What color is a banana?
What Color is a Banana? asks the viewer to reconsider one’s relationship to sight, and in turn to then reconsider one’s larger understanding of the world – all through the lens of a banana.
After my video was exhibited, many people misunderstood the goal of the video, thinking that the banana was getting singled out for its lurid past and present. “I feel bad now eating bananas,” people would tell me. They didn’t understand that I was using the banana as a specific case study for the many common objects in our lives, hoping I could glean something from its being that would shed light on other objects. And so I had to write a short essay in response:
To be clear, the banana is no offender—to be isolated in boycott or protest. The individual gesture of forsaking bananas is not a real act of resistance against racism or imperialism. Committing to locally grown apples misses the point. The banana is one of countless material things that permeate our lives. We live in a material world. For many of the people reading this text, this is easy to forget. For many reading this text, words like ‘digital’ and ‘internet’ take precedence when describing our present world: VR, AI, social media, algorithms, etc. These things can only dominate when objects fade from our minds—unseen for the sheer ease of their availability. Material things are necessary; we all need food, clothes, and shelter, as we live in physical bodies. Computers, means of transportation, medicine, televisions, books, tools, fuel, etc., are all part of what make our society run. To require goods is not a sin. Rather than thinking about social transformation from a perspective of consumption, we should begin with the process of production, the way in which things come into the world. People often mistake ‘consumerism’ with ‘capitalism,’ as if the two were interchangeable. Fundamentally, capitalism is not commercials, social media advertisements, or retail therapy. Capitalism is above all a way of exploiting those who work to bring these objects into the world for others.
What does this mean? How are goods made? Exploitation is not defined by dangerous working conditions, prolonged work days, and meager pay. These are inaccurate definitions, but popular misconceptions. Exploitation, the taking of one person’s labor by another, is a process that has occurred throughout much of human history—in slave and feudal societies, as well as in capitalist society today. In all these various epochs, people have needed a variety of goods to live. Presently, the many objects we need are quite complex—a car is assembled out of 1,800* different parts—and so require numerous people to make them. One person cannot make everything, and so different people must make different things. But working people do not own the means to make these goods on their own, and almost no one has the ability to produce for themselves all the material things they require for living. Therefore, most people must enter the labor force and sell their ability to work in order to purchase these objects. Some make shirts in order to pay for food and rent. Others make car parts or light bulbs, while some farm bananas. But to whom do these individuals sell their capacity to work? To a small group of people who own all the means of producing such things and profit from the work of others. To profit from the labor of OTHERS is to appropriate their labor. This is what is meant by ‘exploitation.’ It is through exploitation that the many objects in our lives come into being. If we are truly against exploitation, imperialism, women’s oppression, and racism, we cannot simply boycott t-shirts, lightbulbs, cars, or bananas: we must actively transform the social relations that structure our world.
*The number '1,800' was taken from "Vrrrooom! What does it take to build a car?" published on June 19, 2007 in “The Christian Science Monitor.” The quote was referring to the amount of parts waiting for assembly in the Chrysler Assembly Plant in Belvidere. However, if taking into account all parts, down to the smallest screw, according to Toyota, the number is closer to 30,000 parts in total.