“But why do you say this is just an infatuation? What is the meaning of love to you?” asked the guy who had known me for four weeks before declaring his desire to spend the rest of his life with me, over a Facebook chat.
That was a few weeks ago. I haven’t responded, and I’m sincerely hoping he’s lost interest. He hasn’t been making inappropriate and embarrassing comments on my pictures, or liking everything on my wall the way he did in the beginning, so that looks promising. This isn’t the reason I haven’t responded, though, to ice him out until he goes away. In my less mature days, that’s something I would do. No. I haven’t responded because I don’t know the answer yet.
I don’t know what love is. I remember writing a poem about this a few years ago, when my AP Lit teacher had us write love poems as a Valentine’s Day assignment. He’d wanted them to be “PG-13 rated…maybe even R-rated” but mine had been about not understanding love in the first place, and being slightly afraid of it. It had actually turned out to be a decent poem, despite its lack of requested pornography, and I considered sending it to this new guy. The only problem is that the poem was also half about someone, making use of the word “You”, and I did not want this guy to get the wrong ideas. Unlike You, I am not afraid of loving this guy, because I don’t think of love at all as a possibility.
It’s just, despite my lack of understanding, I strongly feel that love should have a great deal to do with Knowing someone. Not in the deluded way that some lovers have, where they claim to know ‘everything about’ the other person, because I’m aware that it is impossible. But I think there’s an Enough to know about someone. I think that love has to accompany knowing someone through their annoyances and some of their darkness, and still wanting to be around them, and being comfortable letting them into some of your own darkness as well. And maybe, as they touch some of your darkness, feeling that it lightens a bit.
Do you know what a big deal it has to be to allow someone into the darkest, most shameful areas of your mind and body? At least for myself. There’s a reason people keep to themselves, and keep their problems hidden from others. Sometimes I’m not sure what that reason is, but I still know it’s there. I think that love should dissolve that reason.
Comfort. Eden. I don’t know. In my romanticized mind, I think that Adam and Eve must have been naked in ways beyond not wearing clothes. Someday I hope to find my own paradise. I don’t expect to be happy all the time, or to live without problems or strife, because that’s impossible. I just hope to find someone from whom I don’t have to hide all of the problems and strife I encounter. I think it would be nice to live with the ability to have all of my worries floating around me when I wanted them to be. I think it would lessen their impact. And to be with someone whose worries I could see as well. That’d be wonderful. I wouldn’t have to guess at anything, and neither would they. We could just Know, and be okay. I think that could be a kind of paradise.
Not that it will be easy to find paradise. Although I know where it won’t be. It won’t be with a guy who rarely heard what I said, but merely looked at me and did the speaking instead. It won’t be in a place where I had to hide the majority of my ideas, because I knew that they either would not be understood, or would be badly received. With him, I would turn into a shell, one that would eventually crack as my inside festered. It wouldn’t be fair to me, and it wouldn’t be fair to him, although his deaf persistence has honestly caused me to care less about that part.
I wonder where my paradise is, if it is.
I wonder if I should send this to him.
It’s Friday, and I’m walking back from KSG to the spot from which the bus will pick us up. I’m working out a budget in my head. Who I still need to buy gifts for, where we’ll be going over the weekend, what I owe people, the ride to the airport. Will I extend my stay? That’s money. Is it worth it? Will it affect my job? Being worried about money sucks (thinks the American walking out of the slum).
My thoughts are interrupted by one of my coordinators, who suddenly jumps up beside me and clenches my shoulders.
“No, stop, stop, he’s really scaring me!” she cries, which would be startling enough if she wasn’t also suddenly pushing me into the path of an oncoming man.
“I love you!” He is slurring his words and yelling, arms reaching. “Why are you leaving me all alone?”
I try to get out of his way, only to realize that my coordinator is wrenching me in place. She’s using me to hide, pushing my body toward his to block hers. Or as a trade? Is she trying to give me up to save herself?
“BABY! Dn’t leave me, ALOOOONE!”
The man is getting closer, still yelling. My coordinator is still pushing me toward him. Residents are watching us and laughing. Having got me into this slightly dangerous situation, she clearly isn’t going to save me. So I have to save her? Fine. I shove her along the path, trying to move away as quickly as possible. I can’t decide if it’s safer to ignore him and keep moving, or to tell him to go away. Looking around for help, I see Jake behind us.
“Will you please do your job as a man and make him go away?” I ask, but he doesn’t understand. As a trainer for the teachers, he’s only been with us a few days, and it’s clear that no one has let him know about the level of patriarchy here. He doesn’t get that right now, what will be safest for me is for the man to think that Jake is in charge of me, my coordinator, and the rest of the female volunteers.
“Hey, man, why don’t you leave them alone?” Jake says, weakly. Yeah, that’s a real stay away from my property warning. The man ignores him and keeps coming, shouting his ‘love’.
Fortunately, it doesn’t matter. Esther, the angel, our saviour from SHOFCO Youth has showed up. She says a few words to the man in Kiswahili, then turns him around and pushes him back down the path. Thank you. We’re okay.
I’m feeling weird about having embraced the messed up gender structures, if only for a second, in an attempt to save myself. Especially when it didn’t even work out. It seems I’ve been conforming a lot to things that are against my beliefs, just to get by here. I keep biting down on things that I’d otherwise proudly be saying. It’s part of the reason I wouldn’t be able to stay. My feminism is too radical here, even at KSG. I feel like shit for thinking this, and for being able to leave, as I currently walk out of the slum for the day. There it is, though. I like to think that I’ll find a way back to Kibera for a bit, but it still wouldn’t be permanent. I’m lucky enough not to have to stay here, yet.
And my coordinator, what is she doing? She’s finally let go of me. We are no longer struggling with each other. She’s gone.
I look behind me, at the line of white volunteers. She’d come from the back, running around all of them. Why did she choose me? Was it my race? Was it random? Why did it happen at all? She’s supposed to be in charge, protecting us. It is not supposed to be the other way ’round.
What the fuck was that?
She pushed me into his way.
She pushed me into his way.
To all the people out there complaining about Black History Month, saying that “if we had something called White History Month, you’d say it was racist!” you’re probably right.
If there was a month that was nationally recognized as White History Month, people probably would say that it was racist. That’s why for the other 11 months out of the year, when all we’re really doing is learning White History, it isn’t called anything other than History. If people labeled the general history that we’re taught in school for what it really is, there would be so many complaints of racism that we’d be forced to change our textbooks to more accurately reflect the diverse range of cultures, histories, and viewpoints of which the world is comprised (and I just want to know: what would you put on the White History Month curriculum that you aren’t already learning? Have you thought about this, or is this just another case of feeling left out, because minorities are forced to blatantly state when they’re doing something in their own interest, and you’re stuck with having to force yourselves to realize when things are being done to privilege you?).
Last week, SNL had a skit/song about Black History Month. You’ve probably seen it. If not, here it is:
“They really don’t teach this stuff in school; it’s a mystery.”
The skit was funny, but also a bit worrisome. It seemed directed solely toward white people, and not even in an informative way. The only two reasons that you should respect black people are that they deserve a chance, and slavery? Ummm no. **
I understand that it was a skit, on SNL, and it was meant to be funny, but I wish it didn’t have to reinforce the idea so many people seem to hold: that February is only about reminding white people that slavery happened and that they should feel guilty. Feeling begrudgingly guilty for 28 days a year does nothing to help the still-oppressed descendants of slaves, especially when the begrudgement gives way to orders to “get over slavery” and “stop playing the race card”. The idea that race is a card that black people keep up their sleeves to “play” white people is ridiculous. It’s not a trick! It’s an actual thing!
Black History Month should be recognized as more than reminding people of slavery and asking for an equal chance. It should be about reminding people where they’ve come from, and showing people examples of stronger ancestors, besides Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks and the watered-down version of MLK Jr. we’re given. Can we read the autobiography of Frederick Douglass(to show a black man who stood up to a white man and lived to become stronger)? Letter from a Birmingham Jail (for another side of Martin)? The Willie Lynch Letter (to shed light on some of the origins of lightskin v. darkskin and black hatred)? Amiri Baraka, for the rebel in each of us, “Dutchman” to show societal traps? Heck, let’s even throw in “Americanah”, because my girl Chimamanda was onto some racial shit. Really any black person who’s doing things, like the youngest person to pass the UK Bar exam, or the girl who won a scholarship without twerking. (Speaking of which, we should also try to stop associating twerking with ignorance, because it actually comes from a rather vibrous, religious culture that the West completely misinterpreted.)
And then, after being inspired, let’s point out the ways in which slavery has manifested itself today. Let’s talk about private prisons, and disenfranchisement, the repeal of the Voting Rights Act, white privilege, Stop and Frisk (which thankfully has been stopped, but never should have been considered justified in the first place)…
February is such a watered down month in school, and it never sends the right message. Either we come away from those 28 days thinking that things used to be bad but now are nothing to complain about, or thinking that even if we should be complaining, we don’t have any true models of resistance. There are no uprisings. No radicalism. And there can’t really be radicalism, if you can get shot for walking home at night in a hood, and your shooter can go on to star in a “celebrity” boxing match. (PLEASE, no one watch that).
At least, that’s the way we’ve learned things to be. That should change.
**By the way, I also do NOT like the fact that the one black woman in that video really had no significance other than being supportive. The white female teacher got to speak, as did the white male student. The two black men got to rap and be funny. All she got to do was look cute, dance, sing “twenty-eight reasons” over and over again, and hold a saxophone. Racism and patriarchy are most definitely entwined, with women of color on the extremely losing end of the spectrum.