Racism as an International Student
Sisters, meet Nkebesse, a former SSU. Originally from Central Africa, Kebele was an international student in Kenya, Canada, and America. Today, we talk about experiencing racism in the foreign countries she studied in and how she dealt with it.
How did you pick the countries where you’re studied in?
Kenya was picked by my father, we went there as a family so I had no say in that. For Canada, I had friends that were studying there and liked the place, so I was convinced. My family and I picked America because I love the country (I was there before) and the program I wanted to continue in was more developed in the States than Canada, so I went there.
What were your first impressions of the people in those countries?
Well, let me just say that my opinion does not generalize the entire citizens of those nations. I will just speak in terms of the people I got in contact with.
Kenya: Personally, I thought that Kenyans in the capital city were not too welcoming, it’s funny I’m as African as they are but everywhere I went, especially when I took public transportation, I always got “the stare”. That made me so uncomfortable, I mean I’m not white, I’m just brown-skinned and so why were people looking at me so differently? I was later on told that “the stare” was because people knew that I was foreign. That did not make sense to me at all. Another thing, when talking to Kenyans, they always made me feel like I was not their own, even though we shared the same continent. So, it was just not pleasant. On the other hand, when I visited other cities, I noticed that the people there were happy to see a foreign woman and I never got “the stare”. They treated me well.
Canada: Canadians, I would say are very reserved. They are probably in between, they are neither welcoming nor hostile, they’re just in between. They’re neither friendly nor enemies, just in between.
America: I saw a great difference in America, the people are very friendly and welcoming, they will talk to a stranger as if they were talking to an old friend, they will just go on and on. Americans are willing to help you out no matter the condition you’re in, they are so open that it’s unbelievable. However, I realized that when it comes to money, don’t mess with an American’s pocket, because they will show you a different face. But overall, they set the difference for me.
What was your experience as a Black woman in those countries?
Kenya: In Kenya (in the capital city), being a foreign woman, as stated earlier, I got a lot of stares and the people just made me realized how “foreign” I was.
Canada & America: I didn’t feel any difference in Canada as a Black woman because Blacks are part of the society and the Black immigration rate is high.
How was your first racial experience like? Your reaction?
Let me say this, on a normal day, when someone of a different race is hostile to me, I don’t automatically associate that with racism. I always think that the person is either having a bad day, is naturally mean, or has had bad experiences with Blacks, that’s why he has set guards. I don’t think much about racism because I think this is just a way for the media and politics to divide people.
Kenya: At my school, I often had a lot of Western teachers who were bluntly saying negative things about Africans or treated Black students differently than White ones; hence, it was plainly an evidence of racism. My friends and I were very angry at their attitudes, but who could we report them to when the principal himself was a Westerner? I used to pray a lot that the Lord would touch their heart and He eventually did. Sometimes during the yearly parent-teacher session, my mother would address the issue to the teachers who were embarrassed and later repented.
Canada and America: Not that I remember of, again I could have faced it but I probably did not take it as racism because I didn’t see it as an obvious act. Maybe once in America, a White guy made a statement about how he preferred light-skinned Black women as opposed to dark ones, but I didn’t take it to heart, I knew he was just ignorant and I let him be.
How could you tell that someone was being racist to you as opposed to just being mean?
As mentioned earlier, I never treat people as racist on any given day. Unless, you boldly make a racist comment or treat me differently than the next person who is of different race, then I will be obliged to associate your behavior with racism.
What lessons did you learn as a Black woman?
I never see myself as a ‘Black’ woman, I always see myself as a woman created and loved by God just like any other woman. God has gifted me with the same potentials like any other woman. So, there’s no lesson to learn as a ‘Black’ person but in everything, I learn lessons as a child of God and as a woman; always striving to be better and challenge myself.
Any advice for international SSU?
Before going to a country, please, please, learn in depth about the culture, values, and beliefs of the people. I have seen many international students having a vague idea about a country and once there, they experienced great harassment from the people who were very hostile to foreigners. If you are already in a country where there is great racism, move to a different and better one if possible. Otherwise if not possible, pray, pray, and pray. Rebuke the spirits of racism that are on the constant attack of foreigners. Pray for protection and continued strength. Stand firm in the Lord and reciprocate love with hatred.