“Indians are racist…there, I said it!”


I’m having a drink with Aleya, at Mercury ABC, her of formerly Story Moja Hay Festival, writer and a contender of literary greatness. People stare, especially young Muhindis with spiky hair. We get talking about race and she goes off on a tangent. “How about you put that in writing?” I ask her because when Aleya writes it’s like looking through a clear polished glass.


I almost married a black man.

My word count does not favour lengthy politically correct terminology, so if you are already offended, you should stop reading. Biko’s forehead runs a tight ship. Besides, this is going to get more uncomfortable.

He was a dreadlocked mechanic with that irresistible sanifu Swahili and a surprising wit. In the unromantic landscape of Bungoma town, we fell in love. A shielded bubble of passion. We were together for three years and what started out probably as a fetishized romance, grew into a solid partnership. Our love took the shape of a gigantic middle finger pointed upwards, at the societal taboo of brown/black love. We were going to show the world. Love can conquer race!

Then he cheated on me. And, in a series of poorly covered up coital indiscretions, he stole my hopes of our being the poster couple for colourless love.

If this were Bollywood, what would have actually taken place is an intervention by concerned family, interspersed with dramatic pauses, mournful song and tearful monologue:

What will people say? How will we face the community? What about our honour?

And finally the ultimatum.

Stop this, or you will be disowned forever.

The script is the same in this town. Except, we don’t talk about it publicly. We let it

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fester like a gangrenous wound, oozing resentment and silent assumptions. So let’s talk shall we, before we are forced to chop the whole damn leg off.

The one question I get asked more than any other is,

Why don’t you let your women marry our men?

Marry not date. Commit not flirt. Embrace not skirt. Absorb not dip into.

I get asked this by taxi drivers, colleagues, askaris, friends, usually following the backhand compliment,

You are not like the usual Muhindis

Whilst well-meaning, I am deeply offended by this statement. But that is a whole other post.

They ask with genuine curiosity. As if, whatever wrongs Muhindis have committed, this is the thing they are most upset about. They really want to know.

Why don’t you let your women marry our men?

I can hear the whispers. Muhindis are racist. There I said it. I can hear you. But, what if there is more to it?

It must be the caste system? If lower castes (often darker skinned) cannot marry upper castes (often lighter skinned), then what hope in hell do you have of penetrating 2000 years of social conditioning?

Wait, that only applies to Hindus. Then again, it is still a big deal for a Hindu to marry a Muslim. Or even a Shia Muslim to marry a Sunni Muslim. Same religion. Same God. Still, big deal.

Let’s put this into context, arduous boys from different Indian ethnic backgrounds, even though both are equally brown, still have to fight to put a ring on it.

With over 80 different ethnic groups in India (according to the reliably inaccurate Wikipedia), still stuck up over ethnic differences, the battle has not yet reached the frontier of colour.

What, you thought Kenya had the monopoly on tribal prejudice?

But, let’s call it like it is. It is not as a big deal for a brown woman to marry a white man. In fact, it could be referred to as, ‘marrying up’ or ‘getting lucky’.

I was once married to an Irishman, and suffered through,

Oh, look at him. He’s just so fair. You are so lucky. You better work hard to hold on to him, or he will be whipped away.

And whispers of,

How did SHE get him?

I had to hold back from turning these women upside down by their sari petticoats, to shake some sense into their hair sprayed heads. He was the lucky one! Though I must have not worked hard enough, because the marriage is in the past tense. Of course my grandmother did tell me when it all fell apart,

How could it have worked out? He IS from a different community.

So then we ARE racist….right?!

When in doubt, blame the colonials! It must be a hangover from a century long colonial rule. Generations were born and buried under the British Raj in India. Along with afternoon tea, they left us with the unshakable belief that White is Superior. Lighter is Superior. Ergo White tops Brown. Brown tops Black. Pardon the unfortunate puns.

They were great at brain-washing; they managed to infect India with their Victorian prudishness. Before colonialism we had sexy Kamasutra. After colonialism, we got wimpy portrayals of sex in Bollywood; flames flickering, bees dipping into

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flowers, trains entering tunnels…I kid you not!

Oh, so it’s not our fault!

Maybe it is sex.

We have different attitudes towards sex. Getting pregnant outside of marriage is not uncommon in Kenyan society. With us, if you have a child out of wedlock, you may as well tattoo ‘Spoiled Goods’ on your forehead, and resign yourself to a lifetime of scorned upon spinsterhood. Maybe the difference is just so fundamental, that it terrifies us.

Then throw in the things we hear whispered,

They aren’t like us, you know.

In some Kenyan tribes, if your husband dies, you will be forced to sleep with his brother!

Oh thank Heavens. It is just sheer ignorance then. No wonder! We aren’t worried about letting our men marry your women, but our woman must be protected from strange, unfamiliar customs!

Back to the dreadlocked lover. Would it have been more acceptable if he wore a suit instead of overalls? Is wealthy black professional higher up on the food chain than poor working class brown man? Could it be a class thing?

Or maybe it is more innocent.

Maybe we just like familiarity. We are wary of difference. You have all been next to the brown person on a flight who pulls out their tin of smelly snacks. We know the airline serves food …but we want to eat what we are used to.

I admit, these are sweeping generalisations, and brown/black marriages do exist, but there is no denying it is taboo. This piece may seem flippant, but I truly want to understand. Because at the core of any prejudice lies a genuine belief of truth, a perverse logic. Maybe if I can understand precisely what that logic is, I can show how flawed it is.

Then we can save the whole Bollywood melodrama, and make love, not turn our backs in stony silence.

But back to dreadlocked almost husband for a moment. The biggest thorn pricking our temporary bubble of bliss, was the accusatory glares that came from Kenyans, mostly brown. They all seemed to scream

How dare you?

How dare you be with him – don’t you know WE don’t marry THEM.

Reminds me of the Five Monkeys Experiment.

Stay in the bubble that you belong. Don’t cross over to the other side. They aren’t like us. Marry one of your kind.

So perhaps there is a pus-filled boil of racism festering inside most of us, which has become a part of our cultural imprint….and the most astounding thing is, when it comes to marriage, we don’t even pretend to be apologetic about it. It just is. Like it or not.

You may read more of Aleya’s literary work here: www.chanyado.wordpress.com

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    1. I agree. I was expecting more depth. The experience is well described.

      I felt, the blog ended too early. I was expcting to read more analysis.

      Respect to the writer for blogging on this issue.

  1. Lol its nice to have an Indian (or is it Hindu?) speak out on these things. Observing the Asians at nakumatt Ukay or at Sarit I couldn’t help but think they are racist. I mean they barely try to fuse with the rest of the society and most people generally keep off.

    Doesn’t look sustainable and yes marrying indian women would be he epitome of inter-customary relations. Its just how it is.

  2. This Aleya Kassam is headed for a Pulitzer, damn if they dont give her, i will bestow it myself…. you know they will throw you out of Kenya for writing such controversy…we dont like to hear truth, even if it comes from a cute little mouth…. I love reading your words….its like you go down into my mind and pull it out of the dark thoughts i am afraid to even admit to myself…. i feel exposed and naked when im reading you…….

  3. This post raises more questions than it answers…kind of giving the reader something to mull over…ilike

  4. Yes it is…sadly! The “pus-filled boil of racism” I mean. and it can be confusing “talk of we who schooled in Indian or are they called Asian schools of M.M. Whatever, Arya and what not….and did not end up having indian “girlfriends” as much as both wanted to

    1. M.M. Shah you mean? Seems like we are a whole lot! Indian kids kept their distant in lower primary, and then when we got to class 7, they disappeared! Next thing we saw over the fence was a pram in hand and a man by their side. A common sight in Patel Flats Kisumo.

      1. Magunga you have pain…. I have read this story of yours elsewhere….. She still has your heart…. O lawd!

  5. Absolutely awesome, thought-provoking post. Loved the simple yet issue-touching way you’ve written.

  6. Great writing! Am a Kenyan (black) girl married to the love of my life-a wonderful Muhindi. We both come from very close knit families and thank God, we never experienced the prejudice we read everywhere about! Family and friends in Kenya always introduce my hubby this way `He is not like the usual Indians’ as I shudder in disgust. To me that’s racist- is he supposed to be an ***hole? Having also lived in India for a couple of years, I agree with a lot of sentiments shared in this post. People In India are very jazzed by me and us, more because they do not have information about Africa and Africans which I do not see as racism, rather- misinformation. To me my husband is not Indian, but a human being and I guess that is why we are still in love years together later. Once we stop seeing the world in races and tribes, we open our world to so much that life has to offer! You can read my post on this subject here: http://wp.me/p1nzZ9-81

  7. i have a half caste girlfriend who is half white half kenyan, she doesnt have typical half caste looks but brown looks e,g straight hair instead of curly hair, etc etc.. When we go to sarit center we get the look, diamond plaza.. oh yes the look.. even in joburg,we got the look not from white people but from indians, i think its their culture and how they are brought up. you will do bussiness with them, drink with them, study with them, even pray with them (goans) but not marry/date them. simple.

  8. Nice post Aleya!

    Mark Mwangi, do pardon our race, I have come to realize that we just do not fuse with anybody…neither our own kind nor any other…

    In fact, till I had my baby, I didn’t even know the people next door, who are Indians btw…now that the baby is nearly 2 and is always running off to their house, I have finally been forced to socialize!

    Speaking for myself and the hubby, I have have noticed that we keep to ourselves unless we absolutely have to…even then, we think twice…probably the rest of the race is that way too…not too sure!

  9. Hi Aleya, Thanks for sharing what we all know but place in teh background. But yes, complex and sad it is. Even in school we all knew….date an Indian, if you wish, but marriage wont come from that. So best not go there.

  10. i have married a kikuyu girl and our life is beautiful, our children are great and my family is happy with us totally.. every race has it in for the other. racism is ingrained in our dna. just the way we treat our employees especially maids and house helps males. am i a racist aleya kassam.. you tricked me with the heading and as it is very true when ”Aleya writes it’s like looking through a clear polished glass” It shows clearly a VERY WEAK ARTICLE not researched and boring.

  11. This is very good writing. So good that you can afford to rarify when you choose to write in opinion. You keep writing like this, you’re going to end up famous. I’m gay by the way. Luhya. Married to a Kenyan. White. Kikuyu. He’s Catholic, I’m Hindu. I kid you not. Don’t know where to start.

  12. Yes.. it is tough,, if Indian & Indian is problematic, talk caste and bla bla.., Indian & African is like oil and water,, fusion impossible even under extreme heat.., both will evaporate or burn out without coming together.., but never give up.. love conquers all if both partners wishes so… 😉

  13. Personal experience:

    Me (black) walking around with her (Pakistani) in the streets = curious stares from Indo-Paks who are busy closing up their shops, occasional glance from blacks.
    Me (black) walking around with her (Pakistani) at the (indo-centric) community centre = curious stares from black watchmen, waiters, cleaners and occasional glance from Indo-Paks.

    I guess we tend to notice different things, in more ways than one.

  14. As a topic ive always wondered about but not quite looked into, this made for a curious read. Aleya there’s a comical twist in the flow of your writing,which more than the subject matter kept me reading on till the end. I will definitely look into more of your writing to get a better gist of what your literary art is about. For what it’s worth,this piece has dipped into addressing something we (Kenyans) have at one time or another thought of. Good going,
    new fan

  15. Not enough firepower in the essay. Too much restraint shown here by Aleya. Plus the dynamics on the ground are changing more rapidly then Aleya suggests.

  16. Indians are racist. But Kenyans are tribalistic. The worst Indians do is pour scorn on inter-racial relationships. The worst Kenyans do is to kill each other with machetes because of tribalism. Which one do you think is worse ? Kenyans should remove the log in their eyes before accusing wahindi of racism

  17. As an Kenyan with Indian heritage, I agree that many Indians are racists. My cousins, who are biracial (indian & kimeru descent) have experienced discrimination within the Indian community. I count myself lucky to have grown up in a family that was so open about race and religion, where we have learnt to accept people regardless of race, creed or colour. However, there will always be a part of me that fuels with anger towards the Indian community in Kenya for their assumption of superiority over black Africans.

  18. Wahindi’s are very very racists. Those that aren’t are the smaller percentage. But the thing about racism and tribalism is that no one is born a racist or tribal, the community one lives in is what shapes one to think in a particular way.
    For example kids in a school like Aga Khan which has kids of possibly all races, tribes and religion usually treat each other as equals when they’re young. What happens when they get older? They discover that blacks are inferior, dirty, and all that crap.

  19. Interesting article. It gives an insight,from a Hindu perspective, into how culture has influenced so much the thinking of so many Hindus. I have yet to say I have been looked down upon by a Hindu, as those have met are pretty friendly. I work with them by the way, on a day to day basis which I wouldn’t if any discrimination occurred.

  20. While this article is insightful, the point of view suggests that this prejudice or ‘racism’ if you like is only meted onto the African Kenyans by their Indian Kenyan counterparts and yet truth be told and let’s face it:it is a mutual prejudice and racism.It is meted out by the black Kenyans on the Indians as well.
    The truth is that after getting used to the estrangement between the two communities as described very clearly in this post by Aleya, most black Kenyans really don’t care much about interacting more with Indians beyond the work level.They also have names they call them and many times consider them incapable of showing sincere regard or love to those different from them beyond commercial interest or exploitation. The truth is that the black Kenyan is self aware,proud of his/her blackness and in these times where one can achieve anything despite the race they belong to,black Kenyans have high sense of esteem,especially the educated ones.They will therefore not take it kindly for an Indian to mistreat other fellow black Kenyans at their workplace and expect to be loved in return.In contrast,just like Indians,black Kenyans consider inter-marriage with a white person more prestigious and today black and white unions are quite common.Being a country with majority having Christian religious leanings,to add onto the colonial past and the immigration of so many to U.S and Europe, the black and white ties are of course stronger than say black and brown(Indian)
    However, India itself is a developing country like many in Africa with high levels of poverty and very high population. I have had quite some beautiful experiences with Indians in India and they do not have the attitudes like those of Indians in Kenya(though you have explained how some of those attitudes developed)The Indians in India already have so many problems and a religion that is inherently discriminative by way of caste.When it comes to African experience in India,ignorance tops the list as most actually know nothing about Africa and Africans but think they do.Of course among them there are those who are racist but the general feeling is a mixture of shock,awe and questions and smiles and talk about hairstyles etc,generally, the human experience.

  21. Alternatively one could argue that racists are racists and they come in all flavours.

    So long as fear of the ‘other’ persists then there will be grounds for racism.

  22. Hi aleya
    I think the reason that most indians in kenya do not interact with locals is because of culture. Notice i mentioned indians in kenya. Most indians in kenya are gujaratis, easily over 70% being shahs, cutchis, lohanas, patels. It all boils down to religion. Over 5000 years of tradition. The african and indian way of life is very different. One of them being our diets. What indians(gujaratis) respect and admire i.e animals. Is what africans eat. Just to clear the air, not just cows, gujaratis value every life form as important. This is one of the mahor reasons of lack of inter marriage between the two communities. As i mentioned earlier it only holds true to the particular group of indians here in kenya. Believe it or not, it is indeed a very big deal. Cultures and ways of life are difficult for everyone to change. i believe this may be a major reason gujaratis in kenya dont mix with locals beyond business e.t.c

  23. In the bhagavad geeta Lord Krishna tells Arjuna about the realities of life. one is that we are all one and it is only the conditioning of the Maya world that makes us think we are different from each other. I believe there will always be discrimination in this world. even if not of skin, then intelligence it is a known fact an intelligent person never befriends fools and if he does he will try to enlighten him thus assimilating him. it doesn’t matter all this issues , in one life or another the black man becomes a Hindu and a Hindu becomes a black man through reincarnation. that is reality the black man should try to learn on how to acquire Hindu knowledge and they shall be on same ground.

  24. The Asian communities the Sikh, hindu, and many religions from Indians have so much usefull knowledge to offer the black Africans not just women fantasies. I would like before the blacks are allowed to marry Hindus that they learn first from teachers like guru Nanak, prabhupada, lord Krishna and many Hindu gurus and there vedic knowledge.
    Apart from Isckon hare Krishna kenya, other Hindu groups have not opened up to kenyans.
    Advise to you! learn about Aryan religions which is the root of all reasons then you will understand meaning. the only reasons behind descrimination is
    1. lack of knowledge in mind of the descriminated
    2. concrete knowledge in the mind of the descriminator.

    when you have proper Knowledge and understanding of self, something or someone. you overpower. that’s the reason.

  25. idi amins expulsion and killing of indians was a progressive move was it?
    british killed tens of millions of indians during colonialism was that progressive?
    indians are treated extremely badly across middle east but that is okay is it?
    blacks are soem of the most racist people on earth but no body can say so because that would be deemed racist.

  26. We are not racist when we don’t follow your religion.
    We are not racist when we don’t wear your style of clothes.
    We are not racist when don’t talk your language.
    We are not racist when we don’t buy your type of music.
    We are not racist when we don’t sing like you.
    We are not racist when we don’t eat meat and you do.
    But we are accused racist for following our customs.

    Sometimes cultures and customs clash and it is unfortunate.
    But it does not make us racist.
    Racism is hate filled.
    What you accuse us of is not hate filled.
    There are many other good examples of racism.
    So I say to ALL Kenyans, please stop giving us a racist label.
    Stop demanding we change.
    Stop trying to decipher us in you blogs and comments.
    We are not scapegoat for your demands and pleasures.
    Integration does not mean we give up our customs.
    Please don’t try to label us, demean us and devalue us for following our culture.
    We are a race of people with our own customs which we are happy with.
    I’m sorry you don’t like it or us because of that.