i took a class that changed saved my life. african literature. it was about everything but literature. it was about God and Love and Spirituality and Knowing. it was about the intersectionality of race and sex and how experiences are shaped. it was coming to know that we in fact don’t know anything. it was about everything but literature.
it started like this. my professor walked into the room with a banana in his hand. he stood at the podium facing us. “can i eat this?” he asked us. and we responded yes as if it was a question; as if to ask why he needed our permission. He asked why it was okay for him to eat it and we told him because it is delicious and good for one’s health; if you listened closely, you could almost hear the undertone of “duhh” in our voices. He began to peel the yellow skin slowly, strip by strip, carefully as though not to disturb the fruit within. he then held up the banana with the pride one holds up a trophy, and made his first eye-contact with the thirty something eyes staring at him with raised eyebrows. then he took a bite out of the banana and nodded his head slowly, eyes closed while he chewed, in that way we humans do when something really hits the spot; for me it’s the comfort i get from banku and okra stew. a few seconds later he held up the peel and displayed it up and before us it like he did before. “now, can i eat this part too?” we justified our no’s with the reason that it is illogical to eat the peel because it is not tasty and it is not nutritious. he retorted that we said the inside was tasty and nutritious. with that, he asked his final question: “so, are bananas a good thing?” he told us to remember this, and that we will revisit this concept throughout the course.
it was about everything but literature.
yeah, we read books. but the stories were merely a mirror to look at ourselves in the form of characters, and in that looking we judged their actions. in that looking we realized that perhaps we dance with the same demons we ascribe to others. perhaps we play the music. perhaps the abusive father on page 5 is acting on the same motivations that we act upon. perhaps that seemingly strange pagan ritual demonstrated on page 64 mirrors a tradition of your own beliefs. perhaps, like a banana, a person is not fully good or fully bad, but rather the combination of both. it is what makes us human. it is what makes bananas bananas. because peels don’t make a whole banana unhealthy, in fact a peel-less banana is a rotten banana.
we asked all the hard questions in that small room on the second floor of that yellow brick building. “who are you?” “do you know God?” “how do you know?” we seasoned the walls with silence after each question we thought we knew the answers to. we marinated the air with unspoken thoughts: am i only a woman, my ethnicity, and my name? yes, i do know God. i talk to him all the time. i know because the Bible explains who he is. i know because of Faith, and faith is believing anyway without solid proof.
i came to meet my own biases in my responses and as i write this i am thinking about how different my responses would be today. today i know that what makes me who i am is not only determined by who i think i am, but also who others think i am. Today i know that the real question is whether those two people are the same person, whether those thoughts align. i came to know that i was as unaligned as the floorboards of an abandoned house. i left the class on a journey of aligning, and on a mission of reconstructing that house and inhabiting it too.
i came to realize that my concept of God was a biased filled doughnut that made me sick when i finally had to take a bite of it. i was left with the aftertaste of uncertainty, yet a hint of relief and excitement lingered because i can now define God for myself. and on this journey i am finding God to be more beautiful than i ever imagined.