This is an excerpt from a book I wrote between 2005 and 2009. I do not know how to feel about it. I have changed, we have changed, and yet the pulse underneath is the same…
She can’t stay in the room
She’s consumed with everything that’s been going on
don’t let go of my hand
Everything will be alright
He assures her
But she doesn’t hear a word that he says…
He doesn’t know what to say
So he prays
don’t let go of my hand
– Whatever Happens, Michael Jackson and Carlos Santana
My friend was fired because they said she had stolen from the company whose trash she was responsible for picking up every night. They had no proof, only that someone had misplaced something and she was poor. They held her paycheck. She had tried so hard to work and participate and do what they said she should be doing but the truth is that they want her just where she is right now. Sitting in the house, smoking, drinking, smoking the life they have not already drained from her away.
And by “they,” I clearly mean you. And me. Always, always, we can pluck away at the mask of whiteness and find ourselves underneath.
Them… those that we put behind bars because we are too ashamed to admit that they are ours… Sometimes the them over there in prison throw shit, they smear it on themselves and should you be startled by this and ask yourself why, here is another thought: If you control every aspect of a human being’s life, the only resource they have left to express their humanity is the excrement from their bodies. They are shouting at us, “You shit, I shit, we all shit. Shit, you better recognize.”
One memory leads to another series of random memories that allow for external inputs that send me careening back up my own stream of consciousness, where I cower to make sense of it all. Each round of being flung out to feel you/them/everyone else makes me more and more willing to dive back into my own head, ignoring everything. And this is how whiteness happens.
In South Africa, I partied all night and rested peacefully in a gated house and during the day took a combie to teach kids in a township whose language I did not speak how to use computers. I was the US international student, experiencing another country and doing my part by volunteering to help the less fortunate in a way that only made sense in my American dreams. And then reality smacked my colonized ass upside the head, taking the form of a housemate slamming my own door in my face because she was too scared by my skin color to notice that I belonged inside our lovely gate.
After that, I spent nights with my boyfriend, discussing the future of my own messed up country and its citizens, and my days wandering, studying and napping in a city I felt at home in once I stopped pretending that I was there to help. I still went to the township, but with the more realistic goal of teaching the staff who spoke my language and theirs how to use the computers. One day, a tour bus drove by me as I stood on a corner trying to learn proper Xhosa greetings from a co-worker at the school. The elderly American tourists inside eagerly stuck their heads out and snapped pictures of me and my co-worker, waving jovially. Now my image rests mockingly in someone’s photo album, a university student from the US mistaken for a native. Is that subversion if my co-worker and I are the only two people on earth who know the truth?
In France, I was sexually harassed on the regular and ducked an attempted assault because apparently in the quiet town of Strasbourg, the only people around who looked like me are ostensibly prostitutes asking for a copain for the night. I was in France to learn French, and had the added bonus of learning from a pompous world history professor that former French colonies would have done well to stay within French rule because at least then they were not starving.
I keep hoping that the memories will trigger something more than fear of the outside, more than fear of staying connected. I have my moral premises, after all. People first; people matter more than anything.
But now, the idiot child in the white house next to the big white phallus murders and they murder and if you scratch a little at those masks, it is us murdering as if it will somehow protect us from future death. It is truly the devil’s deception because the more death you introduce into the world, the less space there is for life, ne?
I should speak Truth to Power, right, but I have a hard time enduring truth with all this input, with all these people jamming themselves and their matterings into my head. And the truth that I really should be speaking is that you already know what the hell the problem is.
The connections are swamping me; people are dying in the Fount. Dying. I keep hoping that one day A equals B and B does not equal A will be simultaneously true, knowing that our only hope for this impossibility is the external referent and time. Existing too long in this place has corrupted us all; the only reference we have for something other than this life is the One who is not of it.
And so I keep searching desperately for the God in humanity, the God in you, knowing that God is the source and foundation of our future together.