129: “What I Am Taught” (Nnedi Okorafor)

                “I only know what I am taught,” I whispered.
                “That’s not true,” he said.
                                -Nnedi Okorafor, Binti: Home

                In the first book, Binti, a young woman from earth, traveled the stars and became the point of contact between two sentient species. In the second book she goes back home. She visits the “Desert People,” an ethnic group who live in villages not far from where she grew up. Her own people don’t like the Desert People: they all have a strange degenerative illness, or so it’s said. They’re uneducated, superstitious, dirty. In talking to a young man from this group, Binti slips into these learned prejudices. When he notices, she defends herself with the line: “I only know what I am taught.”
                “That’s not true,” he says.
                So what else is it that she has? Some innate understanding of compassion and prejudice? Her own experiences? A long time ago, Binti met an old woman. That woman was one of the desert tribe. When Binti talked to her, she found a person, not a savage. Is that what else she has? Or is the “something else” simply the chance to think for herself, to build something with the bits she’s been given, to hold “lessons” against each other and try to balance them? We’ve all been taught–but we’re all still learning. That means, like Binti, we have the chance to learn something new.
                Whatever else Binti has, she has the young man she’s talking to. Half a page later, he shares a chuckle with her. Perhaps that’s a kind of knowing, too.

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