Rita Banerjee’s lyric essay, “Mano a Mano” is featured in the new issue of Nat. Brut. “Mano a Mano” ” examines the relationship between race, power, and sexuality. The essay follows two writers, one male, one female, one of a religious minority, and the other of an ethnic minority, as they deconstruct the origins of racism and racial violence in the United States and Europe today. In this real-life account, the two writers and sparring partners find themselves dismissing and torpedoing one another’s experiences with racism and othering as they attempt to create a documentary film, which challenges the white gaze on the black body, their own voyeurism, and the brewing tension between them. The essay takes a playful and pointed look at racism, othering, and attraction, and the fault line between intimacy and cool. An excerpt from the essay follows below:
“Rita, I’m just going to turn up the heat.” And so, in the rain, covered by a too-thin umbrella, Michael launched his assault.
“You’re just a privileged kid from the suburbs.” He would accuse me later of being born with a silver spoon. He was chagrined that I had mentioned Harvard during the orientation of the workshop we were both teaching at. He said that I always took the higher, moralistic position on things. That I was some sort of truth-seeker. That basically, I didn’t want to get my hands dirty. That I essentially pooh-poohed any discussion on race and instead went for the safe, predictable PC route. That I was not digging deeper inside myself. That I was not confused enough yet. That I did seem a little damn righteous.
The tirade continued, publicly, as we waited in the line to enter the Fondation Cartier, for what seemed to me like an eternity lasting only 15 minutes. What’s the saying? Time slows when you’re not having fun.
And just as the mic was turned over to me, we arrived at the ticket booth. Michael paid for all of our tickets. We went inside without talking to one another.
After some time, once we had played a game of hide and seek between paintings and looked at the Congolese art, the conversation began to flow almost naturally. We studied paintings, magazine covers, and collages, and read the bodies in them for intent and subversion. In many of the pieces, the gaze of the voyeur was flipped back on the voyeur, himself. Michael and I struck up a conversation about a painting of four discombobulated Black musicians playing in a band, whose erased faces and organs were attached to what looked like computerized instruments. I mentioned that the players wore the forced smiles of performers on stage, and that their expressions seemed to climax and fall. “Almost like coitus and post-coitus,” Michael said. The conversation continued until two women from security flagged us down. I tried to convince them that the filming was for a private project, but they were reluctant to let us continue. Later. I translated what I said to them to Michael, and he smiled back at me, “So you can be bad.”
To read the full essay, please visit Nat. Brut. here.