August Butler / by Michael Falco

Who is August Butler?

August Butler was born in 1988 in Portland, Oregon, but was raised by missionary parents primarily in Nairobi, Kenya, where August attended a K-12 private Christian school along with an older sister.  August attended a public high school in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas, before majoring in history and psychology at Texas A&M University. After graduation, August moved to Central Asia for two years and then began graduate school at the College of William & Mary. August is currently living in Richmond, Virginia, while finishing a PhD in history. When not working on the dissertation, August does improv and sketch comedy, volunteers with Court-Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA), and is involved with the leadership of St. John's Episcopal Church.

Excerpt from interview with August Butler by Samuel Lutzker, 2018

Butler: [07:14] My family works for a mission organization. My parents work for a mission organization. So, they—my parents are actually originally in Sudan, South Sudan, but then things got too much there so they moved to Kenya shortly before I was born and then I was born while they were in the [United] States, obviously. So, yes.

Q: Very interesting. Yes. And when you were there— I mean, we were talking—this is an interview of your life story, but we’re also focusing in on whiteness in a lot of ways. What age did you notice that your skin color was different than the majority of people who live in Nairobi or Kenya?

Butler: [08:02] Probably pretty young. I don’t have a memory of, like, coming to that realization. It was just sort of a given as far as I can remember. I did—I do remember when I was twelve maybe, we were in London briefly, going somewhere in transit, and I remember looking out the window of the place we were staying in London and seeing like a bunch of white people on the street and it was very startling. I was like, oh. Okay. So that’s maybe like an early consciousness of that. Yes. Yes, I don’t—it was never, yes, something I came to an awareness of or anything. I did have—we had a couple of house helpers, domestic help. We had, like, a gardener and then a house helper who was sort of also a nanny-ish. So I spent a lot of time with her as a very young child, which I don’t super remember. But, yes. So I was sort of just kind of in that environment, in that culture a lot.

Q: Yes. So when did you start to think more about your race or whiteness or things like that?

Butler: [09:49] It was more—for me, I think it was like late elementary and going into junior high, and it was more in contrast to what I saw as like foreigners, even though I was foreign, but there was a real distinction in my mind between, like, tourists who were coming to Kenya and those of us who lived there, and that was—so there was that distinction, and then kind of a need in certain situations to sort of prove—I don’t know—prove that I wasn’t like a tourist or like a foreigner, like, I was like, I belonged here. And that was—that wasn’t a lot—I think it was mostly sort of in transactional situations, like in the marketplace or something. Yes. Being able to bargain or speak—I didn’t speak a lot of Swahili, but have at least some of the vocabulary to show that not [pauses] just a tourist or a foreigner. I don’t know why—I guess there was an awareness of that like, shared whiteness, and a sort of awareness of like, this is how I’m perceived, so I need to counter that, but it was—I don’t think I would have articulated it quite that way at that time.

Interview Transcript