The Black that I Am…

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The BLACK that I am … came to the realization that dark skin was an issue circa 1994 through the informal education system called recess. I was a chubby pre-teen, with horrible acne and a lisp that seemed more pronounced when I was hungry, so understand my delight when I got in with a group of girls that were considered “hot” due to my limited knowledge of the world. It was a weird period in Jamaica with people forming groups and claiming titles as crews, or rather kru’s. I was a member of the K.L.A.P.P.A.S. Kru, an acronym that held all our names and there was my “A” dangling close to the end, or maybe I was third, either way I was happy to be a member. It was during one of our recess periods that I learned a lesson that still stays with me. I don’t remember the conversation that lead up to the black Sharpie being used to make a mark on my forehead, but I remember the laughter that erupted. My dark skin prevented them from seeing the blood rushing to my face as shame, rejection and embarrassment enveloped me within seconds. It had never registered to me before that day that I was exceptionally dark skinned; my sisters, cousins and childhood friends had never told me and I never asked. I eventually lost weight. The acne left me without scars and I learn to control my lisp… even when I’m hungry. However, I remain dark skin.

The BLACK that I am … joined the drama society at UWI in 2002 and was granted/earned the lead role in the major production. I was cast as God. I think it may have been due more to my skin colour than my acting skills. The director wanted to do something… different and what could be more different than a dark skinned man playing god? How ironic that this role as God provided me another lesson on the limitations of my dark skin. The stage lighting technician, who was an ogre of a man with caramel complexion, lamented the difficulty he was having in finding the right light for me. It became a joke that I was “too black” for the lights in the theatre. A joke I laughed along with, but felt pained inside. As if this wasn’t enough I soon learned I would go without make-up because there was no match for my dark skin. I took it all in strides and even tried my hand at a rebuttal by claiming my ancestors to be proud field slaves who were known for their strength. I even wore it on a T-shirt to the delight of many, but I knew it was a band aid on an open wound. I hated the position I was relegated to due to my skin. I blamed teachers for making me stand in the sun as punishment for my skin tone. I hated the sun for burning the brown out of me. I hated my skin.
The BLACK that I am … became enlightened around the first year I volunteered at summer camp, working with 12-14 year old. The week-long camp brought together a wide cross-section of Jamaican children from all over the island and I loved how they mingled and learned from each other. My attention was drawn to a small gathering on the play field one evening. When I got closer I realize a young man was being derided because he was “black as tar.” I saw him shrink before his peers as they marked his skin with their words and laughed. I heard his feebly attempts at a comeback, which were shot down by ridiculous claims of skin complexion and the laughter of a captivated audience. In that moment I saw myself. I broke it up and took him aside. I listened as he broke down, gushing heated words of hatred targeting his skin tone. His beautiful face wrapped in innocence challenged my own self-hatred. I found words. I shared my own experiences and told him how I was challenged that someone as beautiful as he was would be downtrodden because of his dark skin. I made him promise me that he would never use chemicals to change his complexion. We made a pact. I left that conversation with more than I could give him. It was after this point that I started to examine my face and see the beauty that was hidden by people’s perception of me. I came to the realization that there was nothing wrong with me. There has never been anything wrong with me; simple and direct realization that changed my life.
The BLACK that I am  … wears my skin like a badge of honour; skin noted for years of hardship, but also bearing an ancestry of chiefs and warriors.  I am still affected whenever I hear ignorant comments on skin colour. It still affects me seeing my beautiful brothers and sisters using chemicals to become translucent forms of them selves. However, the world is changing and more dark skin brothers and sisters are stepping forward and affirming their beauty. As I type this Lupita Nyong’o sits on my phone screen flashing a megawatt smile; Hollywood is catching up. Though Nyong’o’s impact is yet to be measured, I cannot help but smile especially because this issue affects dark-skinned women more than it does men. I sense a change occurring, the ripples are everywhere. I am here for the realization that all shades have a place at the table even if we have to fight our way in and demand our space.
The BLACK that I am… is Beautiful.
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Ground Zero Abortions

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Abortion is legal in Canada where it is considered a reproductive right. Women health clinics are scattered across the GTA and serve a diverse clientele consciously deciding to terminate their pregnancies.

It was just coincidence that I happen to notice two abortion clinics in close proximity to women’s only shelters and government funded housing. It provoked thought that this may have been mere coincidence, but the conspiracy theorist in me would not allow this rational to stick.

I did some research and came up with a shocking trend that I decided to show through mapping. The map shows clusters of shelters and government houses for poor families in Toronto. Most of them are near to clinics that specializes in abortions. Another dimension is added when consideration is given that the main demographic within these areas are First Nations and Blacks…not trying to call it strategic placing, but it does smell foul.

Take a look at the map.

Budding Journalist.

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After working five years as a teacher I wanted a change in my life; a change that would facilitate me doing something that I love, writing.313891_10151701306858312_982273434_n

 

I envisioned days sitting in a coffee shop or on a park bench using figurative devices to construct scenes that whisked readers away to fantastical destinations. I desired to have words and imagination at the core of my being; to write daily and  learn new words with the opportunity to share them with readers.  I craved a space that would facilitate me playing with words and writing thoughts with like-minded people. So, I enrolled into J-school. Though I have gotten excellent grades so far, the romantic expectations I had of a life in Journalism is slowly fading as I pull closer to the finish line.

I am a frustrated writer. I adore words and the power they contain to provoke thought, trigger emotions and inform. Yet, the style of writing for news reporting is stripped of the imaginative and uninhibited world of words that I adore. If it is not concise, it has to be clear, or just devoid of emotions and opinion. My creativity is yoked into being a staccato expression of thought that falls in line with all that has gone before and all that will come after.

So what do I do now? Should I throw in the towel and quit because my expectations have been slapped silly by reality?

It is not within me to quit, I instead have decided to focus on the merits of this new lane that I’m in, and continue to learn and grow.

365 days later…

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It is a year since I have been away from Jamaica and oh, what a year it has been.

I’ve made new friendships, but still support those I created in Jamaica with phone calls, BBM, Facebook, Whatsapp and Skype.  I have been assigned the role of ambassador in social settings when my accent reveals my nationality. This is a role I’ve been happy to fill, because I have been allowed to debunk some of the myths people have of Jamaicans. I have been asked questions ranging from my relationship with my family to how Bob Marley’s music affected my life. One particular question that floored me was if Jamaicans know about Canada. I simply smiled and said yes then walked away to prevent any further interaction. To my new friends I am the official litmus in determining if a smell, sound or taste labelled Jamaican is authentic.

My assimilation into the Canadian society required me to disrobe of some of the bigoted world views that I inherited from my fore-parents. I have been confronted with other lived truths and experiences that have forced me to re-evaluate things I have held as true. I started my journey on the 21st of December, 2011 at 5:10 p.m. from my parent’s house in Jamaica and I am still travelling.

Possibly the most frequent question I’ve been asked is if I miss Jamaica. I’ve often responded with a reflexive yes, but recently it hit me that I was lying.

I don’t miss Jamaica.

I miss the familiarity it affords me.

I miss my family, friends and the memories I created while growing up.

I do not miss Jamaica.

I don’t miss the need Jamaicans have to police your behaviour, dress-code and speech.

The suffocating value system that we cloak in black, green and gold and use it to suppress expression and individuality.

Since my journey began I have pierced my ears and I am contemplating a tattoo.

I have a fire-engine red pants in my closet and a jeans so tight it requires a special dance to get into them.

There are things I have done and expressed that I was afraid to consider in Jamaica.

I surprise myself at times, but it gives me a great feeling that makes my heart smile, a rush that makes me feel like I am alive and living. The thought of shelving these inhibitions I have developed over the past 365 days scares me.

I’ve said I love you more in the last 365 days than I have in my entire life. I have cried openly with members of my family and have fearlessly exposed my vulnerability in ways I dreaded. This journey I am on has taught me more about myself than I cared to know.

I have heightened my relationship with my sisters and made me realize how much I love them. My younger sister sent me a card on my birthday which made me cry. She has never expressed the words she wrote to me and just reading them forced me to realize how much I took for granted. I also realized that had I not been away from home, I may never have read those words.

My mother is my life. Yet, I would get annoyed when she told  stories that I have heard a thousand times before. Now I long for them and laugh my ass off as if I am hearing them for the first time while listening to her on the phone thousands of miles away. I picture her warm eyes, the smell of vanilla that I attach to memories of my mother and the way she smiles while reliving these memories as only a mother can. My father and I are also different. He is no longer the man who I fought on a daily basis as a teenager, but instead has morphed into daddy. A man with his own insecurities who never grew up with a father but was required to play the role without a script. Our conversations has become meaningful since I have been in Canada. I recently saw a picture of my dad and it forced me to deal with his mortality. My father has aged so much within a year. The implications of this realization were not lost on me and all his vices seemed irrelevant in that moment. I have him now and I plan to make it count.

This journey has brought people of various faiths into my life, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhist, Jews and even Atheist. I have been able to sit and listen to world views and lived experiences that challenged many of the things I questioned, as well as things I held as true. I grew up in church. I taught Sunday school, worked at church camps and served two years as Youth Director, but I had major issues with the tenets of the faith I was socialized with.   Surely this will cause many conflicts with family and friends, but I am ready to live with the consequences of my actions that are decided by my perception of the world.

Just a year and already I can document changes in my life. We often tell people, “don’t change, because I love you just the way you are”, yet change is inevitable, even the dead changes.

I am changing and this fact excites me. I look forward to where this journey takes me and how much growth I will experience…and it r the truth.

Pro-choice vs Anti-Choice

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As early as the sun rose in Toronto I was deep in a discussion around abortion. Let me hasten to say, I am not an advocate for abortion, but I think it should be an option made available to all women; there is a difference. The decision to terminate a pregnancy is not taken with the same leisure as that to shave the eye brows or dye ones hair, it must be a painful dilemma. I believe this should be respected and the woman given the opportunity to make a decision in the best interest of her and the foetus. People who advocate against abortion are called pro-life, but I really believe they should be called anti-choice, because that is exactly what they are doing; denying women options with regards to what happens to and inside their bodies. I have no issue if you are against abortions, no one is forcing you to have one, so why prevent those who desire to partake?

Let us face it, the world has almost 7 billion people, with a large percentage malnourished and suffering. You want me to think a divine creator will hold it against you because you did not add to this pool of drowning souls? We are using non-renewable resources faster than we can find a suitable replacement, because the world is overpopulated. We will not end up on an endangered specie list any time soon.

The conflict is heightened by the inability to decide at what point life begins; in the womb or after birth. Personally I believe “life” begins at birth. The foetus may be ALIVE but it is not a LIFE. If a census was done in a town that has a pregnant woman, would the foetus be counted? The argument is that the child could die before it is born, however, terminally ill patients in the hospital are also counted, they could die too, so what’s the difference? Is it that one is born and the other unborn? 

I was born a liberal to a very conservative family and many times my mother and I have clashed over this issue. I remember one heated argument we had, I turned to my younger sister and told her if she ever needed an abortion I would give her the money. Needless to say, my mother was livid…exactly what I wanted :D. In another instance she shared with me how she had talked a friend out of having an abortion; mom was so proud of herself. I pointed out to her that this woman was in her mid 40s, had seven children already, was a grandmother, she was unemployed and to make it worse her husband struggled to provide for them…this never moved my mother to see logic, instead she pointed out to me that God’s knew this was going to happen and he allowed it…0_o. Shortly after this, my mom migrated and the friend had a son… Would you believe my mother had the nerve to share with me how her friend was having a hard time catering for her 8th child? I said to her that she should be sending money for the baby and she was livid…again….exactly what I wanted :D. I understand and respect my mother’s viewpoint, but at the same time still hold firmly that the pregnant woman should decide. How many of you having voiced you opinions against abortion have actually visited a home or even given support to a family that has too many children? I have actually heard the argument put forward by some anti-choice people that women who had sex are aware of the “consequences” of this act….ahhm, at what point can we comfortably consider a child a “consequence”? When is it acceptable to view a child as pennant for bad decisions made by adults? How pitiful Consequence Pennant Jackson would be in a home where she is unwanted.

The catholic church as we know is anti-choice, they have even made an offer to women contemplating abortion to take the child to them after it is born….this raises my eye brows higher than Joan River’s hairline. Not only is the catholic church viewed negatively for how it “handles” children, but if they want to take care of unwanted children, look how many are already on the streets. What are they doing about them? Why not use the resources available to provide for those already here? What irritates me most is this is coming from a group that is against contraceptives….seriously, in this day and age.

I have also played the “what if…” game with people. They ask me what if my mother had an abortion, what if Mary had aborted Jesus or Beethoven’s mother terminated her pregnancy…I am willing to play this game with them and ask what if Stalin’s mother had an abortion, what if Charles Manson’s mother had one, how about Napoleon, Gaddafi, Hitler, damn, since we playing this game, how about George Bush… would we be better off had their mothers’ aborted them?

The debate on abortion will not cease, it is an issue of ethics and can be argued strongly on both sides. It all comes down to the reproductive right of all women, she should have the right to decide what happens to and in her body. I know I will never be faced with this decision myself, but I have many friends and family who may find themself at this cross road… My advice is to get as much information as possible and weigh your option to ensure you make the best decision…and that r the truth.