Unsettled: Denial and Belonging Among White Kenyans.

Author:Uneke, Okori
Position:Book review
 
FREE EXCERPT

Mcintosh, Janet. Unsettled: Denial and Belonging Among White Kenyans. Oakland: University of California Press, 2016. xii + 292 pages, Hardcover, $85.00.

Anthropologist Janet Mcintosh's Unsettled: Denial and Belonging Among White Kenyans presents a distinctive ethnographic report of the conflicted situation of British settler descendants in post-colonial Kenya. The focus of the book centers on the contested claims of the descendants to indigenous status and the right to land inherited from their colonist forebears visa-vis land grievances among indigenous Kenyans, particularly the pastoral Maasai, the perception of settlers as interlopers, and concerns over white privilege. The nagging questions of land distribution and national integration amidst racial inequalities--and sometimes ambivalent identity consciousness on the part of settler descendants--call attention to this situation. For example, the acquittal and reduced sentence following the killing of two black Kenyans in 2005 and 2006 by Tom Cholmondeley, a scion of one of the first British settlers Lord Delamere, created a media firestorm.

At the heart of the unsettled relations between white and black Kenyans is the land question. Many settlers seized communally-owned lands on the assumption that such lands were unused and lying waste, and that they needed to be developed profitably. The conflicting situation here is that land ownership in pre-colonial Kenya, and by extension Africa, was not based on the capitalist market model. In addition, McIntosh states that most white Kenyans live privileged, well-heeled lifestyles compared to the abject and relative poverty of most Kenyans. Further, the fact that some settler descendants refer to themselves as "British Kenyans" or simply "British" creates doubt in the minds of indigenous Kenyans about their commitment to the country. Although some settlers, like the famous Leakey family, cultivate affinity for the 'natives,' most harbored pejorative impressions of Africans as inferior, even polluting, and potentially dangerous. These negative perceptions enable settlers to guard their interactions with Africans, and oftentimes, the relationships are limited to the settlers employing Africans as cooks, maidservants, and farmhands in their ranches and businesses. While the settlers' legal citizenship is not in dispute, what they lack is "full cultural citizenship" (p. 4).

For white Kenyans, denial and belonging is a balancing act. Like the African...

To continue reading

REQUEST YOUR TRIAL