I recently had dinner with a family friend. Originally from Africa, he’s had a long and interesting career with the British Royal Marines and as an independent counter terrorism advisor. “Lieutenant-Colonel Thorpe” (although he didn’t make us address him that way!) was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and is fluent in Kiswahili. He’s worked on the open seas, and in the darkest heart of Africa.
While he was visiting, it occurred to me that our dinner party was like an updated version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. This time, however, rather than shattering stereotypes about what black people are and are not, my stereotypes about white people were shattered! The African born, Kiswahili-speaker is Caucasian!
When I think about racial stereotypes and racial profiling, I always think about the “other”. I happen to be Caucasian, and so I tend to think about how racism and stereotypes might affect non-white people. I’ve never stopped to consider what my stereotypes about white people are, or the fact that I have them at all!
My uncle loves to tell a story about the Lieutenant-Colonel’s brother, with whom he used to jog. These men were hulking, slow moving joggers – each hovering near 240 pounds. Nevertheless, they were decent athletes. When the Lieutenant-Colonel’s brother competed in a triathlon, a group of skinny black runners passed him and mentioned (in Kiswahili) something about a “whale”. Clearly, they too didn’t expect a heavy-set white man to be a Kiswahili speaker! What a surprise to find out that the whale could understand every word!
If you’ve never seen the classic film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, then catch it at the John Dutton theatre on November 4th. It’s part of our “Thursday Afternoon at the Movies” series.