Ngugi wa Thiong’o Victim of Racism at San Francisco Hotel

November 18, 2006 | 1 book mentioned 6

Exiled Kenyan Novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o was in San Francisco promoting his novel Wizard of the Crow and staying at the Hotel Vitale. According to a report in a Kenyan paper, the author was sitting in a common area of the hotel and was confronted by a hotel employee who said, “This place is for guests of the hotel. You must leave.”

The worker would hear none of the professor’s explanation that he was a guest. He insisted that he must leave immediately.

After it was established that indeed Ngugi was a distinguished guest of the hotel, the management apologised by offering some complimentary whisky.

The incident is being talked about in other corners of the Web but has yet to be picked up by any US papers. The hotel is already trying to cover its tracks by saying that it was the action of an individual who “under review, as is the hotel’s diversity training program,” according to an email reprinted at this hotel review site (scroll down).

At the blog Black Looks, where another email from hotel management has been reprinted (scroll down to the comments), demands are being made for a public apology in “to be placed in a Bay Area newspaper, no later than the end of this month.”

It seems likely that this was indeed the isolated stupidity of one person at the hotel. The hotel itself, meanwhile, is now in serious backpedaling mode. It just goes to show that even in what is considered one of the more “enlightened” cities in the world, we haven’t made as much progress as we think.

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. The public apology by the hotel owner is welcome nonetheless this incident needs to be publicised as much as possible because i cannot believe it is an isolated incident. Let it be a warning to others that we are not going to allow people to get away with this kind of behaviour in 2006. It is not simply a matter of sacking the employee – it is about changing attitudues and training staff appropriately. And if that is not being done then the apology is worthless.

  2. Just to swing in here, I'm currently reading Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains, which does touch upon racism and the contemporary problems which hangover from slavery, a horrific concept institution from the same behaviour of that hotel worker.

    Is the Novelist's book explosive at all? I bet that will influence how much US coverage the incident gets. McGrrrr

  3. Maybe I'm just naive, but I'm not quite sure I understand the article. This author was asked to leave because he was black? What, does this hotel have a sign somewhere reading, "If you see a black person on the premises, ask him or her to leave"? Or was there some other reason? (Sorry, the article wasn't specific and I don't like having to speculate, especially when it comes to news stories.)

    And screw the complimentary whiskey. It's probably rotgut anyway.

  4. I am wondering if the people commenting above have ever actually worked in a hotel. I have not, but I did work at an upscale club in downtown Seattle, at the front desk, answering phones, etc., for 5 years while in college. Guess what? All kinds of people wander in off the street, including criminals, the mentally deranged, the homeless, etc. And you are under strict orders from your boss to remove them. I do not know what happened in this particular case, but I would not jump so easily to the conclusion that this was racism directed at a black person. In my own case, we had a senile little old lady from somewhere in Germany or Eastern Europe who routinely turned up and sat on one of the couches in the lobby. When approached, she would invariably claim that she and her husband lived upstairs, even though it was a private club and NO ONE lived there, and she was definitely not a member. Then she would be sent packing. And she was white, folks. And there were other white people who did crazy shit, like the white girl who showed up one night and started playing frisbee with her dog in the parking lot. I had to threaten to call the police on her as well, and she predictably got all huffy and threw a shit fit about it. But private property is private property, and orders are orders. And I needed my job, so I told these people to get lost, as ordered, whether they were white, black, green or some other color. That is likely what happened in this case, and ditto with the Big O and Hermes and all these other cases. This was a misunderstanding, or Ngugi may have been doing something that he should not have been doing. You need to ask the staff member before jumping to a conclusion about this. Though I realize this is a hot chance for the morally superior among us to bay at the moon about racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. etc. Yawn.

Add Your Comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.