What’s it really like to be a mixed-race child in Kenya

Wednesday May 13 2020

Carole Argwings-Kodhek. PHOTO | COURTESY

“So, you’re pointy?” Huh? Do I have sharp edges, or what?

In one form or another, it’s the question most people ask when they meet someone brown with curly hair that they just can’t put into a box… But this “pointy” has me confused – I’ve heard everything from trying-to-be-polite mulatto, mixed and even half-caste, to nasty labels like half-breed and chotara (which for the longest time I thought was just a name - as in Kariuki Chotara, the late Nakuru politician).

I don’t get why people are so fascinated with someone who isn’t generic by race, tribe or colour – or why they think it’s necessary to categorise us and force us to fit in somewhere; we are what we are and quite comfortable with our own identity. It gets annoying when I’m constantly asked, “So, what are you?” (Answer: a human.) It has got to be ranked as one of the most predictable and most irritating questions, especially because no-one else gets asked – and would probably be offended if they were… But I quickly learnt to tell who is genuinely curious and who is trying to be ‘clever’ but is simply displaying their own ignorance, bad manners and bias.

What’s in a name, anyway?

“Pointee” is kind of cute, but is still a bit of a mystery to me: is it because some of us have pointy noses, or is it as in decimal point e.g. 0.5% i.e. half??? Then there is “other”, as in the census forms, as if we of all mixes are some kind of Extra-Terrestrial alien – even though our blood is as red as anyone else’s and our hearts pump just as peacefully. Let’s call it what it is – blended (it’s a prettier word than mixed: you mix concrete but blend ice-cream for the best results)!Colour has never been an issue within my family – which is a happy jumble of ebony, chocolate, caramel and milk – and not something worthy of comment. So, when the Nation contacted me about my new Proud to be Pointee pages on Facebook, I was surprised by the interest… but I thought, “Here’s my chance to share some personal insights.”


Way back when my parents, Mavis (nee Tate) and Clem Argwings-Kodhek married and came to Kenya, they were vilified mostly by the white settlers rather than the Africans (although one devious African politician tried to use it against my father). The settlers viewed their marriage as the beginning of the end of white domination and it made them nervous. My white mother was subjected to their insults and denied access to many places, but her worst experience was losing a child as a direct result of the undeclared colour bar: at only three months old their firstborn child, Linda was rushed to the then (unofficially) whites only Princess Elizabeth hospital with a very treatable gastrointestinal infection, but my mother was told to wait as her child was ‘black’; tragically, hours later, little Linda died in my anguished mother’s arms, still waiting.

So how does a blended child become ‘black’ when clearly, she is caramel? President Obama faces the same bias, and I’ve realised that it’s all about people’s attitudes: a white person will seldom view us as white, and the same applies to black or Asian. Political activist Salim Lone once asked me if I feel black or white; on the spur of the moment, I replied that I’m black politically by espousing human dignity and rights, but white culturally by upbringing and education. On reflection, I find that I don’t think about it at all and move with ease in all circles.

I am not disappointed or confused by my mix, but I am by peoples’ attitudes. Luckily, our parents gave us the tools to survive in a world that first sees our colour and then judges. What’s wrong with me talking with a British accent, or speaking Dholuo? It’s who I am, and I am proud of my many parts.


You might be surprised that when my sister and I lived in the UK, we seldom faced discrimination, although once I had the satisfaction of educating a gang of ignorant girls who called my little sister Shirley a ‘wog’, and tried to kick her off a bus. ‘WOG’ was a derogatory label stereotyping black people, but our mother had taught us that it derived from colonial terms i.e. Westernised Oriental Gentleman! I blithely informed the bullies of this, and later eagerly furthered their ‘education’ with my fists!

However, on our return to Kenya we found discrimination right on our doorstep in the form of envy. Some people just assume that blended folks are conceited about their ‘light’ skin and supposedly ‘good’ hair, or that they get preferential treatment – but I don’t know any of us who ever thinks that way. On the flip side, our first return to our upcountry home was phenomenal – we were welcomed with open arms by our loving grandparents and lots of bright-eyed, kids who enjoyed playing with our hair as we sat chomping on juicy sugar cane they brought us. Fortunately, most people take ‘pointees’, ‘caramels’, ‘blendees’, (or whatever you want to call us) in their stride and accept us for who we are, not how we look.

In the enlightened 21st century, people around the world are following their hearts, falling in love and having children no matter what colour or heritage they enjoy. To me, that’s proof that ‘blended’ is a societal evolution that breaks down false race barriers and builds bridges between cultures – not diluting them but enhancing them. I like to think we represent the future of humankind: a harmonious melting pot of diverse cultures and racial acceptance... As for me, I am neither black nor white – I’m just a person travelling through life along with everyone else, and proud to be not ‘other’, but Kenyan.”

(Join us on the Proud to be Pointee pages on Facebook)