Losing My Religion…

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My parents raised me with a level of piousness that was nauseating. They knew being the child of a deacon and a Sunday school superintendent would cause me to be judged by standards reserved for pastors’ children and gods. My life could be summed up as church, home and school because that was my routine; I was a member of an evangelical church. My baptism as a pre-teen was predictable and the fanfare that followed mirrored the return of the Ark of the Covenant when David danced before the Lord, well, except the nudity. People called me young Samuel while encouraging me to considering studying theology. I came to the realization early that I was the prototype; the good church boy who became the president of the youth group, then promoted to a Sunday school teacher, while leading choruses at Sunday worship services, and eventually becoming the director of youth ministries and sitting as a council member. Young people my age told me their parents would compare them to me and they hated it. I hated it more, but not for reasons you may imagine. I hated it because I was not being true to myself.

When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child… The idea of Moses parting the red sea after inflicting plagues on the Egyptians is believable when tooth fairies deliver cash for fallen teeth. Mermaids and glass slippers need the same level of imagination that the story of the Tower of Babel demands. I believed it all, until my parents could no longer quench my questions. I was submerged in this world until I learned good doesn’t always win and evil is just as encompassing. I lost my innocence and I was losing my faith. I disliked the hypocrite that I was morphing into and felt like I was denying my true self to live…but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Beside the need to suspend logic and replace it with blind-faith into a book written by a tribe of desert people, my exposure to history provoked thought and was one more stake in the heart of Judeo-Christianity. The Spanish Inquisition, Monroe Doctrine, Salem Witch Trials, Jewish Holocaust, residential schools, and the enslavement of Africans showed me that Christianity is smeared in blood. Our ancestors inherited Judeo-Christianity from men who viewed them as chattels. Our fore-parents were taught the tenets of Judeo-Christianity through systems that told them they were inferior. My granny has a framed image of a White Christ, with golden blonde hair and sky blue eyes. It features prominently in her bedroom and takes pride of place over pictures of her daughters and grandchildren.

The self-hatred taught in the name of evangelism is seen in how the church in general paints Africa, especially the black churches. It is agonizing to hear anything connected to the continent being casted as evil and most forms of African retentions derided. It is even more painful for me to admit that I bought into this lie for many years. Gods that looks like me were demonic, but I woke up to a framed Caucasian Jesus on Christmas holidays at my granny. Jupiter, Athena and Apollo enjoy the privilege of being considered myths, but Ogun, Eshu and Nyame are demonic forces that were worshipped by the savages of the Dark Continent before they were rescued by slavers. The lead up to visiting Ghana in 2001 was revealing; church folks warned me to “cover” myself from evil spirits that prowled the land. I gave them the side eye, but went along with the charade and did as they recommended. Assimilation was successful, but its hold on me was slippery.

I feared telling mommy and daddy about my changing views. My folks were simple-working-class people who had little to nothing to pass on to their children. Christianity was the greatest gift they could give and they had worked hard to tie a bow around it. The certainty wrapped in hope of a paradise after death, was greater than any tangible thing they could give me. How could I reject it? I witnessed controlled pride in my mother’s eyes when I taught my first Sunday lesson. My father invited his sisters and brothers to church when I delivered my first sermonette. My parents had been successful in steering me down the straight and narrow. I had doubts. My questions festered until I found plausible answers outside of the church. I was no longer a sheep.

In Grade 12 I shared my sexual preference with my mother…well, more like she found out. My mother exposed a side of herself that I’ve never seen. Her logical questions were bathed in an empathetic tone. The words she offered were perfect for a 17 year old who had contemplated suicide because he was gay. Her prayer was not that I would change, but that I’ll find joy. My father was told by my mother and though we never discussed it, our relationship remained the same. I found it odd then for two evangelical Christians, Jamaicans without post-secondary education, to comprehend sexuality the way they did. But their reaction to me walking away from Christianity was stripped of all reason. My parents could not understand it; they didn’t try to understand.

I came out atheist to my parents two years ago and it was one of the hardest tasks I’ve undertaken in my 30 years. The revelation altered our relationship. My mother wept openly. My father’s tone told me I had failed him as his only son, despite the plaques and trophies that littered the living room. My mother called me early the next morning to pray. She had not slept; I could hear it in her voice. Her one desire was for the lord to reveal himself to me. To say I felt horrible would be an understatement. I had caused my parents so much pain. I have replayed the conversation many times since then and sometimes wish I gave an alternative response to the questions surrounding my absence from church.

I am not an evangelical atheist. I have no desire to convert people or even have them understand my rejection of a religion that I was fully immersed in. I lead my life with a principle that pre-dates Judeo-Christianity; do to people what you want them to do to you. This has forced me to be less judgemental, more empathetic and more vulnerable to those I interface with. I know if I should die now that my parents would ensure I was given a proper burial, starting with a lengthy sermon at my funeral. Deep inside I want them to respect my decision and even be proud that I am bold enough to follow a path based on my own understanding of the world. But I don’t get expect that to happen,  not any time soon and that r the truth.

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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.