and you are (or aren’t) followed by a store assistant. Or when your black friend says that they’ve “had enough of whiteness for a year.”
I know that for many of us who come from non- or less- racially charged countries, the transition to the unspoken rules of racial relations can be difficult and confusing. I’ve often heard it said by many an international student that Americans should just get over it already!
“It” being racial animosities. But “it” has a life of its own. One thousand lives if anything. “It” functions to demarcate those whose lives matter, and those who must fight for the human right to life as the shootings of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin have illustrated.
Race is a sticky topic and quite frankly my heart aches at having to feel that in America, I must always address “it”. The leviathan “it” is. To speak frankly, I’m not too sure if I’m even Black (enough) – in the sense of its use as a politically and socially defined category.
But my journey of discovery and actualisation continues, having, admittedly been shaped in numerous ways by Blackness.
In an act of self-portraiture and inspired my Richard Dyer’s essay “The Matter of Whiteness” I took to juxtapose myself against white snow. Dyer argues that racial imagery functions in the modern world to determine “…whose voices are listened to an international gatherings, who bombs and who is bombed…”. In his words: “race is never not a factor, it is never not at play.”
And one of the racial markers of Whiteness that he identifies is Snow. Snow is white in colour. Snow is cold. Snow takes over the ground. Snow colonises. Snow chills. Snow sparkles like diamonds – like the gold and wealth of the Global North. Snow is clean. Snow is powerful. Snow is White in politik.
Might my world have been different if snow was Black?