A Weed In a Field Full of Daisies (by Lule K.)

noirpanther

“They didn’t care that I was African. To them, I was just black. And black was always less,” explained Eunice Kariuki, a Kenyan woman who lived in the United States of America. When you are residingin the West, sometimes the only thing that differentiates you from an African American is your accent. So what if you don’t have an accent? Then you are simply identified as a black American.

Kariuki experienced a considerable amount of culture shock when she first moved to the United States. “I remember the day that I arrived. I had never seen so many white faces in one place. I felt like a weed in a field full of daisies.”

Of course, America is not all white. However, according to Black Demographics, African Americans are the largest racial minority, equaling a measly 13.3%. The probability of racial profiling soars when a black person is clearly…

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Stressed Test

The incessant tapping of that yellow number two pencil against the desk never seemed to end, just like the constant reminder of the score I received on my Scholastic Aptitude Test (the infamous SAT).

I remember every detail about that day, the pencil tapping especially. The poor fellow behind me must have been struggling on the critical reading section, because he just about tapped himself out of that stuffy room. To add insult to injury, he spewed his breakfast all over his test booklet and left a little bit of residue in my kinky hair.

This is the story I would actually prefer to tell my peers when I have to explain my SAT score. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and like many students in the United States, standardized tests are just another challenge to add to our already problematic lives.
John Oliver, the host of Last Week Tonight, uncovers the truth behind standardized tests in America in this video that went public in 2015. Before proceeding with this article, take some time to watch this short video in which Oliver explains what these tests are, and the horrors that occur because of them. As a graduating senior, I feel that it is important to address the pains that high school officials decide to place upon us. A commentary on Oliver’s intriguing video is long overdue.

He begins by explaining how standardized tests are made to look enticing, but after experiencing one, students’ opinions change dramatically. In fact, some students skip their tests, proving that either they are rebellious teenagers who do not want to do anything remotely educational, or that the tests are simply awful. These students may also be emotionally scarred by previous test experiences. Similar to my “SAT testing experience”, students sometimes become ill and have mental breakdowns during these (clearly traumatizing) tests. Funnily enough, such occurrences are not uncommon and clear instructions are provided by the proctor of the exam prior to the occurrence of an incident such as vomiting.

John Oliver proceeds by tracing the immense pressure America decides to give her students back to the 1990s. Back then, American students ranked low compared to other countries when it came to testing. Therefore, operations like “No Child Left Behind” and more recently “Race to the Top” were set in place to help with this national issue. This “needed” intervention, meant to help Americans increase test scores, managed to also triple the number of tests admitted in the country.

Apart from the sick students who cannot seem to catch a break, Oliver hit on another important aspect of standardized testing that some people may neglect to mention. Pearson Education has power over many American schools; students – this is the company to blame for most of your stomach ulcers and migraines. They control many standardized tests, in addition to other aspects of American education. Shockingly, to find graders for the tests, they post job openings on Craigslist. This is an issue that is not exclusive to Pearson Education. Some graders have spoken up and said that grades are not always based on merit, and sometimes they are even based on the last year’s scores. Therefore, if the company is looking to imitate the scores that students received the year previous, graders are instructed to give a certain number of two’s, three’s, four’s and so on. Essentially, graders are asked to see exam papers as a particular number, whether or not the paper is worth the score.

The US has gone through all of this trouble in order to improve the test-taking abilities of its students, and yet the test scores have not even improved dramatically since the changes took place. The injustices that go on after a student has suffered through these grueling exams is heartbreaking, and a better system for standardized tests needs to be established. Is the pencil-tapping induced stress that America is placing on students really worth it?

The African Dream:Tradition, Federation and Independence

Pan-Africanism is an ideology that encourages solidarity between African people. This mindset encourages the unification of all Africans – this is a very powerful idea. We, as African people, are called to stand together and build one another up for the mutual benefit of the entire continent.

Africa has been globally labelled as the world’s poorest continent; in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, more than 218 million people live in extreme poverty.  Africa is also known to be the wealthiest continent, full of natural resources. This creates a paradox between extreme potential and extreme poverty. The continent also boasts the highest birthrate, and has the fastest growing economies and one of the best mobile phone markets in the world, second only to Asia.

Africa’s modern history has been defined by oppression from colonial powers that fragmented various communities and social groups. This caused incredibly weak infrastructures, resulting in an enormous dependence on foreign aid from the West, despite each country’s claim of independence. Why are the countries of Africa still in isolation and still reliant on the West after several decades of independence? According to Pan-African theory, it’s because we are trying to run on a non-African model. Under this model, each fragment of Africa is attempting to survive, while facing very high odds, alone. A Pan-African state would not only stand together politically, but share militaristic and economic goals. “If we were able to work together as a continent we wouldn’t have to rely on the West to help us process our resources”, Njeri Thuo – a high school student in Nairobi – stated when asked about the idea of Pan-Africanism.

With all things considered, a “United States of Africa” is an amazing idea that can only become a reality if we adopt a new model of state firmly rooted in African traditions and ways. Many Pan-Africans blame Western government transplanted to Africa as the root of some of the major problems on the continent. Mwayila Tshiyembe, a firm believer of inventing a multinational Africa, states that the failure of the post-colonial state reflects a questioning of the will to coexist, and a loss of purpose and direction. The nations (or ethnic groups) are in fundamental disagreement about the community’s basic values. How are we to define a free society, authority that is properly conferred and shared, and law that seems to come naturally? State and society seem to have been in conflict ever since Africa’s plurinational societies saw their own model destroyed to make way for an enforced Western caricature.”

If the various nations in Africa could see one another as comrades rather than competitors, and help each other destroy problems such as corruption, we could stomp out poverty and civil unrest. We shouldn’t look to the West to solve problems that are specific to us. We shouldn’t look to adopt forms of government from other civilizations, but rather create various forms of government that work for us – and perhaps only us. As different African countries, we shouldn’t accept the hiring of other nations to build our countries up to their standards. We should understand that we are different, and that because we are different, we need to do something different. 

 

Melting Pot or Not

Interracial marriages and multiracial families are something that are no longer considered rare or unheard of in many countries. They are becoming common in countries such as America, which prides its self on being a melting pot of many different cultures, races, and people. In other places, multiracial children are viewed as exotically beautiful, having picked up the best traits from each race. However when multiracial families or interracial marriages are displayed on advertisements, they are often met with a slew of racist and derogatory remarks, which are detrimental to the progress that advertisement companies are making concerning miscegenation.

On April 29, Old Navy, a well-known American clothing store, released an advertisement on social media which depicted a multiracial family. Almost immediately, the advertisement was met with racist social media comments such as “Absolutely disgusting. What’s next? Gender neutral bathrooms? Pedophilia acceptance propaganda?! Never shopping here again.” This was not the first time an advertisement depicting multiracial families has been attacked. Companies such as Cheerios have been attacked for daring to depict a multiracial family in their advertisements.

The problem is that America has long identified itself as a country of immigrants, a country of many cultures, a diverse melting pot. However, can a country be a melting pot if multiracial families are not accepted in marketing, and business? Many African Americans carry the traits and genes of more than one race; no one seems to have a problem with this as long as both parents are black. The problem seems to stem from having parents that are of different races – miscegenation. The verbally abusive anti-miscegenation attacks that some American marketing businesses are experiencing are yet another sign that the fight against racism is not over. What is worse is that America prides itself on being culturally diverse, and yet cannot except miscegenation. Carolina Johnson, a junior at Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi said, “I think it’s pretty insane at this point in time, in 2016, that people make those kinds of comments. I think that they show a face of society that we really have to try to diminish. To look at a family that is based on love, and say very demeaning things about them, that’s insane.” America has come pretty far in the fight against racism, but there is still a long way to go.

People often think that because slavery no longer exists in the shameless form it used too, slavery is over; it is not. And because segregation laws no longer exist, people can conclude that racism is over; it is not. Things such as racism cannot be solved simply by changing laws. Racism is a system of thinking in which a particular race is placed at the top of the chain, and this system of thinking drastically affects reality. Anti-miscegenation is only one example of the many problems that racism still brings.

It is dangerous to place value and identity in the colour of skin. Our races are simply boxes that society tries to put us in. Race is not an identity. Character is.

Come Together

It’s that time of the year again, when millions of Europeans come together to celebrate music through the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s a competition filled with nationalism, political controversy, interesting fashion choices and of course, tons of heartfelt ballads and interesting euro-pop performances that probably would sound quite bizarre in a different setting. And there has certainly been a few outrageous numbers in the competition that would have you exclaim ‘Only in Eurovision’, including old Russian ladies singing “Party for Everybody” while baking bread as a part of the choreography, a Romanian countertenor in black diamond embellished clothing. Oh, and Ireland´s Singing Turkey back in 2008.

However, Eurovision does not only contain crazy outfits and catchy songs. Politics often make their way into the arena. In the last few years, loud boos have echoed against the walls after Russia’s performances due to the outrage over the anti-HBTQ politics of the country, as well as the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Interestingly, these negative noises have been censored in previous years, but Sweden – this year’s host country – has decided to not censor the show at all. Sergey Lazarev, this year’s Russian competitor, is one of the favorites and says that Eurovision wants to keep politics out of the show and should do just that by censoring the boos. He says that a prospering gay community does exist in Russia and that a Russian victory this year would support it further.

The motivation behind the start of this loved and cherished contest was to unite Cold War Europe. Today, the competition is a friendly one between countries that once were at bloody war with each other. Sometimes things can seem a bit too friendly, when countries put their highest vote on their neighboring country in order to improve the bonds between their respective countries. This leads many to question the fairness of the competition. And in last year’s dramatically close battle between Russia and Sweden for first place, politics might have played a large part. Even though Russia’s competitor expressed her open mind and support of human rights and love, she was faced with deep criticism because of the negative attitude against the country in which she was born. If Russia wins this year, will that victory come without controversy? Probably not.

The turbulence and conflicts that are realities in our world today conflict with other areas – like music – and it seems to be hard to look beyond politics when judging an artist in a competition like the Eurovision Song Contest. As a politically interested person, I know that it can be hard to ignore the political views that certain nation’s governments represent, even when it´s about music. But I think that we all have to remind ourselves that a person can represent only him or herself – not necessarily always a country as a whole. At the end of the day, we shouldn’t have to worry about whether our actions and words are in complete agreement with the policies of our own countries in every aspect of life. We are all from this same world.

The theme of this year’s Eurovision is “Come Together”, and so perhaps we should do just that; we should forget the conflicts for once, and unite with the help of music and creativity.

Ivory Inferno

The Ivory Trade is nothing new to us; it has been going on for centuries. Novels have been written about it and speeches have been made in bid to stop it, but poachers seem to always have a way to obtain ivory. Security is never enough. Today, we know the Ivory Trade to be the commercial, illegal trade of the ivory tusks of – most commonly – Asian and African elephants. Ivory has been valued since ancient times for such things as manufacturing, art, false teeth, fans, and dominoes.

Poachers are now slaughtering up to 35,000 of the estimated 500,000 African elephants every year for their tusks. With a pound of ivory fetching as much as $1,500 on the black market, and the rhino horn raising as much as £54million ($80 million) – more than gold or cocaine – it is obviously a problem of massive proportions.

It is absolutely sickening that poaching continues, and that innocent animals are being decimated for their ivory, only for pieces made of this substance to end up as dusty trinkets on shelves of wealthy people that will forget about them eventually or sell at a higher price.

On Saturday 30th April 2016, ivory from about 8,000 dead elephants went up in thick smoke. Twelve towering piles of ivory – £68m ($100m) worth – were incinerated in Kenya’s Nairobi National Park. Lighting the fire to what has been described as “the world’s largest stockpile of ivory and rhino horns” confiscated from smugglers and poachers, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta demanded a total ban on ivory in order to end the ‘murderous’ trafficking. The event marked the nation’s fourth such burn, raising awareness about the importance of protecting animals and rejecting illicit business at their expense. This symbolic act shows Kenya’s stance on wildlife poaching. “From a Kenyan perspective, we’re not watching any money go up in smoke,” Kenya Wildlife Service Director General Kitili Mbathi said. “The only value of the ivory is tusks on a live elephant.”

While the burns are setting records, conservationist groups have noted that there’s still more work to. And Kenya is seeking a total worldwide ban on ivory sales when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meets in South Africa later this year, as poaching poses an increasing risk to the species.

Celebrities, including actress Kristin Davis, attended the event to show support. Representing the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a Kenyan organization that rescues orphaned baby elephants, she said: “It’s very sad to see so much ivory in one place. I have no doubt that tusks from mothers of some of the orphaned baby elephants are in those piles.”

I was sadly not able to attend this event, but Rhea Chakrabarti, student and member of the “Hands Off Our Elephants” campaign managed to witness the spectacle. When asked about her thoughts on the event she replied, “When I was confronted by the 105 tons of ivory stacked up awaiting cremation, it was simply too much to take in. It baffled me how the ivory was stacked in a way that made it seem so beautiful. The tusks had writings on them, their weight and location -the little things. The pyres of ivory represented the lives of 8000 elephants. 8000 elephants. It’s disgusting just saying that…The ivory burning might seem controversial, but being there compared to nothing else I have experienced – it was beautiful and heartbreaking. Our government and many different organizations stood together for one common goal: to not let this happen again. The ivory burning was a step in the right direction for Kenya, [and] it sent a well-needed message to poachers, and hopefully next year there will be nowhere as close to the amount of ivory that was poached.”

Kenya’s ivory is not for sale! This trade means death – of both our elephants and natural heritage. I am a proud Kenyan living in this beautiful country, and I am proud that our country took a stand for its elephants and sent a message – one that I hope that transforms into action.

Who Writes History? The Gender Gap

Is the significance of women’s roles throughout the course of history diminished in education? Some people claim that history was written primarily by men and for men. Few of the textbooks used in history education are written or edited by women. And yet, there are groups that still disagree with the opinion that there is gender bias in today’s history classrooms. They hold to the opinion that many of the leaders in the past were men and it is therefore natural for these curricula to focus more attention on men than women.

It is important to remember that written history is not based only on facts, but also on the views of those who write it. Furthermore, our perception of what has happened in our past is important because it is reflected in how we experience the present. The way we see the role of women in history, therefore, does matter in the current debates concerning gender equality.

In speaking with some students at my school, Rosslyn Academy, opinions varied on the perception (or lack thereof) regarding gender bias in history education. I posed the question “In your experience, do you believe that there is gender bias in history education?” to ten girls and ten boys. Interestingly, seven out of the ten girls thought that the history education they receive shows gender bias, whereas only two out of the ten boys think so. Boys, generally, did not seem to see anything problematic in the history they’ve been taught, while girls answered very differently.

Johanna French, a history teacher at Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi, says that her history teachers and professors of both genders were intentional in talking about women in history. I asked her about the books she uses in her classes, which I have noticed to contain quite a few documents and statements made by women, and she said “The books are good and also [intentionally] include women, but sometimes you still need other sources and documentaries that shed more light on women’s perspectives and experiences.”

Textbooks used in schools are not always the most recently updated versions, and the process for bringing in new research findings to the school education seems to be a slow process. Ms. French also says that “so much of history has been written by men that sometimes little attention is given to women acknowledging what they have done [throughout history] – including being some of the first writers and scribes in ancient Sumer and Mesopotamia. An interesting event in the US this week was about the idea of putting women on the new US dollar bills – like Harriet Tubman and Eleanor Roosevelt.” Evidently, people are opening their eyes to the roles that women have played throughout recorded history, and their importance in the stories we tell. However, a large part of history seems to be seen through men’s eyes.

What are some possible effects of a skewed perception of history? Perhaps there is a fine line between historical accuracy (because human history is dominated by men) and the diminishing of women’s roles. What we can hope for is further development of history education, and a greater diversity among the people working with it. Only then, perhaps, can the stories of our world’s women be told.

Pride vs. Pride: Lions in Nairobi

The continent of Africa is known for its diverse wildlife, and among this wildlife roam the kings of the jungle – the lions. However, the lion population in Africa has declined by more than 40 percent in the last two decades, according to the African Wildlife Foundation.

On the 19th of February 2016, six lions caused panic on the streets of Nairobi after escaping from the Nairobi National Wildlife Park the previous night. It wasn’t clear what path they took to sneak out of the park and enter residential areas. The lions were first spotted at 4 a.m. Friday near a hospital in Langata, and later near Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum, Wildlife Service spokesman Paul Udoto said. Officials urged vigilance and warned residents to call a toll-free number if they spotted the big cats. The rangers scoured the bush and agricultural land searching for the pride on the loose to return them to the park, but the big cats were later spotted back in the park, having made their own way “home”. 

On March 18th, another stray lion clawed and injured a 63-year-old man on Nairobi’s Mombasa Road. The man has since been discharged from hospital, and the lion has been captured safely.

Then, on March 30th, things took a turn for the worse, as Kenyan rangers killed a lion that pounced on a man in a crowd after it escaped the park. The man, who was hospitalized with deep lacerations, had joined hundreds of noisy bystanders surrounding the animal. In order to save lives, as the “last resort”, rangers shot it to death as the animal was considered a “threat to human life” before veterinarians arrived with tranquilizers. The death of Mohawk, a majestic 13-year-old big cat – so named because of the shape of his black mane – sparked an outcry among Kenyans. I am glad I got to see Mohawk several times, but am saddened by the fact that I will not see him again. Did he deserve this brutal, bloody end? Who was at fault? Bansri Joshi, a student in Nairobi, spoke the words that so many witnesses thought, “I expected the rangers to have tranquilizers to protect and disable him not kill him.” The death of an African lion is always a tragedy. Could this have been avoided?

The next morning, a 2½-year-old lion known as Lemek also found his way through the fence. Later, wildlife rangers discovered Lemek’s speared body “under a large thicket beside a dry riverbed” – evidently killed by Maasai tribesmen 12 miles south of Nairobi, the service said in a statement.

Why are lions trying to escape all of a sudden?

There are many factors that may have been contributors to this clash between humans and lions in Nairobi, but is obviously connected to the encroachment of human settlement on lion habitats, and a sharp decrease in their natural prey. The government has also started building a highway through a section of the park, agitating the animals with constant noise, affecting their behavior and leading more big cats to attempt to break free in search of quieter hunting grounds.

But wildlife tourism is also an essential foreign revenue earner for Kenya. Instead of protecting our animals that tourists come to admire, it seems like we are intruding into their habitats and homes. And as we are more powerful with our machine guns and weapons, and always put ourselves first, we will get what we want, but at the expense of possibly losing our animals. Is our own pride worth the deaths of prides of lions?

Kenyan wildlife officials, and many Kenyan citizens, enjoy the fact that Nairobi National Park is the world’s only urban wildlife range, connoting the idea that a satisfactory arrangement has been made between man and animal. But is that still true? 

The Wealth Gap: Should the Rich Be Taxed More?

The rich stay rich. In the past, those with great amounts of wealth have been able to stay at the top and increase their influence as well as financial stability. This continues to be true in our world today. Those at the bottom have been able to accumulate wealth, but at a far slower rate. This is supported by various economical statistics, including the fact that “the top 3,000 (income) taxpayers pay more annually than the the bottom 9 million people,” according to HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in the UK). This goes to show how great of a wealth gap there is in our modern world.

This begs the question: should the rich be taxed more? We hear different arguments on why we should or should not tax the rich more. “ The rich should be taxed more to bring society to a more equalized state,” states Urim Byen, a student at Rosslyn Academy.  But would that tactic really work? “The way to get more out of the rich is not actually to increase the tax rate. You need to keep it around the premium level of 50%”, said John Ashcroft the former Governor of Missouri. While there is bias in this statement, due to the former governor’s republican values and economic perspective, there is also logic.

The highest paying people in society already pay 39.6% on individual income tax, which is an all-time high. Interestingly, even with the increase in taxes, there has not been any real change in the wealth gap, so should the rich be taxed more and more?  Another reason  why the rich shouldn’t be taxed more is that, with the increase in taxation, there would not be as much room and flexibility for the rich to spend money and to create jobs that were not there before. As a result, there would be quite a large drop in youth employment and potentially another crash in the economy, such as the great crash of 192, due to people’s reluctance to spend money.

On the other hand, if the rich were taxed more the government would be able to significantly deduct the tax taken from those in society who are working hard to escape the poverty line. With this increase of taxes on the rich and reduction of taxes for the poor there would be a larger middle class in society which would be the best and most comfortable type of society for most people. With a larger and more healthy middle class, everyone would be able to spend money and contribute to the growth and success of the nation.

With such a controversial topic there is not one right or wrong answer. The only thing we can do now is speculate what the right move is and wait for our governments to act in order to affect the people in a positive manner that brings success to the people.

Gambling in Kenya: Are the Chinese to Blame?

One afternoon as my family was driving towards the Westlands roundabout in cosmopolitan Nairobi, we stopped by the Shell petrol station for gas. I looked out from the car window at an advertisement board right beside the station. Its florid designs emphatically communicated the opening of a casino, promising a great fun experience, and a chance to win what we all need more of: money. As I looked closer at the advertisement, I noticed a line written in Mandarin at the bottom of the billboard, and it stated – “this will be the luckiest place for you.” At first I was amazed that my language had been written on an ad in Kenya, a country where many languages are common, but Mandarin is very rare. Why advertise in Chinese? I was unsettled by the statement that this advertisement was making: the Chinese people are perpetuating the increase of the gambling industry in Kenya.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), a professional service network working in Kenya, there are thirteen licensed Casinos currently operating within Kenya . These casinos are usually situated in hotels such as the Intercontinental Hotel or The Safari Park Hotel, popular Chinese rendezvous points. Many of these Chinese citizens are here in Kenya because they are construction managers or workers, and the view these casinos as perfect places to have some fun and relieve the stress of daily work. Mr. Zhang, a Chinese Construction manager working in Nairobi, says, “Looking around the casinos, all you see is Chinese and all you hear is Mandarin.” Many of these Chinese workers enjoy the sensation of sudden monetary loss or gain, and fail to the see the detrimental effect that casinos and gambling can bring to their lives.

Mr. Shen, a Chinese business man in Kenya, says that “Gambling in Casinos is just like playing games.” To most Chinese who are working in Kenya, gambling is not an affront to any of their moral standards. They enjoy the thrill of winning and losing, just like many people around the world enjoy board games. But to many others, gambling can be classified as a heinous act. Sarah, a student at a local Nairobi school, states “My Christian background is what determines my view of what’s right and what’s wrong.” Often, our beliefs and our cultures determine what we believe as right or wrong. If the Chinese men and women in Kenya believe gambling isn’t wrong, what’s the ptoblem?

Is culture the only thing that is provoking the Chinese to gamble in Kenya? Kenya, as a country, tolerates gambling. Along with Nigeria and South Africa, Kenya is one of the countries in Africa where gambling is allowed by law. The PWC projects that the revenue generated by the gambling industry in Kenya will reach 29 million dollars (USD) by 2019. This can be seen as a boon for business. Is it cause for concern? Some would say that this money is filtering through the economy through the weakness of  human nature. The government, by allowing gambling, is manipulating human nature to generate more money for its own use. It is using the people that it is governing. A government should make rules that restrict the people from making poor choices, and should never make money as a result of the poor choices that people make.

The Chinese, due to a surrounding culture and their own value systems, take the bane of gambling lightly. But the Kenya government takes advantage of this to further boost the gambling industry in this poverty–stricken country. It uses the weakness of others to increase its own revenue. This needs to change.

Bill Yang (photograph and article)