Africans, African Americans, and the History of Slavery

By: J. Edward Anthony,
May 2, 2020

Kenya is where Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Department of English, first encountered what it meant to be Black in the United States—in his father’s library, reading James Baldwin and Richard Wright and issues of Ebony and Jet. Mukoma was born in Illinois to Kenyan parents in 1971. His family moved back to Kenya when he was still a baby. Returning to the United States for college in 1990, Mukoma was at a keg party his freshman year when an African American student asked him if Africans live in trees. They traded insults and nearly came to blows before an older African American student stepped in.

“She just sat us down and tried to talk sense to us,” Mukoma says. “I guess she’s the one who first gave me the thesis that we are seeing each other through the eyes of racism. At that point, it really wasn’t me. And it really wasn’t him. It’s like history had propelled us to that moment. We were acting out this drama that we didn’t know we were actors in. Shortly after that I wrote a poem about that. And then I wrote an essay. Eventually you find the same themes in my fiction.”


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Mukoma Wa Ngugi