Young Middle-Class, Please Do Better

Trigger Warning: Mention of Rape

To be a black woman, and a black woman activist, it to be aware of the fact that you have fought for and continue to fight for people who would never fight for you. Whether, like Oluwatoyin Salau, it is the fight for black men who then turn around and rape you, or the fight for other women who, because of your race, class, or whatever else, do not value you. Yet your fight doesn’t stop. Because you understand what it means to be oppressed. To exist in a world that seems to have all its systems set on ensuring that you don’t make it. Whatever “making it” even means. And you know that no one deserves that, so you keep going, whatever it takes. Don’t even get me started on what it means to be a poor, black, queer, disabled, female activist from a religious minority. I can’t even imagine. But that’s not what this is about.

This past week has been interesting. Young middle- and upper-class KOT filled our timelines with memes about a certain someone’s house, many listing all the things they’d be willing to do to live there, even just for a week. A lot of them were funny. Beneath the humour though, there was a lot of disappointing truth. “Hio mbwa hata inaishi vizuri kuliko watu wengine,” someone pointed out. They’re right. That dog has access to a swimming pool in its backyard when many Kenyans, millions in fact, lack access to clean drinking water. Or any drinking water. That dog has probably never missed a meal. Or even a bath. But we all know that. And I know that it is not the dog’s fault. After all, you don’t choose where you are born, right?

I recently read a post that spoke about the fact that being middle-class is about belonging. The middle-class therefore don’t protest injustice because then, the upper-class will not like them as much. Protesting would mean that the middle-class are willing to lose a lot of the privileges that make them live so comfortably. By comfort, I do not mean luxury. I mean comfort in the sense that they are not afraid of the police in the same way those living in Mathare or Kibera are. They are comfortable enough to afford that 200, or 5000 bob bribe and then turn around and condemn corruption. Protesting would require them to acknowledge their privilege and work towards ending the unjust treatment of poor people and minorities. It is obviously much easier for people to ignore that and live their lives.

In the case of the house, the middle- and upper-class could both share in the laughter regarding how difficult it must be for the inhabitants to decide what living room to watch television in, and talk about how they have suddenly found the motivation to “work hard” in order to get there themselves. What I found interesting regarding the entire story was how, after someone publicly claimed that the owners of the house had been involved in corruption, the narrative quickly turned into how “‘chokora‘ twitter is just jealous”. I’m not even sure I know what chokora twitter is, but I smell a lot of elitism, or is the word classism? Why were these people so quick to defend someone else’s wealth? I can’t be the only one who is disgusted by gross amounts of money. Especially now, when people are being killed because they didn’t have the money to give a police officer a 50 bob bribe. But the guardians of the state don’t want to hear that. And, well, I have come to realise that the guardians of the state are not just the Elite. The Elite are guarded by the middle-class who want what they have. Who cry corruption and inequality but in reality, many of them allow themselves to be pawns for those who find new ways to advance that corruption and inequality.

I do not think that people, and especially young people, understand how the wealth they desire works. In this country, it is practically impossible to amass such wealth without exploiting others, directly or indirectly. It’s confusing. These very same people flooded our timelines a month ago with #blacklivesmatter, seemingly understanding systemic oppression, wanting to dismantle the system and create an even playing field, but proceeding to drool over wealth that was/is acquired through a system that ensures the rich get richer, and well, the poor? We don’t even talk about them.

My issue is that the protest I see is so performative. I know, not everyone can be on the streets, and that’s okay. I myself have not been on the streets, so who am I to talk. But surely, we cannot be here telling ourselves that ‘hard work’ will get us that house. We cannot allow ourselves to believe that the reason people are poor is because their parents didn’t pay attention in class. That narrative has gone on too long. Yes, I appreciate the fact that people have raised awareness on why Black Lives Matter. Can we also now educate ourselves on why poor, black, Kenyan lives matter? Can we stop glorifying money and accept that this capitalist system is oppressive in and of itself?

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