SENIOR COLUMN: Being the second banana


Sam West, Photo submitted

Sam West

I joined the staff of The Crimson White as soon as I moved to Tuscaloosa for college. I was an unpaid contributing writer, I knew pretty much no one in town, and I was living alone in an empty four-bedroom apartment. I found a home at my college paper, quickly made friends and developed a dream: that one day I would be the editor of what I then saw as an august institution with unimpeachable integrity and prestige. 

This didn’t end up happening. I had the misfortune of joining the paper shortly after one of the best young college journalists in the country – a woman with more talent, smarts and ambition than me or pretty much anyone else I knew. There was really no question of who would get the big chair. I’m not that bright, but I can at least recognize when someone else is a star.

Instead, I became the managing editor, the next highest position on staff, a job with an ambiguous description that mostly consists of 1) doing paperwork and 2) assisting the editor in leading the news organization. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was joining a proud tradition: that of the second banana.

The first second banana in history was Nefermaat I, the inaugural vizier of the Old Kingdom of Egypt. Viziers were appointed by the Pharaoh, and did pretty much whatever the ruler told them to do while receiving no credit. The Vice President of the United States is a second banana – John Nance Garner once described the job as being “not worth a warm bucket of piss.” 

Every great man has had a pretty good man standing somewhere behind them – Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Dracula and Igor.

When I realized what serving as managing editor really meant, I did not despair. Instead, I committed to being the best second banana I could be.

This wasn’t easy. I have always possessed “good leadership skills,” which means I am a loud and bossy person with a penchant for what the kids call “mansplaining.” Being second banana meant shutting up and letting someone else take the lead. Instead of doing everything myself, I’ve had to learn how to work with others. 

The best second bananas can operate in sync with their partners, and in doing so create a leadership team stronger than the sum of its parts. After all, what would John Lennon have been without Paul McCartney? Bob Woodward without Carl Bernstein? Captain Kirk might have gotten all the girls, but without Spock he probably would’ve crashed the Enterprise into the sun.

I certainly have not reached the levels of McCartney or Spock. I haven’t always been perfect at leading from behind. But though I might not have imagined it when I first came to college, the unglamorous job of being number two has made me a much more well-rounded person.

Sam West is a senior majoring in history and journalism. He is the Managing Editor of The Crimson White.