Will the real racists please stand up? Reaction to racist Chinese restaurant reveals Kenyans aren't perfect either. (Photo: http://shop.english-online.at)

Will the real racists please stand up? Reaction to racist Chinese restaurant reveals Kenyans aren’t perfect either. (Photo: http://shop.english-online.at)

On Monday the Daily Nation published a story about a Chinese restaurant in Nairobi’s Kilimani area that unapologetically refuses entry to African customers after 5 pm. Trying to gain entry after the appointed hour Nation journalist Njoki Chege was reportedly told “Masaa ya Waafrika yameisha” by a guard at the gate.

It took five seconds for twitter to go kaboom! The hashtags #ShutDownTheChinese , #RacistRestaurant and #NoBlacksHere trended as Kenyans expressed their disgust at the news. How was such a thing possible in Kenya in 2015? But, it wasn’t long before things took a dark turn. Soon fury over the apparent racism at the restaurant turned into a wholesale attack on Chinese people.

The vicious pile on against Chinese people – as a whole – instead of the bigoted management of the restaurant was all too much for some Kenyans. Ronald Mackio, a local activist and filmmaker, counseled Kenyans against poisoning their own message by turning into the monster they were condemning.

Some observers theorised that Kenyans, scandal-ridden and bigoted against each other, were overcompensating for their own guilt.

While some suggested it was a good opportunity for Kenyans to learn about how their own prejudices hurt others, particularly members of the Somali community who have been treated as second-class citizens in the recent past.

The management of the Chinese restaurant was wrong to refuse entry to African patrons but the Kenyans who, in a fit of self-righteousness, were involved in the racist pile on, showed themselves to be no better. This is perhaps not so surprising. Racism and tribalism, after all, are first cousins.

The impulse that made those Kenyans tweet those offensive things against the Chinese nation is the same one that makes them post/say/text (delete as appropriate) tribal vitriol. Given our own obvious faults, instead of running the owners of Chinese restaurant out of town – as some are suggesting online – we should respond with a little more empathy and give them another chance. We’re more like them than we think.