Monday, August 31, 2015

Reflections upon finishing Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga

Sometimes I just hold the pen above the page and wish that it were possible for raw emotion to spill onto it without the need for words or letters or sounds or coherent thoughts.  I suppose artists can do that.  I am not an artist.  I am only human.  An empathetic human fighting to save her soul from the destruction of the masses.  Fighting to find truth despite “the way it is.”

Tears ring my eyes.  The soft patches underneath, beginning to droop with the signs of ma age and lessons of life, are hard with dried salt from tears that escaped some time ago.  Humanity—is anything but.  Cruelty.  Justification  Righteousness for us.  Condemnation for them.

If you want to kill someone, the first thing you do is make them “something.”  Savage.  Negro.  Jew.  Terrorist.  Enemy.  Fetus.  Animal.  Anything but “human.”  Anything but us.  And it is so easy to do.  So easy to draw a line.  So easy to say “me” “not me.”  “Me.”  “It.”  “Me.”  “Those things.”  And once it is done, once the line is drawn, once the leap is made, there is no barrier to the fierceness, the destruction, the uncaring, the harming, the ability to bring pain.

*     *     *

Pain.  Pain.  Pain.

It hurts.

It hurts to receive pain.  It hurts to recognize the immense depths of giving pain of which you are capable.

It hurts to look evil in the face and recognize yourself.  As much as it hurts to look at the broken lying in a heap and see your pain.

I am the broken and the breaker.

I am the shame and the shamer.

I am the victim and the victimizer.

We are.

We all are.

And we call this “humanity.”

And we justify the doing, even as we lick our own wounds.

And there is no end.  Only a new sense of us and them.  Only a new line drawn, even as we express horror at the old one’s place.

Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga purports to be an account of a young man exhibited in the monkey house at the Bronx Zoo in the early 1900s, but it is so much more than that.  It is an unabashed look at global race relations, America’s role in the rise of eugenics and the influence of her preeminent scholars on Adolf Hitler, a gasping account of King Leopold’s horrors in the Congo, and a brave attempt to make an “other” one of “us.”

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