We think of racism as something people experience here in North America if they happen to be ethnically different from those around them. Our NAB Church is of German background, as is my own family on my mother’s side. Mom has told me that during the Second World War her family did not speak German (which is why she never learned) because it was a bad thing to be known as a German person in Canada at the time.
But racism exists in Africa as well, sometimes in odd forms, which I sometimes don’t quite know what to do with. For one thing, it is mostly reverse racism – which means that white people are sometimes treated better than others.
I remember coming into a restaurant on my own one day for my supper. There was only one other man there, a Nigerian fellow. The owner knew me so when I came in she walked over to my table and took my order. Unbeknownst to me, however, she had not yet taken the order of the Nigerian gentleman, and he proceeded to complain, in no uncertain terms, that he was the victim of racism since he had been neglected in my favour.
Not only was this embarrassing all around, but the fact was, he was right. He had been neglected for me. There was not much I could about our hostess, but I did invite the fellow over to be my guest for supper, and am happy to say we had a very nice time of it. He educated me some more about how Nigerians feel about westerners in general and missionaries in particular.
The last time I was in the airport in Yaoundé, trying to come home, our plane trip was cancelled (hydraulic problem in the plane), and myself and the doctor I was travelling with had to spend the night in the airport. Some folks managed to get out and grab a hotel room, but I don’t think we were as experienced travelling in Cameroon as we needed to be.
Anyway, the next day in the airport we were surrounded by tired, frustrated, and sometimes angry Cameroonians who had also spent a very difficult night in the airport. My friend and I (he is from the U.S.) were chatting with some older ladies, and they asked us where we had spent the night. When we told them they were very surprised, since they just assumed that white people would have been given some kind of grand escort to a 5-star hotel. It was good (in an odd sort of way) to be able to tell them that we had been treated just as poorly as everyone else.
As I look forward to going back to Cameroon to live I am thinking of these things, and of all the cultural things we will need in order to adjust well to living there. And of all the prayer we will need from our supporters back here in order to do that well.