Against “Normal”

I want peace but I don’t want a “return to normal.”

“Normal” would distinguish the extraordinary violence of the past few days from the quotidian violence of the past 5 years. Instead of seeing the recent acts of rape and sodomy as co-extensive with those of the past 5 years, normal would register them as anomalous.

A “return to normal” would ignore the economic privations of the past 5 years, relying on a failed trickle-down theory. It would refuse to register the class circumstances of many protesters. It would understand economic failure as personal and idiosyncratic, as opposed to structural and pervasive. It would, to overuse a term, normalize class inequalities as “the way it is.”

A “return to normal” would keep sotto-voce or unspoken conversations we need to have about ethnicity. We cannot ignore it nor should we try. We cannot “get over it” nor should we try. We can forge something powerful and wonderful, and, indeed, many of us have in our multi-ethnic schools, neighborhoods, intimate homes, churches, and organizations. We need to stop believing and acting as though the only way ethnicity can function is as a deeply divisive element.

A “return to normal” would believe that psychic fissures and wounds can exist as part of our everyday as long as they don’t erupt into acts of violence. It would be a mistake to see the events of the past few days as lacking any history, any context, any validity. And it would be an even graver mistake to view our now as the result of a few “bad” people, those who are “un-Kenyan.”

We might insist, rather, on refusing the false comfort of silence. We should, for those who pray, pray and dialogue. We might learn to be honest, to refuse the false comfort of civility in hopes of something better. We might refuse to accept accolades from strangers, when those do not serve our interests.

We might, rather than reveling in myths of our friendliness and hospitality and peacefulness, become painfully, acutely, necessarily self-reflective about who we are and who we want to be.

Despite his tarnished reputation, Kenyatta used to say Uhuru na Kazi. In the last few years, I have taken to thinking Uhuru ni Kazi, not to conflate both in good neo-liberal fashion, but to think of the ongoing work of freedom and liberty.

And, finally, because I take my wisdom from literature, I end with the cryptic Amos Tutuola, from Palm-Wine Drinkard: “To go back was harder and to go further was hardest, so at last we made up our mind and started to go forward” (64).

One thought on “Against “Normal”

  1. This crisis has introduced me to many wonderful Kenyan writers who show deep compassion for our compatriots who are struggling right now (on both sides of the machete).

    Thank you for Against “Normal”.

    Now let’s live this going forward.


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