Are Black People in Asia Black Ghosts? Oxford-Trained Academic Finds Out
Ken Kamoche, an Oxford-trained academic, has written a novel titled Black Ghosts. It basically “tells the relatively ignored story of Africans in China from the late 1980s at about the time of the Tiananmen massacre.” He says to me: “set against a backdrop of controversial Africa-China relations, it is the story of a young man from Zimbabwe who goes to study in China.” With such a newsworthy theme, it was difficult to sidestep a story about the disturbing experiences of blacks in a land far away from home.
Ken Kamoche, Kenyan short story writer and novelist, has mined from his long years of study and travels around Asia to produce this troubling parable of racism, love and connection to homeland. Offensive all at once, the term Black Ghost is the demeaning label reserved for blacks and people of color in China. This derogatory identity has provided the canvas for this Oxford trained management expert to capture the tragedy of blacks behind China’s glittering skylines.
Enter the world of Dan Chiponda, who must love his Chinese lover, in secrecy because of inescapable hate feelings from his host community. His love affair for Lai Ying is defined by tragedy, as exemplified in these opening pages of the novel. “As the train picks up speed, so do I, my eyes never once leaving her face, but it’s too late. A cleaner’s trolley brings me crashing down. When I pick myself up and clear my head, I look up to see the train chugging off into the distance, spewing blue smoke into the sky.”
Chiponda contends with disturbing news from his homeland of Zimbabwe, where government has set about redistributing ancestral lands. Unable to return to where his heart is, he must put up with the inconveniences of studying in a place where love is hard to find and troubles seem to hang at every street corner. In search of solace, he immigrates to Hong Kong, where he encounters further hardships and heartbreak. But a return to a burning Zimbabwe is a decision he must consider wisely.
Black Ghosts is a novel that blacks and all who abhor racism need to know about, in order to better appreciate the existential travails of black brothers and sisters in the Asia Diaspora. This is a subplot of current fiction that is rarely treated by today’s reigning writers. Kamoche has done a fine job of capturing in relatable beauty and anguish, the trauma faced by blacks in and around Asia, where they are few and inadvertently overlooked by social cultures and larger economic considerations. We should hold this book aloft, for it is a book of tender humanity from the author towards his characters.
A university lecturer and a notable academic authority in Africa-China affairs; Ken challenges us not to see blacks and people of color as ghosts that are invisible, but as an integral part of our shared humanity.
Ken Kamoche’s collection of short stories, A Fragile Hope (Salt, 2007) found a place on the shortlist for the Commonwealth First Book Award in 2008. Kamoche has been a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. His books are available online and where good books are sold. https://www.austinmacauley.com/book/black-ghosts.
Photo of author courtesy: Old Cambrian Society.