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Revenge and Privilege

I had a confusing conversation with a language tutor about four years ago. I understood all the words but I was completely missing something cultural in what she was explaining to me. I’ve thought about the conversation off and on and finally understood it one day when I was listening to an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with Ta-Nehisi Coates. Everything clicked into place and I was filled with shame at my failure to see what I had been missing.

Coates is the author of several stunning articles and, most recently, the book Between the World and Me, which I highly recommend.

Here’s an excerpt from my essay, at Brain Child:

My Somali language lesson one day ended with my tutor telling me a story about her twelve-year old daughter, Kadra, at school.

The previous week another student stole Kadra’s red pen and wouldn’t give it back. Kadra got angry about it and after class they got into a yelling match. The yelling quickly devolved into physical fighting and the other student scratched Kadra’s face until it bled and bit her ear, hard. Kadra got revenge for the ear – she bit the other girl’s breast during their tussle. But at home that evening, my tutor told Kadra to go back the next day and scratch the girl’s face.

Biting the breast had been a good idea but Kadra needed to get revenge for the scratches, hers were just now scabbing over, as well.

Kadra followed her mother’s advice the following morning and scratched the girl with all five fingernails. That afternoon the girl and her mother came to Kadra’s house to apologize for stealing the pen and purchased her a new one.

I was shocked…

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