The storm over Chandarana Supermarket’s email ostensibly targeting white customers has refused to go away.
At its peak, the Nairobi county government even said it had withdrawn the firm’s licence. Kenyans, particularly the online community, came out with their guns blazing.
The National Cohesion and Integration Commission has also acted.
They all feel the internal email was racist. But was it? Let us relax and soberly reflect on the matter.
First, I can’t support any form of racism. My experience in America’s Deep South, specifically in Mississippi, made me too aware of the evils and reality of racism.
That experience apart, we need to be objective in our analysis of issues.
It is not clear to me why we have chosen to sensationalise the issue without putting it into context first.
Let us be blunt and avoid hiding under the veil of hypocrisy. It is not only Chandarana Supermarket that targets wazungus.
The truth is that we all do that because there is an ingrained belief that they are monied.
The Chandarana email seems to suggest even Asians surprisingly believe wazungus are better off than the rest of us.
That does not mean two wrongs make a right, though, in maths, two negatives multiplied to give a positive. Remember?
Beggars on the streets target wazungus because they believe they have more money or maybe are more generous.
They will approach a mzungu on foot asking for help as opposed to a black Kenyan driving a V8. Think of the number of our girls who are seen as having “reached” back in their villages because they are married to a mzungu no matter the age difference.
Happy Vally lot
Wait a minute. Are we racist in using white people’s names like Charles and Michelle?
Why don’t we give our kids Chinese or Indian names like Chandrasekhar Kamau or Xi Onyango? Are we racist in buying Brazilian hair?
What of the mannequins in our clothing stores that are predominantly “white”?
The belief that wazungus has money has deep roots.
The British settlers had more money because they controlled the economy while others came from rich backgrounds like the Happy Valley lot.
The indigenous people worked for them and were paid with money or posho. What about the Afrikaans settlers or Boers?
Were they rich? They seem to have taken their history back to South Africa. The missionaries had money too and used it to start schools and hospitals.
They also sponsored many poor kids to schools which gave an impression they had lots of money. They might have been good at pooling. After independence, many Kenyans got scholarships to study in the white man’s land, further deepening the impression that they have more money.
What of foreign aid which traditionally comes from the white man (read the West).
You only help others if you have a lot of money! I’m not sure if the Chinese foreign aid will change this perception.
Add the fact that we rarely see poor white people in Kenya.
They normally drive big cars; it does not matter if they are expatriates or settlers who never left. Ever seen a mzungu beggar even in movies?
Chandarana was moving into a familiar mental space. Why are we bitter about it?
This supermarket might have been segmenting the market, a common practice in business.
Segmentation is often based on income which often at times goes with the colour of the skin, not just in Kenya but in many other countries.
We segment the market to try and make as much money as we can. Even mama mbogas know how to segment the market.
They charge more to those who wear spectacles or drive.
Just try shopping with and without these status symbols.
With so many supermarkets in Kenya, segmentation can be an easy way to make more money. You can charge more money for almost the same product or service to different customers.
Don’t we pay different prices for getting a haircut in different parts of the city?
Why do we pay so much for first-class tickets in a plane, yet both first-class and economy passengers reach their destination at the same time?
Please do not accuse me of Dundori mentality; passengers from this area on the border between Nakuru and Nyandarua are said to compete to sit next to the driver so as to arrive earlier!
Other firms from car to phone manufacturers and even hotels and hospitals segment their markets too.
Yet, you can’t tell if the person calling you is using an iPhone or a mulika mwizi.
There are luxury cars and ordinary cars.
We have general wards, amenity wards and even private wings in public hospitals.
Hotels have stars and attract clients depending on their income. Even schools segment their markets.
We have national, extra-county and county schools, then academies and international schools. Charges and skin colour might determine where your kid schools.
Chandarana Supermarket’s mistake was to report loudly what we all do or fear to say.
They failed to be politically correct but economically, they were right.
Raise up your hand if you do not want to have rich customers?
-The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi