I became aware of just how fleeting the sense of happiness was, and how flimsy its basis: a warm restaurant after having come in from the rain, the smell of food and wine, interesting conversation, daylight falling weakly on the polished cherrywood of the tables. It took so little to move the mood from one level to another, as one might push pieces on a chessboard. Even to be aware of this, in the midst of a happy moment, was to push one of those pieces, and to become slightly less happy.
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Killing a bunch of people in Sudan and Yemen and Pakistan, it's like, "Who cares - we don't know them." But the current discussion is framed as "When can the President kill an American citizen?" Now in my mind, killing a non-American citizen without due process is just as criminal as killing an American citizen without due process - but whatever gets us to the table to discuss this thing, we're going to take it.
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He, too, was in the grip of rage and rhetoric. I saw that, attractive though his side of the political spectrum was. A cancerous violence had eaten into every political idea, had taken over the ideas themselves, and for so many, all that mattered was the willingness to do something. Action led to action, free of any moorings, and the way to be someone, the way to catch the attention of the young and recruit them to one's cause, was to be enraged. It seemed as if the only way this lure of violence could be avoided was by having no causes, by being magnificiently isolated from loyalties. But was that not an ethical lapse graver than rage itself?
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There was some kind of scuffle two hundred yards down the street, again strangely noiseless, and a huddled knot of men opened up to reveal two brawlers being separated and pulled away from their fight. What I saw next gave me a fright: in the farther distance, beyond the listless crowd, the body of a lynched man dangling from a tree. The body was slender, dressed from head to toe in black, reflecting no light. It soon resolved itself, however, into a less ominous thing: dark canvas sheeting on a construction scaffold, twirling in the wind.
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Money, dished out in quantities fitting the context, is a social lubricant here. It eases passage even as it maintains hierarchies. Fifty naira for the man who helps you back out from the parking spot, two hundred naira for the police officer who stops you for no good reason in the dead of night, ten thousand for the clearing agent who helps you bring your imported crate through customs. For each transaction, there is a suitable amount that helps things on their way. No one else seems to worry, as I do, that the money demanded by someone whose finger hovers over the trigger of a AK-47 is less a tip than a ransom. I feel that my worrying about it is a luxury that few can afford. For many Nigerians, the giving and receiving of bribes, tips, extortion money, or alms-the categories are fluid-is not thought of in moral terms. It is seen either as a mild irritant or as an opportunity. It is a way of getting things done, neither more nor less than what money is there for.
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Nigerian-American novelist Teju Cole takes it a step further and slams what he calls the "White Savior Industrial Complex," which cares little for the end, so long as it gets satisfaction from the means. "The white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening," says Cole. "The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege."
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Perhaps this is what we mean by sanity: that, whatever our self-admitted eccentricities might be, we are not the villains of our own stories. In fact, it is quite the contrary: we play, and only play, the hero, and in the swirl of other people's stories, insofar as these stories concern us at all, we are never less than heroic.
Oh, I love labels, as long as they are numerous. I'm an American writer. I'm a Nigerian writer. I'm a Nigerian American writer. I'm an African writer. I'm a Yoruba writer. I'm an African American writer. I'm a writer who's been strongly influenced by European precedents. I'm a writer who feels very close to literary practice in India - which I go to quite often - and to writers over there.
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The most common thing I find is very brilliant, acute, young people who want to become writers but they are not writing. You know, they really badly want to write a book but they are not writing it. The only advice I can give them is to just write it, get to the end of it. And, you know, if it's not good enough, write another one.
I am on Vine. It's another early-adopter kind of thing. I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to do with it. What's interesting about it is that everybody knows these amazing restrictions we've put on it: I have to use my iPhone, I can only use one continuous take, I cannot edit afterwards, I cannot put sound afterwards.