A little girl from a far away place traveling to a foreign land is forgotten on a mysterious adventure. She stands lost and confused in a strange place. Strangers from every which way pass her by.
A woman walks towards her and smiles. “Little girl,” she says. “You are beautiful indeed…what’s your race?”
“Race? I don’t know what that is. I don’t know my race. I’m not sure I have one.”
“Little girl, everyone has a race,” says the woman. “How could you not know?”
“What is the point of knowing?” asks the little girl.
The woman is speechless, unaware of what to say without sounding like a racist. “Where did you come from little girl?”
“A place where who I am or what I look like does not matter. A place far, far away. I have heard about this place where I stand now. You call us aliens. But we are–all of us–people. I am of the human race.”
The woman knows what to say now. “We need to know our race, little girl, so that we are not oblivious to whom it is that we are.”
“Sure,” says the little girl, looking the woman in the eyes. “Then who are you?”
The woman stumbles over words. “I am, I am…”
* * *
Since I have not posted anything in a while, I decided that I will post a piece of short fiction (and by short, I mean really short as you can tell) that I wrote a couple of days ago and shared with my Facebook friends. I’m taking time off from adding the finishing touches to my paper about the Six-Day War to do this. The story has nothing to do with the war, just to let you know.
I wrote this story as a parable because I am very interested in that form of story telling. I like taking concepts that are specific to a person’s life and augmenting them so that the subject could be relatable to a broader audience. After deleting my Facebook account for about a year, I decided to reopen it so that I could share stories like these with my friends.
I was inspired to write this particular story as I remembered a certain epiphany I received in college. As I’m learning, college is a place of epiphanies. One day while eating dinner with about four or five people, I was asked, “What is your race?” I looked at my dark skin and thought how can anyone look at me and ask such an obvious question? I was caught off guard. Later on, I learned that they were asking me this question because they had heard about tribal discord in Liberia and about a group of people they called “the élite” Americo-Liberians.
This question brought me back to third grade when I was asked by my teacher, “What’s your tribe?” My tribe? I didn’t know. Tribe was not something that was discussed in my home. “Are you Congo?” The teacher asked, staring into my eyes as if she was interrogating me. “You sound like a Congo boy.” I didn’t know. What did Congo even mean? Was it a good thing or a bad thing? After school, I asked my aunt if it was a bad thing or good thing. She just looked at me as if to say, “what in the world was the teacher’s motive for asking such questions.” She gave no answers to my inquiry.
This has me thinking. In a country such as Liberia where people, for the most part, look the same, why does tribe matter so much? Why did it matter to my teacher, who from her actions and words seemed to suggest that she viewed her identity with a certain superiority as compared with the identity of others? It recently dawned on me that when I was asked about my race by people who saw that my race was extremely different from theirs, I was actually being asked: which race do you pledge loyalty to? It is under these circumstances and with these thoughts that I wrote, Oblivious: Who are We Really?