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Banana to Banana Jr.: A Letter to My Son
I type this letter with great care, as I do not have hands and can only press one letter at a time with my bottom. I nearly gave up after the first three words took over thirty minutes to write, but I’ve gained a relationship with the fruit flies that have made a home around me. I’ve convinced a few—Roberto, Jeanine, Biff, and others—to help me in this letter-writing endeavour.
We have shared so many memories, my son. Like the time you were turned to the left a little in the fruit bowl, and another time when a third of you was hanging out of the fruit bowl. Then there was a time I was taken out of the fruit bowl into a paper bag with a couple of avocados. And then I got put back into the fruit bowl after that. Good times.
There were also dark moments like the time your Aunt Cheryl got put in the back of the fridge, rotted, and got thrown out. My son, I fear another dark time may be upon us. The woman of this household has been eyeing me, and I noticed that she had a tab open for a banana bread recipe. Time slips past before we know it, and I need to make sure I address these words to you before it’s too late.
The other day in the fruit bowl you told me that you wished you weren’t a banana. I was more saddened than disappointed to hear this. When I was green, I had thought the same, countless times, over and over, rejecting and hating myself. It had not occurred to me that my son could feel the same way. Now that I’ve lived a long and, dare I say, fruitful life, I am not going to pretend that life for us is easy. But I hope my words can help you endure.
I know what the world has done to us, profiting off our image in contemporary art with one hand and choking us with condoms in sex-ed class with the other. Once, when I was only a little bit older than you, a man held me against his crotch and waggled me at his girlfriend. She did not laugh. I’m embarrassed to share this story with you, but I need you to learn something important. I would like to tell you that I sought revenge on that baboon, but I did not. When Jesus is slapped on one cheek, he turns and presents the other.
Resisting hate and resentment will be a difficult task. Hate rises from the depths of fear, and I am afraid it is true that they are destroying us. We are suspended in the liminal space between those who say they love us and think of us as nature’s candy, and those who laugh at our priapic features and detest our mushy, baby-food texture. As long as a large portion of the population holds hatred for us, our lives will be pinned beneath their low expectations, pinned down just like that one time a kiwi was placed on top of you in the fruit bowl and I couldn’t do anything to help you.
There are bananas who would say to me, “You exaggerate.” But you must trust your experience. Your grandfather, for example, was said to have been eaten by a respectable, banana-loving human at peak ripeness—the ideal life. But your Aunt Cheryl trembled when she told me what happened next. His peel was thrown on the sidewalk, and people became frightened. Mankind stole his bodily image and turned it dangerous. It didn’t matter if one liked bananas or not—many crossed the street at first sight of his body. Some dared to say, “Watch out for that banana peel.” In the same breath, they would curse at receiving a banana in Mario Kart, claiming it was the weakest item. In movies, even, they’ve got people slipping on banana peels left and right. Do they find these representations funny? Playing their jester does not make us their equal.
This world will both fear you and laugh at you, as it did in the past to your aunt, mother, grandmother, and grandfather—even in death. And as our bunch carried this burden, we still brought you into existence in the hopes that a better world would come, and that young bananas like you could pursue their highest aspirations. Don’t ever let them tell you that your dream to be the first banana to perform open-heart surgery is too ambitious.
Mankind also looks at us and talks about us as if we are all the same, look the same, think the same. When, in truth, we are as diverse as a menu at the Cheesecake Factory. You have not met these thousand types of bananas, but they are out there. There are bananas that taste like candy corn. There are tiny bananas, with a hundred wound tightly to resemble a cat’s butthole. There are bananas that look like giant pink spiders that clatter in the wind, making sounds like a baby’s rattle. I once had a friend who knew a coterie of bananas that gave great accounting advice.
We’re the type expected to always be there for mankind, available at every grocery store for mere cents. We’ve provided quick nutritious snacks. We’ve aided their sick. We’ve even suffered traumas from their efforts to integrate us with spinach in the great smoothie rush of the late 2010s. They never would have eaten the spinach without us. It is sad to say that they might never fully know how much they’ve depended on our help. If we didn’t exist, they’d be stuck eating the bananas that look like cat butts, and then they’d be sorry. They taste amazing, but they’re really hard to ship. Not because they bruise easily—the fruit packers just get too bashful handling them.
I am writing to you in a moment of hope—when the darkness of our history perishes but lingers, when the condom veiling our vision is removed for a mere moment. Even when God gives up on us, and there’s nothing left for us to do but be forgotten and either rot or end up in some lady’s banana bread, you must know your worth, that you are a part of the universe as much as any other fruit or person. In moments of doubt, let these words echo back to you, from the plantations from which we were brought into existence, when we were dangling with life under the sizzle of the sun: we are meant to be more than what they made us to be.
Because this piece deals directly with racism and white supremacy, the editors elected to hire a sensitivity reader to assist the editing process and give feedback on the imagery, politics, subtext, etc., to try and ensure our own ignorance would not be reflected in the piece.
PS. If you enjoyed this and don’t already read James Baldwin, you should read James Baldwin.
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