Never, in my history of writing for The EastAfrican, has my inbox been as full as it is now with feedback to the articles, If you’re black, stand back – discrimination and hospitality and Hospitality industry – our society has stopped respecting elders. From the many, I requested the permission of Trevor Sawyer and Martin Baraza to share their feedback.
Trevor recalls arriving at a Mombasa beach hotel gate as a group of engineers, four white and one a black Kenyan. A friendly security guard enthusiastically greeted the Kenyan engineer, telling him, “Hello driver, I see you have brought my guests back safely.” The vehicle roared with laughter, and the engineers left the guard none the wiser. Till today, they fondly tease their “driver” colleague about the incident.
Martin, a dual citizenship Kenyan who previously worked in the hospitality industry in Kenya, said, “I understood what you meant in the articles. I felt so bad and worthless seeing colleagues, especially those serving at restaurants, bars and swimming pool areas, prioritise serving whites over fellow Africans, regardless of how much they spend. Black people were searched when they tried to access beach hotels and asked what business they had in the hotel.”
Martin had heated debates with colleagues, coming up against a wall of self-prejudice – his black colleagues defended their perceptions that white people were better than them. Martin explains how sad this made him feel, describing it as a sickening “slave mentality.”
In the West, Martin encountered and was shocked by acts of racism: Denial of entry to clubs, job discrimination and white people preferring to stand rather than sit next to him in trams and trains. Blacks dominate cleaning and warehousing jobs. While working in the hospitality industry in which he had a wealth of experience, he was often expected to counter the insinuation of not being smart enough. Martin, whose wife is white, has a five-year-old son who he hopes will live in a more equal world. His wife is his biggest support.
Martin often wishes his former black colleagues had his experience to understand favouring white people in Africa does not guarantee non-discrimination in the West. Martin has met many racists but quite a number who are not. He comes home to Kenya often, and hates seeing blacks discriminating against blacks.
I called Mohammed Hersi, chairman of the Kenya Tourism Federation, the umbrella body of all tourism organisation including airlines and travel agencies. Mohammed traced the discrimination of blacks against fellow blacks to colonial and postcolonial Africa. “Ethnicist and racist people do not pick up their bad habits at any of the hospitality industry schools. This is not a topic taught there. Most of those who frequented hotels in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s when the racial and economic divides were much deeper were white. This contributed to the ‘whites give bigger tips’ myth.”
Conversely, Mohammed says, “Sometimes, black people come to restaurants expecting to be discriminated against. A white arrives after a black person and orders a sandwich. The black person has ordered a steak, which takes longer to prepare. The sandwich arrives first – it does look like discrimination yet it is not. Sometimes, some people do not recognise the professional skills of hospitality industry staff. We have waiters with degrees who cannot get jobs elsewhere. Some people treat them not as if they were delivering a professional service but as if they were servants”.
Mohammed’s advice to those in the hospitality industry: “It is better to receive a business card from a client instead of a tip as this builds relationships and working while looking towards an expected tip is not service.”
Trevor suggests rebuilding East African society through re-education to create a culture of equality. This may result in the guard, for example, changing his opinion that a black person driving a car full of white people can only be a driver.
Martin suggests Africans should discuss discrimination consistently. They, he specifies “shouldn't give fellow Africans preferential treatment, as everyone is charged the same amount of money for their services.” Mohammed provides a challenge, “To create an equal society, could we too as Africans stop referring to people as Mzungu and Mhindi – which really, is derogatory?” Food for thought.
Wairimu Nderitu is the author of Beyond Ethnicism: and Kenya: Bridging Ethnic Divides. E-mail: [email protected]