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209 White Kenyans have a slang term for whites in Africa they perceive as especially retrograde: kaburu. The word refers to an unreconstructed type, possibly Afrikaner, definitely low in intellect and high in racism. In the decades after Kenya’s independence, settler descendants circulated schoolyard jokes hinging on a character named van der Merwe, a fictive Afrikaner who embodies the kaburu spirit. Here, Olivia relates a typical van der Merwe joke from her childhood: Van de Merwe is assigned to measure the height of a pole. He tries shimmying up to measure but fails to get to the top; he tries this, he tries that, all to no avail. Eventually an African asks him why he doesn’t take the pole down, measure it, and then put it back up. Van der Merwe thinks a moment and then says: “That’s stupid, you bloody kaffir [a racially offensive slur]. I’ve got to measure the height of the pole, not its length!”1 The kaburu foil, the Afrikaner-style colonialist, represents everything that the Kenyan settler—especially after Independence—supposedly is not. The kaburu is disrespectful to Africans, logistically incompetent, and morally backward. He follows the creed that, as Olivia puts it, “White people rule; it doesn’t really matter where or how; they just do.” The middle-class and well-to-do settler descendants I encountered in Kenya, between bars and beachfront gatherings, social clubs and offices, Land Rovers and tented safari camps, enjoy and defend their lifestyle, but they’re aware they can’t afford a rigid creed of white supremacy. They know they are a privileged community under scrutiny. And at Conclusion 210 | Conclusion critical junctures such as the Cholmondeley trial or the Maasai protests over white-owned land in Laikipia, they become re-racialized; singled out as problematic by virtue of their racial community’s colonial history. This book has probed the moral double consciousness occasioned by these critiques, and explored the techniques some white Kenyans use to respond to the discomforts of seeing themselves being seen. For many I spoke to, defensive expressions of nationalism seem an effort to try to establish their belonging in Kenya. And as part of this nationalism, settler descendants, time and again, draw distinctions between types of whites in Africa. We have seen their stereotypes of two-year-wonder expatriates, those do-gooders who, say my respondents, think they understand how to help, but really just meddle in the workings of a nation they don’t fathom. (Perhaps even worse, to settler descendants, are the expats who adopt mannerisms they associate with “Kenya cowboys,” sometimes drawing on a template they’ve pieced together from novels and Hollywood productions.) But their most morally significant foils hail from other former colonies, especially South Africa and Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), where white-run regimes were famous for brutal extremes of segregation and discrimination. At Kenya’s independence, some settlers who couldn’t stomach living under black rule headed south to those same nations, leaving some whites who stayed on in Kenya feeling almost progressive by contrast. Here, for instance, is Trevor, describing how his stint at secondary school in 1990s South Africa clarified why he belongs in Kenya: That sort of cemented more than anything why I was Kenyan. Because there’s obviously that whole apartheid time in South Africa and I got in around the time it truly opened up. And just that sort of feeling of black and white and boundaries and everything down there, you could feel the tension straight away. You know, you walk in a street in Kenya and chaps [are] really friendly. You get down there and there’s complete change of attitude. And that sort of that made me feel, well, we’re lucky where we are. An older white Kenyan from an agricultural family, Eleanor, makes similar claims, insisting white Kenyans must not be conflated with white South Africans: [Also] I think South Africa is definitely a different kettle of fish. I don’t feel at home there because the race tension there is unreal. In England [where Eleanor went to university] people were like: “You South African!” and it was all one mush. I couldn’t understand it then because I’d never been there and experienced that . . . but when I went to South Africa I was like, “Ho ho, Conclusion | 211 now I see what the problem is.” But Kenya is so far from that. Maybe because [of] what...


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