The inevitable pleasure of watching a horror movie is that one always experiences relief: if a scene is too gory, cover your eyes, block your ears, leave the theater, turn off the DVD. You can always escape from fiction into reality. None of it is real. You are thrilled by the absurdity of what you choose to see or block out.
To say that the past week—has it really been that long?—is like a horror movie is to say too much and too little. Looking at pictures of burn victims, of burned and looted houses, of men, women, and children running to safety has been surreal. I have learned not to look too closely, to avoid determining whether I know the subjects of those photographs. I have tried to avoid the shock of recognition that would give flesh to abstract fears.
Although I have been scouring blogs for news, I have also tried to filter them out. I want to believe that my family and friends are on the side of right, that they are incapable of joining the orgy of hate and violence and premature celebration. My fear for them is coupled with an equally strong fear of them. Somewhere, in this mess, someone I know, someone I love, someone I respect, has raised a hand in anger and frustration.
It would be a mistake to view the events of the past week as entirely singular, extraordinary, or unexpected. Instead, they dramatize that for too long many Kenyans have been closing their eyes and blocking their ears to the ordinary suffering and frustration of fellow citizens. If what we have seen was an eruption, it was fed, in part, by our easy smiles and tolerance of inequality. Perhaps the sad truth is that we have all been living in a horror movie and we just awoke to that fact.
Unlike most horror movies, which end in total destruction or in some kind of redemption, the way ahead for us is not as scripted. It’s clear that we cannot simply assume we share the same values. Instead, we must cultivate shared values. We cannot rely on our leaders to heal our wounds. Instead, we must take responsibility for wounding each other. We can no longer live within purely ethnic enclaves. Instead, we must begin to bridge cultural and geographic differences.
However, the good news is that many of these foundations are in place. Despite what some alarmists might be claiming, we did not sweep away the past 45 years of our existence.
We share languages and foods. We live in the same neighborhoods, attend the same schools, and worship in the same Churches and temples and mosques. We laugh at the same comedians and dance to the same music. We celebrate when our runners win and are thrilled to hear Swahili in international films.
Above all, we have the power to stop the movie, change our roles, re-write the script.
Imagine how awesome that is: we can stop watching and acting in a crappy movie, take control of our roles, and create something wonderful.
I have been using the word wonderful a lot the last few days, not in blind denial, but to describe what I want, what I believe in, what I’m in the middle of building.
For something more practical, see here.