Friday, June 27, 2008
Last Night in NYC (and America)
While on approach the last time I flew into new york, some time last year I guess, I looked out of the window at the hazy night sky and the city below it. On the city streets were thousands of red and yellow lights, tiny points that contributed to a voluminous glow. The corridors of light looked like the flow of lava between highly symmetrical cracks in the earth. The cloudy sky just above the buildings were layers of colors, all of them dreary and dreadful. I remember having a random ominous thought like, yo, I think this is the city that I will die in.
Thankfully, when I flew in yesterday, there was much less melodrama. I did not even look out of the window. I was more focused on the fact that this trip from tampa to NYC was but a prelude to the travels to come. (On my horizon are two long flights separated by a short layover and a 13 hour bus ride on which it is possible that I will share my seat with a few clucking chickens.) Walking through the city today, then, felt very much like a kind of limbo, a meantime in which I could not be present in any moment for thoughts of the future.
This mood did not stop me from enjoying some chill time with friends I had not seen in a while, as well as getting some supplies and plans together. But here in the deep night, the mood has bloomed anew and I am stuck considering the significance of this trip.
It is not as though I am leaving for a long time, mind you. Six weeks is not exactly an epic length. It barely qualifies as ‘gone for the summer.’ But I feel a heavy weight when I think of this trip. And I think it is because of colonialism.
One of the more upsetting aspects of history, especially for me, is the exploitative contact that Europe has had with Africa. My excursions into African history, much like my studies of American history, have always resulted in times of sadness or straight up anger. But in the case of Africa these thoughts and feelings have been held up by an experiential lacuna From my American style, I get an experiential sense of the sick complexities of race and oppression as they relate to me and my family line. I don’t want to say something so crass as “I get it,” but I at least get the feel, and from this feel I can build my more academic understanding. Porting that experiential flavor to my understanding of Africa might not be completely unjustified, but I can’t really know this until I am there. (Already, the philosopher within is screaming, "How can you know even this!? Furthermore, what's not held up by an experiential lacuna?! What is the nature of experience!? It is possible that your experience will give you nothing! You can't experience everything anyway which necessities you positing theory where your senses do not reach!" Let me just mix that fader to zero.) I need to see the echoes of colonialism and its neo counterparts myself. I need to see how the European forces that we term “The West” have interacted with people in their native land. I need to see what I have read about. At best, my immersion will positively affect my fledgling theoretical structures. At worst I will add gravity to those moments of sadness that bleed from my thoughts of the Lord's Resistance Army or the Debeers company or the early (and current) missionaries in Africa. But the more I think about it, the more it seems that the latter cannot not happen. So I guess I will just have to hope for the best as well.
at 3:16 AM