Cultural practices play a pivotal role in constructing race as meaningful in Ngugi wa Thiong'o and Micere Githae Mugo’s play The Trial of Dedan Kimathi. One cultural practice that delineates race—that spotlights its meaning in varying ways—is the practice of justice as carried out by Great Britain's imperialist culture.
The trial brings together the culture of the colonized Kenyan people and the culture of the British colonizers. It demonstrates the ability of one culture to subject another culture to its norms and laws. The power imbalance is illustrated when Kimathi informs the judge, “I will not plead to a law in which we had no part in the making.” In the culture of the courtroom, the race that gets to make the laws is white and the race that is supposed to yield to these edicts is Black.
The British judge is not the only cultural figure who injects the practice of justice with racism—there’s the speech from the settler as well. In the second movement, think about how the settler’s slurs construct race and unveil its meaning. Consider why the settler’s complaints then reinforce the unequal meaning of race. The settler lists his hardships right after Kimathi enumerates his race’s sufferings, which suggests that the settler’s privations should be given top priority, since the settler is white.
The settler links back to the cultural practice of colonization. If the settler wasn’t white and British, they wouldn’t have been in Kenya in the first place and thus wouldn't have lost his family and farm there. It’s the oppressive practices of Western culture, and the skin color that’s tied to these practices, that bring meaning to the roles of the settler, the judge, Kimathi, and the other figures throughout the play.