Is Talk About Race Overwhelming? Ben Okri

I got an email from a supervisor this morning. (I will say supervisor because I don’t want to reveal too much of the specifics I’m addressing, but this person has some professional authority over me.) It has to do with something in which I fulfilled my part of the requirements within agreed upon time frames. The supervisor assigned me more work that will significantly affect my break from school.

It was so overwhelming for me, I had to close the email and return to bed where I closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep. I couldn’t fall asleep. Frustration grew. I felt a headache coming. I began to cough. I knew it was stress. I had to acknowledge it. Find some way to speak to it so it could disappear or go no further!

I returned to the computer. I began browsing Facebook posts to find something, anything to lighten my morning. Most of what I saw in my news feed had to do with discrimination and race. I began wondering why Facebook only put those posts at the top of my news feed.

Of course, I want to hear what is going on about race and discrimination, but I want to hear stuff from my other friends as well. Hearing about race and discrimination every day sometimes feel overwhelming, especially when I consider that the power structures aren’t committed to change.

Luckily, I saw a post with two people debating about Israel and Palestine. It made me laugh. They were passionate, sassy toward each other, but polite; and I learned much from them. Their long debated lightened my morning.

I got up and got some coffee.

Coffee opened my brain wider. Questions arose: If I wanted an escape from race, why did a debate about Palestine and Israel relieve me? Isn’t that about race too? What have the media done to me that my thoughts were willing to process NYPD drama, NYC mayor, and I Can’t Breathe as race issues, but not the subject of Israel and Palestine? Of course I knew the subject of Israel and Palestine is about race, but why hadn’t my brain immediately remind me of that? What is the role performed by the media, and even by black writings like Ben Okri’s “A Mental Tyranny is Keeping Black Writers From Greatness” in making me feel tired of hearing about “black issues”?

Okri suggests that black people need to write about other things aside from “slavery, colonialism, poverty, civil wars, imprisonment, [and] female circumcision.” According to Okri, such subjects give black literature “weight, but dooms it with monotony. Who wants to constantly read a literature of suffering, of heaviness?”

Okri goes further than blaming black writers, he hopes that black writers will borrow from the traditions of Shakespeare, who wrote of the pleasures of Early Modern England while being able to exclude the horrors. Okri also references Homer who “tells of the fall of Troy through one man’s sulk” and Sophocles who “tells of a king’s culpability, not the horrors of Greek history.”

Isn’t it clear that Okri has great hopes for black writers? Isn’t it obvious that Okri only wants black writers to develop more skill in writing about histories that have to exclude the brutal, authentic, aspects of the past?

If the traditions of black writings had done what Okri prescribes, Okri knows that evidence of “mental tyranny” would have been absent from black literature traditions, because black writers would have been better poised to deliver the “greatness” Okri imagines.

But what pity! If Okri had only gone a bit further and tell us who, how, and what systems would authenticate that “greatness,” then perhaps more of us would be more convinced about the credibility that laced Okri’s essay.

***

Notice what has happened: My brain is no longer focused on the dilemma that forced me to Facebook! So Facebook did help! Yeah! When I realized this, I smiled. I am now in a better mental place to solve the supervisor issue. I solved it by simply saying the following to myself: The ways of the supervisor are the ways of the corporate world. To develop myself as a professional, I just have to accept that such will happen very often. And I will find ways to solve such situations when they occur. The supervisor isn’t the problem. I’m not the problem. There is no problem. There is only something to be solved. There will arise a problem, if I use stress as the tool to evaluate what needs to be solve. I will attend to the supervisor’s request in my own time; that is, within a time frame that seems reasonable on the professional clock.

Posted in Life Talk, Politics Education, Race Matters