It took me 3 posts to on several aspects related to discrimination to get my own base-feel right on this.
Here is why.
Abayomi is from Uganda. Where Europe went down, Uganda went up. There is a muffled sense of inferiority in Isabelle due to these differences. I “solved” this in the first version by vagueness. Moving around it, not touching the hot potato of the “inferiority/superiority” issue that is in the middle of all this.
How can a woman like Aboyami love a woman like Isabelle? How can this be real? How do I solve this without falling in my own traps of my own limited understanding? How do I go beyond the impression of inverted racism?
While there are differences, the key element is randomness. From the fragment below:
“I would be arrogant to presume we are much better than you. That I am better than you because randomness made me to be born in Uganda and that same randomness made you to be born in France. I would be arrogant to presume that my cultural background, my education, my access to instruments that you did not even touch yet makes me better than you. I fell in love with you.”
Where someone is born, what cultural background he or she grew up with is random.
Your fathers sperm met your mothers ovary and your cells started multiplying in your mothers womb. There is nothing special to that (it happens every day).
The fact that your body is born on a specific location is almost of no consequence to the base possibilities of your body or your brain, unless circumstances are significantly better (some kind of boosters, genetic manipulation) or worse (i.e. malnutrition, damaging chemicals in the everyday environment).
The base personality defines a person. The culture and society defines how this base-personality presents and develops itself.
Outside in: the impact of understanding
Elisabeth has gotten a look at her own culture from the outside and learned that a lot of things she already mistrusted are outright lies. That her culture itself has been anything but uplifting. That she — by that randomness of birth — grew up in a place where she was hindered in her options to develop her full potential.
That her culture, due to its stagnation in 20th century thinking, is now really backwards compared to the result of recent (2030 — 3050) developments in several places in Africa, including Nigeria where she lived and studied for 3 years.
Love and potential
Randomness means that any trait can be found anywhere in any population. The good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly. The idea that a specific group is special in all this is simply bullshit. So when Aboyami meets Isabelle, she finds within that randomness the kind of girl she is looking for. The potential of her version of ideal love. And she sees enough potential to overcome the unbalance between their different cultures.
Isabelle is scared shitless. Aboyami is not. They are also madly in love.
Fragment: Declaration of love
A note: This scene plays within the first 48 hours after their first contact. Before this moment they were complete strangers. Elisabeth is on her way back to France after a goodbye, and the promise to meet again, at the airport
[From chapter 15, first rewrite — still needs more work]
Then my mind switched back to that morning, lighting new fuel, throwing me back into those pink clouds. I opened a call to her, missing her as I flew over Germany.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hi!” she said, happily.
“I miss you.”
“I miss you too.”
We talked. We talked more. We talked the rest of my entire flight. We talked while I walked out of the plane, walked past the luggage bands, exited the airport in the train, entered Paris, entered the metro.
“I am scared,” I said.
“I am not,” she said.
“I am scared that this will turn out not what we wanted to.”
“I do not give a shit about that,” she said. “This is where we are now. And it feels beautiful to me. I know you fear the drag of perfection. I do not. I do not believe in perfection. I do not believe that this is it. I just feel what I feel now. And it is wonderful.”
We smiled. Like two idiots.
“I miss you,” I said.
“I miss you too,” laughing.
“Like two idiots,” I said.
“Like two idiots,” she laughed.
“Listen,” she said. “Let’s be completely clear about this. Let’s not play games. Let’s be open. When things do not work, do not hold back. When things turn to be different that we thought they would, let’s talk about it. When we fear, let’s put those fears in the open. I do not want to be in a relationship anymore where one of us is holding back out of fear for whatever.”
“I want that too,” I said. “But I am also scared to do so.”
That surprised me.
“Things are never simple,” she said. “Sometimes I want to keep things that are already broken. In the hope that the last parts are enough to fill the gaps that have fallen on other places. My last relationship was like that.”
“What do you see in me, Abayomi?”
“You are beautiful,” she said. “Smart. Open. Adventurous. You are not afraid to take risks. You are not afraid to make mistakes, to be vulnerable, to change, to grow. You do something, you go for it. You do something, you want to finish that. I think that is very attractive… And I like tall girls. You are tall. I like white girls. You are white. You want more?”
I nodded, smiling.
“I like how you walk. How you move. I like your tattoos. I like your face. I like your eyes. I like your eyebrows. They are really lovely.”
“I thought you were joking!”
“I was not,” she said, smiling.
“I like your style. How you dress.”
“Why me?” I asked. “Why not some girl from…?”
“Africa? You know why I left?”
I nodded. “You told me something.”
“I do not fit my own society. I need something else.”
She leaned forward, her avatar in front of me following.
“I wanted something different. I needed the change. I needed some constraints. Europe offers me those.”
“To confront myself. To feel what it is like to bump into walls. Each place has its own confinements. Its own sort of prison. Even an open space can keep you captivated. Even total freedom itself can be restricting. I needed this.”
I got out of the metro, entered the stairway.
“I like your persistence.”
I climbed up.
“Why? Why do you need this?”
“That is a long story,” she said.
“You are aware of the defensive tone in your voice?” she asked.
I nodded. “I am scared, Abayomi. I am scared that this just another fluke. A failure to happen somewhere in the future. Leading to another disappointment. What am I? Who am I? To have been outside of my cultural reference opened my eyes for many of the lies that have been part of my upbringing. That are part of my culture. The hidden bigotry, the open bigotry, the discrepancies between what we tell the world about us and what I see around me.”
“How perfect do you think my society is?”
“I would be arrogant to presume we are much better than you,” she said. “That I am better than you because randomness made me to be born in Uganda and that same randomness made you to be born in France. I would be arrogant to presume that my cultural background, my education, my access to instruments that you did not even touch yet makes me better than you. I fell in love with you. Not your culture, your French-ness – although I love your accent,” she giggled, smiled. “I love you. And we have a long life still to go. A whole world to explore.”
She smiled. “Because girls like you are really hard to find. They are either taken or not interested in me. Take all factors and there are really not much lovers that fit my profile. You do.”
“Girls like you.”
“Yeah. Girls like you. Rebels. But balanced. Who plan. I like the fact that you chose that one image in your presentation: ‘A riot is a revolution without a vision. A revolution is a riot with a vision’. It shows who you are. What you believe in.”
“Girls like me. Who are interested in you,” I repeated.
“Isabelle, what do you want to hear from me? That you are the only one? That fate and destiny brought us together? That our bonds go back in time and through previous lives? Do you want me to lure you – lull your fears to sleep with that kind of bullshit?”
In your face, Isabelle, I thought. Right back at you.
“You are one of many. And maybe even only the one for me for a short while. There is one thing I will not do. I will not work with you to create yet another trap for you and me. I want to be clear about this: if it does not work anymore, we are free to walk out. Both of us. In both directions. This love will not become a prison.”
Her words were like feet in a muddy soil, kicking up clouds of dirt in the streaming water. I was silent for a while, thinking over a lot of things that shot through my mind.
“You want to do this?” she asked.
I was silent for a while more, went through all the motions in my mind, in my body. From fear to mistrust to even bigger fear, to joy, to lust, to happiness. I went back to that moment at new year’s eve. The moment I made my vows on love. I cupped my shoulder, the one with the tattoo of the tiger and the flower.
I nodded. “Yes.”
“We try,” she said. “And when it does not work out, we stop.”
I nodded, hesitated, nodded. “Seems like a good deal to me.”
End of fragment
By making the vague parts more explicit, this scene gained in meaning. The conversation they have has become almost brutally honest. While they are madly in love with each other, with pheromones bursting out of their pores and sex that brings suns to supernova’s they are both brave enough to look beyond that and discuss the deeper aspects of their potential relationship. There is some reservation, but the unwillingness of Aboyami to talk sweet lies is one example.
The insistence of Isabelle (and her admittance of fear) is another. Things are still fragile and both are not afraid to bring that up.
(Inverted) racism, (inverted) classicism
The inversion of roles is still a potential weak spot. Where Europe stopped, Africa in many places continued to develop. And from this it is tempting to create a inverted form of discrimination in which “Africa is better than Europe”. I try to avoid that idea as much as possible as I believe that such an approach is simply really stupid to use in a story. Inverted feelings of inferiority/superiority do not touch the deeper aspects of what this is really about: knowing something is wrong in your own society, but also the base equality we all have. Our geographical origins are really meaningless in all aspects except for the cultural imprints we get form that environment.
While I touch it, I try to find more mature solutions than those of (inverted) racism (inverted) superiority/inferiority and (inverted) classicism. I want to go beyond these. To find other ways to look at this, to dive under and see if there is a place where I can disintegrate it, wreck it, deconstruct it, make it meaningless. Approach it from equality all the way. It is a thin line.
Since I am addressing it, the thin line that I do have will need more work — to become broadened — as I go.