White all over

Every culture has its norms. I daresay every culture in the world thinks that its culture is the best, superior to all others. I remember standing in Somalia one day in a bombed out section of the city of Mogadishu with 3 or 4 guards. There was no government, no schools, running water, or government-supplied electricity. One of my guards asked me where my family was living and I informed him they were in Nairobi, Kenya. He looked at me and said, “Thank God I live in Somalia and not in a horrible place like Kenya!”

I could only stare at him with total incomprehension.

This cultural superiority expresses itself in many ways. Some of them demean others. Some are hateful. And some are downright funny – unless you are the victim.

I went with some of our African leadership to visit a remote village, not knowing I was the first person of my flavor, my color, to visit this village. As usual when I showed up for the first time it caused a big stir and was taken as an opportunity for feast or party. When my wife and boys often went with me to such remote locations it was as if the village would cease working for a week just to be around our children, stare at them, play with them, pinch their white skin, and pull their blonde hair.

But this time I went alone.

We spent the usual number of hours greeting everyone, being introduced for the first time, sharing the best of food, while sitting in the most honored of places at the evening meal. Often it was 11 to midnight before I could go in exhaustion to my sleeping bag. But even then the children were not satisfied. Apparently after their parents had gone to sleep they had snuck out of their beds, surrounded the rondoval in which we were sleeping, and proceeded to whisper and laugh. Now I have always been a light sleeper and having a dozen or so African children whispering and laughing outside of my hut is a sure nemesis for my being able to sleep. Finally in exasperation I asked one of the men in the hut with me, “What do these children want? Why won’t they let me go to sleep?”

With a great deal of chagrin one of the pastors visiting with me said, “They want to know if you are white all over? All they can see is your face and hands while you are dressed and they are wondering if only your face and hands are colored white?” Knowing I would not get any sleep until I “addressed” their concerns, I went outside of the hut, during the full moon of the East African coast, dressed only in my University of Kentucky basketball shorts – which I used as pajamas.

The children gasped in horror. I heard them say, “Isn’t it terrible to be white like this all over your body?” Another said, “He looks like a grub which you sometimes find under a rock.” Another commented, “Maybe when he gets older this horrible white skin comes off and God gives him a black skin?”

With what little dignity I could salvage from the moment, I held my head high, adjusted the waistband of my University of Kentucky basketball shorts, and then crawled back into the sleeping bag never to appear again unless fully clothed.