Keith B. Richburg, the author of “Out of America,” is an American writer of African descent. Born in a Catholic middle-class family from Detroit in the 1960s, he would often go to air-conditioned theaters to see latest movies on hot summer days. Since most theater productions at the time were about African cannibalism and the greatness of Colonialism, the often found himself rooting for the British to kill the ill-behaved dark-skinned peoples. In 1967, still as a young boy, Keith witnessed ruthless Equal Rights riots on the streets of Detroit, which paralyzed most of the local shops due to its destructive nature. Shortly after that, as he was walking to school, he was dramatized by his brother’s death due to an automobile’s negligence to stop and yield the pedestrians. After his graduation from a prestigious University-Liggett high school, Mr. Richburg went to further his education at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. While studying, he continued his journalistic fascination at the “Michigan Daily,” a campus ran and operated newspaper. Shortly after graduation, he was offered and accepted a position for the Washington Post as a staff reporter. Several years later, he found himself in the midst of bloodshed on the African continent.
Keith B. Richburg was grateful to his ancestors for surviving the voyage on the slave ships over two hundred years ago. As he analyzed, he’d rather be a resident of the racist state (United States) than to be anywhere near the continent of Africa, where a carnage of genocide, starvation and AIDS where sweeping through the continent like floods after a thunderstorm. He was extremely uneasy about entering the land of his ancestor’s’, for as he claims, he did not know how he was to be received by the Africans. In addition, as a dark-skinned man, he represented something in United States by standing out in a crowd. He had questioned if that was to be so in Africa, or perhaps was he just going to be another “nigger” who is losing his identity through through the various problems Africa faced.
As he entered Nairobi, capital of Kenya, at an instance he noticed a foul smell that protruded in the surroundings. Most buildings in the city were run down, streets carved with potholes and beggars (often children) on the streets asking for money from the local tourists. He also noticed the prostitutes constantly searching for their next “victims,” for most, if not all were infected with the HIV virus. Though he had a small office at the Chester House, he was easily enjoying the high life American dollars brought him. At his three-bedroom-house, Mr. Richburg had a maid, cook, gardener and two security guards.
Through his voyages to Somalia, Richburg noticed a rather interesting cultural diversity between American people and the Africans. For instance, when a person is found dead, our western world wants to know the identity of that victim, for we need to have names to go along with faces. However, during the carnage in most African states, bodies were buried, dumped into rivers, left to rot, often uncounted, as if they were lifeless animals with no value whatsoever. Another, of many, is the actual reaction to the death of a loved one. He found many people, whose families have been exterminated, but showed no real emotion, nor despair about their loved ones’ fate. They called it “In-shallah,” or God’s will.
Africans faced many challenges. According to the author, societies on this vast continent exalted a man who had many wives and many children, even without the proper consideration for financial stability. Since good jobs were scarce, and the government was hesitant in assisting its people, crime was produced widespread. I recall one instance where the author is so infuriated with his African office assistant named George that he is ready to fire him on the spot due to improper financial dealings (thievery) that George participated in. There were more instances where robbery, embezzlement, extortion and even murder took place in exchange for survival of one more day. Somalia comes as an excellent example where no order or public policy created a crime ridden country, where in Mogadishu alone, thieves were stealing pipes, doorknobs, and wiring to earn some survival money on the black market.
In his five chapters, the author vividly described his horrific experiences in Nairobi (Kenya), Mogadishu (Somalia), and Kigali (Rwanda). When pertaining to Nairobi, Mr. Richburg represented a rather calm land (when compared to the rest of the continent) on which many could actually survive in the conditions placed. Though there were some occasional stray bullets flying over the heads, such scenery is far from the AK-47 equipped teenage boys tormenting strangers, friends, and families just for a few more days of survival food in a medium sized country known as Somalia. His shocking stories of Mogadishu and other cities of Somalia brought horror to another level, where hundreds of thousands of people die of starvation, slaughter and HIV. Even with United States and UN involved, little could be done to end the civil war and help the people (victims) as well. Finally, the disappointed author flied Somalia and ventured to Rwanda, where a massive genocide by the local Hutus took place. He watched in awe as a body after another appeared afloat on the Kagera River and suddenly crashed unto Rusumo Falls. He witnessed bodies piled as high as eight feet, smelling liked rotted fish. Some were without limbs, others without heads. But certainly, all without names.
The author wanted to portray a few points with this detailed script. Just as Nazis participated in a Jewish genocide, Serbians in Bosnian extermination, so did these savages in slaughtering innocent people in Africa. He wanted to present us with another terrifying story, which would hopefully pin the western civilization down in an attempt to do something about such atrocities that were going on. But to that, he wanted to show and depict that not Africans killed people, nor blacks killed people, he wanted the reader to understand that people kill people. In addition, among the starvation, war and disease, he wanted us to learn that though the color of skin may separate the reader between the writer, our mutual interest should lie in peaceful relationship. Otherwise, the outcome is Somalia, Rwanda, etc.
Before fully completing my assignment, which took a bit of time, I was certain that demanded or required readings will never be as interesting as the readings I had wanted to experience. That has changed. As I started, commencing on the Prelude, I could not take my eyes of the pages. I actually experienced Africa! I read this at home, at work and on the “N” train in between. To this day, I search over my shoulder to escape the vision of a Hutu militiaman jumping with his machete at my spine.