Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Things I love about Kenya 4 – racist dance troupes

They are Kenya's answer to the Black and White Minstrel Show, an act so incredibly racist that white people probably should take offense. But they are also very, very funny.

I'm talking about certain dancers who dress up as old colonials. They wear khaki safari shorts, shirts and hats. White socks sprout out from tackety boots and climb up to knobbly knees. Huge fake bellies swell their shirts to the verge of button-popping. Their faces are painted with big white beards. Their dance is all slapstick: they blow whistles, twirl canes, fall over, kick each other in the ass, stamp around with a bandy-legged gait.

The first time I saw the act was in Visa Place, as we were waiting for the incredibly vulgar guitarist Mike Rua to come on and play what was essentially the same song for the rest of the evening (nothing wrong with that, of course – Galaxie 500 made a career out of playing one song in 30 different ways). We were the only white folks in the packed, sweaty bar, which stank of the grilled chicken, goat and beer just consumed.

When the dancers started their routine, people went crazy: pissing themselves laughing, slapping their thighs, the whole bit. It was highly entertaining, but I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened had we been in Western Europe and the dancers had been white men blacked-up and dressed in the Western idea of traditional African garb. They would have been booed off the stage. In Visa Place, people just kept glancing at us and laughing even more. Such behaviour is so un-PC in the UK that in a recent theatrical production about Al Jolson's life, they did not show him blacked-up to avoid causing offence.

That's one of the funny things about Kenya. It is perfectly acceptable to work on a whole set of assumptions about all white people – essentially, to be racist.

I've had many conversations with Kenyans, during which I told them some things about my own culture that were surprising to them. In the interests of promoting cultural understanding, I'd like to clear up a few myths:

1. There are poor white people and white criminals, although we have essentially moved all of them to one city, Glasgow, where hopefully they will fall on each other like the rabid dogs they are and perish (although we tried this a long time ago, and the end result was Australia).

2. We can dance. Shuffling from side-to-side, out of time to the music, arms flopping around: this counts as dancing, doesn't it?

3. White people can actually wash a dish, pick up their dirty clothes, carry a shopping bag - although admittedly you don't see much evidence of that in Nairobi.

4. Not every white person is a complete mug who will gaily splash money around. Some of us are Scottish.

5. Yes, we do have enormous penises (this may be a rumour I am trying to spread myself).

I could go on. And I usually do. But on this occasion I won't. So there.

1 comment:

pompeydunc said...

I was genuinely offended by that lot. Think we left early....