March 28, 2006 20 Comments
Congratulations on your acceptance letter my friend. You must now tap into the deep rivers of American survival craft that I, with the help of the wise ones, have fashioned for the better part of a dozen years. You have struggled mightily to gain that visa, found just the right angle to pitch your proposal for a grant (‘I was a child soldier before I went for a sex-change operation and I shed tears for the environment every night’) and you are very clever and have read many books. But, and indulge me in saying this, you are a babe in nappies when it comes to the Herculean challenges facing the African man in his first year at an American liberal arts campus. The bigger your scholarship, the more prestigious the school, the more you need me. For a one-time fee of beers, which I will collect when I next see you, I will let you in on a few of my many secrets of how to keep the winter darkness at bay and your sanity intact. Here are some basics that you may want to keep in mind:
1. Black Man Rage: This is unavoidable on the whole and should be managed carefully. Every once in a while, you will feel a massive surge of anger at a very reasonable stance or action by a white person. Breathe deeply when you feel it coming on and let rip when it first appears. Allowing it to build will only guarantee its nuclear-like proportions when it eventually explodes; better to let it go at grenade stage. BMR, which is a clinically proven state, is brought on by mercy, understanding and a certain slow nodding motion that has been perfected by the white denizens of liberal arts colleges. I could tell you more grasshopper, but you will learn as you feel. There is only one situation in which you must avoid BMR: when you are inevitably stopped by the cops. You will have generously suppressed it earlier only to see it emerge in the presence of an armed man with little compunction shooting terrorists and angry black men.
2. The Drought: You must forget sex for three-six months after your arrival on campus. You will discover that your language of sex (unless it is monetary) sounds like Martian to the co-eds around you. Being a writer and having dreads might allow you to cut some of the Drought period but make no mistake, there shall be a drought. What this will do is increase BMR and can potentially be demoralizing. There is nothing quite like disrespecting people who then refuse to be seduced by you. It crushes even the strongest egos. Even those that the owner did not know they possessed. The Drought will lead you down several wrong paths. It will make you believe for instance that the slow-nodding liberal girl from a small town in California is about to give you action. Nothing could be further from the truth, she is likely of the opinion that you are a diseased pet placed on campus for her entertainment (and here I stop to collect my breath and swallow a sudden, bitter spike of BMR).
3. Collegiality: this is a biggie. The fact that you are going to a college town means that the faculty sets great store by this word, and that they are supposedly proud and committed to teaching. Nothing could be further from the truth. Small towns breed intense jealousies and rivalries that use weapons of exceeding pettiness to win the day. The spoils? You would hardly recognize them but everyone around you will be attuned to nuances that you can barely guess at. My dear, you are a collegial fellow and so this itself might be your saving grace since you will appear to fall straight into line. And a line is what it is. My advice for what it is worth is that you must do occasional writerly huffs and adopt a few eccentricities. Walking barefoot on a snowy day for example will go a long way to excusing your every absence from collegial gatherings.
4. The Smile: the slight movement of the lips that you will confuse with a smile and that will eventually make you wish that you could punch through it. The Smile is a very great danger to the African who is suffering from the Drought and is therefore partial to BMR. You, being collegial, will no doubt initially respond to this movement of the lips with a Sambo type smile that shows a delight that you can hardly explain at the sight of this almost-stranger. When you finally realize that they are not smiling and that it is at best merely a courtesy and at worst a sign of nervousness or fear at your screaming blackness, you will be liable to losing it and going down a particularly bad path. I heard one African scream for a whole afternoon at anyone who moved their lips in said fashion to him.
Let me leave you with just those four items. There will be others should you need or want them. Remember, there is no spoon, it is you that must bend… Peace African, have a good trip. I’ll see you when I come to bail you out.