Entries by Edwin Okong'o

Edwin Okong'o

'Funny!' is in the age of the beholder

By Edwin Okong'o, Dec 10, 2009 1:32 PM

A few weeks ago, Our Man in America got on stage to tell jokes to his fellow Kenyans. They booed him. A week later when he stood in front of Nigerians to tell the same jokes, they showered him with money. After weeks of gathering pieces of his broken heart, he understands that the rejection by Kenyans had nothing to do with the fact that a prophet is never accepted at home.

The Kenyan audience was full of young people in their early 20s. To understand why they booed me, I had to look back at my first years in America. I was young, naive and full of misconceptions. At one, two, three, four, even five years I was at the stage in America when I thought that I had hit a jackpot — that I had escaped poverty. I was still converting my hourly wage into Kenyan shillings and — realizing that I earned more than my friends who were doctors in Africa — I thought I was up to bigger things.

Edwin Okong'o

African Media 'Explode'

By Edwin Okong'o, Nov 19, 2009 12:40 PM

You know we Africans are great orators. Our great oral tradition is the reason the world has embraced our proverbs and allegories. Remember this one, America? “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” Teddy Roosevelt borrowed it from West Africa.

So you can imagine how hard it is to piece together half a dozen interviews for a story I’m working on about what one of them, Cyril Ibe, a Nigerian-born assistant professor of journalism at Central State University, Wilberforce, Ohio, called “an explosion” of African media on the Internet.

Add high education to an African and the quality of the wisdom is elevated beyond the skies. (African immigrants are the single most educated group, per capita, in the United States. I didn’t make that up. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 43 percent of them have at least a college diploma, compared to 24 percent among the general U.S. population. If you don’t believe the numbers, get counted in U.S. Census 2010 and prove me wrong).

Edwin Okong'o

I'm Not from Nigeria

By Edwin Okong'o, Nov 16, 2009 10:22 AM

How do you explain, America, that in one week three journalists have asked Our Man in America, “Are you from Nigeria?”

I used to think that only the American guys at the warehouse where I toiled for eight years, packing boxes, stocking shelves and driving forklifts, were geographically retarded. Then I somehow became educated and started hanging out with the so called middle-class Americans — averagely educated folks who think they know it all.

Edwin Okong'o

My Brother from A Vietnamese Mother

By Edwin Okong'o, Nov 10, 2009 9:29 AM

Editor's note: Our Man in America Edwin Okong'o interviewed his friend Lac Su, the Vietnamese author of the memoir, I Love Yous Are for White People.” Check out his interview with Lac Su on New America Now, New America Media’s radio program on NPR station KALW 91.7 FM.

Five years ago if you’d have told me that I’d be sitting in a bar like I was on Friday night, drinking, acting silly, laughing and sharing stories with Vietnamese men, I would have told you to get the (expletive) out of may face.

Edwin Okong'o

The Institution of Marriage: Thou Shalt Not Admit Gays?

By Edwin Okong'o, Nov 5, 2009 9:20 AM

Editor's note: Check out Edwin Okong'o's blog, Our Man in America.

On Tuesday there were elections in some parts of the United States. Of course, being an alien, Our Man in America couldn’t vote. But he does have the democratic right to express himself, so he’s going to comment on them anyway.

What struck me about those elections was not the Obama-report-card angle mainstream media has been focusing on. Rather, it was an issue near and dear to many of my friends: gay marriage. You might have seen headlines like, “Maine rejects same-sex marriage law.” Or, “California Weighs Maine Vote on Gay Marriage."

Edwin Okong'o

Race Relations 101: Racism vs. White supremacy

By Edwin Okong'o, Oct 14, 2009 12:29 PM

Today, kids, we are going to talk about hate. OK, who I’m I kidding? I’m going to do the talking while you listen.

Yes, Tommy, I know, hate is such a wide topic. There is the hate you have for me, your professor, because I gave you a C when – you swear – you did more than I asked for. Then there is the hate for that “asshole” or “bitch” at work (if you have a job in these turbulent times) who – you swear – you think keeps running to the boss whenever you walk in late. Both are cases of hate stemming from personal issues, many of which – I swear – are the offspring of your procrastination.

I’m talking about racism and white supremacy – that kind of hate directed to you for things – I swear – you have absolutely no control over.

Edwin Okong'o

Christopher Columbus was 'a damn blasted liar'

By Edwin Okong'o, Oct 12, 2009 9:40 AM

Editor’s Note: "Next time you are asked who discovered the mighty Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, tell them that [my] great-great grandfather, Kimborido Kasei Righiria, born and raised at the foot of the mountain, lived with it before any white explorer set eyes on it." — Swallehe Msuya, journalist, 1948-2009.  This post originally appeared on Edwin Okong'o's blog, Our Man in America.

I get really fascinated by people who discover things. Things like the ones that make it possible for me to sit at my desk, write a few sentences, and with the strike of a few keys publish my ideas for the world to read. (I like to think the world is reading what I write). And the geniuses that who discovered that if you add yeast to fermented grain or bananas or whatever your people fermented to get the party going, you could have a really good beverage.

Edwin Okong'o

Polygamy: An American 'Affair'

By Edwin Okong'o, Oct 2, 2009 11:17 AM

For all that crap they give you, my African kinsmen, Americans too practice that art of polygamy you have perfected. But the people of these United States of America have fancy phrases for that misogynistic, family-breaking custom.

When men of this “one nation under God” take a second wife, they are said to have “an affair.” I don’t know about you, but “having an affair” sounds like something men should be doing – like the good men in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I didn’t think about this before I wrote the last sentence, but in away, having a family affair isn’t very different from working for the government ministry. Just like the ambassador and the minister of foreign affairs, you are your family’s liaison to affairs outside the home.

Edwin Okong'o

America: No Country for Old African Men

By Edwin Okong'o, Sep 29, 2009 5:22 PM

A tribute to Tanzanian-born journalist Swallehe Msuya.

On Sept. 23, a health care worker found Tanzanian-born journalist Swallehe Msuya dead in his Minneapolis apartment. Swallehe had failed to show up for a kidney dialysis appointment scheduled the day before. He was 61.

I first met Swallehe when I moved to Minneapolis in July 2007 to be the editor in chief of Mshale, a newspaper for African immigrants.

Edwin Okong'o

There Are Savages in America Too

By Edwin Okong'o, Sep 21, 2009 3:09 PM

Editor’s Note: Yes, there is such a thing as an American savage, argues Edwin Okong'o, NAM EthnoBlog contributor and author of the blog Our Man in America.  Okong'o, an avid chronicler of international politics, compares and contrasts the American savage with the savage of the Global South.

If you are abroad and have been keenly following the decline of United States — as you should — you are probably wondering what is happening to that country once envied across the world for its power and ingenuity.

What happened to all the wealth in America? Where are all these reports of poverty coming from? Why are people losing their homes and ending up on the streets? What’s up with all these wackos showing up in town hall meeting with machine guns? Doesn’t everyone in America have access to health care? Why did Rep. Joe Wilson, a congressman in this civilized nation, turn in uncivil and yell “You lie” to the president during a speech on health care? Why would a preacher in a “nation under God” pray for Obama’s death? (You are probably saying this preacher was “a nobody” screaming for attention, but Pat Robertson – that soft-spoken, supposedly sinless grandpa of “The 700 Club” fame – called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2005). Why are they still killing babies in Iraq and Afghanistan when there is a Democrat – a black one no less – in the White House?


Edwin Okong'o

New York Times Magazine Issue on Women an Insult

By Edwin Okong'o, Aug 26, 2009 10:11 AM

Editor's note: A frequent critic of Africa's portrayal in Western media, here NAM EthnoBlogger Kenyan_born Edwin Okong'o, points out the faultlines in Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's chronicle of the status of women in the developing world.  Asks Okong'o: is a good man in the third world really so hard to find?

On Sunday I got to read the much-anticipated New York Times Magazine issue dedicated to women of the developing world.

Before I comment on “The Women’s Crusade,” the lead story by Nicholas D. Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn, let me make one thing clear: I have deep respect for the couple.

In 1990, Kristof and WuDunn became the first couple to ever win Pulitzer Prize in journalism for their coverage of China’s Tiananmen Square. In his career, Kristof has gone where few of us journalists would dare go. His continuous commentary from Darfur exposed the Sudanese government’s atrocities against civilians and earned him another Pulitzer in 2006.

Kristof’s travel resume is unrivaled. According to his bio on the NYT’s Web site, he “has lived on four continents, reported on six, and traveled to more than 140 countries, plus all 50 [American] states, every Chinese province and every main Japanese island.”

But reading “The Women’s Crusade” made me feel like I was reading a tale from the 19th century. The story portrays the developing world as a backward frontier full of rapists, wife beaters, sex traffickers and “bride burners.” If I hadn’t grown up in Kenya, one of the places Kristof and WuDunn wrote about, it would have been hard for me to imagine the existence of even a single good man in the developing world.

Edwin Okong'o

America 'a nation of immigrants?'

By Edwin Okong'o, Aug 7, 2009 11:10 PM

One thing I have learned from my 15 years in the United States is that Americans love imported things. French fries, Italian sausage, Belgian waffles, German beer, Swiss cheese, British scones, Japanese sushi, Chinese everything, Mongolian beef, African proverbs (“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”)

But when it comes to imported people, America wants a fence to keep them out. (Mail order brides and adopted babies are exempted). If the foreigners are already in America, don’t waste time on immigration reform. Send them ICE– not the ice they may need for a cold drink as they work under the scotching sun in the fields that feed this great nation – but the kind whose agents that kick doors open and takes fathers and mothers away from their American-born children.

Edwin Okong'o

Thou shalt love thy neighbor only once a year

By Edwin Okong'o, Aug 5, 2009 12:35 AM

Last night I didn’t have to buy dinner, thanks to my dear neighbors.

It was National Night Out or “America’s Night Out Against Crime.” Once a year, neighborhoods across these Unique States of America and Canada hold crime prevention block parties, which according to the NNO Web site, are sponsored by “law enforcement agencies, civic groups, businesses, neighborhood organizations and local officials.” More than 37 million people attended last year.


Edwin Okong'o

This Black Man Fears the Doctor no More

By Edwin Okong'o, Aug 3, 2009 5:46 PM

On CNN’s “Black in America” series Sunday night I watched physicians talk about how difficult it is to get black men to see a doctor.

Some health advocates explained that the reason was that most black men do not have adequate health insurance. Then a question no one could really answer came up: What about black men who have insurance but won’t go for health screening? Until a week ago, I was one of those black men.


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