Black-White Supremacy in a Nairobi Mall

“I can’t fucking stand these people. Can you?”

“Excuse me?” I reply meekly.

“Black people. I cannot stand black people.”

Last weekend, in achingly hip Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I attended a dinner party in a warmly lit second floor loft. Other attendees were primarily NYU film students, one out-of-town friend from somewhere in Connecticut, and the host’s — Anne’s — cousins in from Italy.

On the balcony, amidst rich Italian pasta and the faint beat of bass from the Brooklyn streets below, Anne asks me an interesting question about my recently completed two-year trip around the world: “What was your most positive first interaction with a total stranger?”

“I’m not so sure!” I reply. “No one has ever asked me that before. I’d love some time to contemplate. However, while I can’t recount my most positive first interaction with a stranger, I can definitely recount my most memorable.”

More than two years ago, I sat exhausted in a cafe booth of a bustling Nairobi mall. I’d just arrived from a night bus from Jinja, Uganda, and my body craved something that would sit in my stomach like a ten-ton rock.

A lovely park in lovely Nairobi.

A lovely park in lovely Nairobi.

The bus was meant to leave around 4pm the previous day, but unfortunately, never showed. Instead, I opted for the 11pm, and given that the road was more pot-holed than not, and nighttime travel is never a strong idea in East Africa (bandits, more bandits, etc.), I didn’t get much sleep.

I’m exhausted, unshowered and delirious — a strong contrast to the suited, well-groomed, fifty-plus-year-old gentleman reading the newspaper at the adjacent table. As I wait, he gives his order to the nearby waitress, inexplicably yet visibly losing patience with every passing moment. When the waitress leaves, he turns his attention to me.

“I can’t f*cking stand these people. Can you?”

“Excuse me?” I reply meekly.

“Black people. I cannot stand black people.”

I can’t believe my ears. To add to this hurricane of assholery, this man — sharply dressed with the facade of importance — was black himself.

“Firstly — no. I have no problem with black people. Secondly — I am, perhaps cynically, confused. Aren’t you black, yourself?”

“I am,” he replied. “But I didn’t choose to be black.”

“Excuse me?” I retort, now on razor edge and becoming combative.

“That’s right — I didn’t choose to be black. My father is Kenyan, and my mother is white and Dutch. I can’t stand black people. The waitress had far too much trouble with my order. They never do anything right.”

In ways, I felt sorry for the man. In others, I wanted this vomitorium of ignorance and disgrace to end just as soon as it had started. I shake my head, an obvious look of distaste branded across my face, and refocus my attention on the chicken burger that had just been placed in front of me.

What was left to say? I was anxious for this man to leave. And I wondered, after what appeared to be a fifty-plus-year existence, how he could still think and act along those lines.


Around we go in a Nairobi playground.

I learned that day that travel isn’t an escape. Irrespective of where you are on this planet, there will always be people that are good and bad, smart and stupid, and some so downright twisted it spoils your lunch. Being a good traveler, student, friend or lover is not dependant on geography, nor circumstance, nor any earthly caveat: it’s really all up to you.

Travel is sublime — the strongest educational tool we know — but in the end, it merely teaches you that humans are far more similar than we are different. We all want health and happiness, and we all share the same imperfections.

In this way, travel is not an escape, but a reaffirmation of basic reality. Whether at home or on the other side of the world, you’re still here on Planet Earth.

Author: William Wolf

Will is a 24-year-old travel writer from Philadelphia, with a background in Mathematics and Industrial Engineering. As a teen, he was a meekly described “internet poker professional.” After finishing his university studies, Will took his poker earnings, boarded a plane to Kenya, and began a 26-month trip around the world. Now 23 months into his trip, Will has backpacked through East Africa, South America, Scandinavia, West Africa, and the Middle East. In Istanbul, 16 months in, he ditched the backpack, hopped on a bicycle, and pedaled it to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, through Turkey, The Caucuses, and the Stan’s. Currently, Will cycles from China to Malaysia – the final phase of his trip. When not traveling, Will is found playing hockey, applying cream cheese to bagels, and falling in love in Colombia. Additionally, he runs, which chronicles his adventures.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you Will, I like your writing. You used a tricky subject such as race, to remind me that life and travel is all perspective. And now I feel able to get out of my first world problem of trying to BE THE BEST at everything cos I’ve been reminded that being successful or ‘doing things right’ doesn’t stop a person (in this case, the guy at your lunch) from being an asshole. Perspective, it’s a wonderful thing. Thank you for sharing yours and teaching me some. :)

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Black-White Supremacy in a Nairobi Mall