There is a strain of Black campus novel that is obsessed with “realness.” I can trace its origins to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, in which the narrator leads his college’s white trustee on a darkly comic and ill-fated tour of the Black homes, brothel, and mental hospital full of Black patients that lie just outside his historically Black college’s campus. Ellison does not necessarily posit these grotesqueries as any “realer” than the Black university professor who expels the narrator and undermines his trip to New York; but, rather, the tension rests on the danger of the white trustee assuming that the degradation he saw is Black people’s true nature—untouched by white oppression and unredeemable by education.
By Khaddafina Mbabazi, Illustrations by Keith Negley
September 8, 2020
At Heathrow, three hours before her flight to Boston, Thandi was in one of the shower rooms below the Galleries lounge in Terminal 5. A previous tenant—someone who, at some point in the day, had been in there before her, before every inch of the shower room was cleaned, its towels and various amenities replaced—had left a trace of themselves; the radio on, the dial turned to Classic FM.