Chronicles on the identity of 'Becoming Black'

Growing up in US Mwende found out quickly that her identity as a Kamba, Kikuyu, Kenyan, meant little.

The poetry anthology, Becoming Black, by Mwende Katwiwa. PHOTO | CAROLINE ULIWA 

IN SUMMARY

  • Mwende Katwiwa said that growing up in America as an immigrant she found out quickly that her identity as a Kamba, Kikuyu, Kenyan, meant little as she was now just “black.” She chronicles her journey in understanding this new identity in her book.

The poetry anthology, Becoming Black, was written by Mwende Katwiwa, a Kenyan living in the US.

“With a name like Mwende Kalondu Katwiwa, the jokes will come. Do not envy your brother David or blame your mother Lucy. The way their names roll smooth off foreign tongues is proof that colonisation and assimilation go hand in hand,” Katwiwa writes.

I met the author last month when she was visiting Tanzania to feature as a workshop leader and performing artist at the youth poetry festival Paza Sauti.

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She said that growing up in America as an immigrant she found out quickly that her identity as a Kamba, Kikuyu, Kenyan, meant little as she was now just “black.” She chronicles her journey in understanding this new identity in her book.

“Black father tells daughter that she is now Black…but Blackness is something her child mind is not yet able to understand…thinks to how the most evil of villains are the ones who dress in black who shroud themselves in the perceived terror of darkness… daughter decides she does not want to become Black. She has yet to realise that Black father never gave her a choice, that Black father was never given a choice, that he stumbled upon this newfound Blackness the hard way,” she writes in the poem My Father’s Lesson.

The book talks of heroines for our children, the “strong African woman” who doesn’t complain, cooks for the family meal in meal out, tends the land, raises the children, halts her education, her dreams.

Katwiwa dedicates the poem The Seven Deadly American Sins to Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American high school student who was shot in 2012 while taking a walk in his neighbourhood. The poem is featured in Trayvon Martin, Race & American Justice: Writing Wrong, a collection of critical writing on the tensions of white privilege.

Katwiwa is a 2017 TEDWomen speaker, and was ranked third at the 2015 Individual World Poetry Slam. She worked with the #BlackLivesMatter campaign and her poetry has been featured in Upworthy, OkayAfrica, TEDx, the New York Times, Huffington Post, and other publications.

The book was self published in 2015.

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