The responses I have gotten from readers around the world, despite vast cultural, ethnic and I dare say racial differences, is a testament to universal brotherhood and sisterhood. It is astonishing to realize just how far we have come in the last hundred years that the experiences of a white boy from an obscure town in West Africa would capture the interest of people from more than 77 countries, as far-flung and diverse as Mauritania and Barbados. Even more fascinating is that 153 years ago, I had family members who fought alongside the confederates in the American Civil War!
In the second decade of the 21st Century, here I sit, writing to you about my personal experiences that, at one time, would have secured my death or at the very least garnered me the badge of a traitor. And there you are, in all your beautiful shades of our human experience, reading what I have to say, because either you have felt something similar, or have found something here that resonates with you. No matter the reason, it is clear that you and I are not totally defined by the color of our skin. However, we must acknowledge that for many of us, it is the fiction of race that has created that tension around us, leaving its mark in the recesses of our psyches.
One reader recently wrote that after moving to the States, he became an inhabitant of that “middle world of not being able to be fully one thing.” That is truth- beautiful in it’s simplicity. It’s beautiful not to be tied down to just one “thing”. In a sense, one becomes liberated from the shackles of race, culture, and ethnicity, allowing one to embrace something much larger, something more human. You see, people in the middle world don’t care about other people’s cultural hang-ups. They only care that they can connect with others, and in doing so, are able to tap into that fundamental thread that binds us together. They are at the vanguard of a new (hu)man, whose loyalty cannot be easily defined. His home is nowhere and everywhere.
However, this freedom does not come easily. It is earned through moments of deep frustration and angst. Imagine you have just entered a large ballroom where everyone is dancing in that way you were once so familiar with. As you join the festivities and begin to dance, you realize just how off you are, and the more you try, the farther you get from everyone else. So, you try even harder to stick to the moves and the rhythm you once knew, and as things slowly get better, you realize something about yourself. You have become a fake.
That, my fellow middle world dwellers, is your bildungsroman.
There’s another simple truth that one must recognize, and it is this: growth and tension are two sides of the same coin. Growth is never a comfortable process, and in the end, something is always sacrificed. Think of the seed whose shape and form must be abandoned in order for the sprouts to appear and the sapling to take root. Like the seed that loses its very own structure, yours is also an abandonment of sorts- an abandonment of the fiction of race and nationality that sets you free to embrace the world around you, to be okay with the mislabels, because they are simply an opportunity to invite others into the middle world, where one is no longer tied to just this or that, where we are all happy to be simply called human beings.